Phishing & Email Spam

Phishing and email spam is estimated to cost industry more than $1 billion each year, and cybercriminals are becoming more sophisticated in the campaigns they launch to try to extract confidential data or passwords from unsuspecting Internet users.

Part of the reason why phishing and email spam continue to work is the language used within the communication. The message to “Act Now” because an account seems to have been compromised, or because a colleague appears to need urgent support, often causes individuals to act before they think.

Even experienced security experts have been caught by phishing and email spam, and the advice provided to every Internet user is:

  • If you are unsure of whether an email request is legitimate, try to verify it by contacting the sender independently of the information provided in the email.
  • Never reveal confidential data or passwords requested in an email or on a web page you have arrived at after following a link in an email.
  • Enable spam filters on your email, keep your anti-virus software up-to-date and enable two-step authentication on all your accounts whenever possible.
  • Always use different passwords for different accounts, and change them frequently to avoid being a victim of key-logging malware downloads.
  • Remember that phishing and email spam is not limited to email. Watch out for scams sent via social media channels.

Phishing in particular has become a popular attack vector for cybercriminals. Although phishing goes back to the early days of AOL, there has been a tenfold increase in phishing campaigns over the past decade reported to the Anti-Phishing Working Group (APWG).

Phishing is an extension of spam mail and can target small groups of people (spear phishing) or target executive-level management (whale phishing) in order to collect information or gain access to computer systems.

The best way to protect yourself from phishing and email spam is to follow the advice provided above and – most importantly – enable a reputable spam filter to block potentially unsafe emails from being delivered to your inbox.

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.

Risk of Spear Phishing Attacks Must Not be Ignored

Research conducted by the anti-phishing training company PhishMe has shown a worrying increase in phishing attacks in 2016 and has highlighted the importance of taking steps to reduce the risk of spear phishing attacks.

Unfortunately, cybercriminals are becoming much more adept at crafting highly convincing spear phishing campaigns. A wide range of social engineering techniques are used to fool employees into responding to the emails and the campaigns are becoming much harder to identify.

Unfortunately responding to these emails can result in email and network credentials being compromised, malware and ransomware being installed on corporate networks, and sensitive data being emailed to the attackers.

The study of phishing attacks in 2016 showed attacks increased by 55% year on year. PhishMe research shows that out of the successful data breaches in 2016, 90% started with a spear phishing email.

In 2016, business email compromise attacks rose by an incredible 1300%, while ransomware attacks increased 400%. Cybercriminals are attacking companies with a vigor never before seen and unfortunately many of those attacks have been successful.

The figures from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office for Civil Rights – which tracks U.S. healthcare data breaches – show that 2016 was the worst ever year on record for healthcare data breaches. At least 323 breaches of more than 500 records occurred in 2016. Undoubtedly many more breaches have yet to be discovered.

Cybercriminals and hackers have employees firmly in their crosshairs. Unfortunately, employees are easy targets. A recent survey conducted by cybersecurity firm Avecto showed that 65% of employees are now wary about clicking on links emailed to them by strangers. Alarmingly, that means 35% are not.

The same survey showed that 68% of respondents have no concerns about clicking on links sent by their friends and colleagues. Given the extent to which email addresses and passwords have been compromised in the last year, this is incredibly worrying. 1 billion Yahoo accounts were breached and 117 million email addresses were compromised as a result of the LinkedIn breach. Gaining access to email accounts is not a problem for cybercriminals. If those accounts are used to send spear-phishing emails, the chance of links being clicked are very high.  Unfortunately, all it takes is for one email account to be compromised for access to a network to be gained.

The risk of spear phishing attacks was clearly demonstrated in 2015 when the largest ever healthcare data breach was discovered. 78.8-million health plan members’ records were stolen from Anthem Inc. That breach occurred as a result of an employee of one of the insurer’s subsidiaries responding to a spear phishing email.

Anthem Inc., is the second largest health insurer in the United States and the company spends many tens of millions of highly complex cybersecurity defenses. Those multi-million dollar defenses were undone with a single email.

Organizations must take steps to reduce the risk of speak phishing attacks. Unfortunately, there is no single solution to eradicate risk. A multi-layered defense strategy is required.

An advanced anti-spam solution is essential to prevent the vast majority of spam and phishing emails from being delivered to end users. SpamTitan for example, blocks 99.97% of spam email and 100% of known malware.

Employees must be trained and their training must be tested with phishing exercises. Practice really does make perfect when it comes to identifying email scams. Endpoint defenses should also be employed, along with anti-virus and antimalware software.

The risk of spear phishing attacks will increase again in 2017. Doing nothing to improve cybersecurity defenses and combat the spear phishing risk could prove to be a very costly mistake.

L.A. County Victim of One of the Largest Phishing Attacks in the United States

Last month, L.a. County reported one of the largest phishing attacks in the United States. A single phishing campaign directed at Los Angeles County employees saw an incredible 108 individuals fall for the scam. Each employee that responded to the campaign inadvertently divulged their email credentials to the attacker. 108 email accounts were compromised as a result of the one phishing campaign.

While it is not known whether the individual behind the campaign successfully retrieved any data from L.A County email accounts, the compromised email accounts were a treasure trove of sensitive information. The email accounts contained the sensitive information of more than 750,000 individuals.

While the announcement of the phishing attack was only made in December, the actual incident occurred on May 13, 2016. In contrast to the phishing and spam email campaigns of old that contained numerous spelling mistakes, grammatical errors, and bordered on the unbelievable, this campaign was expertly crafted. The attacker used realistic text and images, hence the reason why such a large number of employees fell for the scam.

Fortunately for L.A. County, the phishing attack was identified promptly – within 24 hours – therefore limiting the damage caused. A detailed forensic investigation revealed that 756,000 individuals had their sensitive information – including Social Security numbers and protected health information- exposed as a result of the attack.

There was further good news. The lengthy investigation confirmed the identity of the attacker, a Nigerian national – Austin Kelvin Onaghinor. A warrant has been issued for his arrest. Bringing that individual to justice may be another matter. Extraditing foreign nationals to the United States can be a difficult and long winded process. However, L.A District Attorney Jackie Lacey has vowed to “aggressively to bring this criminal hacker and others to Los Angeles County, where they will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.”

Phishing attacks on this scale are unfortunately not that rare. Cybercriminals are becoming much better at crafting convincing emails and gaining access to corporate email accounts. All too often, the phishing attacks are not identified quickly, giving criminals plenty of time to exfiltrate data from compromised accounts. Many phishing campaigns are conducted to obtain network credentials and other information that can be used to gain a foothold in corporate networks. Once access is gained, all manner of nefarious activities take place.

This L.A. County phishing scam clearly demonstrates that employees are the weakest link in the security chain, which is why cybercriminals are committing more time and effort into phishing attacks. It is far easier to compromise an email account or gain access to a network if an employee provides their login credentials than attempting to find a chink in advanced cybersecurity defenses.

Protecting against phishing attacks requires an advanced spam filtering solution. Without such a solution in place, organizations have to rely on employees identifying emails as malicious. Something which is becoming much harder to do as cybercriminals perfect their social engineering techniques.

Blocking phishing emails and preventing them from being delivered to inboxes is the single-most effective solution to counter the phishing threat. Along with staff anti-phishing training and anti-phishing exercises, organizations can mount a defense against such attacks and avoid the not inconsiderable mitigation costs. Providing credit monitoring and identity theft protection services to 756,000 individuals is a sizeable cost for any organization to absorb.

Improve your Defenses Against Email-Borne Threats in 2017

2016 was a particularly bad year for data breaches. A large number of huge data breaches from years gone by were also discovered in 2016.

