Email Scams

Reports of Internet users that have been caught out by email scams continue to increase. Whether it is drivers being told to pay speeding fines via a link on an email, or Facebook users being advised that they have violated the terms of their account, innocent victims continue to be ripped off by cybercriminals using email scams.

Business email compromise scams are also reported to have increased. These email scams involve the cybercriminal gaining access to a corporate email account – such as that of the CEO. An email is then sent apparently from the CEO to a member of the finance department requesting a bank transfer to the cybercriminal´s account. All too often the transfer is made without question.

Many email scams attempt to extract log-in credentials by asking the recipient of the email to log into an account to resolve an issue. The email contains a link to a bogus website, where the recipient keys in their username and password. In the case of the Facebook email scam, this gives the cybercriminal access to the recipient´s genuine account and all their social media contacts.

Many individuals use similar username and password combinations for multiple accounts and a cybercriminal could get the individual´s log-in credentials to all their online accounts (personal and work accounts) from just one scam email. Alternatively they could use the log-in credentials to infect the user´s accounts with malware.

To protect against email scams, security experts advise if you are contacted by email and asked to click a link, pay a fine, or open an attachment, assume it is a scam. Try to contact the individual sender or company supposed to have sent the email to confirm its authenticity. Do not use the contact information supplied in the email. Perform an Internet search to independently obtain the sender´s genuine contact details.

Other measures that can be taken to protect yourself from email scams include:

  • Carefully check the sender’s email. Does it look like it is genuine?
  • Never open email attachments from someone you do not know
  • If you receive an email offering you a prize or refund, stay safe and delete the email
  • Ensure anti-virus software is installed on your computer and is up to date.

Southern Oregon University Phishing Attack Nets Criminals $1.9 Million

A recent Southern Oregon University phishing attack has clearly demonstrated why so many cybercriminals have chosen phishing as their main source of income.

Hacking an organization takes considerable planning and effort, typically requiring many hours of hard work and a considerable amount of skill. Phishing on the other hand is easy by comparison, requiring little work. Furthermore, the potential profits from phishing can be considerable.

The Southern Oregon University Phishing Attack Required a Single Email

The Southern Oregon University phishing attack involved a single phishing email. The attackers impersonated a construction company – Andersen Construction – that was building a pavilion and student recreation center at the University.

The attackers spoofed the email address of the construction firm and requested all future payments be directed to a different bank account. The university then wired the next payment to the new account in April. The payment was for $1.9 million.

The university discovered the construction firm had not received the funds three days later. The FBI was contacted as soon as the fraud was discovered and efforts are continuing to recover the funds. The university reports that the attackers have not withdrawn all of the funds from their account, although a sizeable chunk is missing. Joe Mosley, a spokesperson for SOU said, “It’s certainly not all of the money that was transferred, but it’s not just nickels and dimes, either.”

In order to pull off a scam such as this, the attackers would need to know that the construction project was taking place and the name of the firm. Such information is not hard to find and universities often have construction projects taking place.

These attacks are known as Business Email Compromise (BEC) scams. They typically involve a contractor’s email account being hacked and used to send an email to a vendor. It is not clear whether the vendors email account had been hacked, but that step may not be required to pull off a phishing attack such as this.

Rise in BEC Attacks Prompts FBI Warning to Universities

In this case, the payment was substantial but it is far from an isolated incident. Last month, the FBI released a public service announcement warning universities of attacks such as this.

The FBI warned that access to a construction firm’s email account is not necessary. All that is required is for the scammer to purchase a similar domain to the one used by the firm. Accounts department employees may check the email address and not notice that there is a letter different.

By the time the university discovered a payment has not been received, the funds have already been cleared from the scammer’s account and cannot be recovered. Payments are commonly of the order of several hundred thousand dollars.

The FBI informed SOU that there have been 78 such attacks in the past year, some of which have been conducted on universities. However, all organizations are at risk from these BEC scams.

The Southern Oregon University phishing attack shows just how easy it can be for scammers to pull off a BEC attack. Protecting against this time of scam requires employees to be vigilant and to exercise extreme caution when requests are made to change bank accounts. Such a request should always be verified by a means other than email. A telephone call to the construction firm could easily have stopped this scam before any transfer was made.

Restaurants Facing Barrage of Fileless Malware Phishing Attacks

Cybercriminals have been conducting fileless malware phishing attacks and restaurants are in the firing line. Restaurants are being singled out as they tend to have relatively poor cybersecurity defenses and criminals can easily gain access to the credit card details of thousands of customers.

The phishing attacks are used to install fileless malware – malware that remains in the memory and does not involve any files being written to the hard drive. Consequently, fileless malware is particularly difficult to detect. By switching to fileless malware, which most static antivirus solutions do not detect, the criminals can operate undetected.

While fileless malware can be short-lived, only existing in the memory until the computer is rebooted, the latest variants are also persistent. The purpose of the malware is to allow the attackers to install a backdoor that provides access to restaurants’ computer systems. They can then steal the financial information of customers undetected.

The latest fileless malware phishing attacks involve RTF files. Researchers at Morphisec detected the campaign, which has been attributed to the hacking group FIN7; a group that has close associations with the Carbanak group.

The attacks start with a well-crafted phishing email, with social engineering methods used to encourage end users to open the attached RTF file. RTF files have been discovered that are restaurant themed, named menu.rtf and relating to orders. Some emails appear to have been written to target specific restaurant chains.

One intercepted phishing email claimed to be a catering order, with the attachment containing a list of the items required. In the email, brief instructions explaining when the order is needed and how to view the list of ordered items. The email was brief, but it was particularly convincing. Many restaurants are likely to be fooled by these fileless malware phishing attacks, with access to systems granted for long periods before detection.

As with other phishing campaigns, the user is prompted to enable the content in the attached file. Opening the RTF file presents the user with a large image that they must click in order to view the contents of the document. The document is expertly crafted, appears professional and suggests the contents of the document are protected. Double clicking on the image and confirming with a click on OK will launch the infection process, running JavaScript code.

FIN7 has recently been conducting attacks on financial institutions, but Morphisec reports that the methodology has changed for the malware attacks on restaurants. DNS queries are used to deliver the shellcode stage of infection, but in contrast to past attacks, the DNS queries are launched from the memory, rather than using PowerShell commands. Since the attack does not involve files being written to the hard drive, it is difficult to detect.

Further, the researchers checked the RTF file against VirusTotal and discovered none of the 56 AV vendors are currently detecting the file as malicious.

Corporate Phishing Emails Increased by 400% in Q2, 2017

Corporate phishing emails are one of the biggest cybersecurity risks faced by organizations. Cybercriminals are well aware that even companies with robust cybersecurity defenses are vulnerable to phishing attacks.

Phishing email volume is higher than at any other time in history. Employees are being targeted with threat actors now using sophisticated social engineering techniques to maximize the probability of employees clicking on links, opening infected email attachments or disclosing their login credentials. If corporate phishing emails are delivered to end users’ inboxes, there is a high chance that at least one employee will be fooled. All it takes is for one employee to click on a malicious link or open an infected attachment for malware to be installed or access to sensitive data be provided.

