Network Security

Our network security news section contains a range of articles relating to securing networks and blocking cyberattacks, ransomware and malware downloads. This section also features articles on recent network security breaches, alerting organizations to the latest attack trends being used by cybercriminals.

Layered cybersecurity defenses are essential given the increase in hacking incidents and the explosion in ransomware and malware variants over the past two years. Organizations can tackle the threat by investing in new security defenses such as next generation firewalls, end point protection systems, web filtering solutions and advanced anti-malware and antivirus defenses.

While much investment goes on tried and tested solutions that have been highly effective in the past, many cybersecurity solutions – antivirus software – are not as effective as they once were. In order to maintain pace with hackers and cybercriminals and get ahead of the curve, organizations should consider implementing a wide range of new cybersecurity solutions to block network intrusions, prevent data breaches and improve protection against the latest malware and ransomware threats.

This category contains information and advice on alternative network security solutions that can be adopted to improve network security and ensure networks are not infiltrated by hackers and infected with malicious software.

Irish Phishing Study Shows Millennials’ Confidence in Security Awareness is Misplaced

According to a recent Irish phishing study, as many as 185,000 office workers in the country have fallen victim to phishing scams.

Phishing is a method used by cybercriminals to obtain sensitive information such as login credentials, financial information, and other sensitive data. While phishing can take place over the phone, via messaging platforms or by text message, email is most commonly used.

Messages are sent in bulk in the hope that some individuals will respond, or campaigns can be much more targeted. The latter is referred to as spear phishing. With spear phishing attacks, cybercriminals often research their victims and tailor messages to maximize the probability of them eliciting a response.

A successful phishing attack on employees can see them disclose their email credentials which allows their accounts to be accessed. Then the attackers can search emails accounts for sensitive information or use the accounts to conduct further phishing attacks on other employees. When financial information is disclosed, business bank accounts can be emptied.

Businesses can suffer major financial losses as a result of employees responding to phishing emails, the reputation of the business can be damaged, customers can be lost, and there is also a risk of major regulatory fines.

Irish Phishing Study Findings

The Irish phishing study was conducted on 500 Irish office workers by the survey consultancy firm Censuswide. Respondents to the Irish phishing study were asked questions about phishing, whether they had fallen for a phishing scam in the past, and how they rated their ability to identify phishing attacks.

In line with findings from surveys conducted in other countries, 14% of respondents said they had been a victim of a phishing attack. There were also marked differences between different age groups.  Censuswide analyzed three age groups: Millennials, Gen X, and baby boomers. The latter two age groups were fairly resistant to phishing attempts. Gen X were the most phishing-savvy, with just 6% of respondents in the age group admitting to having been fooled by phishing emails in the past, closely followed by the baby boomer generation on 7%. However, 17% of millennials admitted having fallen for a phishing scam – The generation that should, in theory, be the most tech-savvy.

Interestingly, millennials were also the most confident in their ability to recognize phishing attempts. 14% of millennials said they would not be certain that they could detect fraud, compared to 17% of Gen X, and 26% of baby boomers.

It is easy to be confident about one’s ability to spot standard phishing attempts, but phishing attacks are becoming much more sophisticated and very realistic. Complacency can be very dangerous.

Phishing Protection for Businesses

The results of the Irish phishing study make it clear that businesses need to do more to protect themselves from phishing attacks. Naturally, an advanced spam filtering solution is required to ensure that employees do not have their phishing email identification skills put to the test constantly. SpamTitan, for instance, blocks more than 99.9% of spam and phishing emails, thus reducing reliance on employees’ ability to identify scam emails.

The Irish phishing study also highlights the importance of providing security awareness training to employees. The study revealed 44% of the over 54 age group had opened an attachment or clicked on a link in an email from an unknown sender, as had 34% of millennials and 26% of the Gen X age group. Alarmingly, one in five respondents said that their employer had not provided any security awareness training whatsoever.

Employees need to learn how to identify scams, so security awareness training must be provided. Since cybercriminals’ tactics are constantly evolving, training needs to be continuous. Annual or biannual training sessions should be provided, along with shorter refresher training sessions. Businesses should also consider conducting phishing email simulations to test resilience to phishing attacks and highlight weak links.

To be effective, anti-phishing training needs to be provided to all employees and requires buy-in from all departments. Unless that happens, it will be difficult to develop a culture of security awareness.

How to Improve Office 365 Security

In this post we offer four simple steps to take to improve Office 365 security and make it harder for hackers and phishers to gain access to users’ accounts.

Hackers are Targeting Office 365 Accounts

It should come as no surprise to hear that hackers are targeting Office 365 accounts. Any software package that has 155 million global users is going to be a target for hackers, and with the number of users growing by an astonishing 3 million a month, Office 365 accounts are likely to be attacked even more frequently.

One study this year has confirmed that to be the case. There has been a 13% increase in attempts to hack into Office 365 email accounts this year, and many of those attacks succeed. You should therefore take steps to improve Office 365 security.

Hackers themselves are paying for Office 365 and are probing its security protections to find vulnerabilities that can be exploited. They also test their phishing emails on real office 365 accounts to find out which ones bypass Microsoft’s anti-phishing protections.

When emails have been developed that bypass Microsoft’s anti-phishing protections, mass email campaigns are launched on Office 365 users. Businesses using Office 365 can easily be found and targeted because it is made clear that they use Office 365 through public DNS MX records.

So how can you improve office 365 security and make it harder for hackers? If you take the four steps below, you will be able to greatly improve Office 365 security and thwart more attacks.

Enforce the Use of Strong Passwords

Hackers often conduct brute force attacks on Office 365 email accounts so you need to develop a strong password policy and prevent users from setting passwords that are easy to brute force. You should not allow dictionary words or any commonly used weak passwords, that otherwise meet your password policy requirements – Password1! for instance.

The minimum length for a password should be 8 characters but consider increasing that minimum. A password of between 12 and 15 characters is recommended. Make sure you do not set a too restrictive maximum number of characters to encourage the use of longer passphrases. Passphrases are harder to crack than 8-digit passwords and easier for users to remember. To make it even easier for your users, consider using a password manager.

Implement Multi-Factor Authentication

Even with strong passwords, some users’ passwords may be guessed, or users may respond to phishing emails and disclose their password to a scammer. An additional login control is therefore required to prevent compromised passwords from being used to access Office 365 accounts.

Multi-factor authentication is not infallible, but it will help you improve Office 365 security. With MFA, in addition to a password, another method of authentication is required such as a token or a code sent to a mobile phone. If a password is obtained by a hacker, and an attempt is made to login from a new location or device, further authentication will be required to access the account.

Enable Mailbox Auditing in Office 365

Mailbox auditing in Office 365 is not turned on by default so it needs to be enabled. You can set various parameters for logging activity including successful login attempts and various mailbox activities. This can help you identify whether a mailbox has been compromised. You can also logs failed login attempts to help you identify when you are being attacked.

Improve Office 365 Security with a Third-Party Spam Filter

As previously mentioned, hackers can test their phishing emails to find out if they bypass Office 365 anti-phishing controls and your organization can be identified as using Office 365. To improve Office 365 security and reduce the number of phishing emails that are delivered to end users’ inboxes, consider implementing a third-party spam filter rather than relying on Microsoft’s anti-phishing controls. Dedicated email security vendors, such as TitanHQ, offer more effective and more flexible anti-spam and anti-phishing solutions than Microsoft Advanced Threat Protection at a lower cost.

Office 365 Spam Filtering Controls Failed to Prevent Costly Malware Infection

A U.S. school system had Office 365 spam filtering controls in place and other cybersecurity solutions installed, but still experienced a costly 6-week malware infection. In this post we explore what went wrong and how you can improve security in your organization.

Multi-Layered Defenses Breached

If you want to mount a solid defense and prevent hackers from gaining access to your networks and data, multi-layered cybersecurity defenses are required, but for one Georgia school district that was not enough. On paper, their defenses looked sound. Office 365 spam filtering controls had been applied to protect the email system, the school district had a firewall appliance protecting the network, and a web filter had been installed to control what users could do online. Endpoint security had also been installed.

The school district was also updating its desktops to Windows 10 and its servers to Windows Server 2012 or later. Everything looked nice and secure.

However, the transportation department delayed the upgrades. The department was still sharing files on a local Windows 2003 server and some of the desktops were still running Windows XP, even though support for the OS had long since ended. The outdated software and lack of patching was exploited by the attackers.

How Was the Malware Installed?

The investigation has not yet determined exactly how the attack was initiated, but it is believed that it all started with an email. As a result of the actions of an end user, a chain of events was triggered that resulted in a 6-week struggle to mitigate the attack, the cost of which – in terms of time and resources – was considerable.

The attack is believed to have started on a Windows XP machine with SMBv1 enabled. That device had drives mapped to the Windows 2003 server. The malware that was installed was the Emotet Trojan, which used the EternalBlue exploit to spread across the network to other vulnerable devices. The attackers were able to gain control of those devices and installed cryptocurrency mining malware.

