Cisco backs embattled RSA SecurID in new security architecture

With all of the recent security problems around RSA's SecurID two-factor authentication technology as a backdrop, Cisco today made it clear that it's still a major supporter of SecurID by including the two-factor authentication token as a main security component in what Cisco calls its "PCI 2.0 Architecture" of assembled Cisco, EMC, RSA, VMware and HyTrust products.

After hack, RSA offers to replace SecurID tokens

Cisco says the PCI 2.0 architecture bundle is designed to adhere to the strictest requirements of the Payment Card Industry standard for protecting sensitive payment card data and can be rolled into a network for that purpose. But critics of RSA SecurID say they still have a lot of questions about it, and note there are many alternative technologies.

Cisco's "PCI 2.0 Architecture" bundle includes SecurID, plus RSA EnVision, the EMC storage-area network, VMware's vSphere, HyTrust security controls for the virtualized environment, plus plenty of Cisco gear, including Catalyst and Nexus switches and the UCS rack-mounted server.

It's not possible for components assembled in a network design to be deemed PCI-compliant in a production network out of the box, says Christian Janoff, Cisco's industry solutions architecture. But Cisco has sought out and obtained a so-called "assessment of compliance" report from Verizon Business, which is accredited as a PCI "qualified security assessor" (QSA) to evaluate and judge what's secure for network use under PCI rules.

Janoff says Verizon Business has given the Cisco PCI 2.0 Architecture with its security components and design the thumb's up. He says this means customers buying the PCI 2.0 Architecture bundle will have a very good chance of passing a PCI audit, at least if they use Verizon Business as their QSA. There's no guarantee other QSAs accredited by the PCI Security Standards Council would necessarily reach the same determination as Verizon Business.

When it comes to the RSA SecurID token itself, despite stolen information about it being linked to attacks on defense contractors in particular, "we have confidence about it," Janoff says.

However, not all feel that confident, especially as RSA has not publicly shared details about what was compromised during the infiltration of RSA's network (many speculate that seed values used in RSA's token process were stolen), or what specific fixes were made.

"According to RSA, only keys manufactured before the breach are affected," says Rick Moy, president of NSS Labs, which tests security gear. "So new customers should be OK."

But Moy adds: "And since RSA has still not disclosed the extent of the [recent] breach, customers are being asked to just 'trust us.' The big questions going forward are going to be more around vendor transparency and whether or not it makes sense for a business to entrust its seeds to a third party. There are other business models and vendors that deserve consideration."

Many of those vendors are trying to make the argument they deserve a look after the RSA break-in, especially after RSA's "Open Letter" earlier this month from RSA executive chairman Art Coviello saying  that the company would replace RSA tokens for free after confirming the cyberattack on Lockheed Martin was tied to information stolen from RSA.

"Absent a statement from RSA, you must assume your tokens are no longer effective," says Steve Dispensa, CTO at PhoneFacor, which says its out-of-band technology should be considered an alternative to two-factor tokens. "And what if RSA tokens are replaced with new ones? Will the seeds be stolen again? It's a valid question."

Christina Rohall, senior director of product management at Symantec, said there are a lot of Symantec customers asking questions about SecurID, saying RSA simply hasn't told anyone the details about exactly what was compromised. "They should be answering these," Rohall says.

"We see a lot of customers are not comfortable going forward with the technology," says Lina Liberti, vice president of security management at CA Technologies about SecurID. She says some customers are also looking at ways to augment RSA with other risk-based authentication as a backstop.

Read more about wide area network in Network World's Wide Area Network section.

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