The threat from phishing attacks has been steadily increasing in recent years, although this year has seen phishing attacks soar. A recent study conducted by Mimecast has shown that cybercriminals have been stepping up their efforts in recent months. Last quarter, there was a 400% increase in corporate phishing emails according to the study.

A phishing trends & intelligence report for Q1, 2017 from the security awareness training firm PhishLabs showed that in the first quarter of 2017, overall phishing email volume increased by 20% compared to the previous quarter. 88% of phishing attacks were concentrated on five industries: payment services, financial institutions, cloud storage/file hosting firms, webmail/online services and e-commerce companies.

The anti-phishing training and phishing simulation platform provider PhishMe also noted a major increase in phishing emails in Q1, 2017. The firm’s Q1, 2017 malware review also showed there had been a 69.2% increase in botnet malware usage in the first quarter of this year.

Business email compromise attacks are also on the rise. Proofpoint’s annual Human Factor report showed BEC email attacks rose from 1% of message volume to 42% of message volume relative to emails bearing Trojans. Those attacks have cost businesses $5 billion worldwide.

These studies clearly show that corporate phishing emails are on the rise, highlighting the need for organizations to improve their defenses. The best defense against phishing emails and ransomware attacks is to ensure messages are intercepted and blocked. It is therefore essential for organizations to implement a robust spam filtering solution to prevent malicious messages from reaching end users’ inboxes.

SpamTitan conducts more than 100 checks of incoming emails, ensuring more than 99.98% of spam and malicious emails are blocked. Dual anti-virus engines are used to ensure 100% of known malware and ransomware is intercepted and prevented from being delivered to end users’ inboxes.

If you have yet to implement an advanced spam filtering solution or you are unhappy with your current provider, contact TitanHQ today to find out more about SpamTitan and how it can be used to protect your business from email attacks. SpamTitan is also available on a no obligation, 30-day free trial, allowing you to try the solution for yourself before committing to a purchase.

MacRansom: A New, Free Ransomware-as-a-Service that Targets Mac Users

Mac users are better protected from ransomware than Windows users, although they now face a new threat: MacRansom. The new ransomware variant may not be particularly advanced, although it is capable of encrypting files.

MacRansom is being offered under a ransomware-as-a-service (RaaS) model with the RaaS advertised to cybercriminals on a Tor network portal. In contrast to many RaaS offerings that require payment to be made before the RaaS can be used, the threat actors behind MacRansom are offering the RaaS free of charge.

Any would-be cybercriminal looking to conduct ransomware attacks can email the creators of the ransomware via a secure Protonmail email address and a version of MacRansom will be created according to the user’s specifications.

The authors of MacRansom claim they are professional engineers and security researchers with extensive experience in software development and a thorough understanding of the MacOS. They claim they have previously worked at Yahoo and Facebook.

The authors claim that MacRansom can be installed and will remain invisible to the victim until the scheduled execution time, when it will complete its encryption routine in under a minute. The ransomware variant uses a 128-bit industrial standard encryption algorithm that cannot be beaten unless the ransom is paid. The authors claim the ransomware leaves no digital traces and that it can be scheduled to run at a specific time set by the user. It can even be triggered when an individual plugs in an external drive into an infected machine to maximize the number of files that are encrypted. However, the ransomware is only capable of encrypting a maximum of 128 files.

The Ransomware is capable of checking if it is in a virtual environment, whether it is being debugged or if it has been installed in a non-Mac environment, in which case it will exit.

Security researchers at Fortinet – Rommel Joven and Wayne Chin Low – signed up for the RaaS and obtained a sample, but noted that under some circumstances it may not be possible to decrypt encrypted files even if the ransom is paid. They said, “A remarkable thing we observed when reverse-engineering the encryption/decryption algorithm is that the TargetFileKey is permuted with a random generated number.  In other words, the encrypted files can no longer be decrypted once the malware has terminated.” However, to find out, victims will be required to pay a ransom payment of 0.25 Bitcoin – around $700.

Fortunately, infection requires the victim to run a file with an unidentified developer. They will therefore need to confirm they wish to do that before the file is run. This warning should be sufficient to prevent many end users from proceeding.

University of Alaska Phishing Attack Results in Exposure of 25,000 Individuals’ Data

A University of Alaska phishing attack has potentially resulted in attackers gaining access to the sensitive information of 25,000 staff, students and faculty staff.

The University of Alaska phishing attack occurred in December last year, although affected individuals have only just been notified. The phishing emails were sent to university employees. One or more individuals responded and were fooled into following the threat actors’ instructions.

Details of the exact nature of the phishing emails were not disclosed; however, as with other phishing scams, the emails appeared genuine and looked professional. By responding to the emails, the employees accidentally disclosed their usernames and passwords to the attackers. The attack resulted in ‘several’ email accounts being compromised.

The emails in the compromised accounts contained a range of sensitive information including names and Social Security numbers. In total, around 25,000 staff, students and faculty members had their information exposed.

The investigation into the University of Alaska phishing attack could not confirm whether any of the emails in the accounts were accessed or if information was copied by the attackers, although it remains a distinct possibility.

Due to the sensitive nature of data in the accounts, the University of Alaska had to inform all affected individuals by mail and offer credit monitoring and identity theft protection services. Victims will also be protected by a $1 million identity theft insurance policy.

A forensic analysis had to be conducted to determine the exact nature of the attack and which individuals had been affected – A process that took around 5 months. Staff had to be provided with additional training to improve awareness of credential phishing scams and were retrained correct handling of sensitive information. The notifications and mitigations came at a considerable cost.

The University of Alaska phishing attack was just one of many phishing attacks that have taken place in the United States over the past few months. The phishing attacks all have a common denominator. Employees were targeted, phishing emails reached inboxes, and end users followed the instructions in the emails.

Training staff to be aware of the threat of phishing can reduce susceptibility, although training did not prevent the University of Alaska phishing attack.

Even after receiving security awareness training, employees can make mistakes. A technology solution should therefore be implemented to stop phishing emails from being delivered to end users’ inboxes.

SpamTitan from TitanHQ offers excellent protection against phishing attacks, blocking more than 99.9% of spam, phishing emails and other malicious messages. SpamTitan is quick and easy to install, cost effective to implement and easy to maintain.

With SpamTitan installed, organizations can protect themselves against phishing attacks and avoid the considerable cost of data breaches.

For more information on SpamTitan and other TitanHQ security products, contact the sales team today and take the first step toward improving your defences against phishing attacks.

Phishing Attacks Likely to Follow Hotels.com Breach

The Texas-based online hotel booking website Hotels.com is notifying customers that some of their sensitive information has been exposed. The Hotels.com breach potentially involved usernames and passwords, email addresses, and the last four digits of site users’ credit card numbers.

