Industry News

Our industry news section covers a broad range of news items of particular relevance to the cybersecurity industry and managed service providers (MSPs).

This section also included details of the latest white papers and research studies relating to malware, ransomware, phishing and data breaches. These articles provide some insight into the general state of cybersecurity, the industries currently most heavily targeted by cybercriminals, and figures and statistics for your own reports.

Hackers and scammers conduct massive spam campaigns designed to infect as many computers as possible. These attacks are random, using email addresses stolen in large data breaches such as the cyberattacks on LinkedIn, MySpace, Twitter and Yahoo. However, highly targeted attacks are increasing in frequency, with campaigns geared to specific industries. These industry-specific cyberattacks and spam and malware campaigns are detailed in this section, along with possible mitigations for reducing the risk of a successful attack.

This category is therefore of relevance to organizations in the education, healthcare, and financial services industries – the most common attacked industries according to recent security reports.

The articles contain information about current campaigns, spam email identifiers and details of the social engineering tactics used to fool end users and gain access to business networks. By following the advice in these articles, it may be possible to prevent similar attacks on your organization.

Erebus Ransomware Attack Results in $1 Million Ransom Payment

A $1 million ransom payment has been made to cybercriminals who used Erebus ransomware to attack the South Korean web hosting firm Nayana.

Erebus ransomware was first detected in September last year and was downloaded via websites hosting the Rig exploit kit. Traffic was directed to the malicious website hosting the Rig EK via malvertising campaigns. Vulnerable computers then had Erebus ransomware downloaded. This Erebus ransomware attack is unlikely to have occurred the same way. Trend Micro suggests the attackers leveraged vulnerabilities on the comapny’s Linux servers, used a local exploit or both.

The infection spread to all 153 Linux servers used by Nayana. Those servers hosted the websites of 3,400 businesses. All of the firm’s customers appear to have been affected, with website files and databases encrypted.

Nayana was attacked on June 10, 2017 in the early hours. The hosting company responded rapidly. Law enforcement was contacted and it was initially hoped that it would be possible to crack the ransomware and decrypt files without paying the ransom. It soon became clear that was not an option.

Companies can avoid paying ransom payments following ransomware attacks by ensuring backups are made of all data. Having multiple backups increases the likelihood of files being recoverable. In this case, Nayana had an internal and external backup; however, both of those backups were also encrypted in the attack. Nayana therefore had no alternative but to negotiate with the attackers.

While ransom payments for businesses are often in the $10,000 to $25,000 price bracket, the gang behind this attack demanded an astonishing 550 Bitcoin for the keys to unlock the encryption – Approximately $1.62 million. On June 14, Nayana reported that it had negotiated a ransom payment of 397.6 Bitcoin – Approximately $1.01 million, making this the largest ransomware ransom payment reported to date.

That payment is being made in three instalments, with keys supplied to restore files on the servers in batches. When one batch of servers was successfully recovered, the second ransom payment was made. Nayana said that the recovery process would take approximately 2 weeks for each of the three batches of servers, resulting in considerable downtime for the company’s business customers. Nayana experienced some problems restoring databases but says it is now paying the final payment.

This incident shows how costly ransomware resolution can be and highlights how important it is to ensure that operating systems and software are updated regularly. Patches should be applied promptly to address vulnerabilities before they can be exploited by cybercriminals.

Simply having a backup is no guarantee that files can be recovered. If the backup device is connected to a networked machine when a ransomware attack occurs, backup files can also be encrypted. This is why it is essential for organizations to ensure one backup is always offline. It is also wise to segment networks to limit the damage caused by a ransomware attack. If ransomware is installed, only part of the network will be affected.

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.

New Microsoft Windows XP Updates Released in Wake of WannaCry Attacks

Microsoft took the decision to issue emergency Windows XP updates to prevent exploitation of the Windows Server Message Block (SMB) vulnerability used to infect worldwide computers with ransomware on May 12, 2017.

The move came as a surprise since the operating system is no longer supported. Extended support came to an end on April 8, 2014. Yesterday, saw further Microsoft Windows XP updates released. The patches prevent further flaws in the operating system from being exploited by cybercriminals in WannaCry ransomware-style attacks.

Microsoft’s Cyber Defense Operations Center head, Adrienne Hall, said “Due to the elevated risk for destructive cyber-attacks at this time, we made the decision to take this action because applying these updates provides further protection against potential attacks with characteristics similar to WannaCrypt.”

In total, nearly 100 vulnerabilities were patched this Patch Tuesday, including 18 critical flaws that can be remotely exploited by cybercriminals to take full control of vulnerable systems. In some cases, as was the case with the WannaCry ransomware attacks, no user interaction is required for the flaws to be exploited.

One of the flaws – tracked as CVE-2017-8543 – similarly affects the Windows Server Message Block service. Microsoft says CVE-2017-8543 is being actively exploited in the wild, with Windows Server 2008, 2012, and 2016 all affected as well as more recent versions of Windows – v7, 8.1 and Windows 10. It is this flaw that has been patched for Windows Server 2003 and Windows XP. As was the case on May 12, once the attackers infect one device, they can search for other vulnerable devices. Infection can spread incredibly quickly to many other networked devices.

Some security experts have criticized Microsoft for issuing yet more Windows XP updates, arguing that this sends a message to users of outdated operating systems that it is OK not to upgrade the OS. Windows XP has many unpatched flaws, but the recent Windows XP updates suggest that if a particularly serious vulnerability is discovered that is being actively exploited, patches will be issued.

While Microsoft Windows XP updates have been released, this should not be taken as signaling a change in Microsoft’s standard servicing policies. Further patches may not be released for unsupported Windows versions, so organizations should not delay upgrading their OS. Microsoft’s general manager of its Security Response Center, Eric Doerr, said “The best protection is to be on a modern, up-to-date system that incorporates the latest defense-in-depth innovations. Older systems, even if fully up-to-date, lack the latest security features and advancements.”

In total, there were 95 updates issued this patch Tuesday. Like CVE-2017-8543, a LNK remote code execution vulnerability (CVE-2017-8464) is also being exploited in the wild.

The latest round of updates also includes a patch for a serious flaw in Microsoft Outlook (CVE-2017-8507). Typically, in order to exploit vulnerabilities an end user would be required to open a specially crafted email attachment. However, if an attacker were to send a specially crafted message to an Outlook user, simply viewing the message would allow the attacker to take full control of the machine.

Adobe has also issued a slew of updates to address 21 vulnerabilities spread across four products (Flash, Shockwave Player, Captivate and Adobe Digital editions). 15 of those vulnerabilities have been marked as critical and would allow remote code execution.

As the WannaCry ransomware attacks clearly showed, the failure to apply patches promptly leaves the door wide open to cybercriminals. These updates should therefore not be delayed, especially since two of the flaws are being actively exploited.