The cryptocurrency mining slowed the devices to such an extent that they were virtually unusable, causing many to continually crash and reboot. The network also slowed to a snail’s pace due to the streams of malicious traffic. While the upgraded Windows 10 machines were not affected initially, the attackers subsequently downloaded keyloggers onto the compromised devices and obtained the credentials of an IT support technician who had domain administration rights. The attackers then used those privileges to disable Windows Defender updates on desktops, servers, and domain controllers.

Over the course of a week, further Trojan modules were downloaded by creating scheduled tasks using the credentials of the IT support worker. A spam module was used to send malicious messages throughout the school district and several email accounts were compromised as a result and had malware downloaded. Other devices were infected through network shares. The TrickBot banking Trojan was downloaded and was used to attack the systems used by the finance department, although that Trojan was detected and blocked.

Remediation Took 6 Weeks

Remediating the attack was complicated. First the IT department disabled SMBv1 on all devices as it was not known what devices were vulnerable. Via a Windows Group Policy, the IT team then blocked the creation of scheduled tasks. Every device on the network had Windows Defender updates downloaded manually, and via autoruns for Windows, all processes and files run by the Trojan were deleted. The whole process of identifying, containing, and disabling the malware took 6 weeks.

The attack was made possible through an attack on a single user, although it was the continued use of unsupported operating systems and software that made the malware attack so severe.

The attack shows why it is crucial to ensure that IT best practices are followed and why patching is so important. For that to happen, the IT department needs to have a complete inventory of all devices and needs to make sure that each one is updated.

While Microsoft released a patch to correct the flaw in SMBv1 that was exploited through EternalBlue, the vulnerable Windows XP devices were not updated, even though Microsoft had released an update for the unsupported operating system in the spring of 2017.

Additional Protection is Required for Office 365 Inboxes

The attack also shows how the actions of a single user can have grave repercussions. By blocking malicious emails at source, attacks such as this will be much harder to pull off. While Office 365 spam filtering controls block many email-based threats, even with Microsoft’s Advanced Threat Protection many emails slip through and are delivered to inboxes.

Hackers can also see whether Office 365 is being used as it is broadcast through DNS MX records, which allows them to target Office 365 users and launch attacks.

Due to the additional cost of APT, the lack of flexibility, and the volume of malicious emails that are still delivered to inboxes, many businesses have chosen to implement a more powerful spam filtering solution on top of Office 365.

One such solution that has been developed to work seamlessly with Office 365 to improve protection against email threats is SpamTitan.

You can find out more about how SpamTitan improves protection for Office 365 in this article – Protecting Office 365 from Attack.

Phishing Attacks on Retailers and Food Industry Install Remote Access Trojans

There has been an increase in phishing attacks on retailers, supermarket chains, and restaurants in recent weeks. The aim of the phishing attacks is to deliver remote access Trojans and remote manipulator software to gain persistent access to computers and, ultimately, obtain banking credentials and sensitive customer data on POS systems.

Several new campaigns have been detected in recent weeks targeting retail and food sector companies, both of which are well into the busiest time of the year. With employees working hard, it is likely that less care will be taken opening emails which gives cybercriminals an opportunity.

PUB Files Used in Phishing Attacks on Retailers

Over the past few weeks, security researchers have noted an uptick in phishing attacks on retailers, with one threat group switching to using.pub files to install malware. Many phishing attacks use Word documents containing malicious macros. The use of macros with .pub files is relatively uncommon. The change to this new attachment type may fool employees, as they will be less likely to associate these files with cyberattacks.

Social engineering techniques are used to fool end users into opening the files, with the .pub files masquerading as invoices. Many emails have been intercepted that appear to have been sent from within a company, which helps to make the files appear genuine.

If opened, the .pub files, via malicious macros, run Microsoft Installer (MSI) files that deliver a remote access Trojan. Since these installers will most likely be familiar to end users, they may not realize the installers are malicious. Further, the MSI files are time delayed so they do not run immediately when the .pub files are opened, increasing the probability that the RAT downloads will go unnoticed.

The TA505 threat group is using this tactic to install the FlawedAmmy remote access Trojan and other malicious payloads such as Remote Manipulator System (RMS) clients.

The phishing emails used to deliver these malicious files are targeted and tailored to a specific business to increase the likelihood of success. These targeted spear phishing attacks are now becoming the norm, as threat actors move away from the spray and pray tactics of old.

Cape Cod Community College Phishing Attack Results in Theft of More Than $800,000

Phishing attacks on retailers have increased, but other industries are also at risk. Educational institutions are also prime targets, as has been highlighted by a recent phishing attack on Cape Cod Community College.

The Cape Cod Community College phishing attack involved sophisticated messages that delivered malware capable of evading the college’s anti-virus software. The malware was used to obtain the banking credentials of the college, and once those credentials had been obtained, the hackers proceeded to make fraudulent transfers and empty bank accounts. Transfers totaling $807,130 were made, and so far, the college and its bank have only been able to recover $278,887.

All too often, fraudulent transfers are not detected quickly enough to recover any funds. Once the transfers have cleared the attacker-controlled bank accounts are emptied, after which the probability of recovering funds falls to near zero.

Defense in Depth the Key to Phishing Protection

Email is the primary vector used to phish for sensitive information and deliver malware to businesses. Regardless of whether businesses use local email systems or cloud-based email services such as Office 365, advanced spam filtering controls are required to block threats. For instance, SpamTitan blocks more than 99.9% of spam email and 100% of known malware. SpamTitan also uses heuristics, machine learning, and Bayesian analysis to identify previously unseen threats – One of the areas of weakness of Office 365’s anti-phishing defenses.

Network segmentation is also essential. Critical services must be separated to ensure that the installation of malware or ransomware on one device will not allow the attackers to gain access to the entire network. This is especially important for retailers and other businesses with POS systems. Network segmentation will help to keep POS systems and the financial data of customers secure.

Advanced endpoint protection solutions offer far greater protection than standard antivirus solutions and are less reliant on malware signatures. Standard AV solutions will only block known malware. With standard AV solutions, new malware variants can easily slip through the net.

End user security awareness training should be mandatory for all employees and training needs to be a continuous process. A once a year training session is no longer sufficient. Regular training throughout the year is required to ensure employees are made aware of the latest threats and tactics being used to gain access to login credentials and install malware.

For further information on improving email security to improve protection against phishing attacks, contact the TitanHQ team today.

Flash Player Vulnerability Being Actively Exploited via Spear Phishing Campaign

Adobe has issued an unscheduled update to correct flaws in Adobe Flash Player, including a zero-day vulnerability that is currently being exploited in the wild by an APT threat group on targets in Russia. One target was a Russian healthcare facility that provides medical and cosmetic surgery services to high level civil servants of the Russian Federation.

The zero-day flaw is a use-after-free vulnerability – CVE-2018-15982 – which allows arbitrary code execution and privilege execution in Flash Player. A malicious Flash object runs malicious code on a victim’s computer which gives command line access to the system.

The vulnerability was discovered by security researchers at Gigamon ATR who reported the flaw to Adobe on November 29. Researchers at Qihoo 360 identified a spear phishing campaign that is being used to deliver a malicious document and associated files that exploit the flaw. The document used in the campaign was a forged employee questionnaire.

The emails included a .rar compressed file attachment which contained a Word document, the vulnerability, and the payload. If the .rar file is unpacked and the document opened, the user is presented with a warning that the document may be harmful to the computer. If the content is enabled, a malicious command is executed which extracts and runs the payload – A Windows executable file named backup.exe that is disguised as an NVIDIA Control Panel application. Backup.exe serves as a backdoor into a system. The malicious payload collects system information which is sent back to the attackers via HTTP POST. The payload also downloads and executes shell code on the infected device.

Qihoo 360 researchers have named the campaign Operation Poison Needles due to the identified target being a healthcare clinic. While the attack appears to be politically motivated and highly targeted, now that details of the vulnerability have been released it is likely that other threat groups will use exploits for the vulnerability in more widespread attacks.

It is therefore important for businesses that have Flash Player installed on some of their devices to update to the latest version of the software as soon as possible. That said, uninstalling Flash Player, if it is not required, is a better option given the number of vulnerabilities that are discovered in the software each month.

The vulnerability is present in Flash Player 31.0.0.153 and all earlier versions. Adobe has corrected the flaw together with a DLL hijacking vulnerability in version 32.0.0.101.

TrickBot Malware Updated with POS Data Stealing Capabilities

A new module has been added to TrickBot malware that adds point-of-sale (POS) data collection capabilities.

TrickBot is a modular malware that is being actively developed. In early November, TrickBot was updated with a password stealing module, but the latest update has made it even more dangerous, especially for hotels, retail outlets, and restaurants: Businesses that process large volumes of card payments.