The largest breach of 2016 – by some distance – affected Yahoo. The credentials of more than 1 billion users were obtained by the gang behind the attack. A massive cyberattack on MySpace was discovered, with the attackers reportedly obtaining 427 million passwords. 171 million vk.com account details were stolen, including usernames, email addresses, and plaintext passwords. 2016 also saw the discovery of a massive cyberattack on the professional networking platform LinkedIn.  The credentials of more than 117 million users were stolen in the attack. Then there was the 51-million iMesh account hack, and 43 million Last.fm accounts were stolen….to name but a few.

The data stolen in these attacks are now being sold on darknet marketplaces to cybercriminals and are being used to commit a multitude of fraud.

One of the biggest threats for businesses comes from business email compromise (BEC) scams. BEC scams involve an attacker impersonating a company executive or vendor and requesting payment of a missed invoice. The attacker sends an email to a member of the accounts team and requests payment of an invoice by wire transfer, usually for several thousand dollars. All too often, even larger transfers are made. Some companies have lost tens of millions of dollars to BEC fraudsters.

Since the email appears to have been sent from a trusted email account, transfer requests are often not questioned. Cybercriminals also spend a considerable amount of time researching their targets. If access to corporate email accounts is gained, the attackers are able to look at previous emails sent by the targets and copy their writing style.

They learn about how transfer requests are usually emailed, the terms used by each company and executive, how emails are addressed, and the amounts of the transfers that have been made. With this information an attacker can craft convincing emails that are unlikely to arouse suspicion.

The scale of the problem was highlighted earlier this year when the FBI released figures as part of a public awareness campaign in June. The FBI reported that $3.1 billion had been lost as a result of BEC scams. Just four months earlier, the losses were $2.3 billion, clearly showing that the threat was becoming more severe.

This year also saw a huge increase in W-2 scams in the United States. W-2 data is requested from HR departments in a similar manner to the BEC scams. Rather than trying to fool email recipients into making fraudulent transfers, the attackers request W-2 data on employees in order to allow them to file fraudulent tax returns in their names. The IRS issued a warning earlier this following a huge increase in W2 attacks on organizations in the United States.

Companies large and small were targeted, with major attacks conducted on Seagate, Snapchat, Central Concrete Supply Co. Inc, and Mainline Health. Between January and March 2016, 55 major – and successful – W-2 scams were reported to the IRS.

Attackers do not even need email account passwords to conduct these attacks. Email addresses of CEOs and executives can easily be spoofed to make them appear that they have been sent internally. The sheer number of stolen email addresses – and in many cases also passwords – makes the threat of BEC and W-2 attacks even greater. Security experts predict next year will be even tougher for businesses with even more cyberattacks than in 2016.

Improve Your Defenses Against Email-Borne Threats in 2017

Reducing the risk of these attacks requires multi-layered defenses. It is essential that all employees authorized to make corporate bank transfers receive training on email security and are alerted to the risk of BEC scams. Policies should be introduced that require bank transfer requests to be authorized by a supervisor and/or authenticated by phone prior to the transfer being made.

All employees should be instructed to use strong passwords and never to share work passwords anywhere else online. Many employees still use the same password for work as for personal accounts. However, if one online platform is breached, it can give the attackers access to all other platforms where the same password has been used – including corporate email accounts.

Organizations should also implement controls to block phishing and spear phishing attacks. Blocking phishing emails reduces reliance on the effectiveness of anti-phishing training for employees.

SpamTitan is a highly effective tool for blocking malicious spam emails, including phishing and spear phishing emails. SpamTitan uses a range of techniques to identify spam and scam emails including Bayesian analyses, greylisting and blacklists. SpamTitan incorporates robust anti-malware and anti-phishing protection, as well as outbound email scanning to block spam and scams from corporate email accounts. SpamTitan is regularly tested by independent experts and is shown to block 99.97% of spam email with a low false positive rate of just 0.03%.

2016 may have been a particularly bad year for data breaches and the outlook doesn’t look good for 2017, but by taking affirmative action and implementing better defenses against email-borne attacks, you could ensure that your company is not added to the 2017 list of data breach and scam statistics.

How Do Spam Filters Block Spam Email?

How do spam filters block spam email? Spammers are constantly adapting their strategies to bypass spam filters and deliver more malicious messages to corporate users’ inboxes, so how do antispam solutions keep pace and block these annoying and often malicious messages?

Many anti-spam solutions rely on blacklists to identify spammers’ email addresses and IP addresses. Once a spammer’s IP address has been identified, it is added to a global spam blacklist.

Antispam solutions check incoming messages against these blacklists. As soon as an IP address is blacklisted, any email sent from that IP address is automatically marked as spam and will be deleted or quarantined.

Spammers are aware that the lifespan of an email address for spamming is short. As anti-spam solutions have improved, the time delay between an email address being used for spamming and it being added to a global spam blacklist has reduced considerably. Whereas spammers used to be able to use an email address for weeks before it was identified by anti-spam solutions and blacklisted, now the lag has been reduced to days or even hours.

Spammers therefore have a very small window of opportunity to use email addresses and mail servers for spamming before they are detected and blacklisted.

Snowshoe and Hailstorm Spam Tactics to Get Messages to Inboxes

Spammers have attempted to increase the timespan for using email addresses using a number of methods, the most common being conducting snowshoe campaigns. This tactic involves sending out very low numbers of spam email messages from each IP address. If spam email volume is kept low, there is less chance of the IP address being recognized as used for spamming. To ensure sufficient numbers of messages are sent, spammers use millions of IP addresses. Even using this tactic will not allow the spammers to conduct their activities undetected for very long. Spammers therefore need to constantly add new IP addresses to their spamming networks to enable them to continue conducting their campaigns.

Snowshoe tactics are now widely used and the technique is highly effective, although a new tactic has recently been uncovered that is referred to as hailstorm spamming. Hailstorm spam campaigns similarly involve extremely large numbers of IP addresses, yet they are used very briefly and intensely. Rather than trying to stay under the radar, the spammers use those IP addresses to send huge volumes of messages very quickly.

Researchers at Cisco Talos recently analyzed both tactics and determined that the DNS query volume from a typical snowshoe campaign involved around 35 queries an hour. A hailstorm spam campaign involved around 75,000 queries an hour. The snowshoe campaign would continue at that rate for many hours, whereas the hailstorm spam campaign spiked and then fell to next to nothing. Hailstorm campaigns can therefore be used to deliver huge volumes of emails before the IP addresses are added to blacklists.

How do Spam Filters Block Spam Email?

How do spam filters block spam email when these tactics are used? Snowshoe and hailstorm spam campaigns are effective against antispam solutions that rely on blacklists to identify spammers. Only when an IP address is added to a blacklist will the spam email messages be blocked.  Advanced spam solutions offer far greater protection. Blacklist are still used, although a number of other methods of spam detection are employed.

Conducting a Bayesian analysis on all incoming spam email messages greatly reduces the volume of spam email messages that are delivered to end users. A Bayesian analysis involves reading the contents of a message and assessing the words, phrases, headers, message paths, and CSS or HTML contained in the message. While scoring, messages based on content can be effective, Bayesian spam filters also learn as they go. They constantly compare spam emails to legitimate emails and build up the range of spam characteristics that are checked. As spammers change tactics, this is picked up by a Bayesian spam filter and spam messages continue to be filtered.

The use of greylisting is also important in a spam filter. There will be some messages that pass all of the checks and some that monumentally fail. Categorizing these messages as genuine or spam is therefore simple. However, there is a sizeable grey area – messages that could potentially be spam.