Samba Flaw Could Be Exploited and Used in Network Worm Attacks

A critical Samba flaw has been discovered that has potential to be exploited and used for network worm attacks similar to those that resulted in more than 300,000 global WannaCry ransomware infections.

Samba is used to provide Windows-like file and print services on Unix and Linux servers and is based on the Windows Server Message Block (SMB) protocol that was exploited in the recent WannaCry ransomware attacks. The wormable remote code execution vulnerability has been identified in versions 3.5.0 an above.

The Samba flaw – tracked as CVE-2017-7494 – has existed for around 7 years, although no known attacks are understood to have occurred. That may not remain the case for long.

Samba is commonly installed on enterprise Linux servers, with around 104,000 machines believed to be vulnerable, per a recent search conducted by Rapid7 researchers. The Samba flaw can be exploited easily, requiring just a single line of code.

The Samba vulnerability has been rated as critical, although the good news is Samba has already issued an update that addresses the vulnerability. The patch can be applied to versions 4.4 and above. Any organization that is using an unsupported version of Samba, or is unable to apply the patch, can use a workaround to address the Samba vulnerability and secure their Linux and Unix servers.

The workaround is straightforward, requiring the addition of the following parameter to the [global] section of your smb.conf

nt pipe support = no

After the parameter has been added, the smbd daemon must be restarted. This will prevent clients from accessing any named pipe endpoints.

US-CERT has advised all organizations to apply the patch or use the workaround as soon as possible to prevent the vulnerability from being exploited.

If a threat actor were to exploit the Samba flaw, it would allow them to “upload a shared library to a writable share, and then cause the server to load and execute it.” A malicious file could be remotely uploaded on any vulnerable device. That could be ransomware, a network worm, or any other malicious file. That file could then be executed with root access privileges.

NAS devices also use Samba and may also be vulnerable to attack. Malicious actors could target NAS devices and access or encrypt stored data. Many organizations use NAS devices to store backups. An attack on those devices, using ransomware for instance, could be devastating. Bob Rudis, chief data scientist at Rapid7, said “A direct attack or worm would render those backups almost useless. Organizations would have little choice but to pay the ransom demand.

A proof-of-concept exploit for the Samba vulnerability is available to the public. It is therefore only a matter of time before the vulnerability is exploited. The patch or workaround should therefore be applied ASAP to mitigate risk.

TitanHQ Partners with Purple to Provide Secure Content Filtering for WiFi Networks

TitanHQ announced a new partnership with Purple, the intelligent spaces company, which is now using the WebTitan WiFi filtering solution to control the content that can be accessed through its WiFi networks.

Businesses are now realizing they can attract more customers by providing free WiFi access, with Purple allowing businesses to get something back from providing free WiFi access to customers.

Purple provides WiFi analytics and marketing solutions allowing businesses to get more out of their WiFi networks. Those services have proven incredibly popular, with Purple rapidly expanding its business to serve clients in more than 70 countries.

Businesses are facing increasing pressure not only to provide Internet access to customers, but also to ensure that the Internet can be accessed safely and securely. The recent WannaCry ransomware attacks have highlighted just how important Internet security has now become. An Internet content filtering solution is therefore necessary to ensure inappropriate website content can be filtered out and malicious websites are blocked.

TitanHQ’s website content filtering solution – WebTitan – is the global leading content filtering solution for WiFi networks. Each day, WebTitan detects and blocks more than 60,000 different types of malware and ransomware, preventing users from infecting their devices. The solution is managed from a web-based control panel and can instantly be applied to any number of global WiFi access points.

The solution can be easily configured, has no latency, and allows precise control over the types of content that can be accessed through WiFi networks.

Following the rollout of WebTitan, which took just a few days, Purple customers have started benefitting from the industry-leading WiFi filtering solution.

James Wood, Head of Integration at Purple, communicated Purple’s unique requirements to TitanHQ which was able to provide a solution that exactly matched the company’s needs. Wood said, “From day one it was evident that they were capable of not only providing what we needed but were very responsive and technically adept.”

The solution was ideal for Purple. Woods explained that “Along with superior protection, WebTitan also allows us to extend the control to our customers via their API. Our customers can now manage their own filtering settings directly from the Purple Portal.”

More and more companies are realizing that it is no longer sufficient to just offer free WiFi access to customers. Customers now want to be reassured that they can access the Internet securely. TitanHQ CEO Ronan Kavanagh said “Content filtering for Wi-Fi will be a given in service terms over the next few years. Purple again is leading the way with their focus on this area.”

Who Conducted the WannaCry Ransomware Attacks? Link Found to North Korea

Who Conducted the WannaCry Ransomware Attacks?

The WannaCry ransomware attacks that started on Friday May 12 rapidly spread to more than 150 countries. While the attacks have been halted, IT security professionals are still scrambling to secure their systems and the search is now on for the perpetrators.

Malware researchers are analyzing the ransomware code and attack method to try to find clues that will reveal who conducted the WannaCry ransomware attacks.

At this stage in the investigation, no concrete evidence has been uncovered that links the attacks to any individual or hacking group, although a Google security researcher, Neel Mehta, has found a possible link to the Lazarus Group; a hacking organization believed to be based in China with links to North Korea.

The Lazarus Group is thought to be behind the attack on Sony Pictures in 2014 and the major heist on the Bangladesh central bank in February this year. While the link between the Lazarus Group and North Korea has not been comprehensively proven, the U.S. government is sure the group has been backed by North Korea in the past.

WannaCry Ransomware Code has been Reused

Mehta discovered parts of the ransomware code from the latest attacks were the same as code in a 2015 backdoor used by the Lazarus Group, suggesting the WannaCry ransomware attacks were conducted either by the Lazarus Group or by someone who has access to the same code.

Mehta also compared the code from the latest WannaCry ransomware variant and the backdoor to an earlier version of WannaCry ransomware from February and found code had been shared between all three. Symantec’s researchers have confirmed the code similarities.

Whether the Lazarus Group conducted the attacks is far from proven, and there is no evidence to suggest that were that to be the case, that the group had any backing from North Korea. The group could have been acting independently.

While some have called this link ‘strong evidence’, it should be explained that comparing code between malware samples does not confirm origin. Code is often reused and it is possible that the actors behind this campaign may have put in a false flag to divert attention from themselves onto the Lazarus Group and North Korea.

While the false flag idea is possible and plausible, Kaspersky Lab believes it is improbable and that the similarities in the source code point the finger of blame at the Lazarus Group.

Many Questions Remain Unanswered

The link with the Lazarus Group/North Korea is now being investigated further, but there are currently many questions unanswered.

