[SystemSafety] The RSA Hack, Ten Years On

Peter Bernard Ladkin ladkin at causalis.com
Sat May 22 10:54:54 CEST 2021

This is a fascinating article.

10 years ago, RSA was hacked by a Chinese state actor, which stole the seeds for RSA's two-factor 
authentication system, SecureID.

10-year NDAs have expired, and some of those involved have talked to Wired's Andy Greenberg about 
what happened.


Summary: it is frightening.

SecureID is a token system. Each computer-system user has a fob, which displays 6-digit numbers 
which change every 60 seconds or so. These are pseudo-random numbers. The generation algorithm for 
the fob's numbers also sits on the computer-system, so when a user attempts to log in, and then put 
in the fob number, the computer-system checks those numbers are the same.

RSA retained the seeds for the pseudo-random-number generation for its customers on a air-gapped 

The machine on which the customer back-up SecureID seeds resided at RSA was air-gapped. Nominally. 
In fact, there was one connection, to a machine that prepared the technology for customers. 
Exploiters got in through that connection and apparently pulled the seeds.

It is not a small operation. There were 40m SecureID tokens in the field when the seed-steal was 

Thanks to Peter Neumann's Risks Forum Digest for the heads-up. Actually, worth more than that one 
sentence - general thanks to Peter for his work over 36 years on the Digest. I've been an occasional 
contributor since it was less than a year old. Peter himself is almost 90 (not a secret; it's on his 
Wikipedia page).


Prof. Peter Bernard Ladkin, Bielefeld, Germany
ClaireTheWhiteRabbit RIP
Tel+msg +49 (0)521 880 7319  www.rvs-bi.de

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