The new module was identified by security researchers at Trend Micro who note that, at present, the module is not being used to record POS data such as credit/debit card numbers. Currently, the new TrickBot malware module is only collecting data about whether an infected device is part of a network that supports POS services and the types of POS systems in use. The researchers have not yet determined how the POS information will be used, but it is highly likely that the module is being used for reconnaissance. Once targets with networks supporting POS systems have been identified, they will likely be subjected to further intrusions.

The new module, named psfin32, is similar to a previous network domain harvesting module, but has been developed specifically to identify POS-related terms from domain controllers and basic accounts. The module achieves this by using LDAP queries to Active Directory Services which search for a dnsHostName that contains strings such as ‘pos’, ‘retail’, ‘store’, ‘micros’, ‘cash’, ‘reg’, ‘aloha’, ‘lane’, ‘boh’, and ‘term.’

The timing of the update, so close to the holiday period, suggests the threat actors are planning to take advantage of the increase in holiday trade and are gathering as much information as possible before the module is used to harvest POS data.

The recent updates to TrickBot malware have been accompanied by a malicious spam email campaign (identified by Brad Duncan) which is targeting businesses in the United States. The malspam campaign uses Word documents containing malicious macros that download the TrickBot binary.

Protecting against TrickBot and other information stealing malware requires a defense-in-depth approach to cybersecurity. The main attack vector used by the threat actors behind TrickBot is spam email, so it is essential for an advanced anti-spam solution to be deployed to prevent malicious messages from being delivered to end users’ inboxes. End user training is also essential to ensure employees are made aware of the danger of opening emails from unknown senders, launching suspicious email attachments, and clicking hyperlinks in those messages.

Antivirus solutions and endpoint security controls should also be deployed to identify and quarantine potentially malicious files in case malware makes it past perimeter defenses.

Dec 5, 2018 Webinar: Find Out About a More Cost-Effective Alternative to Cisco OpenDNS

There is a more cost-effective alternative to Cisco OpenDNS that provides total protection against web-based threats at a fraction of the price of OpenDNS. If you are currently running OpenDNS or have yet to implement a web filtering solution, you can find out about this powerful web filtering solution in a December 5, 2018 webinar.

Cybersecurity defenses can be implemented to secure the network perimeter, but employees often take risks online that can lead to costly data breaches. The online activities of employees can easily result in malware, ransomware, and viruses being downloaded. Employees may also respond to malicious adverts (malvertising) or visit phishing websites where they are relieved of their login credentials.

Mitigating malware infections, dealing with ransomware attacks, and resolving phishing-related breaches have a negative impact on the business and the resultant data breaches can be incredibly costly. Consequently, the threat from web-based attacks cannot be ignored.

Fortunately, there is an easy solution that offers protection against web-based threats by carefully controlling the web content that their employees can access: A DNS-based web filter.

DNS-based web filtering requires no hardware purchases and no software downloads. Within around 5 minutes, a business will be able to control employee internet access and block web-based threats. Some DNS-based web filters such as OpenDNS can be costly, but there is a more cost-effective alternative to Cisco OpenDNS.

TitanHQ and Celestix Networks will be running a joint webinar to introduce an alternative to Cisco OpenDNS – The WebTitan-powered solution, Celestix WebFilter Cloud.

Celestix will be joined by Rocco Donnino, TitanHQ EVP of Strategic Alliances, and Senior Sales Engineer, Derek Higgins who will explain how the DNS-based filtering technology offers total protection from web-based threats at a fraction of the cost of OpenDNS.

The webinar will be taking place on Wednesday December 5, 2018 at 10:00 AM US Pacific Time

Advance registration is required. You can register for the webinar on this link.

Stealthy Cannon Trojan Being Distributed Through Lion Air Spear Phishing Campaign

A previously unseen malware variant, dubbed the Cannon Trojan, is being used in targeted attacks on government agencies in the United States and Europe. The new malware threat has been strongly linked to a threat group known under many names – APT28, Fancy Bear, Sofacy, Sednet, Strontium – that has links to the Russian government.

The Cannon Trojan is being used to gather information on potential targets, collecting system information and taking screenshots that are sent back to APT28. The Cannon Trojan is also a downloader capable of installing further malware variants onto a compromised system.

The new malware threat is stealthy and uses a variety of tricks to avoid detection and hide communications with its C2. Rather than communicating over HTTP/HTTPS, like other malware variants used by APT28, the Cannon Trojan communicates via email over SMTPs and POP3S.

Once installed, an email is sent over SMTPS through port 465 and a further two email addresses are obtained through which the malware communicates with its C2 using the POP3S protocol to receive instructions and send back data. While the use of email for communicating with a C2 is not unknown, it is relatively rare. One advantage offered by this method of communication is it is more difficult to identify and block that HTTP/HTTPS.

The Cannon Trojan, like the Zebrocy Trojan which is also being used by APT28, is being distributed via spear phishing emails. Two email templates have been intercepted by Palo Alto Networks’ Unit 42 team, one of which takes advantage of interest in the Lion Air plane crash in Indonesia.

The Lion Air spear phishing campaign appears to provide information on the victims of the crash, which the email claims are detailed in an attached Word document titled Crash List (Lion Air Boeing 737).docx. The user must Enable Content to view the contents of the document. It is claimed that the document was created in an earlier version of Word and content must be enabled for the file to be displayed. Opening the email and enabling content would trigger the macro to run, which would then silently download the Cannon Trojan.

Rather than the macro running and downloading the payload straightaway, as an anti-analysis mechanism, the attackers use the Windows AutoClose tool to delay completion of the macro routine until the document is closed. Only then is the Trojan downloaded. Any sandbox that analyzes the document and exits before closing the document would be unlikely to identify it as malicious. Further, the macro will only run if a connection with the C2 is established. Even if the document is opened and content is enabled, the macro will not run without its C2 channel open.

The techniques used by the attackers to obfuscate the macro and hide communications make this threat difficult to detect. The key to preventing infection is blocking the threat at source and preventing it from reaching inboxes. The provision of end user training to help employees identify threats such as emails with attachments from unknown senders is also important.

Enhance Protection Against Zero-Day Malware and Spear Phishing

TitanHQ has developed a powerful anti-phishing and anti-spam solution that is effective at blocking advanced persistent threats and zero-day malware, which does not rely on signature-based detection methods. While dual anti-virus engines offer protection against 100% of known malware, unlike many other spam filtering solutions, SpamTitan uses a variant of predictive techniques to identify previously unseen threats and spear phishing attacks.

Greylisting is used to identify domains used for spamming that have yet to be blacklisted. All incoming emails are subjected to Bayesian analysis, and heuristics are used to identify new threats.

To further protect against phishing attacks, URIBL and SURBL protocols are used to scan embedded hyperlinks. SpamTitan also scans outbound mail to prevent abuse and identify attempted data theft.

For further information on SpamTitan, to book a product demonstration, or to sign up for a free trial of the full product, contact the TitanHQ team today.

How to Improve the Office 365 Spam Filter

Office 365 has many benefits, so it is no surprise that it is proving so popular with businesses, but one common complaint is the number of spam and malicious emails that sneak past Microsoft’s defenses. If you have a problem with spam and phishing emails, there is an easy solution to improve the Office 365 spam filter.

Office 365 Email Protection

More than 135 million commercial users are now on Office 365. Unfortunately, the popularity of Office 365 has made it a target for hackers. Microsoft has been proactively taking steps to improve the Office 365 spam filter to make it more effective at blocking spam and phishing attempts. Office 365 phishing protections have been improved and more malicious emails are now being blocked; however, even with the recent anti-phish enhancements, many businesses still have to deal with spam, phishing emails, and other malicious messages.

Businesses using Office 365 as a hosted email solution are likely to have their email filtered using Exchange Online protection or EOP. EOP does provide a decent level of protection and blocks spam, phishing emails, and malware. Osterman Research confirmed that EOP eliminates 100% of known malware and blocks 99% of spam email but struggles with the last 1%. Many businesses have found that EOP blocks basic phishing attacks but comes up short at blocking more advanced email threats such as spear phishing and advanced persistent threats.

To improve the Office 365 spam filter, it is necessary to upgrade to Advanced Threat Protection, the second level of protection offered with Office 365. The level of protection is much better, although Advanced Threat Protection cannot identify zero-day threats and falls short of many third-party solutions on blocking other advanced threats. A SE Labs study in the summer of 2017 found that even with the additional level of protection, which is only available in the Office 365 E5 license tier, protection only ranked in the low-middle of the market.

The number of cases of hackers exploiting vulnerabilities in Office 365 and the volume of direct attacks on Office 365 users has seen an increasing number of businesses looking for a way to improve the Office 365 spam filter further.

An Easy Way to Improve the Office 365 Spam Filter

Businesses that want to further improve the Office 365 spam filter (and those looking for an Office 365 Advanced Threat Protection alternative) need to consider implementing a third-party anti-spam solution.

Fortunately, there is a solution that will not only improve Office 365 spam filtering, it is quick and easy to implement, requires no software downloads, and no hardware purchases are necessary. In fact, it can be implemented, configured, and be up and running in a few minutes.