If all of these messages are blocked, many genuine emails would not be delivered. If they are all allowed, many spam messages would get through. This would result in poor catch rates or extremely high false positive rates. Greylisting helps in this regard. Suspect messages are returned to the sender’s mail server and a request is made for the message to be resent. Since spammers mail servers are typically constantly busy, these requests are either ignored or they are not dealt with promptly. The time it takes for the message to be resent is therefore a good indicator of whether the message is genuine.

SpamTitan – Keep Your Inboxes Spam Free

SpamTitan uses a range of methods to identify spam emails including blacklists, Bayesian analyses, and greylisting. These checks ensure that more spam emails are identified and blocked, even if IP addresses have yet to be added to spam blacklists. This makes SpamTitan highly effective, even when spammers use snowshoe and hailstorm spamming tactics. By using a range of methods to identify spam emails, spam detection rates are improved and false positives are reduced.

SpamTitan is independently tested every month to determine its effectiveness. SpamTItan is consistently verified as capable of blocking more than 99.97% of spam emails, with a false positive rate below 0.03%.

If you want to find out the difference that SpamTitan makes to the volume of spam messages that are delivered to your employees’ inboxes, why not take advantage of our free, no-obligation 30-day trial. You can implement the solution quickly, evaluate its effectiveness, and you will receive full customer and technical support for the duration of the trial.

To find out more about SpamTitan and the difference it can make to your business, call the TitanHQ sales team today.

Why Should Businesses Perform Outbound Email Scanning?

All antispam solutions and spam filters check inbound messages for common spam signatures; however, it is also important to choose a solution that performs outbound email scanning. Outbound email scanning ensures spam emails, or emails containing malware, are not sent from an organization’s email accounts or domains.

Your employees would be unlikely to knowingly use their corporate email accounts to send spam emails, but malware infections can allow cybercriminals to gain access to email accounts and use them to send high volumes of spam email messages. Cybercriminals could also compromise email accounts and use an organization’s domain to send malware and ransomware to clients and customers.

Should this happen, it can have a seriously detrimental effect on an organization’s reputation and may result in corporate email accounts or an entire domain being blacklisted.

Blacklists are maintained by a number of organizations – spamhaus.org for example. Internet Service Providers (ISPs), web servers, and antispam solutions check these blacklists before allowing emails to be delivered to end users. If a particular IP address, email account, or domain is listed in one of the blacklist databases, emails sent from the domain, IP address or email account will not be delivered.

Blacklists are updated in real-time and contain many millions of blocked domains and email addresses that have been reported as having been used for unwanted activity such as the sending of spam emails. If emails are sent from a blacklisted account, domain, or IP address those emails will either be directed to a quarantine folder, deleted, or will simply be rejected.

If a business has its domain added to a spam blacklist important emails to clients and customers will not get through. This can prove costly, as real estate firm Keller Williams has recently discovered.

Blacklisted Domains and Email Accounts Can Prove Costly for Businesses

Over the past few days, email messages sent from the kw.com domain used by Keller Williams have been rejected by AOL. Yahoo has been blocking emails from the kw.com account for some time. The problem appears to be the addition of the kw.com domain to spam blacklists.

If a Keller Williams real estate agent needs to send an email to a customer who has an AOL or Yahoo account, it will not be delivered. Agents have therefore been forced to get customers to open Google email accounts in order to send online paperwork or documents requiring e-signatures.

The issue also affects online paperwork sent via the transaction management software program Ziplogix, with one Keller Williams agent also claiming Dotloop is also affected. Some agents at Keller Williams have reportedly had to send important paperwork for listings and sales via personal email accounts to ensure emails are delivered.

The AOL website explains that when domains have been flagged as being abusive, the server will be temporarily blocked until the spamming stops. Until a domain is removed from its blacklist, AOL account holders will be prevented from receiving emails from the blocked domain. Removing the domain from the blacklist can take up to a week.

Removing a domain from the 80+ commonly used spam blacklists can be a time-consuming task; furthermore, if spam emails are sent from the account again, the domain will simply be added to the blacklists once more.

Outbound Email Scanning Prevents the Blacklisting of an Organization’s Domain

Unlike many third-party antispam solutions, SpamTitan checks incoming email messages for spam signatures as well as performing outbound email scanning. If an email account has been compromised and is being used to send spam emails, if malware is sending spam, those messages will be blocked and will not be sent. Outbound email scanning is an important protection that will prevent an organization’s domain or email accounts from being used to send spam or malware.

Organizations can therefore avoid the embarrassment and reputation damage that results from being suspected as engaging in spamming or malware delivery. They can also rest assured that in addition to blocking 99.97% of inbound email spam, their domains and email accounts will not be added to spam blacklists.

Holiday Season Malware Infections Increase Again

‘Tis the season to be jolly, although ‘tis also the season to be infected with malware. The holiday season is an annual highlight for cybercriminals. Holiday season malware infections are to be expected as cybercriminals increase their efforts and try to infect as many users with malware as possible.

Malware is an ever-present threat, but the increase in online activity in the run up to the holiday season means easy pickings for cybercriminals. Consumers are starting to prepare for the holidays earlier, but not as early as the scammers. As consumers head online in their droves, scammers and other cybercriminals are lying in wait.

The advent of Black Friday and Cyber Monday – days where shoppers are offered amazing deals to prompt early Christmas purchases– see a frenzy of online activity. There are discounts aplenty and great deals to be had.

However, not all of those discounts are genuine. Many are scams that are used to phish for sensitive information or spread malware infections. As is the case every year, the holiday season sees a spike in malware infections, with the biggest spike over Thanksgiving weekend. This year has been no exception. Holiday season malware infections have increased significantly year on year.

Holiday Season Malware Infections Rise 118% Above Normal Levels

This year, over the first official shopping weekend of the holiday season, malware infections increased by 106% according to data compiled by the Enigma Software Group. On Cyber Monday, when even more great deals on online purchases are made available, malware infections were 118% higher than normal.

Those figures are only for Windows users. Add in smartphones and Apple devices and the figures would be higher still. The problem is also getting worse. Last year there was a spike of 84% over normal levels during the Thanksgiving weekend.

There have been a number of suggestions put forward as to why the figures are so high this year. One of the main reasons is simply due to the number of shoppers heading online. Each year sees more individuals choosing to go online shopping over Thanksgiving weekend. More online shoppers mean more opportunities to infect users with malware.

However, there are also more actors involved in online scams, malware-as-a-service and ransomware-as-a-service has also grown in popularity, and many cybercriminals have started up affiliate schemes to get more help spreading their malicious software. Individuals who succeed in infecting computers with ransomware are given a cut of the profits and there is no shortage of people willing to try the affiliate schemes to boost their own earnings.

Cybercriminals are also getting better at developing convincing scams and malicious email messages. The grammatical and spelling mistakes that were common in phishing emails in years gone by are largely gone. Now, almost perfect emails are sent and scammers are using a wide range of social engineering techniques to lure end users into clicking on malicious links or opening infected email attachments. Spoofed retail sites are also now commonplace – and extremely convincing.

The growth of social media has also helped boost cybercriminal activity. Malicious posts are being shared online offering discounts, special offers, and unmissable deals. However, all end users get is a malware download.

Avoiding a Bad Start to Holiday Season

To avoid becoming a victim of a scam or having to deal with a malware or ransomware infection, shoppers must be vigilant and exercise more caution. Offers that sound too good to be true usually are. Unsolicited emails should always be treated as suspicious and extra care should be taken when clicking on any link or visiting a retail site.

Businesses should also take extra precautions. A malware or ransomware infection can prove extremely costly to resolve. While warnings should be sent to end users about the risks of holiday season malware infections, technological solutions should also be in place to prevent malicious file downloads.

Antispam solutions are highly effective at blocking malicious messages such as phishing emails and emails containing malware. SpamTitan blocks 99.97% of spam messages, contains a powerful anti-phishing module, and blocks 100% of known malware.

