Security breached again at US giants

Two major US corporates have suffered apparent security breaches that are embarrassingly similar to incidents earlier this year.

Two major US corporates have suffered apparent security breaches embarrassingly similar to incidents earlier this year.

Network supplier Cisco said it was looking into the possibility that its source code may have been stolen - for the second time this year. The latest incident came to light when an anonymous hacker group offered copies of Cisco's Pix 6.3.1 firewall for sale in an online newsgroup.

The company said it was "actively looking into the alleged claims by some internet groups on the purported sale and general availability" of the source code. A spokeswoman refused to elaborate.

And financial services company Wells Fargo said three laptops and a desktop computer containing personal information about its borrowers had been stolen from a subcontractor. The computers, stolen last month, contained the names, addresses, loan numbers and social security numbers of thousands of borrowers, according to Wells Fargo spokesman Kevin Waetke.

Waetke said Wells Fargo "quickly identified" the customers affected and issued letters notifying them of the loss of information and of plans to provide free identity theft protection. "The customers were notified as a precaution only. We have no indication any customer's information has been compromised."

This isn't the first time this year that both companies have had their security breached.

In May, an 800Mbyte portion of Cisco's internetworking operating system code was illegally copied and posted on a website where it remained for several days for anyone to download. The theft of the code, which is widely used in Cisco equipment, prompted fears of security threats to users. An arrest in the case was made by London's Metropolitan police in September.

Gartner analyst John Pescatore said the actual risk to users from the apparent theft of the Pix firewall source code was minimal. "Unless Cisco was taking shortcuts it was hoping no one would ever see, this should not be a big deal."

But the latest incident again raises questions about how well protected Cisco's source code really is. "The main question is, if somebody could steal the source code from an internal server, they could also compromise it in some other fashion," said Pescatore.

Ken Dunham of iDefense said the net result from incidents such as this was that a lot more source code was becoming available for malicious hackers to go after.

In Wells Fargo's case, the latest incident represents the third time in 12 months that the bank has had to warn customers of potential ID theft issues as a result of security breaches. Both previous cases resulted from stolen laptops.

"These incidents continue to be isolated, and each has a different set of circumstances," Waetke said. "We continue to learn from previous thefts of computers and want to ensure that affected customers are protected."

Jaikumar Vijayan writes for Computerworld

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