Spate of Gmail Phishing Attacks Detected

A spate of Gmail phishing attacks has hit the headlines this week. While the phishing scam is not new – it was first identified around a year ago – cybercriminals have adopted the campaign once more. The phishing emails are used to obtain Gmail login credentials are highly convincing,. A number of different tactics are used to evade detection, some of which are likely to fool even the most security aware individuals.

The Gmail phishing attacks start with an email sent to a Gmail account. Security aware individuals would be wary about an email sent from an unknown source. However, these attacks involve emails sent from a contact in the target’s address book. The email addresses are not masked to make them look like they have come from a contact. The email is actually sent from a contact’s account that has already been compromised.

Email recipients are far more likely to open emails sent from their contacts. Many people do not perform any further checks if the sender is known to them. They assume that emails are genuine solely from the source.

However, that is not the only technique used to fool targets. The attackers also use information that has been taken from the contact’s sent and received messages and add this to the email. An screenshot of an attachment or image that has already been included in a previous email between the contact and the target is included in the message. Even if the target is slightly suspicious about receiving an email, these additional touches should allay concern.

The aim of the email is to get the target to click on the image screenshot. Doing so will direct them to a Gmail login page where the target is required to sign in again. While this is perhaps odd, the page that the user is directed to looks exactly as it should. The page exactly mirrors what the user would normally expect.

Checking the website address bar should reveal that the site is not genuine; however, in this case it does not. The address bar shows the site is secure – HTTPS – and the web address includes accounts.google.com. The only sign of the scam is the inclusion of ‘data.text/html’ before accounts.google.com in the address bar.

Entering in account credentials will send that information directly to the attackers. The response is lightning quick. Account credentials are immediately used to log into the victim’s account. Before the victim even suspects they have been scammed, the entire contents of their Gmail account could be stolen, including sent and received emails and the address book. Contacts will be subjected to these Gmail phishing attacks in the same fashion.

Google is aware of the scam and is currently developing mitigations to prevent these types of attacks from occurring. In the meantime, however, users of Gmail should be particularly wary. Many users just glance at the address bar and look for the HTTPS and the web address. Failure to very carefully check the address bar and protocol before entering login credentials can – and certainly will in this case – result in the user’s account being compromised. Gmail accounts contain a huge amount of personal information. Information that could be used in future spear phishing attacks, extortion attempts, and other scams on the target and their contacts.

Spora Ransomware: A Highly Professional New Ransomware Variant

A new ransomware variant – Spora ransomware – has been identified by Emisoft which features a new twist. Victims have a wide range of their files encrypted as with other forms of file-encrypting malware, but they are given the option of preventing future ransomware attacks if they pay up.

The attackers would not be able to prevent attacks performed by other gangs – with other ransomware variants – although if the attackers can be believed, victims would only be attacked with Spora once. That is, if they choose the more expensive option of ‘Spora immunity’ rather than just paying to unlock the encryption.

The bad news for the victims is that payment will be required to unlock the infection if a viable backup of data does not exist. At present, there is no decryptor for Spora.

Emisoft reports that the encryption used is particularly strong, and even if a decryptor was developed, it would only be effective against a single user due to the complex method of encryption used – a combination of AES and RSA keys using the Windows CryptoAPI.

In contrast to many ransomware variants that communicate with a command and control server, Spora ransomware does not receive any C&C instructions. This means that files can be encrypted even if the computer has no Internet connection.

The authors have also not set a fixed ransom amount, as this depend on the ‘value’ of the encrypted data. The ransom payment will be set based on who the user is and the files that have been encrypted. Before files are encrypted, a check is performed to see who has been infected. Encrypted files are sorted based on extension type and the information is combined into the .KEY file along with information about the user. The .key file must be supplied in the payment portal. An HTML file is also created on the desktop with details of how payment can be made.

The ransomware is being spread via spam email. Infection occurs when an email recipient opens the infected attachment. The attached file appears to be a genuine PDF invoice, although it includes a double file extension which masks the fact it is actually a .HTA file. Infection occurs via JScript and VBScript contained in the file.

Opening the file launches a Wordpad file which displays an error message saying the file is invalid. In the background, the ransomware will be encrypting data.

Emisoft reports that the ransomware is slick and appears highly professional. Typically, the first versions of ransomware invariably contain multiple flaws that allow decryptors to be developed. In this case, there appear to be none. Spora ransomware also tracks infections via different campaigns. The information will likely be used to determine the effectiveness of different campaigns and could be used to direct future attacks.

The slick design of the HTML ransom note and the payment portal show considerable work has gone into the creation of this new ransomware. Emisoft suggests that Spora ransomware has been developed specifically for the ransomware-as-a-service market.

Prevention remains the best defense. Since Spora ransomware is spread via spam email, blocking malicious messages is the best defense against infection, while recovery will only be possible by paying the ransom demand or restoring data from a backup.