Malicious links on social media sites and on third-party ad networks (malvertisting) are a very real risk. However, a web filter can be used to control access to social media sites, block malicious third-party adverts, and prevent end users from visiting websites known to contain malware.

If you want to keep your network free from malware this holiday season, if you have not already used these two solutions, now is the time. They will also help to keep your network malware free around the year. And with security experts predicting a massive increase in ransomware and malware attacks in 2017, there is no better time to start improving your defenses.

Ransomware Advice for Businesses

Ransomware Advice for Businesses

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) in the United States has responded to the current ransomware epidemic by issuing ransomware advice for businesses and consumers. The FTC ransomware advice for businesses comes following a spate of high profile ransomware attacks on U.S businesses. The threat has prompted many U.S. government agencies to release ransomware advice for businesses in the past few months.

Ransomware is a form of malware that encrypts files on a victim’s computer and prevents them from being accessed. After a computer is infected, the attackers issue a ransom demand. In order to obtain the key to unlock the encryption the victim is required to pay a ransom. The ransom amount can be set by the attackers, although it is often around $500 per infected computer.

Ransomware has proved incredibly popular with cybercriminals as it offers a quick source of revenue. Since payment is made in an anonymous cryptocurrency such as Bitcoin, money can be collected without fear of being caught.

The scale of the problem has been shown by numerous reports by security firms. This month, SentinelOne released the results of a global survey that showed 48% of organizations had experienced at least one ransomware attack in the past 12 months. The companies that had been attacked had been forced to deal with an average of 6 ransomware incidents in the past year.

A report released by Beazley’s Breach Response Unit suggests ransomware attacks between January and September were four times higher than in 2015, while a report from Kaspersky Lab suggests there has been an eightfold increase in attacks in the past year.

Ransomware is installed via a number of different attack vectors. Ransomware gangs use exploit kits on websites that probe for vulnerabilities in browsers. Those vulnerabilities are leveraged to download ransomware. Malvertising is also used. This is the use of third party ad networks to spread malware. Adverts are created containing malicious code which directs users to websites that silently download ransomware. Ransomware downloaders were also allegedly sent out via Facebook Messenger this week.

However, the biggest attack vector is email. Spam emails are sent containing attachments that have been infected with malicious macros, JavaScript files, and other ransomware downloaders. Links to malicious websites are also distributed via email. The attackers use a range of social engineering techniques to convince email recipients to click on malicious links or open infected attachments. Doing so results in ransomware being installed.

While not all ransomware attacks result in files being encrypted, attacks carry a significant cost. SentinelOne suggests that in the United States, organizations spend an average of 38 man-hours restoring files from backups after a ransomware attack. Additional investment in security is also required after an attack.

Since ransomware can spread laterally across a network, a single infection can result in many computers being infected. Ransom demands of the order of tens of thousands of dollars are not uncommon. The recent ransomware attack on the San Francisco ‘Muni’ rail system saw a ransom demand of $73,000 issued.

Ransomware Advice for Businesses

Unfortunately, antivirus software can be ineffective at preventing ransomware attacks. Businesses looking to defend against ransomware must therefore use a range of techniques. These include:

  • Ensuring all software is kept up to date and patches applied promptly
  • Setting antivirus and antimalware programs to update definitions automatically
  • Use endpoint security controls to prevent ransomware installations
  • Implement a robust spam filter to prevent malicious emails from being delivered to end users
  • Use a web filtering solution to prevent employees from visiting malicious websites and to monitor users’ online activities to identify high risk activities
  • Use intrusion prevention software
  • Train the workforce on security best practices and test knowledge to ensure training has been effective
  • Ensure all members of staff are aware who to contact and what to do if they believe they have inadvertently installed malicious software

To avoid paying a ransom, it is essential to ensure that regular backups of data are performed. Multiple backups should be made to minimize the risk of data loss. Those backups should be stored on an air-gapped device to avoid backup files also being encrypted. A ransomware response plan should also be developed to reduce disruption to the business in the event of an attack.

Malicious Spam Emails Sent After MailChimp Account Hack

The email marketing service MailChimp employs security controls to ensure that its customers do not use the service to send spam; yet, this week malicious spam emails were sent from multiple accounts after a MailChimp account hack.

Customer accounts that were breached included Business News Australia, Brisbane’s The Sit Down Comedy Club, and gardening and home services provider Jim’ Group.

MailChimp accounts are valuable to spammers as subscribers to company newsletters are more likely to trust the emails than they would an email from an unknown sender. The hijacked accounts were used to send spam emails demanding an invoice be paid. Spammers often target businesses with malicious emails that spread malware. If malware such as a keylogger can be installed, the attackers can gain access to corporate email accounts or gain network access. Corporate bank account details can be stolen and fraudulent transfers made.

A fake invoice is a common ploy used to fool email recipients into opening an infected email attachment or clicking on a malicious link. A sense of urgency is often included to scare the recipient into opening the attachment. A threat of legal action if the outstanding invoice is not paid promptly is a common tactic.

In this case, a number of different variants were sent. Some emails contained an image with an embedded hyperlink which recipients could click to view the invoice. The spammers also included the logo of accounting software Quickbooks for extra authenticity.

Other emails included an attached zip file which contained a malicious JavaScript file. If run, the JavaScript downloaded malware onto the email recipient’s computer.

Initially, it appeared that MailChimp had experienced a security breach that resulted in spammers gaining access to accounts; although the company issued a statement saying that an investigation of the incident did not point to an internal breach.

MailChimp told Motherboard “MailChimp’s normal compliance processes identified and disabled a small number of individual accounts sending fake invoices. We have investigated the situation and have found no evidence that MailChimp has been breached. The affected accounts have been disabled, and fraudulent activity has stopped.”

How the MailChimp account hack was pulled off remains a mystery. The spammers may have managed to guess the passwords that were used to secure accounts or they could have obtained those passwords by other means. The practice of reusing passwords on multiple platforms could be to blame. If a breach of one platform occurs, cybercriminals can gain access to all other online services that use the same password.

In a recent post, computer security blogger Graham Cluley suggested some passwords were obtained by the password stealing Trojan Vawtrak. Cluley was contacted by an anonymous source who claimed to be in possession of two thousand MailChimp login credentials which were recorded by Vawtrak.

Details of the MailChimp account hack are unlikely to be released, although the incident shows how important it is for businesses to use two-factor authentication to secure their online accounts. The incident also shows how important it is to exercise caution and to treat any email attachment of hyperlink as potentially malicious, even if the sender of the email is known.

Phishing: The Biggest Hacking Threat to Businesses

The biggest hacking threat to businesses comes not from unpatched software, but phishing. An incredibly simple, yet highly effective way that cybercriminals gain access to networks. Phishing can be used to bypass even the most sophisticated of cybersecurity defenses. Why go to the trouble of trying to find a weakness in highly sophisticated cybersecurity defenses when a simple email can get an employee to give the attacker their login credentials?

As Jeh Johnson, Secretary for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, recently explained to attendees at the Financial Crimes and Cybersecurity Symposium in New York, phishing is one of the department’s biggest fears.

“The most devastating attacks by the most sophisticated attackers almost always begin with the simple act of spear-phishing,” says Johnson. It is no surprise that phishing is the biggest hacking threat to businesses. Phishing is alarmingly effective.

Even multi-million dollar cybersecurity defenses can be bypassed with a simple phishing email. The social engineering techniques used by cybercriminals often get the desired response.

Most of the largest hacks in the United States were possible not due to a security weakness, but because an employee responded to a phishing email. The cyberattacks on Ebay, Target, the Office of Personnel Management, JP Morgan, Anthem, and Sony Pictures all started with a simple phishing email.

