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Target breach happened because of a basic network segmentation error

Jaikumar Vijayan | Feb. 7, 2014
The massive data breach at Target last month may have resulted partly from the retailer's failure to properly segregate systems handling sensitive payment card data from the rest of its network.

Several mature processes and practices currently exist for securing third-party access to enterprise networks, Brazil said. Even the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard, which companies like Target are required to follow, specifies network segmentation as a way to protect sensitive cardholder data.

It was Target's responsibility to ensure that those practices were followed, Brazil said. But the fact that attackers were apparently able to leverage their third-party access to reach Target's payment systems suggests those practices were improperly implemented — at best, he said.

The only really sophisticated component of the attack appears to have been the malware used to intercept and steal payment card data from Target's POS systems. But the attackers would have been unable to install the malware if Target had employed proper network segmentation practices in the first place, Brazil said.

Stephen Boyer, CTO and co-founder of BitSight, a company that specializes in third-party risk management, said the breach highlights the threat posed to companies by network-connected outsiders.

"In today's hyper-networked world, companies are working with more and more business partners with functions like payment collection and processing, manufacturing, IT, and human resources," Boyer said. "Hackers find the weakest point of entry to gain access to sensitive information, and often that point is within the victim's ecosystem."


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