Barts Health Malware Attack: NHS Computers Taken Offline

A Barts Health malware attack forced the shutdown of hospital IT systems on Friday last week as the UK NHS Trust attempted to limit the damage caused and contain the infection.

Barts Health is the largest NHS Trust in the United Kingdom, operating six hospitals in the capital: Mile End Hospital, Newham University Hospital, St Bartholomew’s Hospital, The London Chest Hospital, The Royal London Hospital, and Whipps Cross University Hospital.

The Barts Health malware attack occurred on Friday 13, 2016. Given the number of ransomware attacks on healthcare organizations in recent months, rumors started to quickly circulate that this was another healthcare ransomware attack.

A statement was released on Friday claiming the Trust had experienced an ‘IT attack,’ and that as a precaution, a number of drives were taken offline to prevent the spread of the infection. The type of malware that had been installed was not known, although the NHS trust did say in its statement that it did not believe ransomware was involved.

Multiple drives were shut down following the discovery of the malware including those used by the pathology department, although patient data were unaffected and the NHS Trust’s Cerner Millennium patient administration system remained operational, as did the systems used by the radiology department.

Today, Barts Health reports that all of its systems are back online and the infection has been removed. Medical services for patients were not affected, although Barts Health said due to the need for requests to be processed manually, it may take a few days for the pathology department to deal with the backlog.

Barts Health also reiterated that at no point were patient medical records compromised. No mention has been made about how the malware was installed and the type of malware involved was not announced. However, the Barts Health malware attack involved a form of malware that had not previously been seen and was a ‘Trojan Malware.’

The Trust said “whilst it had the potential to do significant damage to computer network files, our measures to contain the virus were successful”.

Ransomware Attacks on UK Hospitals

In November last year, the Northern Lincolnshire and Goole NHS Trust was attacked with ransomware which resulted in IT systems at three hospitals being crippled. As a result of that attack, the NHS Trust was forced to cancel 2,800 operations and appointments while the infection was removed and systems restored. The majority of IT systems had to be taken offline, hence the major disruption to medical services.

While Locky and Samas have been used extensively in attacks on U.S. hospitals, the Northern Lincolnshire and Goole NHS Trust ransomware attack involved a ransomware variant known as Globe2 – A relativity new variant that was first identified in August 2016.

Globe ransomware has been spread primarily via spam email and malicious file attachments. Opening the file attachment triggers the downloading of the ransomware. As with other ransomware variants, the attachments appear to be files such as invoices or medical test results.

Malicious links are also used to spread ransomware infections. Clicking a link directs users to malicious websites where ransomware is automatically downloaded. Fortunately for organizations attacked with Globe ransomware, a decryptor has been developed by Emisoft, which is available for free download.

However, relatively few ransomware variants have been cracked. Recovery can also take time resulting in considerable disruption to business processes. Ensuring backups of all critical data are regularly made will ensure that files can be recovered without giving in to attackers’ demands.

Preventing malware and ransomware attacks requires multi-layered defenses. Since many infections occur as a result of infected email attachments and links, organizations should employ an advanced spam filtering solution such as SpamTitan. SpamTitan has been independently tested and shown to block 99.97% of spam email. SpamTitan will also block 100% of known malware.

Los Angeles Valley College Ransomware Attack Highlights Importance of Solid Ransomware Defenses

A Los Angeles Valley College ransomware attack has resulted in file systems being taken out of action for seven days and considerable costs being incurred to resolve the infection.

Attackers succeeded in taking control of one of the college’s servers on December 30, 2016. When staff returned after the Christmas break they discovered the computer system to be out of action and essential files locked with powerful encryption.

The attackers had succeeded in locking a wide range of file types on network drives and computers. Unfortunately, the college was unable to recover the files from a backup. Administrators therefore faced a tough decision. To try to recover from the attack without paying the ransom and risk file loss or to give in to the attacker’s demands and pay for the keys to unlock the encryption.

Los Angeles Valley College Ransomware Attack Nets Criminal Gang $28,000

Due to the extent of the infection and the number of devices affected, the ransom payment was considerable. The attackers set the price at $28,000 for the decryption keys. The ransom demand was high but the college had little in the way of options.

The ransom note that was loaded onto the college’s X-drive said if the ransom was not paid within 7 days, the unique keys to unlock the encryption would be permanently deleted. That would likely have resulted in all of the locked files being permanently lost.

The college enlisted help from cybersecurity experts to determine the likelihood of files being recovered without paying the ransom. However, college administrators were advised to dig deep and pay the attackers for the key. While there is no guarantee that paying the ransom would result in viable keys being supplied, the college’s cybersecurity experts said there was a high probability of data recovery if the ransom was paid and a very low probability of data being recovered if the ransom demand was ignored. The likely cost of resolving the infection without paying the ransom was also estimated to be higher than attempting to remove the infection. The decision was therefore made to pay the attackers in Bitcoin as requested.