Cybercriminals have also started using phishing emails to distribute ransomware. Malicious links are sent to company employees along with a request to click for free items, to take part in prize draws, or even to secure their computers to prevent cyberattacks.

Phishing has been around for as long as email and cybercriminals will not stop using phishing to gain access to networks, install malware, lock files with ransomware, and steal data. Phishing is likely to remain the biggest hacking threat to businesses. Organizations – and their employees – just need to get better at identifying and blocking phishing attempts.

One of the best defenses against phishing is to ensure that all staff members from the CEO down receive security awareness and anti-phishing training.

Training alone is insufficient. Staff can be told how to identify phishing attempts, but their ability to spot a phishing email must be put to the test. Anti-phishing skills need to be regularly tested. Dummy phishing emails should be sent to check to see who responds. Johnson says his department often sends fake phishing emails – free Redskins tickets for example – to test anti-phishing prowess. Anyone who responds is provided with further training.

Training is important in case a phishing email reaches an employee’s inbox, although it is far better to ensure phishing emails are not delivered. The best technological defense against phishing is the use of a spam filter. If phishing emails are not delivered to inboxes, staff members will not be able to respond and their anti-phishing skills will not be put to the test.

SpamTitan is a highly effective spam filtering solution for businesses that blocks 99.97% of spam email. Each month SpamTitan is independently tested for effectiveness. SpamTitan has now won 36 consecutive VB Bulletin antispam awards.

SpamTitan is a highly scalable anti-spam solution that’s suitable for businesses of all sizes. SpamTitan can be installed as a software solution, as a virtual appliance, or as a 100% cloud-based solution, the latter being ideal for managed service providers (MSPs).

Each solution is quick and easy to install, requires a low management overhead, and incorporates a host of features to block malware and prevent the delivery of phishing emails.

We are so confident that you will be impressed with SpamTitan that we offer the full product on a 100% free, 30-day trial. For further information contact TitanHQ today and take the first step toward banishing spam.

Malicious Email Spam Volume Hits 2-Year High, Says Kaspersky Lab

Malicious email spam volume has increased again. According to the latest figures from Kaspersky Lab, malicious email spam volume in Q3, 2016 reached a two-year high.

In Q3 alone, Kaspersky Lab’s antivirus products identified 73,066,751 malicious email attachments which represents a 37% increase from the previous quarter. Malicious spam email volume has not been at the level seen in Q3 since the start of 2014. Kaspersky Lab’s figures show that six out of ten emails (59.19%) are spam; a rise of around 2% from Q2, 2016. September was the worst month of the year to date, with 61.25% of emails classified as unsolicited spam.

Spam includes a wide range of unsolicited emails including advertising and marketing by genuine companies, although cybercriminals extensively use email to distribute malware such as banking Trojans, keyloggers, and ransomware. The use of the latter has increased considerably throughout the year. In Q3, the majority of malicious emails contained either ransomware or downloaders that are used to install ransomware on personal computers and business networks.

Ransomware is a form of malware that locks files on a computer with powerful encryption, preventing the victim from gaining access to their data. Many ransomware variants are capable of spreading laterally and can encrypt files on other networked computers. All it takes is for one individual in a company to open an infected email attachment or click on a malicious link in an email for ransomware to be downloaded.

Spammers often use major news stories to trick people into opening the messages. The release of the iPhone 7 in Q3 saw spammers take advantage. Spam campaigns attempted to convince people that they had won an iPhone 7. Others offered the latest iPhone at rock bottom prices or offered an iPhone 7 for free in exchange for agreeing to test the device. Regardless of the scam, the purpose of the emails is the same. To infect computers with malware.

There was an increase in malicious email spam volume from India in Q3. India is now the largest source of spam, accounting for 14.02% of spam email volume. Vietnam was second with 11.01%, with the United States in third place, accounting for 8.88% of spam emails sent in the quarter.

Phishing emails also increased considerably in Q3, 2016. Kaspersky Lab identified 37,515,531 phishing emails in the quarter; a 15% increase compared to the Q2.

Business email compromise (BEC) attacks and CEO fraud are on the rise. These scams involve impersonating a CEO or executive and convincing workers in the accounts department to make fraudulent bank transfers or email sensitive data such as employee tax information. Some employees have been fooled into revealing login credentials for corporate bank accounts. Cybercriminals use a range of social engineering techniques to fool end users into opening emails and revealing sensitive information to attackers.

Security awareness training is important to ensure all individuals – from the CEO down – are aware of email-borne threats; although all it takes is for one individual to be fooled by a malicious email for a network to be infected or a fraudulent bank transfer to be made.

The rise in malicious email spam volume in Q3, 2016 shows just how important it is to install an effective spam filter such as SpamTitan.

SpamTitan has been independently tested by VB Bulletin and shown to block 99.97% of spam emails. SpamTitan has also been verified as having a low false positive rate of just 0.03%. Dual antivirus engines (Kaspersky Lab and ClamAV) make SpamTitan highly effective at identifying malicious emails and preventing them from being delivered to end users.

If your end users are still receiving spam emails you should consider switching antispam providers. To find out the difference that SpamTitan can make, contact the Sales Team today and register for a free, no obligation 30-day trial.

Holiday Season Scams Aplenty as Black Friday Draws Closer

Thanksgiving weekend sees Americans head on line in the tens of millions to start online Christmas shopping in earnest and this year the holiday season scams have already started.

Black Friday and Cyber Monday are the busiest online shopping days, but some retailers are kickstarting their promotions early this year and have already started offering Black Friday deals. Amazon.com for example launches its first Black Friday offers tomorrow, well ahead of the big day on 25th November.

It is no surprise that retailers are trying to get ahead. 41% of shoppers start their holiday shopping in October according to a recent National Retail Federation survey. 41% of shoppers wait until November. 82% of shoppers like to make an early start, and this year so are the scammers.

A popular tactic used by cybercriminals is typosquatting – the registration of fake domains that closely match the brand names of well-known websites. Phishers use this tactic to obtain login credentials and credit card numbers. In recent weeks, there has been an increase in typosquatting activity targeting banks and retailers.

A fake domain is registered that closely matches that of the targeted website. For instance, the Amaz0n.com domain could be purchased, with the ‘o’ replaced with a zero. Alternatively, two letters could be transposed to catch out careless typists. A website is then created on that domain that closely matches the targeted website. Branding is copied and the layout of the genuine site is replicated.

There is another way that scammers can take advantage of careless typists. Each country has its own unique top level domain. Websites in the United States have .com. Whereas, websites registered in the Middle Eastern country of Oman have the .om domain. Scammers have been buying up the .om domains and using them to catch out careless typists. In the rush to get a holiday season bargain, many users may not notice they have typed zappos.om instead of zappos.com.

Visitors to these scam websites enter their login credentials as normal, yet all they are doing is giving them to the attackers. The scammers don’t even need to spoof an entire website. When the login fails, the site can simply redirect the user to the genuine site. Users then login as normal and complete their purchases. However, the scammers will have their login credentials and will be able to do the same.

However, many websites now have additional security features to prevent the use of stolen login credentials. If a login attempt is made from an unrecognized IP address, this may trigger additional security features. The user may have to answer a security question for example.

Some scammers have got around this problem. When a user attempts to login on a scam site, a login session is automatically opened on the genuine website. The information entered on the scam site is then used by the attackers on the genuine site. When the unusual IP address triggers an additional security element, this is then mirrored on the scam site with the same question forwarded to the user. The question is answered, and an error message is generated saying the login was unsuccessful. The user is then redirected to the genuine site and repeats the process and gains access. Chances are they will be unaware their account details have been compromised. Hours later, the scammers will login to the genuine site using the same credentials.