The ransomware included a self-replicating function making it act like a worm, allowing it to rapidly spread to all vulnerable computers on a network. The sophistication of the attack suggests it was the work of a highly capable organization rather than an individual. However, the kill switch in the ransomware that was discovered by UK researcher ‘Malware Tech,’ allowed the infections to be halted. Such an ‘easily found’ kill switch would be atypical of such a sophisticated hacking group.

Previous attacks linked with the Lazarus Group have also been highly targeted. The WannaCry ransomware attacks over the weekend were purposely conducted in multiple countries, including China and Russia. The widespread nature of the attacks would be a departure from the typical attack methods used by Lazarus.

There are doubts as to whether North Korea would back an attack on its neighbours and allies, and while financially motivated attacks cannot be ruled out, past state-sponsored attacks have had a political purpose.

At this stage, it is not possible to tell who conducted the WannaCry ransomware attacks, but the latest discovery is an important clue as to who may be responsible.

Does GDPR Apply to American Companies?

The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) is a new data privacy and security law in Europe that comes into force next year, but does GDPR apply to American companies?

As many U.S. companies have recently discovered, not only does GDPR apply to American companies, doing business within the EU will not be possible if companies fail to comply with the regulation.

How Does GDPR Apply to American Companies?

The main purpose of GDPR is to give EU citizens greater control over how their personal data is collected, protected and used. While the legislation applies to EU companies, it also applies to any company that chooses to do business in the EU. That includes any online business that own a website that is accessible by EU citizens, if that website collects user data. Since the definition of personal information has also been expanded to include online identifiers such as cookies, GDPR has implications for huge numbers of U.S businesses. To continue to do business in the EU, most companies will have to implement additional privacy protections and end-to-end data protection strategies.

A recent survey conducted by PricewaterhouseCoopers on large multinational companies in the United States shows efforts are already underway to ensure compliance with the EU regulation. More than half of surveyed firms said GDPR is now their main data protection priority, with 92% saying compliance with GDPR is a top priority this year. The cost of compliance is considerable. 77% of surveyed firms said they are planning to spend more than $1 million on GDPR compliance, with one of the main spending priorities being improving their information security defenses.

As PwC’s Jay Cline explained, non-compliance with GDPR is simply not an option. “Businesses that do not comply with GDPR face a potential 4% fine of global revenues, increasing the need to successfully navigate how to plan for and implement the necessary changes.”

Further information on GDPR can be viewed on this link: https://www.spamtitan.com/general-data-protection-regulation/

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.

Cyberattacks on Educational Institutions Increase Sharply

Cyberattacks on educational institutions are occurring at an alarming rate. While the education sector has not been as heavily targeted as the financial services and healthcare in recent years, that is no longer the case. Cybercriminals and state-actors now have the education sector in their crosshairs.

Cybercriminals have realized that cyberattacks on educational institutions can be highly profitable, with this year seeing a sharp rise in attacks.

Schools, colleges and higher education institutions hold vast quantities of data that can be used for fraud and identity theft. As we have already seen this year, cyberattacks on educational institutions are now much more common. The first quarter of the year saw a rise in W-2 phishing attacks, with criminals managing to obtain the tax information of many thousands of staff members. Those data were used to file fraudulent tax returns. Student records can be used for identity theft and can be sold for big bucks on darknet marketplaces. Attacks aimed at obtaining the personal data of students have similarly increased.

Educational institutions also conduct extensive research. The past year has seen a sharp rise in espionage related cyberattacks on educational institutions. Criminals are also conducting attacks to gain access to bank accounts. This year, two major cyberattacks on educational organizations have resulted in bank transfers being made to criminals’ accounts. At the start of the year, a phishing attack on the Cleveland Metropolitan School District resulted in more than $100,000 being obtained by the attackers. Denver Public Schools was also attacked, with the attackers redirecting $40,000 in payroll funds to their own accounts.

The recently published Data Breach Investigation Report from Verizon clearly shows the new attack trend. Over the past year, there have been 455 incidents reported by educational institutions, 73 of which have resulted in the theft of data.

While many industries see cyberattacks conducted for financial reasons, in education, financial gain was only the motive behind 45% of cyberattacks. 43% of attacks involved espionage and 9% of attacks were conducted for fun. Out of all reported data breaches, 26% involved espionage. Last year the percentage was just 5%.

Attacks are coming from all angles – Internal attacks by students; attacks by cybercriminals looking to steal data, and state-sponsored actors looking to steal research. The latter accounted for more than half of data breaches in the past year.

The Verizon report indicates hacking is the biggest threat. 43% of breaches were due to hacks, although social attacks and malware were also common. Verizon reports that almost 44% of breaches involved social and around a third involved malware. Social attacks and malware have increased considerably over the course of the past year. The most common social attack was phishing via email.

As long cyberattacks on educational institutions remain beneficial or profitable, cyberattacks will continue.  Educational institutions therefore need to take steps to improve their security posture. Since social attacks such as phishing are commonplace, and malware infections commonly occur via email, educational institutions need review their email defenses.

Password policies should be introduced to ensure strong passwords are set on email accounts and policies introduced to ensure passwords are regularly changed. Spam filtering solutions should be implemented and all staff and students should receive training on security awareness. Verizon suggests staff and students should be encouraged or rewarded for reporting phishing and pretexting attacks.

Shoney’s Restaurants Malware Incident Affects 37 Restaurants

A Shoney’s Restaurants malware infection has resulted in the theft of customers’ payment card details. Hackers managed to install malware on the POS system used by dozens of Shoney’s restaurants

Shoney’s is a 70-year-old Nashville, Tennessee-based restaurant chain that operates approximately 150 restaurants across the Southern United States, Midwest and lower Atlantic region. The chain serves customers in 17 states, although only selected restaurants in Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, South Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia were affected. At least 37 restaurants were affected.

Financial institutions identified a trend in credit card fraud and were able to determine that all of the affected cardholders had visited a Shoney’s Restaurant. Best American Hospitality Corp., which manages and operates a number of Shoney’s establishments, was notified of a potential cyberattack and started an investigation. Kroll Cyber Security LLC was hired to conduct an investigation into the attack.

Kroll’s investigation revealed the malware enabled the attackers to steal cardholder names, credit card numbers, CVV codes, and expiry dates, although in some cases, cardholder names were not obtained. It is unclear how many individuals have been impacted, although any individual who visited one of the affected restaurants and paid by credit card has potentially had their information stolen. The malware was capable of reading data from the magnetic strips of payment cards as the information was routed through its computer system.

Access to the POS system is understood to have first been gained on December 27, 2016, although some restaurants were not infected until January 11. The Shoney’s Restaurants malware infection was contained on March 6, 2017, according to a press release issued by Best American Hospitality Corp.

The Shoney’s Restaurants malware attack is the latest is a slew of POS system breaches that have hit the hospitality sector hard. Earlier this year, the Arby’s restaurant chain was attacked and had credit card data stolen, while Wendy’s suffered a major credit card breach last year. Hotels have also been attacked, with more than 1,100 Intercontinental Hotel Group hotels discovered to have had malware installed that accessed its POS system.