Users’ accounts were hacked between May 22 and May 29, although at this stage it is unclear exactly how many individuals have been affected. While full credit card numbers were not obtained, the Hotels.com breach will see users face an elevated risk of phishing attacks.

Phishing emails come in many guises, although it is common for users of a site that has experienced a data breach or security incident to receive warning emails about the attack. The emails rightly claim that a user’s sensitive information has been compromised; however, the emails do not come from the company that experienced the breach. Instead, it is the cybercriminals who conducted the attack, or individuals who have bought stolen data from the attackers, that send the emails.

A typical phishing scenario sees individuals informed that their usernames and passwords have been compromised. A link is included in the emails to allow the user to reset their password or activate additional security controls on their account.

That link will direct the user to a phishing website where further information is obtained – the missing digits from their credit card number for example – or other personal information. Alternatively, the link could direct the user to a malicious website containing an exploit kit that downloads malware onto their computer.

Hotels.com customers were targeted in a 2015 phishing campaign which resulted in many site users divulging information such as names, phone numbers, email addresses and travel details. That information could be used in further scams or even for robberies when victims are known to be on vacation.

The Hotels.com breach is the latest in a number of attacks on online companies. While it is currently unclear how access to customers’ accounts was gained, a letter emailed to affected users suggests the attacks could be linked to breaches at other websites. The letter suggests access to online accounts could have resulted from password reuse.

Reusing passwords on multiple online platforms is a bad idea. While it is easier to remember one password, a breach at any online website means the attackers will be able to access accounts on multiple sites.

To prevent this, strong, unique passwords should be used for each online account. While these can be difficult to remember, a password manager can be used to store those passwords. Many password managers also help users generate strong, unique passwords. Users should also take advantage of two-factor authentication controls on sites whenever possible to improve security.

Since many businesses use hotel booking websites such as Hotels.com, they should be particularly vigilant for phishing emails over the coming weeks, especially any related to hotels.com. To protect against phishing attacks, we recommend using SpamTitan. SpamTitan blocks more than 99.9% of phishing and other spam emails, reducing the risk of those messages being delivered to end users. Along with security awareness training and phishing simulation exercises, businesses can successfully defend against phishing attacks.

Phishing Attacks on Healthcare Organizations Can Result in HIPAA Fines

In the United States, the healthcare industry is being targeted by cybercriminals, with phishing attacks on healthcare organizations one of the easiest and most common methods of gaining access to email accounts and protected health information.

A phishing email is sent to a healthcare employee along with a seemingly legitimate reason for revealing their login credentials. Doing so will give the attackers access to an email account and the protected health information of patients in those emails.

Emails accounts contain a wealth of information that can be used for further attacks. A compromised email account can be used to send further phishing emails within a company. One response to a phishing email can see many email accounts compromised. A single phishing email can result in a major security incident and costly data breach.

There have been many phishing attacks on healthcare organizations this year and the past 12 months has seen numerous phishing-related data breaches added to the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office for Civil Rights (OCR) Breach Portal.

Any breach of protected health information that results in more than 500 records being exposed is investigated by OCR. During investigations of phishing attacks on healthcare organizations, OCR often finds that Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act Rules have been violated. Healthcare organizations are discovered not to have performed risk assessments – as is required by the HIPAA Security Rule – and have failed to identify the risk of phishing and take appropriate steps to reduce risk to an acceptable level.

When organizations are found to have violated HIPAA Rules, heavy fines may follow. Recently, OCR has investigated several healthcare phishing attacks and has taken some cases forward to settlement. The HIPAA fines can be considerable.

In 2015, OCR announced its first HIPAA settlement for a phishing attack. University of Washington Medicine was fined $750,000 as a result of a malware installation that occurred when an employee responded to a phishing email. In that case, 90,000 patients had their information revealed to the attackers.

A HIPAA penalty for a phishing attack was also announced last month, with the Colorado based Metro Community Provider Network (MCPN) having to pay OCR $400,000 to resolve HIPAA violations discovered during the investigation of the phishing attack. The phishing attack resulted in an email account being compromised, and along with it, the protected health information of 3,200 patients.

The employee did not reveal their email credentials in that case, at least not directly. Instead, the response to the email resulted in a malware installation that gave the attacker access to the email account.

Phishing attacks on healthcare organizations are to be expected. OCR is aware that it may not be possible to prevent 100% of phishing attacks, 100% of the time. Not all phishing attacks on healthcare organizations will therefore result in a HIPAA fine. However, failing to reduce risk to an acceptable level is another matter. If healthcare organizations do not do enough to prevent phishing attacks, fines are likely to result.

So, how can phishing attacks on healthcare organizations be prevented and what can healthcare organizations do to reduce risk to a level that will be deemed acceptable by OCR?

The HIPAA Security Rule requires protections to be put in place to safeguard the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of PHI. While the Security Rule does not specify exactly which security solutions should be used, there are two essential anti-phishing controls that should be employed.

A spam filtering solution should be used to prevent phishing and other malicious emails from being delivered to end users’ inboxes. It would be hard to argue that the threat from phishing has been reduced to an acceptable level if no controls are in place to block phishing emails from being delivered.

Healthcare employees must also receive security awareness training. All employees should be informed of the risk of phishing and the methods used by cybercriminals to gain access to computers and data. They should be taught best practices and shown how to identify phishing emails and other malicious email threats. By blocking phishing emails and training end users, the risk from phishing can be significantly reduced.

Beware of WannaCry Phishing Emails

Cybercriminals have started sending WannaCry phishing emails, taking advantage of the fear surrounding the global network worm attacks.

An email campaign has been identified in the United Kingdom, with BT customers being targeted. The attackers have spoofed BT domains and made their WannaCry phishing emails look extremely realistic. BT branding is used, the emails are well written and they claim to have been sent from Libby Barr, Managing Director, Customer Care at BT. A quick check of her name on Google will reveal she is who she claims to be. The WannaCry phishing emails are convincing, cleverly put together, and are likely to fool many customers.

The emails claim that BT is working on improving its security in the wake of the massive ransomware campaign that affected more than 300,000 computers in 150 countries on May 12, 2017. In the UK, 20% of NHS Trusts were affected by the incident and had data encrypted and services majorly disrupted by the ransomware attacks. It would be extremely hard if you live in the UK to have avoided the news of the attacks and the extent of the damage they have caused.

The WannaCry phishing emails provide a very good reason for taking prompt action. BT is offering a security upgrade to prevent its customers from being affected by the attacks. The emails claim that in order to keep customers’ sensitive information secure, access to certain features have been disabled on BT accounts. Customers are told that to restore their full BT account functionality they need to confirm the security upgrade by clicking on the upgrade box contained in the email.

Of course, clicking on the link will not result in a security upgrade being applied. Customers are required to disclose their login credentials to the attackers.

Other WannaCry phishing emails are likely to be sent claiming to be from other broadband service providers. Similar campaigns could be used to silently download malware or ransomware.