Businesses must also exercise caution at this time of year and should take steps to reduce the risk of employees falling for holiday season scams. Employees keen to get the latest bargains will undoubtedly complete some of their purchases at work.

Email scams increase at this time of year and business email accounts can be flooded with scam emails. Offers of discounts and special deals are likely to flood inboxes again this year. Email holiday season scams may not be about stealing login credentials. Given the increase in malware and ransomware infections in 2016, this holiday season is likely to see many holiday season scams infect businesses this year. A careless employee looking for an online bargain could all too easily click a link that results in a malware download or ransomware infection.

As holiday season fast approaches, the scammers will be out in force. It is therefore important for both businesses and consumers to take extra care. If you want to find out how you can protect your business from malware and ransomware, contact the TitanHQ team today and find out more about our security solutions.

Malicious Spam Email Volume Increases Again

Spam email volume has reduced over the past couple of years following the takedown of key botnets – and individuals – behind some of the biggest spamming campaigns. It was starting to look like the super-spamming days of the early 2010s were a thing of the past. However, spam email volume has been increasing in recent months.

Necurs botnet activity has increased and last month the Tofsee botnet came back to life after years of dormancy. Both of these botnets had previously been used to send annoying but relatively harmless spam emails offering cheap pharmaceuticals and offers of beautiful Russian brides. However, the increase in activity is also coupled with the move to malicious email attachments containing malware and ransomware.

These and other botnets such as Helihos are also growing in size at alarming rates and spam email volume is soaring. Some reports suggest spam email volume has increased from around 200,000 spam emails per second to 450,000 emails per second over the past couple of months.

But what are these malicious email attachments, and how big is the risk?

97% of Malicious Spam Email Attachments Contain Locky Ransomware

Locky ransomware first appeared in February 2016. It has since become one of the biggest email threats. The ransomware is being sent in massive spam campaigns and increasingly sophisticated social engineering techniques are used to infect end users.

To put these email campaigns into some perspective, historically, the volume of spam email used to deliver malware, ransomware, and other email nasties stood at around 2% of the total spam email volume. By around April this year, two months after Locky first appeared on the scene, malicious spam emails containing the ransomware accounted for around 18% of total spam email volume.

The Quarterly Threat Report issued by ProofPoint earlier this month suggests the volume of spam email containing malicious attachments or links reached record levels in quarter 3, 2016. The vast majority of those emails contained Locky. According to the report, 97% of captured spam emails with malicious attachments were used to deliver Locky. That’s a 28% increase from Q2, and a 64% increase since Q1.

Since its release, Locky ransomware has been infecting users via Word documents containing malicious macros, JavaScript files, executable HTML files (HTA), and more recently Windows Script Files (WSF) hiding the Nemucod downloader. Now, another change has been detected. Earlier this month, researchers at the Microsoft Malware Protection Center discovered the actors behind Locky ransomware had made another change to the way they infect computers and made the switch to shortcut files (LNK) containing PowerShell commands.

This discovery coincided with a drop in detection and a relatively quiet period for the past two weeks. However, Locky is back with a vengeance. On Monday this week, three new campaigns were detected, one of which was massive and involved 14 million messages in around half a day. 6 million of those messages were sent in a single hour!

The risk from Locky is considerable. Locky is capable of deleting Windows Shadow Files and encrypting a wide range of data, including data on portable storage devices and network drives. Resolving an attack can prove extremely costly. It is therefore essential to improve defenses to prevent attacks.

Ransomware and Malware Protection

Larger botnets and the move to malicious messages means organizations need to be prepared and take steps to ensure that these messages are effectively blocked.

Protecting your organization from email attacks is critical. It is therefore essential to employ a robust enterprise spam filtering solution. SpamTitan blocks 99.7% of spam email, preventing malicious email attachments and links from being delivered to your end users. This reduces reliance on training programs to educate end users on email threats.

Preventing ransomware infections requires a multi-layered approach. There is no silver bullet that will offer total protection against ransomware infections, but there are security products that can greatly reduce risk.

Protecting against exploit kits and malvertising requires a web filtering solution. By blocking websites known to contain malware or exploit kits, and carefully controlling the website content that can be accessed by employees, organizations can effectively protect against web-borne infections. WebTitan offers that protection and can be used to block malicious websites and reduce the risk from infections via malvertising.

Along with intrusion detection systems, firewalls, antivirus and anti-malware solutions, it is possible to defend against ransomware and malware attacks and keep your data secured.

HIPAA Guidance on Ransomware Issued by HHS

In response to the massive rise in ransomware attacks on healthcare organizations, the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office for Civil Rights has developed new HIPAA guidance on ransomware for covered entities.

The guidance covers best practices that can be adopted to prevent cybercriminals from installing ransomware, along with helpful advice on how to prepare for ransomware attacks and how to respond when critical files are encrypted by malicious software. Importantly, the new HHS guidance on ransomware also confirms how these security breaches are classed under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act. Many healthcare security professionals feel that HIPAA guidance on ransomware has been long overdue.

HIPAA Guidance on Ransomware Clarifies Attacks ARE Reportable Data Breaches

In the new HIPAA guidance on ransomware, OCR has clarified the reporting requirements for ransomware attacks under HIPAA. Over the past few months, as ransomware attacks on healthcare organizations have soared, there has been much confusion over whether these attacks are classed as security incidents under HIPAA Rules.

It has been argued that since ransomware blindly encrypts files and does not usually involve the attackers actually gaining access to data, the incidents should not be reportable to the HHS. Also, it has been argued that there is no need to issue breach notification letters to patients whose data are temporarily encrypted.

The OCR has now confirmed that ransomware attacks are reportable and require a full breach response, including the mailing of breach notification letters to affected patients and health plan members.

A ransomware attack is considered to be a data breach unless the covered entity can demonstrate that there was only a “low probability that PHI has been compromised.” The OCR considers a breach to have occurred if “unauthorized individuals have taken possession or control of the information.”

How HIPAA Covered Entities Must Respond to Ransomware Attacks

Any HIPAA covered entity that experiences a ransomware attack must orchestrate a full breach response and proceed as they would for a malware attack or if a hacker gained access to PHI.

An accurate and thorough risk assessment must be conducted to determine whether there is any risk to the confidentiality, integrity, or availability of electronic protected health information (ePHI). HIPAA requires the infection to be contained and data must be restored to allow normal operations to continue. Security measures must be implemented to mitigate risks and prevent future attacks.

The Office for Civil Rights must be notified of the breach within 60 days of the discovery of the attack if the breach impacts 500 or more patients, or at the end of the year in the case of a smaller breach of patient records. Breach notification letters must also be mailed to patients within 60 days, in accordance with the HIPAA Breach Notification Rule. A breach notice must also be submitted to the media if the breach impacts 500 or more individuals.

Preparing for a Ransomware Attack

The new HIPAA guidance on ransomware explains that organizations must be prepared to deal with ransomware attacks.

Healthcare organizations should implement cybersecurity protection measures to prevent ransomware attacks, such as installing a robust spam filtering solution such as SpamTitan. Spam filters can prevent the majority of malicious emails from being delivered to end users. Staff members should also be trained on the risk of ransomware and advised how to identify phishing emails and malicious websites.

A risk analysis should be conducted to identify potential cybersecurity vulnerabilities that could be exploited by hackers to install ransomware. Any vulnerabilities that could increase the risk of a ransomware attack being successful should be addressed in a timely fashion.

An emergency operation plan must also be developed that can be immediately put in place upon discovery of a ransomware attack. The new HIPAA guidance on ransomware also states that emergency response plans should be regularly tested to ensure that they are effective.