Cyberattacks on the hospitality sector are to be expected. Hotels and restaurants are visited by tens of thousands of customers, and payment by credit card is common. Card details can be stolen and encoded onto magnetic strips on blank cards and used for fraudulent purchases. Each card number can allow criminals to steal hundreds, if not thousands of dollars.

All too often, data breaches occur due to poor security practices such as the failure to use strong passwords or failing to change default passwords. Other basic security failures that can open the door to attackers include failing to use web and email security products, not using two-factor authentication and not implementing security patches promptly.  Businesses should also conduct regular vulnerability scans and penetration tests to ensure all of their systems are secure.

If you would like advice on web and email security protections that can prevent hackers from gaining access to your POS system and installing malware, contact the TitanHQ team today and find out how you can improve your resilience against malware and cyberattacks.

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.

It’s World Backup Day – A Time to Review Your Backup Strategies

Today is World Backup Day: An annual event that started in 2010 to raise awareness of the importance of backing up data.

Backups are used to recover data in the event of disaster; however, having a backup of data does not necessarily mean data can be recovered. Restoring files from backups is not always effective. Backups can be corrupted and the restoration of files can fail.

While World Backup Day raises awareness of the importance of backing up data, we would like to emphasize the importance of testing backups and reviewing backup strategies to ensure they are effective. Don’t wait until disaster strikes to ensure your strategies are effective and files can be recovered. By then it will be too late.

How Common is Data Loss?

Recent research conducted by Kroll OnTrack has revealed an alarming number of companies have experienced data loss, even when backups of data were performed. Kroll polled 1,000 companies in the United States, Europe, and Australia and discovered that a third of companies had experienced a data loss incident.

Out of those companies, 35% did not have a current backup and experienced data loss as a direct result. Two thirds (67%) of organizations were able to recover the majority of their data from backup files, while 13% said they could recover up to three quarters of their data. Corrupted backup files were cited as the reason for data loss by 12% of companies, but a quarter of companies that lost data said their backup system did not work as it should.

A quarter of companies that backed up their data said they did not test those backups to make sure files could be recovered. A quarter said they tested backups once a week to ensure data were recoverable, and 30% tested their backups on a monthly basis.

Backups are an organization’s insurance against data loss. Just as an insurance policy should not be taken out until the fine print has been read, backups should not be trusted until they have been tested.

The World Backup Day pledge is “I solemnly swear to backup my important documents and precious memories on March 31st.” However, to that we add, “I also swear to test my backups to make sure my important documents can be recovered.”

Ransomware – A Major Data Loss Risk for All Businesses

The past 12 months have clearly highlighted the importance of backing up data. Ransomware attacks soared in 2016. Ransomware is a form of malware that locks files with powerful encryption. A ransom demand is then issued to supply the key to unlock the data. Without access to that key, data will remain locked forever if a backup of data does not exisit.

The only way to unlock files is to pay a sizable ransom payment. That payment could be tens of thousands of dollars. In February, last year, Hollywood Presbyterian Medical Center was forced to pay a ransom of $17,000 to obtain the key to unlock ransomware-encrypted data after it was discovered files could not be recovered from backups.

Ransomware has fast become one of the biggest cybersecurity threats. Research conducted by Kaspersky Lab revealed the number of ransomware variants increased 11-fold between Q1 and Q3, 2016, by which time 32,091 different ransomware variants had been detected. By Q3 2016, a business was being attacked with ransomware every 40 seconds and 42% of small to medium sized businesses had been attacked with ransomware. 32% of businesses were forced to pay the ransom in order to recover their data.

While ransomware attacks have soared, the malicious software is only the third main cause of data loss. Hardware failure poses the biggest risk followed by the loss or theft of devices. Software errors and data loss due to system upgrades round off the top five list.

A Good Data Backup Strategy

Backup systems can be used to continuously backup data, but at the very least a daily backup should be made. Those backups should be tested at least once a week to ensure data can be successfully recovered.

To prevent data loss and maximize the probability of data recovery, organizations should use the 3-2-1 approach. Each organization should ensure they have three copies of data. The original and two backups. Those backups should be stored on two different media and one of those copies should be stored off site. The easiest option to satisfy those requirements is to have a physical copy on a storage device and a backup in the cloud. Since ransomware can encrypt data on network drives and connected storage devices, a local drive should be disconnected after the backup has been made.

Take out some time this World Backup Day to test your backups and review your backup strategies and ensure that you will be able to recover your data if disaster strikes.

2017 IBM X-Force Threat Intelligence Index Provides Insight into Cyberattack Trends

The 2017 IBM X-Force Threat Intelligence Index has been released this week. The report provides an insight into the main cybersecurity threats faced by all industries and major cyberattack trends, data breaches and security incidents experienced by U.S. organizations in 2016.

Last year’s IBM X-Force Threat Intelligence Index showed healthcare was the industry most heavily targeted by cybercriminals. However, the 2017 IBM X-Force Threat Intelligence Index shows cybercriminals changed their focus in 2016. Last year, the financial services was hit the hardest. The healthcare dropped down to fifth place.

The healthcare industry did not suffer mega data breaches of the same scale as 2015 – which saw a 78.8 million-record cyberattack on Anthem Inc., and 10 million record+ data breaches at Premera Blue Cross and Excellus BlueCross BlueShield. However, there were security breaches aplenty. 2016 was the worst ever year for healthcare industry breaches, with more incidents reported than any other year in history.

Those breaches resulted in far fewer records being exposed or stolen. The 2017 IBM X-Force Threat Intelligence Index indicates there was an 88% drop in exposed or stolen healthcare records in 2016 compared to the previous year. Around 12 million healthcare records were exposed or stolen in 2016.

The 2017 IBM X-Force Threat Intelligence Index also shows that there was a shift in the nature of attacks, with cybercriminals targeting unstructured data rather than structured data. Data breaches involving email archives, intellectual property, and business documents all rose in 2016.

The healthcare industry may not have seen so many records exposed, but that was certainly not the case across all industry sectors. 2016 was a very bad year for cyberattacks. In 2015, around 600 million records were exposed or stolen. In 2016 the total jumped to an incredible 4 million records, helped in no small part by the 1.5 billion record breach at Yahoo and the discovery of massive data breaches at LinkedIn, MySpace, and Dropbox. It is therefore no surprise that IBM called 2016 The Year of the Mega Data Breach.

Top of the list of attacked industries in 2016 was financial services. Both the financial services and healthcare sectors saw a fall in attacks by outsiders, but attacks by malicious insiders and inadvertent actors increased in both industry sectors.