SpamTitan is a powerful cloud-based email security solution that has been developed to provide superior protection against spam, phishing, malware, zero-day attacks, and data loss via email.

In contrast to Office 365, SpamTitan uses predictive techniques such as Bayesian analysis, machine learning, and heuristics to block zero-day attacks, advanced persistent threats, new malware variants, and new spear phishing methods.

SpamTitan searches email headers, analyzes domains, and scans email content to identify phishing threats. Embedded hyperlinks, including shortened URLs, are scanned in real time and subjected to URL multiple reputation checks, while dual antivirus engines scan and block 100% of known malware.

SpamTitan also incorporates data loss prevention tools for emails and attachments, which are not available with EOP. Users can create tags for keywords and data elements such as Social Security numbers to protect against theft by insiders. SpamTitan also serves as a backup for your mail server to ensure business continuity.

With SpamTitan you get a greater level of protection against spam and malicious emails, a higher spam catch rate (over 99.9%), greater granularity, improved control over outbound email, and better business continuity protections.

If you have transitioned to Office 365 yet are still having problems with spam, phishing, and other malicious emails or if you are an MSP that wants to offer clients enhanced Office 365 email security, contact the TitanHQ team today.

The TitanHQ team will be happy to schedule a product demonstration and help you put SpamTitan through the paces in your own environment in a no-obligation free trial.

How Can MSPs Make Office 365 More Profitable?

Reselling Office 365 doesn’t offer much in the way of profit for MSPs, although there are benefits for MSPs that come from offering Office 365 and it is possible to make Office 365 more profitable.

Before explaining where the margin is for MSPs in Office 365, let’s first take a look at the benefits for MSPs from offering Office 365.

Benefits for MSPs from Offering Office 365 to Clients

SMBs are increasingly moving from on-premises solutions to the cloud and Office 365 is one of the most popular cloud services. Office 365 now has more than 135 million commercial monthly users and that number is growing rapidly.

MSPs may not be able to make much from Office 365 alone, but by providing Office 365 MSPs can win more business and gain a competitive advantage. There is no outlay involved with offering Office 365 to clients, the product is great and meets clients’ needs, and money can be made from handling Office 365 migrations.

MSPs can also benefit from migrating existing clients from Exchange or SBS Exchange to Office 365. Office 365 is far easier to manage so they stand to save a great deal of time on troubleshooting and maintenance, which can be a major headache with Exchange.

By offering Office 365 you can win more business, reduce operational costs, and stay competitive. However, the best way to make money from Office 365 is through add-on services.

How MSPs Can Make Office 365 More Profitable

The margins for MSPs on Office 365 are rather thin to say the least. Many MSPs find that offering Office 365 on its own doesn’t provide any profit at all. Charging extra per license to improve profitability is an option, but clients could just go direct to avoid the extra cost.

The margins may be small, but managing Office 365 does not require a great deal of effort. You may only make around 50c or $1 per user but sign up enough clients and you could get a reasonable return. There is an opportunity for profit at scale; however, to make a decent return you need to sell services around Office 365.

One of the best ways to make Office 365 more profitable is by offering additional security services. Security is an area where Office 365 can be significantly improved, especially spam filtering. Microsoft has incorporated a spam filter and anti-phishing protections into Office 365, but they fall short of the protection offered by a dedicated third-party spam filter.

Phishing is the number one security threat faced by businesses and Office 365 anti-phishing protections leave a lot to be desired. By offering enhanced spam and phishing protection through a third-party spam filter, not only can MSPs make a decent margin on the add-on solution, by blocking phishing attacks and malware at source, a considerable amount of time can be saved on support.

There are plenty of other opportunities for selling third-party solutions to make up for the lack of options in Office 365. Email archiving is an easy sell and a quick win for MSPs. An email archive is important for compliance and security, saves on storage space, and improves efficiency, and gives clients access to emails from any location.

Spam filtering, email archiving, web filtering, and encryption can be bundled together as an enhanced security package, with each element providing a decent return for MSPs. Given the cost of mitigating a data breach, by preventing breaches, an enhanced security offering will pay for itself. Consequently, Office 365 security should be an easy sell.

Office 365 MSP Add-ons from TitanHQ

For more than 20 years TitanHQ has been developing innovative security solutions for businesses. Today, more than 7,500 businesses are protected by TitanHQ security solutions and more than 2,000 MSPs have signed up to the TitanHQ MSP Alliance Program.

All TitanHQ solutions have been developed from the ground to meet the needs of the SMB marketplace and MSPs. TitanHQ’s spam filtering solution – SpamTitan, email archiving solution – ArcTitan, and web filtering solution – WebTitan, save MSPs support and engineering time, have great margins, and can be easily integrated into MSPs security stacks to make Office 365 more profitable.

To find out more about TitanHQ’s MSP offerings, for details of pricing and MSP margins, contact the TitanHQ MSP Alliance Program team today and take the first step toward making Office 365 more profitable.

New Dharma Ransomware Variant Detected

A new Dharma ransomware variant has been developed that is currently evading detection by the majority of antivirus engines. According to Heimdal Security, the latest Dharma ransomware variant captured by its researchers was only detected as malware by one of the 53 AV engines on VirusTotal.

Dharma ransomware (also known as CrySiS) first appeared in 2006 and is still being developed. This year, several new Dharma ransomware variants have been released, each using new file extensions for encrypted files (.bip, .xxxxx, .like, java, .arrow, .gamma, .arena, .betta, and .tron to name but a few). In the past two months alone four new Dharma ransomware variants have been detected.

The threat actors behind Dharma ransomware have claimed many victims in recent months. Successful attacks have been reported recently by Altus Baytown Hospital in Texas, the Arran brewery in Scotland, and the port of San Diego.

While free decryptors for Dharma ransomware have been developed, the constant evolution of this ransomware threat rapidly renders these decryptors obsolete.  Infection with the latest variants of the ransomware threat only give victims three options: pay a sizeable ransom to recover files, restore files from backups, or face permanent file loss.

The latter is not an option given the extent of files that are encrypted. Restoring files from backups is not always possible as Dharma ransomware can also encrypt backup files and can delete shadow copies. Payment of a ransom is not advised as there is no guarantee that files can or will be decrypted.

Protecting against ransomware attacks requires a combination of policies, procedures, and cybersecurity solutions. Dharma ransomware attacks are mostly conducted via two attack vectors: The exploitation of Remote Desktop protocol (RDP) and via email malspam campaigns.

The latest Dharma ransomware variant attacks involve an executable file being dropped by a .NET file and HTA file. Infections occur via RDP-enabled endpoints using brute force attempts to guess passwords. Once the password is obtained, the malicious payload is deployed.

While it is not exactly clear how the Arran brewery attack occurred, a phishing attack is suspected. Phishing emails had been received just before file encryption. “We cannot be 100 percent sure that this was the vector that infection occurred through, but the timing seems to be more than coincidental,” said Arran Brewery’s managing director Gerald Michaluk.

To protect against RDP attacks, RDP should be disabled unless it is absolutely necessary. If RDP is required, access should only be possible through a VPN and strong passwords should be set. Rate limiting on login attempts should be configured to block login attempts after a set number of failures.

Naturally, good backup policies are essential. They will ensure that file recovery is possible without payment of a ransom. Multiple copies of backups should be made with one copy stored securely off site.

To protect against email-based attacks, an advanced spam filter is required. Spam filters that rely on AV engines may not detect the latest ransomware variants. Advanced analyses of incoming messages are essential.

SpamTitan can improve protection for businesses through combination of two AV engines and predictive techniques to block new types of malware whose signatures have not yet been uploaded to AV engines.

For further information on SpamTitan and protecting your email gateway from ransomware attacks and other threats, speak to TitanHQ’s security experts today.

What are the Top Phishing Lures of 2018?

Phishing is the number one security threat faced by businesses. In this post we explore why phishing is such as serious threat and the top phishing lures that are proving to be the most effective at getting employees to open malicious attachments and click on hyperlinks and visit phishing websites.

Phishing is the Biggest Security Threat Faced by Businesses

Phishing is a tried and tested social engineering technique that is favored by cybercriminals for one very simple reason. It is very effective. Phishing emails can be used to fool end users into installing malware or disclosing their login credentials. It is an easy way for hackers to gain a foothold in a network to conduct further cyberattacks on a business.

Phishing works because it targets the weakest link in security defenses: End users. If an email is delivered to an inbox, there is a relatively high probability that the email will be opened. Messages include a variety of cunning ploys to fool end users into taking a specific action such as opening a malicious email attachment or clicking on an embedded hyperlink.

Listed below are the top phishing lures of 2018 – The messages that have proven to be the most effective at getting end users to divulge sensitive information or install malware.

Top Phishing Lures of 2018

Determining the top phishing lures is not straightforward. Many organizations are required to publicly disclose data breaches to comply with industry regulations, but details of the phishing lures that have fooled employees are not usually made public.