Ransomware Attacks on Healthcare Organizations Soar

This year has seen an extraordinary number of ransomware attacks on healthcare organizations. In February, ransomware was installed on computers at Hollywood Presbyterian Medical Center in California and a ransom demand of $17,000 was issued. Hollywood Presbyterian Medical Center felt the best course of action to minimize damage was to pay the ransom and obtain the decryption keys to unlock data. On receipt of the funds, the attackers made good on their promise and supplied the keys to unlock the encryption.

However, some organizations have discovered that simply paying a ransom demand does not spell the end of the problem. There have been cases – notably Kansas Heart Hospital – where a ransom has been paid, only for a second ransom demand to be issued. Other companies have paid and not been supplied with working keys. Paying a ransom is no guarantee that data can be decrypted.

The FBI advises against paying ransom demands. Not only is there no guarantee that the attackers will supply working keys, but payment of ransoms only encourages the attackers to continue with their ransomware campaigns. Only by preparing for ransomware attacks can organizations ensure that in the event of ransomware being installed, they will be able to recover their files quickly without giving in to attackers’ demands.

The Ransomware Threat Should Not Be Ignored

The threat to healthcare organizations is severe. Research conducted by anti-phishing company PhishMe showed that in Q1, 2016, 93% of phishing emails contained ransomware. Figures from Symantec Security Response show that on average, 4,000 ransomware attacks have occurred every day since January 1, 2016. A report from security firm Solutionary, shows that in 2016, 88% of ransomware detections were by healthcare organizations.

So far this year, in addition to the attack on Hollywood Presbyterian Medical Center, ransomware attacks have been reported by MedStar Health and DeKalb Health, while Prime Healthcare reported that three of its hospitals – Desert Valley Hospital, Chino Valley Medical Center and Alvarado Hospital Medical Center – were attacked with ransomware. Methodist Hospital in Kentucky, Massachusetts General Hospital, and Yuba Sutter Medical Clinic in California have also reported ransomware attacks this year, to name but a few.

It may not be possible to prevent ransomware attacks, but if healthcare organizations invest in better security protections, the majority of attacks can be prevented. Provided that adequate preparations are made for ransomware attacks, in the event that the malicious software is installed, damage can be limited.

The HIPAA guidance on ransomware can be downloaded from the HHS website.

Malicious OLE Embedded Scripts in Email Spam Prompts Microsoft Warning

The use of Word macros and malicious JavaScript to deliver malware is nothing new; however, Microsoft has recently discovered that malicious actors are using malicious OLE embedded scripts to deliver a different payload. The discovery had prompted the software giant to issue a warning to Windows users to alert them to the risk.

Attackers are using the MS Office object linking and embedding (OLE) function to insert malicious scripts into spam emails. Social engineering techniques are also used to encourage users to double click on the malicious OLE embedded scripts.

The spam email messages used for these campaigns are simplistic, but effective. They appear to contain an invoice or receipt in the form of an attached Word document. However, the document contains a malicious JS script called Trojan:JS/Certor.A. Running the script will result in the users’ proxy settings being changed which will allow the attackers to steal authentication credentials and other sensitive data.

Opening the attached Word document will not automatically result in a user’s computer being compromised. The attached documents contain malicious OLE embedded scripts which are masked by text or icons. Typically, these embedded objects contain text asking the user to double click to view the invoice or receipt.

If the user double clicks as requested, they will receive a security warning on screen asking for confirmation that they want to open the file. The file will be identified as a Jscript Script file, but it will have an innocuous name. The user may not realize that the file is malicious. Although the names of the file are different for each campaign, they typically include terms such as PayPal, invoice, or receipt.

Allowing the file to be opened will see a range of malicious functions executed. Registry keys related to browser proxy settings will be modified, and a number of components will be dropped and executed. The malware even carries its own certificate.

The malware can be used to redirect users to malicious websites containing exploit kits, phishing campaigns, or ads. However, the malware will also enable the attackers to monitor HTTPS content and traffic and steal sensitive data such as login credentials entered on secure websites. The end user will be unaware that their computer has been compromised and that their actions online are being monitored.

To avoid infection, users have been told not to open attached files that are sent from unknown senders. Microsoft also says that this advice is all too often ignored by end users. For large businesses with many employees, preventing all users from running malicious OLE embedded scripts is a problem. There is always one employee that ignores security best practices. Unfortunately, all it takes for a network to be compromised is for one employee to run a malicious script.

The best step to take to ensure this doesn’t happen is to use a powerful spam filtering solution such as SpamTitan. SpamTitan stops 99.97% of spam emails from being delivered to end users’ inboxes.

Additionally, to prevent malicious OLE embedded scripts from being run, Microsoft offers the following advice:

“For added defense-in-depth, you can reduce the risk from this threat by following [Microsoft] guidance to adjust the registry settings to help prevent OLE Embedded Objects executing altogether or running without your explicit permission.”

New Fake Invoice Email Scam Targets Apple Device Users

Users of Apple devices have been warned about a new fake invoice email scam that attempts to get them to provide attackers with their bank details.

Another Email Scam Targets Apple Device Users

Criminals are sending spam emails in the millions in the hope that they will be received by owners of Apple devices. The spam emails contain a bogus invoice which indicates the user’s iTunes account has been used to download a number of videos, games, singles, and albums.

The fake invoice includes Apple logos and details of the amounts charged for each purchase. The email is intended to scare iTunes account holders into thinking their account has been compromised and used to make fraudulent purchases.

At the bottom of the invoice is a link for users to click if they did not authorize the purchases. The email recipient is told that they have 14 days to query purchases and receive refunds. However, clicking the “manage my refunds” link will not take the user to the Apple App Store website, but to a spoof site where they are asked to enter in their bank account information. The attackers claim that a refund will be given; however, divulging bank account details will enable the attackers to make fraudulent charges to the users’ accounts.

Both Apple and the FBI are investigating the latest fake invoice email scam. While Apple has not released a statement about this fake invoice email scam, after previous email spam campaigns Apple has told customers that they would not be asked to reveal sensitive information such as bank account details, passwords, and credit card numbers in emails.

When bank account information is required, such as to set up an iTunes account, the web address will be a subdomain of apple.com: store.apple.com for example. Apple advises customer never to reveal their sensitive information on any non-Apple website.

Fake Invoice Email Scam Targets Netflix Users

Criminals often spoof popular websites and attempt to phish for sensitive information such as credit card numbers and bank account details. Netflix it another popular target for scammers due to the number of subscribers to the service. A similar fake invoice email scam is also being used to fool Netflix account holders into disclosing their bank account information.

The spam emails contain an invoice for a subscription to Netflix claiming the user’s account will be charged to renew their subscription. The funds will be automatically taken from users’ accounts unless action is taken to change their auto-renew settings.

As with the Apple scam, a link is provided on the invoice which allows the email recipient to manage their subscription settings. The email appears to have been sent from Netflix, but clicking the link in the email will similarly take the user to a scam site. They are then taken through a series of steps to manage their subscription, which involves confirming their bank account details.

How to Avoid Becoming a Victim of Email Scams

These fake invoice email scam are designed to catch out the unwary and scare people into revealing sensitive information. However, by adopting some email security best practices it is easy to avoid scams such as these.

If you are sent an invoice in an email that claims to be from a web service, never click on the links in the email, no matter how realistic the email appears to be. Instead visit the official website and check account details or account charges directly on that website.

Cybercriminals often include links to spoofed websites in an attempt to obtain sensitive information, although the links can also direct the email recipient to a website hosting an exploit kit. Exploit kits probe for vulnerabilities in browsers and plugins that can be exploited to automatically download malware.

It is safest to assume that all attachments sent via email could be malicious. Never open an email attachment contained in an email unless you are 100% sure that it is genuine. Cybercriminals use email attachments to transmit malware and ransomware. Opening an attachment can potentially result in a malware infection.