In the financial services, 5% of attacks involved malicious insiders and 53% involved inadvertent actors. In healthcare, 25% of attacks involved malicious insiders and 46% involved inadvertent actors. The financial services saw 42% of attacks conducted by outsiders. Healthcare cyberattacks by outsiders accounted for 29% of the annual total.

According to the 2017 IBM X-Force Threat Intelligence Index, the second most targeted industry was information and communications, followed by manufacturing and retail. All three industries saw increases in attacks by outsiders, which accounted for the vast majority of attacks. 96% of attacks on information and communications were by outsiders, with 91% apiece for manufacturing and retail.

The financial services sector saw a substantial rise in SQLi and OS CMDi attacks in 2016 – The most common attack method for the industry. The main attack method on the information and communications sector involved exploitation of vulnerabilities allowing attackers to trigger buffer overflow conditions. The main attack method on the manufacturing, retail and healthcare industries was also SQLi and OS CMDi attacks, which accounted for 71% of manufacturing industry cyberattacks, 50% of retail cyberattacks, and 48% of healthcare cyberattacks.

The 2017 IBM X-Force Threat Intelligence Index indicates cybercriminals favored older attack methods in 2016 such as ransomware, malware toolkits, and command injection to gain access to valuable data and resources.

Ransomware was big news in 2016. Many cybercriminals turned to ransomware as a quick and easy source of income. Figures from the FBI indicate $209 million in ransom payments were made in the first three months of 2016 alone.

Malware was also extensively used in attacks, with Android malware and banking Trojans big in 2016. Not all attacks targeted organizations for their data. DDoS attacks increased, both in frequency and severity. While attacks of 300+ Mbps were unusual in 2015, they became the norm in 2016. One attack in excess of 1 Tbps was reported.

While 2015 saw exploit kits extensively used to infect endpoints with malware, in 2016 spam email was favored. Spam was a primary attack tool of cybercriminals, especially in the second half of the year. While the first half of the year saw spam email volume remain steady, the 2017 IBM X-Force Threat Intelligence Index indicates there was a significant increase in spam volume in the second half of the year and a massive rise in the number of malicious email attachments.

The 2017 IBM X-Force Threat Intelligence Index shows the vast majority of malicious attachments were ransomware or ransomware downloaders, which accounted for 85% of malicious email attachments.

The increase in the use of spam email as an attack vector shows how important it is for organizations to improve their defenses against email attacks. An advanced spam filter is essential as is training of employees on security best practices and phishing attack prevention.

Rise in Theft of University Email Credentials Explored in New Report

The Digital Citizens Alliance (DCA) has published new research showing there has been a massive rise in the theft of university email credentials and a massive rise in the sale of email credentials on darknet marketplaces.

This year’s study revealed the theft of university email credentials has grown significantly in the past 12 months. The report shows 13,930,176 stolen email credentials have been discovered to have been listed for sale. This time last year when the darknet was last scraped for stolen credentials there were around 2.8 million stolen credentials listed for sale. The year before that the figure stood at 2.2 million.

While the 13.9 million figure includes email credentials that were stolen over the past 8 years, 76% of those stolen credentials were discovered in the past 12 months.

When the researchers combined all types of credentials from multiple sectors they discovered there had been a 547% increase in credentials finding their way onto darknet marketplaces over the past three years.

The fivefold increase in the theft of university email credentials in a single year is a massive spike, which has been attributed to major data breaches at third party websites rather than cyberattacks on universities. The researchers say the massive 1-billion record data breach at Yahoo, the huge breach at LinkedIn and other large-scale cyberattacks on Dropbox, Weebly, MySpace and others are to blame.

The email credentials of university staff and students are being sold on underground marketplaces for between $3.50 to $10 each. While many actors had listed the email credentials for sale, some individuals were trading credentials and others were offering the stolen credentials for free.

The study only looked at theft of university email credentials at the top 300 higher education institutions. Smaller universities were excluded from the study. The stolen credentials were sorted into different higher education institutions to determine which were the worst affected. The universities with the highest numbers of stolen credentials were found to be:

  • University of Michigan – 122,556
  • Pennsylvania State University – 119,350
  • University of Minnesota – 117,604
  • Michigan State – 115,973
  • Ohio State – 114,032
  • University of Illinois (Urbana-Champaign) – 99,375
  • New York University – 91,372
  • University of Florida – 87,310
  • Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University – 82,359
  • Harvard University – 80,100

The researchers were unable to determine why mid-west universities were the worst affected, although they hypothesized that it may be simply due to the size of the universities and the number of students, staff members, and alumni for those universities.

The researchers also looked at the size of the university and compared this to the number of stolen email credentials to gain a better understanding of demand for email addresses from specific universities and to ‘level the playing field’. Some universities appeared in the top ten of both lists, while smaller but more prestigious universities shot up the rankings. When ordered by the ratio of stolen email accounts to the total number of enrolled students and staff the top ten list changed to:

  • Massachusetts Institute of Technology
  • Carnegie-Mellon University
  • Cornell University
  • Baylor University
  • Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University
  • Pennsylvania State University
  • University of Michigan
  • Kent State University
  • Bowling Green State University

It is easy to see why the theft of university email credentials is such a problem. Edu email addresses are valuable to cybercriminals. They can be used in spear phishing and phishing campaigns but they also allow the users to obtain student discounts with retailers or when purchasing items such as software. Microsoft for instance offers a discount for students purchasing its Office products. The discounts can be considerable.

University email addresses are also highly valuable due to the data contained in those accounts. Information in the accounts can be mined and a huge amount of information can be gathered, from medical records to ID numbers and passwords to the weekends when students are likely to be away.

While email addresses and passwords were discovered, the researchers were unable to tell if the passwords were real and current and could be used to gain access to the accounts. The researchers also found that some of the email addresses appeared to have been spoofed or were incorrect accounts. While these posed less of a threat, the credentials were still of value to cybercriminals.

Phishing attacks do not need correct email addresses to be successfully used. Providing the correct format for emails is used, the email addresses can add credibility to phishing campaigns.

Adam Benson, Executive Director of the DCA said “Higher Education Institutions have deployed resources and talent to make university communities safer, but highly-skilled and opportunistic cyber criminals make it a challenge to protect large groups of highly-desirable digital targets.”

“We shared this information from cybersecurity researchers to create more awareness of just what kinds of things threat actors are capable of doing with an .edu account.” Said Benton.

While large scale third party data breaches were partly to blame, cyberattacks on universities still occur. To prevent theft of university email credentials the researchers suggest cybersecurity programs need to be conducted and awareness needs to be raised on the importance of using strong passwords.

Training should be provided to make sure staff and students are aware of the techniques used by criminals such as phishing. They should also be warned of the risk of clicking on links sent in emails. The researchers suggest tests should be conducted to see who clicks on malicious links. Conducting those tests is not a witch hunt, rather, it can give universities a better idea about how easy staff and students are being duped. Universities should also consider the use of multi-factor authentication to make accounts more secure.