The attackers made good on their promise and supplied the keys to unlock the data. Now IT staff must apply those keys and remove the encryption on the server, network drives, and the many infected computers. Fortunately for the college, a cyber insurance policy will pay out and cover the cost of the ransom and resetting systems. However, there will be other costs that need to be covered, which will must be paid by the district.

Recovery from the Los Angeles Valley College ransomware attack will not be a quick and simple process, even though the decryption keys have been supplied by the attackers. The district’s Chief Information Officer Jorge Mata said “There are often a lot of steps where there’s no coming back, and if you pick the wrong path, there’s no return.” The recovery process therefore requires care and precision and cannot be rushed. The process could well take a number of weeks. The main priority is to recover the email system. Other systems and devices will then be methodically restored.

Los Angeles Valley College Ransomware Attack One of Many Such Attacks on Educational Institutions

The Los Angeles Valley College ransomware attack has hit the headlines due to the extent of the infection and high ransom demand, but it is one of many such attacks to have occurred over the past 12 months. Educational institutions have been heavily targeted by attackers due to the value of college and school data. Educational establishments cannot risk data loss and are therefore likely to pay the ransom to regain access to files.

In the past few months, other educational institutions in the United States that have been attacked with ransomware include M.I.T, University of California-Berkeley, and Harvard University as well as many K-12 schools throughout the country. Figures from Malwarebytes suggest that 9% of ransomware attacks targeted educational establishments.

How Can Educational Institutions Protect Against Ransomware Attacks?

There are a number of steps that educational institutions can take to reduce the risk of ransomware attacks and ensure that recovery is possible without having to resort to paying a ransom. The most important step to take is to ensure that all data is backed up regularly, including the email system. Backups should be stored on air-gapped devices, not on network drives. A separate backup should be stored in the cloud.

However, backups can fail and files can be corrupted. It is therefore important that protections are implemented to prevent ransomware from being delivered via the two most common attack vectors: Email and the Internet.

Email is commonly used to deliver ransomware or malicious code that downloads the file-encrypting software. Preventing these malicious emails from being delivered to staff and students’ inboxes is therefore essential. An advanced spam filter such as SpamTitan should therefore be installed. SpamTitan blocks 99.97% of spam emails and 100% of known malware.

To protect against web-borne attacks and prevent exploit kit activity and drive-by downloads, schools and colleges should use a web filter such as WebTitan. WebTitan uses a variety of methods to block access to malicious webpages where malware and ransomware is downloaded. WebTitan can also be configured to prevent malicious third-party adverts from being displayed. These adverts – called malvertising – are commonly used to infect end users by redirecting their browsers to websites containing exploit kits.

For further information on SpamTitan and WebTitan, to find out more about how both anti-ransomware solutions can prevent infection, and to register for a free 30-day trial of both products, contact TitanHQ today.

New Screen Locker Attack Targets Mac Users

Apple malware infections are relatively rare, although Mac users should not get complacent. New threats do appear from time to time and cybercriminals do target Mac users. This month another malware variant has been discovered – a type of screen locker – that is linked to a tech support scam and its Mac users that are being targeted.

The attack starts when the user clicks on a malicious link in a spam email message, although links on social media sites could also be used to direct end users to the malicious website where the attack occurs. When the malicious website is visited, malicious code on the site causes a denial-of-service attack which freezes the device as its memory is consumed.

The method of locking the computer depends on the version of OS X installed on the device. On older OS X versions, a visit to the malicious website will trigger the creation of multiple emails until the Macs memory is overloaded. The emails have the subject “Warning: Virus Detected”.  Since no memory is available, users will not be able to launch any other programs. The email messages are only created as drafts – they are not delivered – although this will be sufficient to freeze the device.

Additionally, a message is loaded into the draft folder containing a phone number to call to have the virus removed. While the message appears to have been sent by Apple, this is part of the scam. This is how the attackers make their money. Removal of the infection will require payment. The attackers appear to be after credit card numbers.

The second variant of the attack affects newer OS X versions. Rather than trigger draft emails, a similar style of attack occurs via iTunes. Multiple iTunes windows are launched, similarly using up the Macs memory. As with the first attack, a message also appears with a telephone number to call to remove the infection.

These tech support scams may not involve any downloaded malware, although responding to this type of scam and providing credit card details will result in multiple payments being taken until the card provider blocks the card or credit limits are reached.

Tech support scams such as this frequently target Windows users via Firefox, IE, Edge or Chrome browsers. Multiple browser windows are launched with a tech support number displayed. A call is required to unlock the infection.

These browser-locking attacks are relatively common. Only last month, Symantec identified a new campaign which locks the screen on Windows computers and displays a browser window detailing imagery from the police force of the country where the user is based – Most of the attacks occurred in the US (FBI) and Europe (Europol).

Users are advised that they have been caught engaging in illegal online activity, usually related to pornography or child abuse. A code must be obtained from the police department to unlock the screen. A phone number is supplied which the user must call to make payment. The attackers rely on victims’ fear and embarrassment to obtain payment.