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But on Friday RSA shed some light on the nature of the attack. In a blog post titled “Anatomy of an Attack,” the company’s head of new technologies, Uri Rivner, described a three-stage operation that was similar to several other recent prominent attacks on technology companies, including a 2009 attack on Google that it said originated in China.
In the attack on RSA, the attacker sent “phishing” e-mails with the subject line “2011 Recruitment Plan” to two small groups of employees over the course of two days. Unfortunately, one was interested enough to retrieve one of these messages from his or her junk mail and open the attached Excel file. The spreadsheet contained malware that used a previously unknown, or “zero-day,” flaw in Adobe’s Flash software to install a backdoor. RSA said that Adobe had since released a patch to fix that hole.