Cybersecurity Howlers Are Committed by Intelligent People

A recent survey conducted by CBT Nuggets has revealed that even tech savvy people are prone to commit cybersecurity howlers and place themselves, and their organization, at risk. In fact, far from intelligence preventing individuals from suffering online identity theft and fraud, it appears to make it far more likely.

The survey, which was conducted on 2,000 respondents, showed that people who believed they were tech savvy were actually 18 times more likely to become victims of online identity theft.

The more educated individuals were, the more likely they were to become victims of cybercrime. The survey revealed that high school graduates were less likely to be victims of cybercrime than individuals who had obtained a Ph.D.

24% of respondents with a Ph. D said they were a victim of identity theft compared to 14% who had a Bachelor’s degree, 13% who were educated to college level and 11% who had been educated only to high school level.

Women were found to be 14% more likely to have their identities stolen than men, and millennials were less likely to suffer identity theft than Baby Boomers and Generation X.

Interestingly, while the vast majority of malware targets Windows users, the survey revealed that users of Apple devices were 22% more likely to be victims of identity theft than Windows users, although Android phone users were 4.3% more likely than iPhone users to suffer identity theft.

There were some interesting results about the level of care used when venturing online. Even though the risk of cyberattacks on law firms has increased in recent years and law firms are a major target for cybercriminals, lawyers were less likely than other professionals to follow online security best practices.

69% of respondents from the legal profession did not follow online security best practices because they were too lazy to do so. Only people in ‘religious industries’ fared worse on the laziness scale (70%).

46% of healthcare industry professionals said they were too lazy when it came to cybersecurity, a particular worry considering the value of healthcare data and the extent to which cybercriminals are conducting attacks on the healthcare industry. The most common reason given for lax security and taking risks online was laziness, being too busy and it being inconvenient to follow security best practices.

65.9% of respondents believed they faced a medium or high risk of being hacked, yet only 3.7% of respondents said they followed all of the basic security recommendations. Perhaps that’s why so many people felt they faced a medium or high risk of being hacked!

One of the biggest risks taken by respondents was avoiding using public Wi-Fi networks. Only 11.8% of respondents said they avoided connecting to the Internet on public Wi-Fi networks. However, when it comes to divulging sensitive information while connected to a public Wi-Fi network, people were more savvy. 83.3% said they avoided transmitting sensitive information when connected to public Wi-Fi networks. Only 40.6% of respondents said they updated their devices every time they were prompted to do so.

The survey also showed which states were the worst for identity theft. While Florida often makes the headlines, the state ranked in the bottom ten for identity theft, with just 11% of respondents from the state saying they had suffered identity theft. The worst states were Maryland with 28% of respondents saying they were victims of identity theft, followed by Alabama with 26% and Kentucky with 22%. The safest states were Alabama (6%) and Louisiana (5%).

Ransomware Attacks on British Schools Prompt Action Fraud to Issue Warning

Ransomware attacks on British schools have soared in recent weeks. The problem has become so serious that the British National Fraud and Cyber Crime Reporting Center, also known as Action Fraud, has issued a new ransomware warning to British schools.

Ransomware has grown in popularity with cybercriminals over the past 2 years, with attacks on organizations around the world soaring in 2016. 2017 may only be a few weeks old, but ransomware attacks are continuing at the high levels seen in 2016. Security experts predict that 2017 will see even more cyberattacks on schools and other educational institutions. Ransomware the attack method of choice.

Ransomware is a form of malware that encrypts data on a compromised system. A wide range of file types are locked with powerful encryption and a ransom demand is issued. If payment is made, the attackers claim they will supply the key to unlock the encryption. Without the key – the sole copy is held by the attackers – data will remain locked forever.

Some forms of ransomware have been cracked and free decryptors made available, but they number in the few. The majority of ransomware variants have yet to be cracked. Recovery depends on payment of the ransom or the wiping of the attacked system and restoration of files from backups.

While a standard charge per encrypted device was the norm early last year, ransomware is now more sophisticated. The attackers are able to set their payment demand based on the types of files encrypted, the extent of the infection, and the perceived likelihood of the victim paying up. Ransomware attacks on British schools have seen ransom demands of an average of £8,000 issued.

Ransomware Attacks on British Schools are Targeted, Not Random

Many ransomware attacks are random – Spam emails are sent in the millions in the hope that some of them reach inboxes and are opened by employees. However, ransomware attacks on British schools have seen a different approach used. Recent attacks have been highly targeted.

Rather than send emails out en masse, the spate of recent ransomware attacks on British schools start with a phone call. In order to find their target, the attackers call the school and ask for the email address of the head teacher. The email address is required because sensitive information needs to be sent that should only be read by the head teacher. Information such as mental health assessment forms and teacher guidance forms.

An email is then crafted and sent to the head teacher; addressed to that individual by name. While there are many types of ransomware emails, a number of recent ransomware attacks on British schools involved an email that appears to have been sent by the Department of Education. Other cases have involved the impersonation of the Department of Work and Pensions and telecom providers.

In the text of the email the attacker explains that they have sent some information in an attached file which is important and needs to be read. The attached file, usually in compressed format such as .ZIP or .RAR, contains files that install ransomware if opened.

These ransomware downloaders may be JavaScript files, Word or Excel macros, or a host of other file types.  In some cases, links are used instead of attachments. The links are masked so they appear to be official webpages; on the Department for Education website for example. In the case of links, they direct the recipient to a webpage containing an exploit kit or other form of file downloader. Just visiting that link could infect the user’s computer, mapped network drives, and portable storage devices.

How to Prevent Ransomware Attacks

Ransomware attacks on British schools can be highly sophisticated, although risk can be effectively mitigated.

  • Ensure all staff with computer access are made aware of the risk of ransomware attacks
  • Provide cybersecurity training to all staff, including how to identify ransomware and phishing emails
  • Never open attachments or visit links in emails sent from unknown senders
  • Implement a spam filter to capture and quarantine malicious spam emails
  • Use a web filtering solution to prevent staff members from visiting malicious links and from downloading ‘risky’ files
  • Ensure all software is kept up to date and patches are applied promptly
  • Keep all anti-virus and anti-malware solutions up to date, setting updates to occur automatically
  • Restrict the use of administrator accounts – Only use accounts with high levels of privileges for specific tasks

It is also essential to ensure that backups of all data are made on a daily basis and backup devices are disconnected after backups have been performed. Data should ideally be backed up to the cloud and on a physical backup device. In the event of an attack, data can then be recovered without paying the ransom.

Major Increase in Malicious Spam Email Volume in 2016

According to a recent report on spam email from anti-virus software developer Kaspersky Lab, the decline in spam email over the past few years appears to have reversed, with the first quarter of 2016 seeing a major increase in malicious spam email volume.

