RSA had implemented a risk mitigation strategy against advanced persistent threats that failed to prevent the major compromise of its SecurID token product.
But the company's chief security architect Robert Griffin said the process of dynamics, adaption, analytics and assessment prevented further damage from being done.
He told the SC Congress Canada conference this week that the strategy traced the tracks of the attackers who gained their initial foothold when an employee clicked on a malicious attachment contained in a socially engineered email.
“Within six to eight hours, we could [identify] anomalous behaviour of the core systems at RSA,” Griffin said.
Griffin acknowledged the slickness of the adversaries, who used a zero-day vulnerability to introduce a variant of the polymorphic malware dubbed Poison Ivy.
He described the attack as “commercial cybercrime”and said the hackers temporarily distracted RSA's security team by causing a "noisy” attack on the company's personnel systems while they siphoned out the crown jewels related to RSA's SecurID tokens.
“They were after ways to compromise credentials, from the ground up, of our customers,” Griffin said.
RSA failed to adequately lock down its access controls, a blunder that allowed infiltrators to gain unauthorised privileges, he said.
Defence contractors Lockheed Martin and L-3 were subsequently penetrated using authentication information obtained in the RSA heist.
RSA has since pledged to replace tokens for some customers.
Griffin said the lesson from the SecurID breach is the need to apply visibility to an organisation's risk posture.
A former director of risk and compliance at the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce, Jason Hall, said complexity was the biggest challenge he faced when introducing a governance, risk and compliance program at the financial institution.
Hall said he had to wade through scores of dashboards, stakeholders, data sources, frameworks and assessments, and recommended that security professionals define the process before they begin similar projects.