Cybercriminals often take advantage of global news events that are attracting a lot of media interest. During the Olympics there were many Olympic themed spam emails. Phishing emails were also rife during the U.S. presidential elections, the World Cup, the Zika Virus epidemic, and following every major news event.

The golden rule is never to click on links sent in email from individuals you do not know, be extremely careful about clicking links from people you do know, and assume that any email you receive could be a phishing email or other malicious message.

A single phishing email sent to an employee can result in a data breach, email or network compromise. It is therefore important for employers to take precautions. Employees should be provided with phishing awareness training and taught the tell-tale signs that emails are not genuine.  It is also essential that an advanced spam filtering solution is employed to prevent the vast majority of phishing emails from reaching end users inboxes.

On that front, TitanHQ is here to help. Contact the team today to find out how SpamTitan can protect your business from phishing, malware and ransomware attacks.

The Cost of Ransomware Attacks Estimated to Reach $5 Billion in 2017

The cost of ransomware attacks cannot be totaled by the amounts illegally earned by cybercriminals through ransom payments. In fact, the ransom payments are just a tiny fraction of the costs experienced by businesses that have been attacked with ransomware.

Take the recent WannaCry ransomware attacks as an example. The individuals behind that campaign were charging $300 per infected device to supply the keys to decrypt data. The amount gathered by those individuals was a little over $100,000 on Monday this week, even though the attacks involved data being encrypted on approximately 300,000 devices.

However, the cost of ransomware attacks is far higher. The biggest cost of ransomware attacks for most businesses is downtime while the infection is dealt with. Even if the ransom is paid, businesses often lose a week or more while the infection is removed and systems are brought back online. One Providence law firm suffered 3 months of downtime while systems remained locked!

Then there is the continued disruption while businesses catch up from the loss of productivity in the aftermath following the attack. The NHS was still experiencing disruption more than a week after the attacks on Friday 12, May.

Ransomware attacks can also involve loss of data and damage a company’s reputation. Typically, following a ransomware attack, a forensic analysis of IT systems must be conducted to ensure all traces of malware have been removed. Checks also must be performed to look for backdoors that may have been installed. Many businesses do not have the staff to perform those tasks. Cybersecurity experts must therefore be brought in. Additional cybersecurity solutions must also be purchased to ensure further attacks are prevented. The cost of ransomware attacks is therefore considerable.

The WannaCry ransomware attacks have been estimated to have cost businesses more than $1 billion. KnowB4 CEO Stu Sjouwerman said “The estimated damage caused by WannaCry in just the initial 4 days would exceed a billion dollars, looking at the massive downtime caused for large organizations worldwide.”

The cost of ransomware attacks in 2015 was an estimated $325 million, although figures from the FBI suggest that total was reached in the first quarter of the year. The final cost of ransomware attacks in the year was estimated to have reached $1 billion. Recently, Cybersecurity Ventures predicted the cost of ransomware attacks in 2017 will reach an incredible $5 billion. Given the expected costs of the recent WannaCry ransomware attacks, that could turn out to be an incredibly conservative estimate.

Cybercriminals are not concerned about the damage caused by the attacks, only the amount they can extort from businesses. The returns may be relatively low, but they are sufficiently high to make the attacks profitable. More and more individuals are also getting in on the act by using ransomware-as-a-service. Not only are ransomware attacks likely to continue, major cybercriminal gangs are likely to increase the scale of the attacks.

Businesses should be aware of the huge cost of ransomware attacks and take appropriate action to prevent those attacks from occurring. Having a backup of data may ensure that a ransom payment does not need to be made, but it will do little to prevent huge losses from being suffered if ransomware is installed.

Preventing ransomware attacks requires security awareness training for employees, advanced spam filters to stop ransomware from being delivered to end users’ inboxes, web filters to block individuals from accessing malicious URLs, endpoint protection systems to detect and block ransomware downloads, advanced firewalls and antivirus and antimalware solutions.

Fortunately, with appropriate defenses in place, it is possible to block ransomware attacks. Those solutions do come at a cost, but considering the losses from a successful ransomware attack, they are a small price to pay.

DocuSign Phishing Emails Sent to Account Holders Following Data Breach

A recent wave of DocuSign phishing emails has been linked to a data breach at the digital signature technology provider. A hacker gained access to a ‘non-core’ system that was used to send communications to users via email and stole users’ email addresses.

DocuSign reports that the peripheral system was compromised and only email addresses were accessed and stolen. No other data has been compromised as a result of the cyberattack. The data breach only affected DocuSign account holders, not registered users of eSignature.

It is currently unclear exactly how many email addresses were stolen, although the DocuSign website indicates the firm has more than 200 million users.

The attacker used customers’ email addresses to send specially crafted DocuSign phishing emails. The emails containing links to documents requiring a signature. The purpose of the emails was to fool recipients into downloading a document containing a malicious macro designed to infect computers with malware.

As is typical in phishing attacks, the DocuSign phishing emails appeared official with official branding in the headers and email body. The subject lines of the email were also typical of recent phishing campaigns, referring to invoices and wire transfer instructions.

The san Francisco based firm has been tracking the phishing emails and reports there are two main variations with the subject lines: “Completed: docusign.com – Wire Transfer Instructions for recipient-name Document Ready for Signature,” or “Completed *company name* – Accounting Invoice *number* Document Ready for Signature.”

The emails have been sent from a domain not linked to DocuSign – a sign that the emails are not genuine. However, due to the realism of the emails, many end users may end up clicking the link, downloading the document and infecting their computers.

Recipients are more likely to click on links and open infected email attachments if they relate to a service that the recipient uses. Since DocuSign is used by many business users, there is a significant threat of a network compromise if end users open the emails and follow the instructions provided by the threat actors.

Businesses can reduce the risk of malicious emails reaching end users inboxes by implementing an advanced spam filtering solution such as SpamTitan. SpamTitan blocks 99.97% of spam emails and 100% of known malware using dual antivirus engines for maximum protection.

To find out more about SpamTitan and other antimalware controls to protect your business, contact the TitanHQ team today.

Jaff Ransomware: A New Variant from the Distributors of Locky

A new encryptor – Jaff ransomware – could be heading your way via email. Jaff ransomware is being distributed by the individuals responsible for distributing the Dridex banking Trojan and Locky ransomware. The gang has also previously used Bart ransomware to encrypt files in an attempt to extort money from businesses.

In contrast to Locky and many other ransomware variants, the individuals behind Jaff ransomware are seeking a huge ransom payment to unlock files, suggesting the new variant will be used to target businesses rather than individuals. The ransom demand per infected machine is 1.79 Bitcoin – around $3,300. The WannaCry ransomware variant only required a payment of $300 per infected machine.

The distributors have used exploit kits in the past to spread infections, although spam email is used for the latest campaign. Whether that will remain the only distribution mechanism remains to be seen. Millions of spam email messages have already sent via the Necurs botnet, according to Proofpoint researchers who identified the new encryptor.

The emails have a PDF file attachment rather than a Word document. Those PDF files contain embedded Word documents with macros that will download the malicious payload. This method of distribution has been seen with Locky ransomware in recent weeks.