Instead, the best way to determine the top phishing lures is to use data from security awareness training companies. These companies have developed platforms that businesses can use to run phishing simulation exercises. To obtain reliable data on the most effective phishing lures it is necessary to analyze huge volumes of data. Since these phishing simulation platforms are used to send millions of dummy phishing emails to employees and track responses, they are useful for determining the most effective phishing lures.

In the past few weeks, two security awareness training companies have published reports detailing the top phishing lures of 2018: Cofense and KnowBe4.

Top Phishing Lures on the Cofense Platform

Cofense has created two lists of the top phishing lures of 2018. One is based on the Cofense Intelligence platform which collects data on real phishing attacks and the second list is compiled from responses to phishing simulations.

Both lists are dominated by phishing attacks involving fake invoices. Seven out of the ten most effective phishing campaigns of 2018 mentioned invoice in the subject line. The other three were also finance related: Payment remittance, statement and payment. This stands to reason. The finance department is the primary target in phishing attacks on businesses.

The list of the top phishing lures from phishing simulations were also dominated by fake invoices, which outnumbered the second most clicked phishing lure by 2 to 1.

Rank Phishing Subject/Theme Number of Reported Emails
1 Attached Invoice 4,796
2 Payment Notification 2,267
3 New Message in Mailbox 2,088
4 Online Order (Attachment) 679
5 Fax Message 629
6 Secure Message (MS Office Macro) 408
7 Online Order (Hyperlink) 399
8 Confidential Scanned document (Attachment) 330
9 Conversational Wire transfer (BEC Scam) 278
10 Bill Copy 251

 

Top Phishing Lures on the KnowBe4 Platform

KnowBe4 has released two lists of the top phishing lures of Q3, 2018, which were compiled from responses to simulated phishing emails and real-world phishing attempted on businesses that were reported to IT security departments.

The most common real-world phishing attacks in Q3 were:

Rank Subject
1 You have a new encrypted message
2 IT: Syncing Error – Returned incoming messages
3 HR: Contact information
4 FedEx: Sorry we missed you.
5 Microsoft: Multiple log in attempts
6 IT: IMPORTANT – NEW SERVER BACKUP
7 Wells Fargo: Irregular Activities Detected on Your Credit Card
8 LinkedIn: Your account is at risk!
9 Microsoft/Office 365: [Reminder]: your secured message
10 Coinbase: Your cryptocurrency wallet: Two-factor settings changed

 

The most commonly clicked phishing lures in Q3 were:

Rank Subject % of Emails Clicked
1 Password Check Required Immediately 34%
2 You Have a New Voicemail 13%
3 Your order is on the way 11%
4 Change of Password Required Immediately 9%
5 De-activation of [[email]] in Process 8%
6 UPS Label Delivery 1ZBE312TNY00015011 6%
7 Revised Vacation & Sick Time Policy 6%
8 You’ve received a Document for Signature 5%
9 Spam Notification: 1 New Messages 4%
10 [ACTION REQUIRED] – Potential Acceptable Use Violation 4%

 

The Importance of Blocking Phishing Attacks at their Source

If login credentials to email accounts, Office 365, Dropbox, and other cloud services are obtained by cybercriminals, the accounts can be plundered. Sensitive information can be stolen and Office 365/email accounts can be used for further phishing attacks on other employees. If malware is installed, cybercriminals can gain full control of infected devices. The cost of mitigating these attacks is considerable and a successful phishing attack can seriously damage a company’s reputation.

Due to the harm that can be caused by phishing, it is essential for businesses of all sizes to train staff how to identify phishing threats and implement a system that allows suspicious emails to be reported to security teams quickly. Resilience to phishing attacks can be greatly improved with an effective training program and phishing email simulations. It is also essential to deploy an effective email security solution that blocks threats and ensures they are not delivered to inboxes.

SpamTitan is a highly effective, easy to implement email filtering solution that blocks more than 99.9% of spam and phishing emails and 100% of known malware through dual anti-virus engines (Bitdefender and ClamAV). With SpamTitan protecting inboxes, businesses are less reliant on their employees’ ability to identify phishing threats.

SpamTitan subjects each incoming email to a barrage of checks to determine if a message is genuine and should be delivered or is potentially malicious and should be blocked. SpamTitan also performs checks on outbound emails to ensure that in the event that an email account is compromised, it cannot be used to end spam and phishing emails internally and to clients and contacts, thus helping to protect the reputation of the business.

Improve Office 365 Email Security with SpamTitan

There are more than 135 million subscribers to Office 365, and such high numbers make Office 365 a big target for cybercriminals. One of the main ways that Office 365 credentials are obtained is through phishing. Emails are crafted to bypass Office 365 defenses and hyperlinks are used to direct end users to fake Office 365 login pages where credentials are harvested.

Businesses that have adopted Office 365 are likely to still see a significant number of malicious emails delivered to inboxes. To enhance Office 365 security, a third-party email filtering control is required. If SpamTitan is installed on top of Office 365, a higher percentage of phishing emails and other email threats can be blocked at source.

To find out more about SpamTitan, including details of pricing and to register for a free trial, contact the TitanHQ team today. During the free trial you will discover just how much better SpamTitan is at blocking phishing attacks than standard Office 365 anti-spam controls.

New Office 365 Threat Uses Windows Components to Install Banking Trojans

A new Office 365 threat has been detected that stealthily installs malware by hiding communications and downloads by abusing legitimate Windows components.

New Office 365 Threat Uses Legitimate Windows Files to Hide Malicious Activity

The attack starts with malspam containing a malicious link embedded in an email. Various themes could be used to entice users into clicking the link, although one recent campaign masquerades as emails from the national postal service in Brazil.

The emails claim the postal service attempted to deliver a package, but the delivery failed as there was no one in. The tracking code for the package is included in the email and the user is requested to click the link in the email to receive the tracking information.

In this case, clicking the link will trigger a popup asking the user to confirm the download of a zip file, which it is alleged contains the tracking information. If the zip file is extracted, the user is required to click on a LNK file to receive the information. The LNK file runs cmd.exe, which executes a Windows Management Instrumentation (WMI) file: wmic.exe. This legitimate Windows file will be used to communicate with the attacker’s C2 server and will create a copy of another Windows file – certutil.exe in the %temp% folder with the name certis.exe. A script then runs which instructs the certis.exe file to connect to a different C2 server to download malicious files.

The aim of this attack is to use legitimate Windows files to download the malicious payload: A banking Trojan. The use of legitimate Windows files for communication and downloading files helps the attackers bypass security controls and install the malicious payload undetected.

These Windows files have the capability to download other files for legitimate purposes, so it is hard for security teams to identify malicious activity. This campaign targets users in Brazil, but this Office 365 threat should be a concern for all users as other threat actors have also adopted this tactic to install malware.

Due to the difficultly distinguishing between legitimate and malicious wmic.exe and certutil.exe activity, blocking an office 365 threat such as this is easiest at the initial point of attack: Preventing the malicious email from being delivered to an inbox and providing security awareness training to employees to help them identify this Office 365 threat. The latter is essential for all businesses. Employees can be turned into a strong last line of defense through security awareness training. The former can be achieved with a spam filtering solution such as SpamTitan. SpamTitan will prevent the last line of defense from being tested.

How to Block this Office 365 Threat with SpamTitan and Improve Email Security

Microsoft uses several techniques to identify malspam and prevent malicious messages from reaching users’ inboxes; however, while efforts have been made to improve the effectiveness of the spam filtering controls of Office 365, many malicious messages are still delivered.

To improve Office 365 security, a third-party spam filtering solution should be used. SpamTitan has been developed to allow easy integration into Office 365 and provides superior protection against a wide range of email threats.

SpamTitan uses a variety of methods to prevent malspam from being delivered to end users’ inboxes, including predictive techniques to identify threats that are misidentified by Office 365 security controls. These techniques ensure industry-leading catch rates in excess of 99.9% and prevent malicious emails from reaching inboxes.

How SpamTitan Spam Filtering Works

How SpamTitan Protects Businesses from Email Threats

Security Solutions for MSPs to Block Office 365 Threats

Many MSPs resell Office 365 licenses to their customers. Office 365 allows MSPs to capture new business, but the margins are small. By offering additional services to enhance Office 365 security, MSPs can make their Office 365 offering more desirable to businesses while improving the profitability of Office 365.

TitanHQ has been developing innovative email and web security solutions for more than 25 years. Those solutions have been developed from the ground up with MSPs for MSPs. Three solutions are ideal for use with Office 365 for compliance ad to improve security – SpamTitan email filtering, WebTitan web filtering, and ArcTitan email archiving.

By incorporating these solutions into Office 365 packages, MSPs can provide clients with much greater value as well as significantly boosting the profitability of offering Office 365.

To find out more about each of these solutions, speak to TitanHQ. The MSP team will be happy to explain how the products work, how they can be implemented, and how they can boost margins on Office 365.