Major Increase in Malicious Spam Email Volume Reported by Kaspersky Lab

Over the past few years there has been a decline in the number of spam emails, as cybercriminals have sought other ways to deliver malware and defraud computer users. In 2015, the volume of spam emails being sent fell to a 12-year low. Spam email volume fell below 50% for the first time since 2003.

In June 2015, the volume of spam emails dropped to 49.7% and in July 2015 the figures fell further still to 46.4%, according to anti-virus software developer Symantec. The decline was attributed to the taking down of major botnets responsible for sending spam emails in the billions.

Malicious spam email volume has remained fairly constant during 2015. Between 3 million and 6 million malicious spam emails were detected by Kaspersky Lab throughout 2015; however, toward the end of the year, malicious spam email volume increased. That trend has continued in 2016.

Kaspersky Lab figures show that spam email messages containing malicious attachments – malware, ransomware, malicious macros, and JavaScript – started to increase in December 2015. That rise has continued, and in March 2016 malicious spam email volume had risen to four times the level seen in 2015. In March, 2016, Kaspersky Lab detected 22,890,956 malicious spam emails. Spam email volume as a whole increased over the quarter, rising to an average of 56.92% for the first three months of 2016.

 

malicious spam email volume in Q1, 2016

Image source: Kasperky Lab

Wide Range of Malicious Files Being Sent in Spam Email

While it was common for virus-loaded executable files to be sent as email attachments, these are now commonly caught by email filters and are marked as spam. However, spammers have been developing new methods of getting past traditional webmail spam filters. The spam emails intercepted by Kaspersky Lab now contained a wide variety of malicious files.

One of the most common methods now used by spammers is to send office documents infected with malicious macros. Microsoft Word files with the extension DOC and DOCX are commonly used, as are rich text format files RTF, Adobe PDF files, and Microsoft Excel spreadsheets with the extensions XLS and XLSX.

These file formats are commonly opened as many end users are less suspicious of office documents than they are about ZIP, RAR, and EXE files. Most office workers would know not to open a EXE file that was emailed to them by a stranger, yet an office document – a file format they use on a daily basis – is less likely to arouse suspicion.

Instead of the emails containing the actual malware, virus, or ransomware payload, they contain Trojan downloaders that download JS scripts. Those scripts then perform the final stage of infection and download the actual malware or ransomware. This method of attack is used to bypass anti-virus protections.

Web Filters and Email Spam Filters Should be Used to Reduce the Risk of a Malware Infection

There has been an increase in drive-by downloads in recent years as attackers have lured victims to websites containing exploit kits that probe for vulnerabilities in browsers and browser plugins. Visitors are redirected to these malicious websites when visiting compromised webpages, via malvertising, and malicious social media posts. While drive-by downloads are still a major threat, the use of web filters and anti-virus software browser add-ons are blocking these malware downloads and malicious websites.

Email is still a highly effective way of getting past security defenses and getting end users to install malware on their devices. Carefully crafted emails that include unique text increase the likelihood of the scammers getting users to open malicious attachments. Oftentimes, the messages include personal information about the recipient such as their name or address. This has helped the spammers to get the victims to take the desired action and run malicious macros and install malware.

It may be too early to tell whether spam email volume has only temporarily spiked or if there is a reversal in the decline of spam, but organizations and individuals should remain vigilant. The increase in malicious spam email volume should not be ignored.

Staff members should receive regular training on how to identify malicious email messages and phishing scams. It is also a wise precaution to use a robust spam filter such as SpamTitan. SpamTitan blocks 99.97% of malicious spam email messages, dramatically reducing the probability of malware, ransomware, adware, and spyware being installed.

Business Email Compromise Scams Have Cost U.S Businesses $2.3 Billion

Over the past three years business email compromise scams have been conducted with increasing regularity. However, over the past year the number of business email compromise scams reported to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) have increased dramatically.

Since January 2015, the FBI reports there has been a 270% increase in BEC attacks. FBI figures suggest the total losses from business email compromise scams since October 2013 has risen to $2.3 billion. Reports of successful BEC scams have been sent to the FBI from over 79 different countries around the world, which have affected more than 17,642 businesses.

Business email compromise scams involve the attacker gaining access to a corporate email account, such as that of the CEO, and requesting a bank transfer be made to their account. An email is sent from the CEO’s account to an accounts department employee, and all too often the transfer is made without question.

Unfortunately for U.S Businesses, BEC attacks are likely to increase as more cybercriminals get in on the act. Security experts have warned that the situation is likely to get a lot worse before it gets better. With the average fraudulent bank transfer between $25,000 and $75,000 and considerable potential to obtain much higher sums, criminals are more than willing to conduct the attacks.

A recent report from Dell SecureWorks indicates some hackers are selling their services on underground marketplaces and are offering access to corporate email accounts for just $250. Since cybercriminals could buy access to corporate email accounts, even relatively unskilled criminals could pull off a BEC scam and potentially have a million dollar+ payday. A number of large corporations have been fooled by these scams and have recorded losses of well over $1 million.

Business Email Compromise Scams Can Be Highly Convincing

BEC scams are convincing because even with security training, staff members tend to assume attacks will come from outside their organization. Employees are suspicious about emails that request the disclosure of login credentials, and a request to make a bank transfer that has not come from within an organization is likely to be immediately flagged as a scam.

However, when the CEO sends an email to a member of the accounts department requesting a bank transfer, many employees would not think to question the request. The person arranging the transfer would be unlikely to call the CEO to confirm payment. The transfer may go unnoticed for a number of days, by which time the funds would have been withdrawn from the attackers account and would be impossible to recover.

To conduct this type of attack the attacker would need to gain access to the email account of the CEO or an executive in the company who usually sends bank transfer requests to the accounts department. Once access has been gained, the attacker can read emails and learn the terminology typically used by that member of staff.

An email can then be written in the same language used by that individual. This ensures that the email does not rouse suspicions. Attackers research the transfer requests that are typically made and set the dollar amounts accordingly.

Since the account transfers are made to bank accounts outside the United States, the companies most frequently targeted are those that often make International payments. To the targeted accounts department employee, the request would seem perfectly normal.

How to Reduce the Risk of Employees Falling for BEC Scams

There are a number of ways that organizations can reduce the risk of employees falling for business email compromise scams. SpamTitan could not block a request sent from a compromised email account, but oftentimes attackers spoof email addresses. They purchase a domain that looks very similar to the targeted company, often transposing two letters. Oftentimes a domain is purchased replacing a letter “i” or an “L” with a “1”. If the email address of the sender is not carefully checked, this could well go unnoticed. SpamTitan can be configured to automatically block these spoofed email addresses to prevent these emails from being delivered.