The change in file attachment is believed to be an attempt to get users to open the attachments. There has been a lot of publicity about malicious Word documents attached to emails from unknown senders. The change could see more end users open the attachments and infect their devices.

Opening the PDF file will present the user with a screen advising them that the contents of the document are protected. They are prompted to ‘enable editing’ by ignoring the security warning and enabling macros. Enabling macros will result in infection. Jaff ransomware will then search for and encrypt a wide range of file types including images and multimedia files, databases, office documents and backups.

There is no known decryptor for Jaff ransomware. Recovery will depend on a viable backup existing that has not been encrypted by the ransomware. The alternatives are to pay the sizable ransom payment or permanently lose files.

To protect against the threat, an advanced spam filtering solution should be implemented to prevent the emails from reaching end users’ inboxes. As a failsafe, employees should be warned about the threat of ransomware and instructed not to open any file attachments from unknown senders. They should also be alerted to the threat from PDF files containing embedded word documents.

Fatboy Ransomware – A New RaaS That Sets Ransoms by Location

A new email-borne threat has recently been discovered. Fatboy ransomware is a new ransomware-as-a-service (RaaS) being offered on darknet forums in Russia. The RaaS offers would-be cybercriminals the opportunity to conduct ransomware campaigns without having to develop their own malicious code.

RaaS has proven incredibly popular. By offering RaaS, malicious code authors can infect more end users by increasing the number of individuals distributing the ransomware.  In the case of Fatboy ransomware, the code author is offering limited partnerships and is dealing with affiliates directly via the instant messaging platform Jabber.

Fatboy ransomware encrypts files using AES-256, generating an individual key for the files and then encrypting those keys using RSA-2048. A separate bitcoin wallet is used for each client and a promise is made to transfer funds to the affiliates as soon as the money is paid. By offering to deal directly with the affiliates, being transparent about the RaaS and offering support, it is thought that the code author is trying to earn trust and maximize the appeal of the service.

Further, the ransomware interface has been translated into 12 languages, allowing campaigns to be conducted in many countries around the world. Many RaaS offerings are limited geographically by language.

Fatboy ransomware also has an interesting new feature that is intended to maximize the chance of the victim paying the ransom demand. This RaaS allows attackers to set the ransom payment automatically based on the victim’s location. In locations with a high standard of living, the ransom payment will be higher and vice versa.

To determine the cost of living, Fatboy ransomware uses the Big Mac Index. The Big Mac Index was developed by The Economist as a method of determining whether currencies were at their correct values. If all currencies are at their correct value, the cost of a product in each country should be the same. The product chosen was a Big Mac. In short, the higher the cost of a Big Mac in the victim’s country, the higher the ransom demand will be.

So far, Recorded Future – the firm that discovered the ransomware variant – says the code author has generated around $5,000 in ransom payments since February. That total is likely to rise considerably as more affiliates come on board and more end users are infected. There is no known decryptor for Fatboy ransomware at this time.

New ransomware variants are constantly being developed and RaaS allows many more individuals to conduct ransomware campaigns. Unsurprisingly, the number of ransomware attacks has grown.

The cost of resolving a ransomware infection can be considerable. Businesses therefore need to ensure they have defenses in place to block attacks and ensure they can recover fast.

Backups need to be made regularly to ensure files can be easily recovered. Staff need to be trained on security best practices to prevent them inadvertently installing ransomware. Antispam solutions should also be implemented to prevent malicious emails from reaching end users’ inboxes. Fortunately, even with a predicted increase in ransomware attacks, businesses can effectively mitigate risk if appropriate defenses are implemented.

For advice on security solutions that can block ransomware attacks, contact the TitanHQ team today.

IC3 Issues Warning About Business Email Compromise Scams

The Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) has issued a new alert to businesses warning of the risk of business email compromise scams.

The businesses most at risk are those that deal with international suppliers as well as those that frequently perform wire transfers. However, businesses that only issue checks instead of sending wire transfers are also at risk of this type of cyberattack.

In contrast to phishing scams where the attacker makes emails appear as if they have come from within the company by spoofing an email address, business email compromise scams require a corporate email account to be accessed by the attackers.

Once access to an email account is gained, the attacker crafts an email and sends it to an individual responsible for making wire transfers, issuing other payments, or an individual that has access to employees PII/W-2 forms and requests a bank transfer or sensitive data.

The attackers often copy the format of emails previously sent to the billing/accounts department. This information can easily be gained from the compromised email account. They are also able to easily identify the person within the company who should be sent the request.

Not all business email compromise scams are concerned with fraudulent bank transfers. IC3 warns that the same scam is also used to obtain the W-2 tax statements of employees, as has been seen on numerous occasions during this year’s tax season.

Phishing scams are often sent out randomly in the hope that some individuals click on malicious links or open infected email attachments. However, business email compromise scams involve considerable research on the company to select victims and to identify appropriate protocols used by the company to make transfer requests.

Business email compromise scams often start with phishing emails. Phishing is used to get end users to reveal their login credentials or other sensitive information that can be used to gain access to business networks and perform the scam. Malware can also be used for this purpose. Emails are sent with links to malicious websites or with infected email attachments. Opening the attachments or clicking on the links downloads malware capable of logging keystrokes or provides the attackers with a foothold in the network.

IC3 warns that business email compromise scams are a major threat for all businesses, regardless of their size. Just because your business is small, it doesn’t mean that you face a low risk of attack.

Between January 2015 and December 2016, IC3 notes there was a 2,370% increase in BEC scams. While funds are most commonly sent to bank accounts in China and Hong Kong, IC3 says transfers have been made to 103 countries in the past two years.

The losses reported by businesses are staggering. Between October 2013 and December 2016, more than $5 billion has been obtained by cybercriminals. United States businesses have lost $1,594,503,669 in more than 22,000 successful scams. The average loss is $71,528.

IC3 lists the five most common types of business email compromise scams as:

  1. Businesses receiving requests from frequently used suppliers requesting transfers be made to a new bank account.This is also known as a bogus invoice scam.
  2. An executive within the company (CFO or CTO for example) requests a transfer be made by a second employee in the company. This is also known as a business executive scam.
  3. A compromised email account is used to send a payment request/invoice to a vendor in the employees contact list.
  4. The attackers impersonate an attorney used by the firm and request the transfer of funds. These scams are common at the end of the week or end of the business day. They are also known as Friday afternoon scams.
  5. A request is sent from a compromised email account to a member of the HR department requesting information on employees such as W-2 Forms or PII. These scams are most common during tax season.

There are a number of strategies that can be adopted to prevent business email compromise attacks from being successful.

