One of the largest known breaches, resulting in 110 million records lost and hundreds of millions of dollars in damages, started with a small, third-party supplier. We're talking about Target, where attackers compromised Fazio Mechanical Services, a provider of heating, ventilation, and air conditioning services, to gain access to the retail giant's network. The breach lasted 19 days and contributed to a 46% drop in year-over-year quarterly profits for the company, according to Target's filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission. Nearly 100 lawsuits have been filed so far, and Target's then CEO, Gregg Steinhafel, and its CIO, Beth Jacobs, have resigned.
"The Target breach is a watershed moment in third-party attacks," says Stephen Boyer, CEO of BitSight, a security intelligence firm. "No one wants to be the next one."
The breach may be a watershed, but it's hardly unique. The August 2013 defacement of The New York Times occurred because attackers fooled the media organization's DNS provider into granting access to the account that determined how the Internet routed traffic to the Times' site. Lockheed Martin suffered an attack through a flaw in RSA's SecurID system. The email addresses of customers who sought support from Twitter, Pinterest, and Tumblr were leaked when attackers breached support services firm Zendesk in February 2013. Security and CDN service CloudFlare was infiltrated via its CEO's Gmail account.
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— Robert Lemos is an award-winning technology journalist who focuses on network and computer security.