To prevent employees from falling for business email compromise scams sent from compromised email accounts, policies and procedures should be introduced that require all account transfers to be verified by two individuals. Large transfers should also, where possible, be confirmed by some means other than email. A quick call to sender of the email for instance.

Organizations that choose to do nothing could regret failing to take precautions. Take the Austrian Airline parts company FACC for example. It reportedly lost approximately $55 million to such a scam.

MedStar Health Ransomware Attack Causes Network Shutdown

The past two months have seen a number of healthcare organizations attacked by cybercriminals; however, the MedStar Health ransomware attack discovered on Monday this week must rank as one of the most severe.

The MedStar Health ransomware attack is the latest in a string of attacks on U.S. healthcare organizations, as hackers up the ante and go for much bigger targets where the potential rewards are greater. It would appear that the 10-hospital health system will not need to pay a ransom to regain access to its data, but for three days MedStar Health has been forced to work without access to some of its computer systems after they were shut down to prevent the spread of the infection.

MedStar Health Ransomware Attack Affects 10 Hospitals and More than 250 Outpatient Facilities

MedStar Health is a large U.S health system operating more than 250 outpatient facilities and ten hospitals in the Washington D.C., area. On Monday morning, a virus was discovered to have been installed. The infection triggered emergency IT procedures and rapid action taken to limit the spread of the virus. Three clinical information systems were shut down, including email and the electronic health record system used to record and view patient data.

Without access to email and patient data, services at the hospital were slowed although business continued as close to normal as possible. No facilities closed their door to patients. However, in the 48 hours since the virus was discovered, IT security teams have been working around the clock to bring systems back online. Yesterday, MedStar Health reported that systems were being brought back online with enhanced functionality added bit by bit.

MedStar Health has kept the media and patients notified of progress via social media. The health system reported that “The malicious malware attack has created many inconveniences and operational challenges for our patients and associates.”

While no information was initially released on the exact nature of the computer virus that was discovered to have infiltrated its systems, a number of sources indicate the malicious software was ransomware. It has since emerged that the MedStar Health ransomware attack involved a ransomware from the Samsam family. The ransomware is also known as MSIL and Samas. The attack occurred at the Union Memorial Hospital in Baltimore.

Some computer users were presented with a message demanding a ransom to unlock files. The Baltimore Sun reported that the MedStar Health ransomware attack saw attackers demand a ransom of 45 Bitcoin (approximately $18,500) to unlock all 18 computers that were infected, with an offer to unlock one machine for 3 Bitcoin (approximately $1233).

FBI Issued Warning About Samsam Ransomware on March 25

The FBI reached out to businesses for assistance dealing with the latest ransomware threat from Samsam. While many ransomware infections use email as the vector, Samsam is installed via a tool called JexBoss. JexBoss is used to discover a vulnerability that exists in JBOSS systems. This attack is not conducted using phishing or website exploit kits, instead it works by compromising servers and spreading the infection laterally.

The vulnerability exploited is in the default configuration of the Boss Management Console (JMX) which is used to control JBoss application servers. In its default state, JMX allows unsecured access from external parties and this is used to gain shell access to install the ransomware.

Once a web application server has been infected, the ransomware does not communicate with a command and control server, but will spread laterally and to infect Windows machines, hence the need to shut down systems. The MedStar Health ransomware attack could have been much more severe had rapid action not been taken.

This attack highlights just how important it is to ensure that all systems are patched and default software configurations are changed. Other attacks recently reported by healthcare organizations in the United States have involved Locky ransomware, which is spread via exploit kits on compromised websites and via email spam. Healthcare organizations can protect against those attacks by using web filtering and anti-spam solutions. However, it is also essential to train staff never to open email attachments from unknown sources.

Best Antivirus Software Solution for 2015 Awards Announced

What was the best antivirus software solution for 2015 for the enterprise?

Protecting against the ever increasing number of cyberthreats is a full time job. The attack surface is now broader than ever before and hackers are developing increasingly sophisticated methods of obtaining data. The measures that must now be implemented to keep cyberattackers at bay have also increased in diversity and complexity.

Once of the core protections required by all organizations and individuals is an anti-virus software solution, and there is certainly no shortage of choice. But what was the best antivirus software solution for 2015?

The best AV software engines rated by AV-Comparatives

What AV engine detects and removes the most malware? What product offers the best real world protection? Which boasts the best file detection rates? These are all important considerations if you want to keep your organization protected. These and other factors were assessed over the course of the year by AV-comparatives.

AV-Comparatives is an independent testing lab based in Innsbruck, Austria. Each year the company publishes a report detailing the results of the AV tests the company conducted over the course of the year. The report is an excellent indicator of performance.

The company tested 21 of the top AV products on the market, subjecting each to a wide range of rigorous tests to determine the potential of each to protect users against malicious attacks.

The test results clearly show that not all antivirus products are the same. While all AV engines under test offered an acceptable level of performance, “acceptable” may not be good enough for enterprise installations.

The best antivirus software solution of 2015

AC-Comparatives rated performance and issued a number of awards to companies that excelled in specific areas of antivirus and antimalware protection. Gold, Silver and Bronze awards were awarded along with an overall best antivirus software solution for 2015 award.

Antivirus award categories:

  • Real-world detection
  • File detection
  • False positives
  • Overall performance
  • Proactive protection
  • Malware removal

Contenders for the ‘Best Antivirus Software Solution for 2015 Awards’

The Antivirus protects tested and considered for the awards were:

  • Avast Free Antivirus
  • AVG Internet Security
  • Avira Antivirus Pro
  • Baidu Antivirus
  • Bitdefender Internet Security
  • BullGuard Internet Security
  • Emsisoft Anti-Malware
  • eScan Internet Security Suite
  • ESET Smart Security
  • F-Secure Internet Security
  • Fortinet FortiClient (with FortiGate)
  • Kaspersky Internet Security
  • Lavasoft Ad-Aware Free Antivirus+
  • McAfee Internet Security
  • Microsoft Windows Defender for Windows 10
  • Panda Free Antivirus
  • Quick Heal Total Security
  • Sophos Endpoint Security and Control
  • Tencent PC Manager
  • ThreatTrack VIPRE Internet Security
  • Trend Micro Internet Security

The Best Antivirus Software Solution for 2015 Award

After assessing all categories of anti-virus protection there were two AV products that excelled in all categories and received an Advanced+ rating: Bitdefender and Kaspersky Lab, with Kaspersky Lab bestowed the best antivirus software solution for 2015. Kaspersky Lab is one of the two AV engines at the core of SpamTitan anti-spam solutions.

The Russian antivirus company also received a Gold Award for “Real-World” protection, file detection, and malware removal, as well as a Silver Award for proactive (Heuristic/Behavioral) protection, and a Bronze Award for overall low system impact performance.