IC3 recommends:

  • Using a domain-based email account rather than a web-based account for business email accounts
  • Exercising caution about the information posted to social media accounts. This is where the attackers do much of their research
  • Implement a two-step verification process to validate all transfer requests
  • Use two-factor authentication for corporate email accounts
  • Never respond to an email using the reply option. Always use forward and type in the address manually
  • Register all domains that are similar to the main domain used by the company
  • Use intrusion detection systems and spam filters that quarantine or flag emails that have been sent with extensions similar to those used by the company – Blocking emails sent from xxx_company.com if the company uses xxx-company.com for example
  • Be wary of any request that seems out of the ordinary or requires a change to the bank account usually used for transfers

Millions Affected by Google Phishing Scam

A Google phishing scam has been spreading like wildfire over the past couple of days. Emails have been sent in the millions inviting people to edit Google Docs files. The emails appear to have been sent by known individuals, increasing the likelihood of the messages being opened and the links being clicked.

In contrast to many email scams that include a link to a spoofed website, this scam directs the recipient to Google Docs. When the user arrives at the site they will be presented with a legitimate Google sign-in screen.

The Google phishing scam works within the Google platform, taking advantage of the fact that individuals can create a third-party app and give it a misleading name. In this case, the app has been named ‘Google Docs.’

This makes it appear that Google Docs is asking for permission to read, send, delete, and manage emails and access the user’s contacts. However, it is the creator of the app that is asking to be granted those permissions. If users check the developer name, they will see that all is not as it seems. Many individuals will not check, since the permission screen also includes Google logos.

Signing in will give the attacker access to the user’s Google account, including their emails, Google Docs files, and contact list. Further, signing in on the website will also result in the victim’s contact list being sent similar invitations. Unsurprisingly, many have fallen for the Google phishing scam and countless emails are still circulating.

The scam appears to have started at some point on Wednesday. Google has now issued an official statement saying it is taking action to protect users and has disabled the accounts that are being used to conduct the scam.

Google confirmed the actions it has taken in response to the phishing scam, saying “We’ve removed the fake pages, pushed updates through Safe Browsing, and our abuse team is working to prevent this kind of spoofing from happening again. We encourage users to report phishing emails in Gmail.”

Anyone who receives a request to edit a Google Doc should treat the request with suspicion, even if it has been sent from someone known to the recipient.

If you think you may have fallen for this phishing scam it is likely that emails will already have been generated and sent to your contacts. However, you can take action to block the threat by revoking the access rights you have given to the app through the Connected Apps and Sites page.

The Google phishing scam is highly convincing and clearly shows how sophisticated cybercriminals are getting in their attempts to gain access to sensitive information and why it is imperative that email users be permanently on their guard.

58% of UK Office Workers Open Email Attachments from Unknown Senders

Training employees on basic cybersecurity is essential. Conventional cybersecurity solutions such as antivirus software are no longer as effective at blocking threats as they once were and employees are targeted by cybercriminals.

Cybercriminals are well aware that employees are easy to fool. Social engineering techniques are used to create highly convincing phishing scams. Those emails contain images of well-known brands and text that would not look out of place in an official communication. Believable reasons are given for the need to disclose login credentials, click on hyperlinks or open email attachments. The emails are effective.

Email is now the number one attack vector for cybercriminals and the biggest cybersecurity threat for businesses.

Employees Still Lack Security Awareness

Even though the threat from phishing has been widely reported in the media, many employees still take major security risks at work.

A recent survey conducted by Glassdoor on UK office workers highlights how serious the risk of email cyberattacks is. 1,000 office workers from mid to large-sized businesses in the UK were asked questions about cybersecurity. 58% of respondents said they usually opened email attachments sent from unknown individuals.

Cybercriminals often mask email addresses to make the emails appear as if they have been sent from someone in the recipient’s contact list. Those tactics are even more effective at getting an end user to take the desired action – clicking on a hyperlink or opening an email attachment. The former directs the end user to a malicious website where malware is silently downloaded. Opening the email attachment results in code being run that downloads a malicious payload.

When asked how often email attachments from known senders were opened, 83% of respondents said they always or usually opened email attachments. Office workers were also asked whether their organization had experienced a cyberattack. 34% of respondents said it had.

How often are malicious emails getting past organizations security defenses? 76% of respondents said suspicious emails had been sent to their work email inboxes.

The survey suggests cybersecurity training is either not being conducted or that it is in effective and email security solutions are not in place or have not been configured correctly.

20% of respondents said their organization had no policy on email attachments, or if it did, it had not been communicated to them. 58% said they would feel much safer if their organization had the appropriate technology in place to protect them from email attacks.

How to Improve Defenses Against Email Attacks

Organizations must ensure appropriate technology is in place to block malicious emails and that employee cybersecurity training programs are developed to raise awareness of the risks of cyberattacks via email.

Policies should be developed – and communicated to staff – covering email attachments and hyperlinks. If staff are unaware of the risks, they cannot be expected to be able to identify an email as suspicious and take the appropriate action. It must also be made clear to employees what actions should be taken if suspicious emails are received.

Cybersecurity training programs should also be evaluated. If those programs are not tested, employers will not know how effective their training is. Sending dummy phishing emails is a good way to determine whether training programs are effective.

A powerful spam filtering and anti-phishing solution should also be employed to prevent malicious emails from reaching end users’ inboxes. SpamTitan, for instance, is an advanced antispam solution for SMEs that blocks over 99.7% of spam emails and 100% of known malware. By preventing malicious emails from reaching end users’ inboxes, employee cybersecurity training will not be put to the test.

Healthcare Ransomware Attacks Accounted for 50% of All Security Incidents

Hackers are continuing to attack healthcare organizations, but healthcare ransomware attacks are the biggest cause of security incidents, according to the NTT Security 2017 Global Threat Intelligence Report.

Healthcare ransomware attacks accounted for 50% of all security breaches reported by healthcare organizations between October 2015 and September 2016 and are the largest single cause of security breaches.

However, healthcare is far from the only sector to be targeted. Retail, government, and the business & professional services sector have also suffered many ransomware attacks during the same period. Those four sectors accounted for 77% of global ransomware attacks. The worst affected sector was business & professional services, with 28% of reported ransomware attacks, followed by the government (19%), healthcare (15%) and retail (15%).

NTT Security reports that phishing emails are the most common mechanism for ransomware delivery, being used in 73% of ransomware and malware attacks. Poor choices of password are also commonly exploited to gain access to networks and email accounts. NTT says just 25 passwords were used in 33% of all authentication attempts on its honeypots, while 76% of authentication attempts used a password known to have been implemented in the Mirai botnet.

Zero-day exploits tend to attract considerable media attention, but they are used in relatively few attacks. Web-based attacks have fallen but they still pose a significant threat. The most commonly attacked products were Microsoft Internet Explorer, Adobe Flash Player, and Microsoft Silverlight. Exploit kit activity has fallen throughout the year as cybercriminals have turned to phishing emails to spread malware and ransomware. There was a steady decline in exploit kit attacks throughout the year.

With phishing posing the highest risk, it is essential that organizations ensure they have adequate defenses in place. Phishing attacks are sophisticated and hard to distinguish from genuine emails. Security awareness training is important, but training alone will not prevent some attacks from being successful. It is also important to ensure that training is not just a one time exercise. Regular training sessions should be conducted, highlighting the latest tactics used by cybercriminals and recent threats.

