Posts Tagged: Bhanu Ballapuram


17
Apr 19

How Not to Acknowledge a Data Breach

I’m not a huge fan of stories about stories, or those that explore the ins and outs of reporting a breach. But occasionally I feel obligated to publish such accounts when companies respond to a breach report in such a way that it’s crystal clear they wouldn’t know what to do with a data breach if it bit them in the nose, let alone festered unmolested in some dark corner of their operations.

And yet, here I am again writing the second story this week about a possibly serious security breach at an Indian company that provides IT support and outsourcing for a ridiculous number of major U.S. corporations (spoiler alert: the second half of this story actually contains quite a bit of news about the breach investigation).

On Monday, KrebsOnSecurity broke the news that multiple sources were reporting a cybersecurity breach at Wipro, the third-largest IT services provider in India and a major trusted vendor of IT outsourcing for U.S. companies. The story cited reports from multiple anonymous sources who said Wipro’s trusted networks and systems were being used to launch cyberattacks against the company’s customers.

Wipro asked me to give them several days to investigate the request and formulate a public comment. Three days after I reached out, the quote I ultimately got from them didn’t acknowledge any of the concerns raised by my sources. Nor did the statement even acknowledge a security incident.

Six hours after my story ran saying Wipro was in the throes of responding to a breach, the company was quoted in an Indian daily newspaper acknowledging a phishing incident. The company’s statement claimed its sophisticated systems detected the breach internally and identified the affected employees, and that it had hired an outside digital forensics firm to investigate further.

Less than 24 hours after my story ran, Wipro executives were asked on a quarterly investor conference call to respond to my reporting. Wipro Chief Operating Officer Bhanu Ballapuram told investors that many of the details in my story were in error, and implied that the breach was limited to a few employees who got phished. The matter was characterized as handled, and other journalists on the call moved on to different topics.

At this point, I added a question to the queue on the earnings conference call and was afforded the opportunity to ask Wipro’s executives what portion(s) of my story was inaccurate. A Wipro executive then proceeded to read bits of a written statement about their response to the incident, and the company’s chief operating officer agreed to have a one-on-one call with KrebsOnSecurity to address the stated grievances about my story. Security reporter Graham Cluley was kind enough to record that bit of the call and post it on Twitter.

In the follow-up call with Wipro, Ballapuram took issue with my characterization that the breach had lasted “months,” saying it had only been a matter of weeks since employees at the company had been successfully phished by the attackers. I then asked when the company believed the phishing attacks began, and Ballapuram said he could not confirm the approximate start date of the attacks beyond “weeks.”

Ballapuram also claimed that his corporation was hit by a “zero-day” attack. Actual zero-day vulnerabilities involve somewhat infrequent and quite dangerous weaknesses in software and/or hardware that not even the maker of the product in question understands before the vulnerability is discovered and exploited by attackers for private gain.

Because zero-day flaws usually refer to software that is widely in use, it’s generally considered good form if one experiences such an attack to share any available details with the rest of the world about how the attack appears to work — in much the same way you might hope a sick patient suffering from some unknown, highly infectious disease might nonetheless choose to help doctors diagnose how the infection could have been caught and spread.

Wipro has so far ignored specific questions about the supposed zero-day, other than to say “based on our interim investigation, we have shared the relevant information of the zero-day with our AV [antivirus] provider and they have released the necessary signatures for us.”

My guess is that what Wipro means by “zero-day” is a malicious email attachment that went undetected by all commercial antivirus tools before it infected Wipro employee systems with malware.

Ballapuram added that Wipro has gathered and disseminated to affected clients a set of “indicators of compromise,” telltale clues about tactics, tools and procedures used by the bad guys that might signify an attempted or successful intrusion.

Hours after that call with Ballapuram, I heard from a major U.S. company that is partnering with Wipro (at least for now). The source said his employer opted to sever all online access to Wipro employees within days of discovering that these Wipro accounts were being used to target his company’s operations.

The source said the indicators of compromise that Wipro shared with its customers came from a Wipro customer who was targeted by the attackers, but that Wipro was sending those indicators to customers as if they were something Wipro’s security team had put together on its own. Continue reading →