Webinar: TitanHQ and Datto Explain Bullet Proofing Managed Networks to MSPs

TitanHQ, the leading provider of web filtering, spam filtering, and email archiving solutions for managed service providers (MSPs) recently formed a strategic partnership with Datto Networking, the leading provider of MSP-delivered IT solutions to SMBs.

The partnership has seen TitanHQ’s advanced web filtering technology incorporated into the Datto Networking Appliance to ensure all users benefit from reliable and secure internet access.

TitanHQ’s web filtering technology provides enhanced protection from web-based threats while allowing acceptable internet usage policies to be easily enforced for all users at the organization, department, user group, or user level.

On October 18, 2018, Datto and TitanHQ will be hosting a webinar to explain the enhanced functionality of the Datto Networking Appliance to MSPs, including a deep dive into the new web filtering technology.

Webinar: Datto Networking & Titan HQ Deliver Enhanced Web Content Filtering
Date: Thursday, October 18th
Time: 11AM ET | 8AM PT | 4PM GMT/BST

Speakers: John Tippett, VP, Datto Networking; Andy Katz, Network Solutions Engineer; Rocco Donnino, EVP of Strategic Alliances, TitanHQ

Click here to sign up for the webinar

Spear Phishing Attack Results in $16 Million Anthem Data Breach Settlement

In 2015, Anthem Inc., experienced a colossal data breach. 78.8 million health plan records were stolen. This year, the health insurer settled a class action data breach for $115 million and OCR has now agreed a $16 million Anthem data breach settlement.

It Started with a Spear Phishing Email…

The Anthem data breach came as a huge shock back in February 2015, due to the sheer scale of the breach. Healthcare data breaches were common, but the Anthem data breach in a different league.

Prior to the announcement, the unenviable record was held by Science Applications International Corporation, a vendor used by healthcare organizations, that experienced a 4.9 million record breach in 2011. The Anthem data breach was on an entirely different scale.

The hacking group behind the Anthem data breach was clearly skilled. Mandiant, the cybersecurity firm that assisted with the investigation, suspected the attack was a nation-state sponsored cyberattack. The hackers managed to gain access to Anthem’s data warehouse and exfiltrated a huge volume of data undetected. The time of the initial attack to discovery was almost a year.

While the attack was sophisticated, a foothold in the network was not gained through an elaborate hack or zero-day exploit but through phishing emails.

At least one employee responded to a spear phishing email, sent to one of Anthem’s subsidiaries, which gave the attackers the entry point they needed to launch a further attack and gain access to Anthem’s health plan member database.

The Anthem Data Breach Settlement is the Largest Ever Penalty for a Healthcare Data Breach

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office for Civil Rights (OCR) investigates healthcare data breaches that result in the exposure or theft of 500 or more records. An in-depth investigation of the Anthem breach was therefore a certainty given its scale. A penalty for non-compliance with Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) Rules was a very likely outcome as HIPAA requires healthcare organizations to safeguard health data. The scale of the breach also made it likely that it would result in the largest ever penalty for a healthcare data breach.

Before the Anthem data breach settlement, the largest penalty for a healthcare data breach was $5.55 million, which was agreed between OCR and Advocate Health Care Network in 2016. The Anthem data breach settlement was almost three times that amount, which reflected the seriousness of the breach, the number of people impacted, and the extent to which HIPAA Rules were alleged to have been violated.

OCR alleged that Anthem Inc., had violated five provisions of HIPAA Rules, and by doing so failed to prevent the breach and limit its severity. The Anthem data breach settlement was however agreed with no admission of liability.

The regulatory fine represents a small fraction of the total cost of the Anthem data breach. On top of the Anthem data breach settlement with OCR, Anthem faced multiple lawsuits in the wake of the data breach. The consolidated class action lawsuit was settled by Anthem in January 2018 for $115 million.

The class action settlement document indicated Anthem had already paid $2.5 to consultants in the wake of the breach, $31 million was spent mailing notification letters, $115 million went on improvements to security, and $112 million was paid to provide identity theft protection and credit monitoring services to affected plan members.

With the $115 million class action settlement and the $16 million OCR settlement, that brings the total cost of the Anthem data breach to $391.5 million.

At $391.5 million, that makes this the most expensive healthcare phishing attack by some distance and the cost clearly highlights just how important it is to adopt a defense-in-depth strategy to protect against phishing attacks.

Ransomware is Still the Main Malware Threat Warns Europol

Cybercriminals have turned to cryptocurrency mining malware as an easy, low-risk way of making money although ransomware is still the main malware threat according to Europol.

While it was common for large-scale spam email campaigns to be sent to random recipients to spread ransomware, tactics used to infect devices with the file-encrypting malware are changing.

There has been a decline in the use of ‘spray and pray’ spam campaigns involving millions of messages toward targeted attacks on businesses. Organized cybercriminal gangs are researching victims and are conducting highly targeted attacks that first involve compromising a network before manually deploying ransomware.

The cybercriminal group behind SamSam ransomware has been particularly prolific. Companies that have failed to address software vulnerabilities are attacked and access is gained to their networks. The SamSam group also conducts brute force attacks on RDP to gain access to business networks. Once access is gained, ransomware is manually installed on as many computers as possible, before the encryption routine is started across all infected devices. With a large number of devices encrypted, the ransom demand can be much higher – Typically around $50,000 per company. The group has collected at least $6 million in ransom payments to date.

Europol warns that ransomware attacks will continue to be a major threat over the following years, although a new threat is emerging – cryptojacking malware. This form of malware is used to hijack computer processors to mine cryptocurrency. Europol warns that if the rise in the use of cryptojacking malware continues it may overtake ransomware and become the biggest malware threat.

Not only does cryptojacking offer considerable rewards, in many cases use of the malware is not classed as illegal, such as when it is installed on websites. This not only means that cybercriminals can generate considerable profits, but the risk involved in these types of attacks is far lower than using ransomware.

Cybercriminals are still extensively using social engineering techniques to fool consumers and employees into disclosing sensitive personal information and login credentials. Social engineering is also extensively used to trick employees into making fraudulent bank transfers. Phishing is the most common form of social engineering, although vishing – voice phishing – and smishing – SMS phishing are also used. Europol notes that social engineering is still the engine of many cybercrimes.

While exploit kits have been extensively used to silently download malware, Europol notes that the use of exploit kits continues to decline. The main attack vectors are spam email and RDP brute-forcing.

As-a-service cyberattacks continue to be a major problem. DDoS-as-a-service and ransomware-as-a-service allow low-level and relatively unskilled individuals to conduct cyberattacks. Europol recommends law enforcement should concentrate on locating and shutting down these criminal operations to make it much harder for low-level criminals to conduct cyberattacks that would otherwise be beyond their skill level.

With spam email still a major attack vector, it is essential for businesses to implement cybersecurity solutions to prevent malicious emails from being delivered to inboxes and ensure cybersecurity best practices are adopted to make them less susceptible to attack. With phishing the main form of social engineering, anti-phishing training for employees is vital.

RDP attacks are now commonplace, so steps must be taken by businesses to block this attack vector, such as disabling RDP if it is not required, using extremely strong passwords for RDP, limiting users who can login, configuring account lockouts after a set number of failed login attempts, and using RDP gateways.

Cybercrime Losses in Germany Estimated to be €43 Billion

With the largest economy, the United States is naturally a major target for cybercriminals. Various studies have been conducted on the cost of cybercrime in the United States, but little data is available on cybercrime losses in Germany – Europe’s largest economy.

The International Monetary Fund produces a list of countries with the largest economies. In 2017, Germany was ranked fourth behind the United States, China, and Japan. Its GDP of $3,68 trillion represents 4.61% of global GDP.

A recent study conducted by Germany’s federal association for Information Technology – BitKom – has placed a figure on the toll that cybercrime is taking on the German economy.

The study was conducted on security chiefs and managers at Germany’s top 503 companies in the manufacturing sector. Based on the findings of that survey, BitKom estimated cybercrime losses in Germany to be €43 billion ($50.2 billion). That represents 1.36% of the country’s GDP.

Extrapolate those cybercrime losses in Germany and it places the global cost of cybercrime at $1 trillion, substantially higher than the $600 billion figure estimate from cybersecurity firm McAfee and the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in February 2018. That study placed the global percentage of GDP lost to cybercrime at between 0.59% and 0.80%, with GDP losses to cybercrime across Europe estimated to be between 0.79 to 0.89% of GDP.

Small to Medium Sized Businesses Most at Risk

While cyberattacks on large enterprises have potential to be highly profitable for cybercriminals, those firms tend to have the resources available to invest heavily in cybersecurity. Attacks on large enterprises are therefore much more difficult and time consuming. It is far easier to target smaller companies with less robust cybersecurity defenses.

Small to medium sized businesses (SMBs) often lack the resources to invest heavily in cybersecurity, and consequently are far easier to attack. The BitKom study confirmed that these companies, which form the backbone of the economy in Germany, are particularly vulnerable to cyberattacks and have been extensively targeted by cybercriminals.