The best form of defense against phishing attacks is to use anti-phishing technologies such as spam filters to prevent phishing emails from reaching end users. The more phishing emails that are blocked, the less reliance organizations place on end users being able to identify phishing emails. Solutions should also be implemented to block users from visiting phishing websites via hyperlinks sent via email.

Cerber Becomes the Biggest Ransomware Threat

2017 was the year when Locky Ransomware first arrived on the scene, with the ransomware variant fast becoming the biggest ransomware threat. Locky infections rose rapidly following its release in February and continued to rise in the first half of the year. The ransomware variant was initially installed via exploit kits, although as exploit kit activity fell, the developers switched to spam email as the primary attack vector.

As 2016 progressed, Locky activity declined. While Locky infections continue, it is no longer the biggest ransomware threat. Locky now accounts for just 2% of infections. A new report from Malwarebytes has revealed that the biggest ransomware threat – by some distance – is Cerber ransomware.

Cerber ransomware is now behind 90% of all global ransomware infections, with those attacks performed using many different variants of the ransomware. Cerber has even surpassed TeslaCrypt; a previously highly prevalent ransomware variant that dominated attacks in 2015 and early 2016. At the start of 2017, Cerber’s ‘market share’ stood at 70%, although that increased to 90% by the end of Q3.

The secret of the success of Cerber lies not only in the sophistication of the ransomware, but how it is being used and distributed. Cerber ransomware has become the biggest ransomware threat because it is not only the authors that are using it to attack organizations. There is now an army of affiliates using the ransomware. Those affiliates do not need programming experience and neither much in the way of technical skill. Their role is simple. They are simply distributors who get a cut of the profits for any ransoms they manage to generate.

Ransom payments are likely with Cerber infections. There is no decryptor for the ransomware as no flaws have been discovered. Files locked by Cerber cannot be unlocked without the decryption keys, and only the attackers have access to those. The encryption used is of military-grade, says Malwarebytes. Further, a computer does not even need to be connected to the Internet in order for files to be encrypted. The latest variants also include a host of new defenses to prevent detection and analysis.

The primary attack vector used is email. Cerber is distributed in spam email, with infection occurring when a user opens an infected email attachment. That triggers the downloading of Cerber from the attacker’s Dropbox account.

With the new defenses put in place by its authors and no shortage of affiliates signing up to use the ransomware-as-a-service, Cerber looks set to remain the main ransomware threat throughout Q2. Attacks will continue and likely increase, and new variants will almost certainly be released.

All organizations can do is to improve their defenses against attack. Cybersecurity solutions should be employed to prevent spam emails from being delivered to end users. Staff should be trained how to identify malicious emails and not to open email attachments sent from unknown senders. Organizations should also use security tools to detect endpoint infections.

Since even with advanced security defenses infections are still possible, it is essential that all data are backed up and those backups tested to ensure they will allow encrypted data to be recovered.

Phishing Attacks on Schools Spike – Is Your School Doing Enough to Prevent Attacks?

In the United States, phishing attacks on schools and higher education institutions have soared in recent months, highlighting the need for improvements to be made to staff education programs and cybersecurity defenses.

Phishing refers to the practice of sending emails in an attempt to get the recipients to reveal sensitive information such as logins to email accounts, bank accounts, or other computer systems.  Typically, a link is included in the email which will direct the user to a website where information must be entered. The sites, as well as the emails, contain information to make the request look genuine.

Phishing is nothing new. It has been around since the 1980’s, but the extent to which sensitive information is stored electronically and the number of transactions that are now conducted online has made attacks much more profitable for cybercriminals. Consequently, attacks have increased. The quality of phishing emails has also improved immeasurably. Phishing emails are now becoming much harder to identify, especially by non-technical members of staff.

No organization is immune to attack, but attackers are no longer concentrating on financial institutions and healthcare organizations. The education sector is now being extensively targeted. Phishing attacks on schools are being conducted far more frequently, and all too often those attacks are succeeding.

Such is the scale of the problem that the IRS recently issued a warning following a massive rise in phishing attacks on schools. Campaigns were being conducted by attackers looking for W-2 Form data of school employees. That information was then used to submit fraudulent tax returns in school employees’ names.

Recent Phishing Attacks on Schools, Colleges, and Universities

Westminster College is one of the latest educational institutions to report that an employee has fallen for the W-2 Form phishing scam, although it numbers in dozens of schools, colleges and universities that have been attacked this year.

Phishing emails are not only concerned with obtaining tax information. Recently, a phishing attack on Denver Public Schools gave the attackers the information they needed to make a fraudulent bank transfer. More than $40,000 intended to pay staff wages was transferred to the criminal’s account.

This week, news emerged of a listing on a darknet noticeboard from a hacker who had gained access to school email accounts, teacher’s gradebooks, and the personal information of thousands of students. That individual was looking for advice on what to do with the data and access in order to make money.

Washington University School of Medicine was targeted in a phishing attack that saw the attackers gain access to patient health information. More than 80,000 patients potentially had their health information stolen as a result of that attack.

Last week, news emerged of an attempted phishing attack on Minnesota schools, with 335 state school districts and around 170 charter schools potentially attacked. In that case, the phishing attack was identified before any information was released. The attack involved an email that appeared to have been sent from the Education Commissioner. The attackers were trying to gain access to financial information.

How to Improve Defenses Against Phishing Attacks

Fortunately, there are a number of technological controls that can be implemented cheaply to reduce the risk of phishing attacks on schools being successful.

An advanced spam filtering solution with a powerful anti-phishing component is now essential. A spam filter looks for the common spam and phishing signatures and ensures suspect messages are quarantined and not delivered to end users.

It must be assumed that occasionally, even with a spam filter, phishing emails may occasionally be delivered. To prevent employees from visiting phishing websites and revealing their information, a web filtering solution can be used. Web filters can be configured to block end users from visiting websites that are known to be used for phishing. As an additional benefit, web filters can stop individuals from accessing websites known to contain malware or host illegal or undesirable material – pornography for instance.

Those solutions should be accompanied by training for all staff members on the risk from phishing and the common identifiers that can help staff spot a phishing email. Schools should also implement policies for reporting threats to the organization’s IT department. Fast reporting can limit the harm caused and prevent other staff members from responding.

IT departments should also have policies in place to ensure thwarted attacks are reported to law enforcement. Warnings should also be sent to other school districts following an attack to allow them to take action to protect themselves against similar attacks.

Any school or higher educational institution that fails to implement appropriate defenses against phishing attacks will be at a high risk of a phishing attack being successful. Not only do phishing attacks place employees at risk of fraud, they can prove incredibly costly for schools to mitigate. With budgets already tight, most schools can simply not afford to cover those costs.

If you would like further information on the range of cybersecurity protections that can be put in place to prevent phishing attacks on schools and other educational institutions, call TitanHQ today for an informal chat.