Small business owners should use software solutions to prevent the downloading of malware. While anti-virus and anti-malware software can prevent malware from being installed, cybercriminals are developing highly sophisticated malware which is not detected by anti-virus software. By installing a spam filtering solution such as SpamTitan, small businesses can prevent these malicious emails from being delivered to end users’ inboxes. This reduces reliance of employees’ ability to identify phishing and scam emails.

Latest PayPal Email Scam Appears to Use Genuine PayPal Email Account

A highly sophisticated PayPal email scam has been uncovered that is being used to deliver banking malware. Rather than promise the email recipient a sum of money or the opportunity to claim an inheritance from a long lost relative, this PayPal email scam claims a payment has been made to the victims account and that the money needs to be refunded.

The scam emails say that $100 has been fraudulently sent to the victims account and a refund is requested. The emails contain PayPal logos and appear to have been sent directly from PayPal. The emails appear to have been sent from the members@paypal.com email account. The message contains the subject line “You’ve got a money request”.

It is not clear how the attacker has managed to spoof the PayPal email account, or how the email manages to bypass the spam filter of Gmail.

If the victim responds to the email and makes the payment they will have lost $100; however, that is not all. The victim will also have malware loaded onto their computer. The malware will be loaded automatically regardless of whether the payment is made.

A link is contained in the email which the user must click to find out more about the transaction. The link contains a shortened URL and directs to a document detailing the transaction. The document has a goo.gl address and the link appears to be a jpeg image of the transaction details.

However, clicking the link will result in a javascript (.js) file being downloaded onto the victim’s computer. The script will download a flash executable file, which will install the malware if it is run.

Chthonic Banking Malware Delivered via PayPal Email Scam

The malware that is installed is a variant of the infamous Zeus banking malware – Chthonic. This malware has been programmed to inject its own code and images into banking websites. When the victim visits their online banking website the malware captures login names, passwords, PIN numbers, and answers to security questions. Many banking malware variants target a small number of financial institutions; however, Chthonic is capable of recording information entered into more than 150 different banking websites. Victims are primarily in the UK, US, Russia, Japan, and Italy.

Chthonic isn’t the only malware delivered. Researchers at Proofpoint have determined that an additional previously unknown malware variant called AZORult is also installed onto victims’ computers. Little is known about this new malware variant.

Beware of These Rio Olympics Email Scams

As the sports spectacular fast approaches it is time to be on high alert for Rio Olympics email scams. The Olympics have not yet started, but the scammers have certainly been active. Many new Rio Olympics email scams have been spotted in recent weeks and the number will certainly increase as the opening ceremony draws closer.

Any large sporting event that attracts massive global media interest is a good opportunity for scammers. With sports fans hungry for news of the latest events, information about competitors, or the latest betting odds, it is all too easy for the guard to be let down. A scramble for last minute tickets sees scammers rake in hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Many scammers feel that the Olympics is shooting fish in a barrel season. Which sadly it is.

Kaspersky Lab has reported that the first Rio Olympics email scams were uncovered as early as 2015; however, as the opening ceremony draws closer activity has increased by several orders of magnitude. In the UK, Action Fraud – the National fraud reporting body – has already received reports of 47 cases of fraud relating to the Rio Olympics, which has resulted in attackers gaining more than £300,000 ($392,800) in funds.

Watch out for these Rio Olympics Email Scams

The Rio Olympics email scams are as diverse as the events being competed over the 17-day competition. It is therefore a time to be particularly cautious.

Criminals are after bank details for fraudulent transfers, credit card details to make purchases, personal data for identity theft, and login credentials for all manner of nefarious activities. It is a time for everyone to be on their guard. Be prepared for a barrage of Rio Olympics email scams over the next few weeks and keep your wits about you online.

Fake Tickets Scams

The price of a ticket to the opening ceremony will cost anywhere between $60 to $1,400, although touts are offering tickets at vastly inflated prices. Ticket prices to see the most popular events can cost several thousand dollars. If a scammer can get a victim to part with their hard earned cash it could potentially be a big payday. If you are still planning on attending and you haven’t yet purchased a ticket, only buy from official sellers.

Scammers have already registered a host of official-looking domain names to fool the unwary into purchasing tickets and parting with their credit card numbers. The websites use official logos that have been lifted from the Internet and appear genuine. Fake or cheap SSL certificates are also purchased making the connections appear secure, yet checks may not have been performed on the company. A SSL (website starting with https) does not guarantee it is genuine. Before parting with your money, at least perform a WHOIS search on the domain owner. Fake domains have usually been purchased in the past few weeks or months. Also perform some online checks to make sure the website is genuine.

Be aware that just because a website ranks highly in the search engines it doesn’t mean it is legitimate. Many scammers use search engine poisoning to increase the rank and position of their websites. They may even appear above those of official ticket vendors.

Many Rio Olympics email scams direct sports fans to unofficial ticket sellers and scam websites. You will at best pay over the odds for a ticket, but most likely you will just be giving your money to a scammer and no tickets will ever arrive in the post.

Congratulations! You Have Won!

If you receive an email informing you that you have won (insert amazing prize here), chances are it is a scam. If it sounds too good to be true, it most probably is. While many Rio Olympics email scams attempt to get individuals to disclose bank details and credit card information, a great deal attempt to obtain money by other means.

Many Rio Olympics email scams direct users to official looking scam websites. Be very careful about disclosing any information on any website during the Olympics.

Emails are sent with fake attachments which, if opened, will infect the email recipients’ computer with malware or ransomware. Malware can log keystrokes and obtain login credentials. Ransomware will encrypt files and a ransom must be paid in order to obtain decryption keys. Links contained in websites often direct users to malicious websites where drive-by malware downloads take place.

Olympics and Zika News

If you are a sports fan and you want to follow the latest news, search for sports sites online and bookmark the pages. Do not click links contained in emails that are delivered to your inbox or spam folder. Many people click on any links contained in emails that seem interesting. Doing so could prove very costly. Scammers are sending out fake news emails or links to legitimate stories. Those links do not direct the recipient to news websites, but to sites loaded with exploit kits which download malware and ransomware onto users’ computers.

Fake Prize Draws

Social media is awash with offers to enter prize draws to win tickets to the Olympics. Be exceptionally careful about disclosing any personal information on social media sites. Scammers often use fake prize draws to obtain sensitive personal data. Those data can be used for future email scams, or to gain access to online accounts. Phishing campaigns are rife during the Olympics.

Fake lottery scams are also commonplace. Emails are sent out in the millions telling recipients they have won a prize draw or lottery. To claim the winnings, it is necessary to pay an admin fee and disclose credit card details or provide bank details for the transfer along with other sensitive information. The golden rule is: If you have not entered the draw, you cannot have won it. If you are asked to make a payment in order to receive winnings it is likely a scam.

If in any doubt as to the legitimacy of an email, delete it. Chances are you have not won a competition you have not entered and you are not lucky enough to have won an all-expenses paid trip to Rio to see the Olympics. It is likely to be one of the many Rio Olympics email scams currently circulating cyberspace.

Protecting Employees and Networks from Attack

Businesses need to take care to protect their networks and prevent their employees from inadvertently downloading malware or giving attackers a foothold in their network. There are plenty of malicious actors that will be using the frenzy surrounding the Rio Olympics to conduct their nefarious activities.

One of the best defenses against Rio Olympics email scams – and other malicious email spam in general – is to use a robust email spam filter such as SpamTitan. SpamTitan blocks 99.97% of email spam, preventing malicious emails from being delivered to end users.

To find out how SpamTitan can help you improve your security posture and prevent malware, ransomware, and phishing emails from being delivered to your employees, give the TitanHQ sales team a call today.