It is not only organized cybercriminal groups that are conducting these attacks. Security officials in Germany have long been concerned about attacks by well-resourced foreign spy agencies. Those agencies are using cyberattacks to gain access to the advanced manufacturing techniques developed by German firms that give them a competitive advantage. Germany is one of the world’s leading manufacturing nations, so it stands to reason that the German firms are an attractive target.

Cybercriminals are extorting money from German firms and selling stolen data on the black market and nation-state sponsored hackers are stealing proprietary data and technology to advance manufacturing in their own countries. According to the survey, one third of companies have had mobile phones stolen and sensitive digital data has been lost by a quarter of German firms. 11% of German firms report that their communications systems have been tapped.

Attacks are also being conducted to sabotage German firms. According to the study, almost one in five German firms (19%) have had their IT and production systems sabotaged through cyberattacks.

Businesses Must Improve Their Defenses Against Cyberattacks

“With its worldwide market leaders, German industry is particularly interesting for criminals,” said Achim Berg, head of BitKom. Companies, SMBs in particular, therefore need to take cybersecurity much more seriously and invest commensurately in cybersecurity solutions to prevent cybercriminals from gaining access to their systems and data.

According to Thomas Haldenweg, deputy president of the BfV domestic intelligence agency, “Illegal knowledge and technology transfer … is a mass phenomenon.”

Preventing cyberattacks is not straightforward. There is no single solution that can protect against all attacks. Only defense-in-depth will ensure that cybercriminals and nation-state sponsored hacking groups are prevented from gaining access to sensitive information.

Companies need to conduct regular, comprehensive organization-wide risk analyses to identify all threats to the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of their data and systems. All identified risks must then be addressed through a robust risk management process and layered defenses implemented to thwart attackers.

One of the main vectors for attack is email. Figures from Cofense suggest that 91% of all cyberattacks start with a malicious email. It stands to reason that improving email security should be a key priority for German firms. This is an area where TitanHQ can help.

TitanHQ is a provider of world-class cybersecurity solutions for SMBs and enterprises that block the most commonly used attack vectors. To find out more about how TitanHQ’s cybersecurity solutions can help to improve the security posture of your company and block email and web-based attacks, contact the TitanHQ sales team today.

Leading MSPs are Reaping the Rewards from Security-as-a-Service

Managed service providers (MSPs) are discovering the huge potential for profit from offering security-as-a-service to their clients. Managed security services are now the biggest growth area for the majority of leading MSPs, with security-as-a-service well ahead of cloud migration, cloud management, and managed Office 365 services according to a recent survey conducted by Channel Futures.

Channel Futures conducted the survey as part of its annual MSP 501 ranking initiative, which ranks MSPs based on their ability to act on current trends and ensure they remain competitive in the fast-evolving IT channel market. The survey evaluated MSP revenue growth, hiring trends, workforce dynamics, service deliverables, business models, and business strategies.

The survey revealed that by far the biggest growth area is managed security services. Security-as-a-service was rated the biggest growth area by 73% of MSPs. 55% of MSPs said professional services were a major growth area, 52% said Office 365, and 51% said consulting services.

It is no surprise that security-as-a-service is proving so popular as the volume of attacks on enterprises and SMBs has soared. Cybercriminals are attacking enterprises and SMBs trying to gain access to sensitive data to sell on the black market. Attacks are conducted to sabotage competitors, nation-state-sponsored hackers are attempting to disrupt critical infrastructure, and data is being encrypted to extort money. There is also a thriving market for proprietary data and corporate secrets.

The cost of mitigating attacks when they succeed is considerable. For enterprises, the attacks can make a significant dent in profits, but cyberattacks on SMBs can be catastrophic. A study conducted by the National Cyber Security Alliance suggests as many as 60% of SMBs go out of business in the 6 months following a hacking incident.

Enterprises and SMBs alike have had to respond to the increased threat by investing heavily in security, but simply throwing money at security will not necessarily mean all security breaches are prevented. Companies need to employee skilled IT security professionals to implement, monitor and maintain those cybersecurity solutions, conduct vulnerability scans, and identify and address security gaps. Unfortunately, there is a major shortage of skilled staff and attracting the right talent can be next to impossible. Faced with major challenges, many firms have turned to MSPs to and have signed up for security-as-service offerings.

Forward-thinking MSPs have seized the opportunity and are now providing a comprehensive range of managed security services to meet the needs of their clients. They are offering a wide range of tools and services from phishing protection to breach mitigation services; however, for many MSPs, developing such a package is not straightforward.

Security-as-a-service is in high demand, but MSPs must be able to package the right services to meet customers’ needs and have a platform that can handle the business end. They too must attract the staff who can implement, monitor, and manage those services for their clients.

When devising a security-as-a-service offering, one option is to use a common security architecture for all clients and provide them with a range of solutions from the same provider. Many companies have implemented a slew of different security tools from multiple providers, only to discover they are still experiencing breaches. It is a relatively easy sell to get them to move over to a system where all the component parts are seamlessly integrated and to benefit from an MSP’s expertise in managing those solutions. There is a risk of course that clients will just choose to go direct rather than obtain those services from an MSP. This single platform strategy has been adopted by Liberty Technology – ranked 242 in the MSP 501 list – and is working well, especially for clients that have fewer than 1,000 employees.

At the other end of the spectrum is Valiant Technologies, ranked 206 in the MSP 501 list. Valiant has chosen a wide range of products from multiple cybersecurity solution providers and has built a unique package of products for its security service.

The products were chosen for the level of protection they offered and how well they work together. This approach has been a success for the firm. “Providing a bundle of offerings from different vendors that work well together is the most effective way for an MSP to retain its role as a trusted adviser,” said the firm’s CEO Tom Clancy. The security service has been added to other business services provided by the MSP and has proved to be an easy sell to clients.

ComTec Solutions, which ranked in position 248 in the MSP 501 list, is still deciding on the best way forward. The provision of security-as-a-service is a no brainer, but the company is currently assessing whether it is worthwhile building a security operations center (SOC) and becoming a managed security service provider (MSSP) or outsourcing the SOC service.

There are several different approaches to take when developing a managed security service offering. What is vital is that such a service is provided. The MSP 501 survey has shown that the most successful MSPs have responded to demand and are now helping their clients secure their networks through their security-as-a-service offerings. Those MSPs are clearly reaping the rewards.

If you are an MSP that is considering developing a security-as-a-service offering, be sure to speak to TitanHQ about its world-class cloud-based security solutions for MSPs – WebTitan and SpamTitan – and find out how they can be integrated into your security stack.

ICO and IQY Files Used in Spam Campaigns Delivering Marap and Loki Bot Malware

A spam email campaign is being conducted targeting corporate email accounts to distribute Loki Bot malware. Loki Bot malware is an information stealer capable of obtaining passwords stored in browsers, obtaining email account passwords, FTP client logins, cryptocurrency wallet passwords, and passwords used for messaging apps.

In addition to stealing saved passwords, Loki Bot malware has keylogging capabilities and is potentially capable of downloading and running executable files. All information captured by the malware is transferred to the attacker’s C2 server.

Kaspersky Lab researchers identified an increase in email spam activity targeting corporate email accounts, with the campaign discovered to be used to spread Loki Bot malware. The malware was delivered hidden in a malicious email attachment.

The intercepted emails included an ICO file attachment. ICO files are copies of optical discs, which are usually mounted in a virtual CD/DVD drive to open. While specialist software can be used to open these files, most modern operating systems have the ability to access the contents of the files without the need for any additional software.

In this case, the ICO file contains Loki Bot malware and double clicking on the file will result in installation of the malware on operating systems that support the files (Vista and later).

It is relatively rare for ICO files to be used to deliver malware, although not unheard of. The unfamiliarity with ICO files for malware delivery may see end users attempt to open the files.

The campaign included a wide range of lures including fake purchase orders, speculative enquiries from companies containing product lists, fake invoices, bank transfer details, payment requests, credit notifications, and payment confirmations. Well-known companies such as Merrill Lynch, Bank of America, and DHL were spoofed in some of the emails.

Spam Email Campaign Distributing Marap Malware Targets Financial Institutions

A separate and unrelated spam email campaign has been identified that is using IQY files to deliver a new form of malware known as Marap. Marap malware is a downloader capable of downloading a variety of different payloads and additional modules.

Upon installation, the malware fingerprints the system and gathers information such as username, domain name, IP address, hostname, language, country, Windows version, details of Microsoft .ost files, and any anti-virus solutions detected on the infected computer. What happens next depends on the system on which it is installed. If the system is of particular interest, it is earmarked for a more extensive compromise.

Four separate campaigns involving millions of messages were detected by researchers at Proofpoint. One campaign included an IQY file as an attachment, one included an IQY file within a zip file and a third used an embedded IQY file in a PDF file. The fourth used a Microsoft Word document containing a malicious macro. The campaigns appear to be targeting financial institutions.

IQY files are used by Excel to download web content directly into spreadsheets. They have been used in several spam email campaigns in recent weeks to install a variety of different malware variants. The file type is proving popular with cybercriminals because many anti-spam solutions fail to recognize the files as malicious.