HIPAA Compliance and Phishing: Email Attacks Can Result in HIPAA Penalties

A phishing attack on a HIPAA-covered entity has resulted in a $400,000 penalty for non-compliance with HIPAA Rules. This is not the first time a phishing attack has attracted a penalty from OCR for non-compliance.

The failure to prevent phishing attacks does not necessarily warrant a HIPAA penalty, but failing to implement sufficient protections to prevent attacks could land HIPAA-covered entities in hot water.

HIPAA Compliance and Phishing

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office for Civil Rights is tasked with enforcing Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act Rules. While OCR conducts audits of covered entities to identify aspects of HIPAA Rules that are proving problematic for covered entities, to date, no financial penalties have been issued as a result of HIPAA violations discovered during compliance audits. The same is certainly not the case when it comes to investigations of data breaches.

OCR investigates each and every data breach that impacts more than 500 individuals. Those investigations often result in the discovery of violations of HIPAA Rules.  Any HIPAA-covered entity that experiences a phishing attack that results in the exposure of patients’ or health plan members’ protected health information could have historic HIPAA violations uncovered. A single phishing attack that is not thwarted could therefore end up in a considerable fine for non-compliance.

What HIPAA Rules cover phishing? While there is no specific mention of phishing in HIPAA, phishing is a threat to the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of ePHI and is covered under the administrative requirements of the HIPAA Security Rule. HIPAA-covered entities are required to provide ongoing, appropriate training to staff members. §164.308.(a).(5).(i) requires security awareness training to be provided, and while these are addressable requirements, they cannot be ignored.

These administrative requirements include the issuing of security reminders, protection from malicious software, password management and login monitoring. Employees should also be taught how to identify potential phishing emails and told about the correct response when such an email is received.

The HIPAA Security Rule also requires technical safeguards to be implemented to protect against threats to ePHI. Reasonable and appropriate security measures should be employed to protect ePHI. Since ePHI is often available through email accounts, a reasonable and appropriate security measure would be to employ a spam filtering solution with an anti-phishing component.

Given the frequency of attacks on healthcare providers, and the extent to which phishing is involved in cytberattacks – PhishMe reports 91% of cyberattacks start with a phishing email –  a spam filtering solution can be classed as an essential security control.

The risk from phishing should be highlighted during a risk analysis: A required element of the HIPAA Security Rule. A risk analysis should identify risks and vulnerabilities that could potentially result in ePHI being exposed or stolen. Those risks must then be addressed as part of a covered entity’s security management process.

HIPAA Penalties for Phishing Attacks

OCR has recently agreed to a settlement with Metro Community Provider Network (MCPN), a federally-qualified health center (FQHC) based in Denver, Colorado following a phishing attack that occurred in December 2011. The attack allowed the attacker to gain access to the organization’s email accounts after employees responded by providing their credentials. The ePHI of 3,200 individuals was contained in those email accounts.

The fine was not exactly for failing to prevent the attack, but for not doing enough to manage security risks. MCPN had failed to conduct a risk analysis prior to the attack taking place and had not implemented security measures sufficient to reduce risks and vulnerabilities to a reasonable and appropriate level. OCR settled with MCPN for $400,000.

In 2015, another covered entity ended up settling with OCR to resolve violations of HIPAA Rules following a phishing attack. University of Washington Medicine paid OCR $750,000 following the exposure of 90,000 individual’s ePHI. In that case, the phishing attack allowed attackers to install malware.  OCR Director at the time, Jocelyn Samuels, pointed out “An effective risk analysis is one that is comprehensive in scope and is conducted across the organization to sufficiently address the risks and vulnerabilities to patient data.” She also said, “All too often we see covered entities with a limited risk analysis that focuses on a specific system such as the electronic medical records or that fails to provide appropriate oversight and accountability for all parts of the enterprise.”

Covered entities are not expected to prevent all phishing attacks, but they must ensure the risk of phishing has been identified and measures put in place to prevent phishing attacks from resulting in the exposure of theft of ePHI. If not, a HIPAA fine may be issued.

Kelihos Botnet Takedown: Spam King Arrested

Yesterday, the U.S. Department of Justice announced that one of the leading email spammers has been arrested as part of an operation to disrupt and dismantle the infamous Kelihos botnet.

The Kelihos botnet is a network of tens of thousands of computers that are used to launch massive spamming campaigns comprising millions of emails. Those spam emails are used for a variety of nefarious purposes including the distribution of ransomware and malware. The botnet has been extensively used to spread fake antivirus software and spread credential-stealing malware.

Computers are added to the Kelihos botnet using malware. Once installed, Kelihos malware runs silently and users are unaware that their computers have been hijacked. The Kelihos botnet can be quickly weaponized and used for a variety of malicious purposes. The botnet has previously been used for spamming campaigns that artificially inflate stock prices, promote counterfeit drugs and recruit people to fraudulent work-at-home schemes.

Pyotr Levashov is believed to operate the botnet in addition to conducting a wide range of cybercriminal activities out of Russia. In what turned out to be an unwise move, Levashov left the relative safety of his home country and travelled to Barcelona, Spain on holiday. Levashov was arrested on Sunday, April 9 by Spanish authorities acting on a U.S. issued international arrest warrant.

Levashov is suspected of playing a role in the alleged Russian interference in the U.S. presidential election in 2016, although Levashov is best known for his spamming activities, click fraud and DDoS attacks.

Levashov, or Peter Severa as he is otherwise known, is heavily involved in distributing virus spamming software and is believed to have written numerous viruses and Trojans. Spamhaus lists Levashov in seventh place on the list of the 10 worst spammers.

Levashov is believed to have run multiple operations that connected virus developers with spamming networks, and is suspected of running the Kelihos botnet, the Waledac botnet – which was taken down in 2010 – and the Storm botnet.  Levashov was indicted for his role in the latter in 2009, although he managed to avoid extradition to the United States. At the time, Storm was the biggest spamming botnet in operation and was used to send millions of emails every day. Levashov also moderates many spamming forums and is well known in underground circles. Levashov is believed to have been extensively involved in spamming and other cybercriminal activities for the past 20 years; although to date he has avoided prosecution.

A statement released by the U.S. Department of Justice reads, “The operation announced today targeted an ongoing international scheme that was distributing hundreds of millions of fraudulent e-mails per year, intercepting the credentials to online and financial accounts belonging to thousands of Americans, and spreading ransomware throughout our networks.”

The DOJ operation also involved the takedown of domains associated with the Kelihos botnet starting on April 8, 2017. The DOJ says shutting down those domains was “an extraordinary task.”

While it is certainly good news that such a high profile and prolific spammer has been arrested and the Kelihos botnet has been severely disrupted, other spammers are likely to soon take Levashov’s place. Vitali Kremez, director of research at Flashpoint said his firm had seen chatter on underground forums indicating other major spammers are responding to the news of the arrest by taking acting to secure their own operations. There may be a blip in email spam volume, but that blip is only likely to be temporary.