Since the majority of end users would not have any need to open ICO or IQY files, these file types should be added to the list of blocked file types in email spam filters to prevent them from being delivered to end users’ inboxes.

WhatsApp Phishing: Attacks Soar as Criminals Take Advantage of Lack of Anti-Phishing Protections

While the majority of phishing attempts are conducted via email, there has been a significant rise in the use of other communications platforms such messaging services, with WhatsApp phishing scams now increasing in popularity amongst phishers.

WhatsApp phishing attacks are common for two main reasons. First is the sheer number of people that are on the platform. In January 2018, the number of monthly users of WhatsApp worldwide reached 1.5 billion, up from 1 billion users six months previously. Secondly, is the lack of anti-phishing measures to prevent malicious messages from being delivered.

Many businesses have implemented spam filtering solutions such as SpamTitan, while personal users are benefiting by significant improvements to spam filtering on webmail services such as Gmail. Spam filtering solutions are highly effective at identifying phishing emails and other malicious messages and send them to the spam folder rather than delivering them to inboxes.

Messaging services often lack spam filtering controls. Therefore, malicious messages have a much greater chance of being delivered. Various tactics are used to entice recipients to click the links in the messages, usually an offer of a free gift, an exceptionally good special offer on a product – the new iPhone for instance – or a money off voucher or gift card is offered.

The messages contain a link that directs the recipient to the phishing website. The link usually contains a preview of the website, so even if a shortlink is used for the URL, the recipient can see some information about the site. A logo may be displayed along with the page title. That makes it much more likely that the link will be clicked.

Further, the message often comes from a known individual – A person in the user’s WhatsApp contact list. When a known individual vouches for the site, the probability of the link being clicked is much greater.

To add further legitimacy to the WhatsApp phishing scams, the websites often contact fake comments from social media sites confirming that a gift card has been won or a reward has been received. Some of those comments are positive, and some are neutral, as you would expect from a real prize draw where not everyone is a winner.

The websites used in WhatsApp phishing scams often use HTTPS, which show a green tick next to the URL to show that the site is ‘secure.’ Even though the green tick is no guarantee of the legitimacy of a site, many people believe the green tick means the site is genuine.

Gift cards are often given out for taking part in legitimate surveys, so the offer of either a gift card or entry into a free draw is not out of the ordinary. In return, the visitor to the site is required to answer some standard questions and provide information that would allow them to be contacted – their name, address, phone number, and email address for instance.

The information gathered through these sites is then used for further phishing attempts via email, telephone, or snail mail which aim to obtain even more personal information. After completing the questions, the website may claim that the user has one, which requires entry of bank account information or credit card details… in order for prize money to be paid or for confirmation of age.

These WhatsApp phishing scams often have another component which helps to spread the messages much more efficiently to other potential victims. Before any individual can claim their free prize or even submit their details for a prize draw, they must first agree to share the offer with some of their WhatsApp contacts.

If you receive an unsolicited link from a contact that offers a free gift or money-off voucher, there is a high chance it may not be genuine and is a WhatsApp phishing scam. If an offer seems too good to be true, it most likely is.

AdvisorsBot: A Versatile New Malware Threat Distributed Through Spam Email

Hotels, restaurants, and telecommunications companies are being targeted with a new spam email campaign that delivers a new form of malware called AdvisorsBot. AdvisorsBot is a malware downloader which, like many malware variants, is being distributed vis spam emails containing Microsoft Word attachments with malicious macros.

Opening an infected email attachment and enabling macros on the document will see Advisorsbot installed. Advisorsbot’s primary role is to perform fingerprinting on an infected device. Information will be gathered on the infected device is then communicated to the threat actors’ command and control servers and further instructions are provided to the malware based on the information gathered on the system. The malware records system information, details of programs installed on the device, Office account details, and other information. It is also able to take screenshots on an infected device.

AdvisorsBot malware is so named because the early samples of the malware that were first identified in May 2018 contacted command and control servers that contained the word advisors.

The spam email campaign is primarily being conducted on targets in the United States, although infections have been detected globally. Several thousands of devices have been infected with the malware since May, according to the security researchers at Proofpoint who discovered the new malware threat. The threat actors believed to be behind the attacks are a APT group known as TA555.

Various email lures are being used in this malware campaign to get the recipients to open the infected attachment and enable macros. The emails sent to hotels appear to be from individuals who have been charged twice for their stay. The campaign on restaurants uses emails which claim that the sender has suffered food poisoning after eating in a particular establishment, while the attacks on telecommunications companies use email attachments that appear to be resumes from job applicants.

AdvisorsBot is written in C, but a second form of the malware has also been detected that is written in .NET and PowerShell. The second variant has been given the name PoshAdvisor. PoshAdvisor is executed via a malicious macro which runs a PowerShell command that downloads a PowerShell script which executes shellcode that runs the malware in the memory without writing it to the disk.

These malware threats are still under development and are typical of many recent malware threats which have a wide range of capabilities and the versatility to be used for many different types of attack such as information stealing, ransomware delivery, and cryptocurrency mining. The malicious actions performed are determined based on the system on which the malware has been installed. If that system is ideally suited for mining cryptocurrency, the relevant code will be installed. If the business is of particular interest, it will be earmarked for a more extensive compromise.

The best form of defense against this campaign is the use of an advanced spam filtering solution to prevent the emails from being delivered and security awareness training for employees to condition them how to respond when such a threat arrives in their inbox.

Two Factor Authentication Flaws Discovered in Microsoft ADFS

Two factor authentication flaws have been identified that allow accounts to be accessed even when protected by a password and second authentication factor.

Two-factor authentication is an important safeguard to secure accounts. In the event of login credentials being guessed or otherwise obtained by a third party, an additional method of authentication is required to gain access to the account. Without that second factor, access to the account is blocked. But not always. Multiple two-factor authentication flaws have been identified.

Two Factor Authentication Flaws Exploited in Reddit, LinkedIn and Yahoo Cyberattacks

Two-factor authentication is not infallible. Recently, Reddit disclosed that it had suffered a data breach even though two factor authentication had been implemented. Rather than use a token, Reddit used SMS messages to a mobile phone owned by the account holder as the second authentication factor. As Reddit discovered, SMS messages can be intercepted. The attacker was able to intercept a 2FA SMS message and gain access to an employee’s account, through which it was possible to access to an old database of user credentials.

Two-factor authentication was also in place at Yahoo in 2013, yet the company still experienced a massive data breach that resulted in all three billion of its users having their information obtained by hackers. Go back a year and there was the massive 167 million record data breach at LinkedIn, which had also implemented two-factor authentication.

A phone call or text message to a phone owned by the account holder does not necessarily prevent access to the account from being gained by a third party. In August last year, a Bitcoin investor had $150,000 of cryptocurrency stolen from his wallet after it was accessed by a third party. In that case, the investor’s second factor phone number had been re-routed to a device owned by the attacker after the phone company was duped.

Any second factor that uses the phone system of SMS messages provides an additional layer of protection, but it is not enough to protect against a determined skilled hacker.

Two Factor Authentication Flaws Discovered in Microsoft’s Active Directory Federation Services

A major two-factor authentication vulnerability was recently discovered by a security researcher at Okta. Okta, like many companies, uses Microsoft’s Active Directory Federation Services (ADFS) to provide multi-factor authentication.

Okta security researcher Andrew Lee discovered the system have a serious vulnerability that was not only straightforward to exploit, doing so would render an organization’s multi-factor authentication controls virtually useless.

Lee discovered that someone with a username, password, and a valid 2-factor token for one account could use the same token to gain access to any other account in the organization in AD with only a username and password. Any employee who is given an account and specified their own second factor could use it to access other accounts. Essentially the token was like a hotel room key card that opens all rooms in the hotel.

Obtaining another employee’s login credentials would only require a phishing campaign to be conducted. If an individual responded and disclosed their credentials, their account could be accessed without the need for a second factor.

The vulnerability in question, which was patched by Microsoft on August 14 in its August Patch Tuesday updates, was present in how ADFA communicates. When a user tries to login, an encrypted context log is sent by the server which contains the second factor token but not the username. This flaw could be exploited to fool the system into thinking the correct token had been supplied, as no check was made to determine whether the correct token had been supplied for a specific user’s account. As long as one valid username, password and 2FA token combo was owned, the 2FA system could be bypassed.

Two factor Authentication is Not a Silver Bullet

These two factor authentication flaws show that while 2-factor authentication is an important control to implement, businesses should not rely on the system to prevent unauthorized accessing of accounts. The two-factor authentication flaws discussed here are unlikely to be the last to be uncovered.

2-factor authentication should be just one element of an organization’s defenses against phishing and hacking, along with spam filters web filters, firewalls, intrusion detection systems, antivirus solutions, network segmentation, and employee security awareness training. 2FA should not be viewed as a silver bullet to prevent unauthorized account access.

Why Are Email Account Compromises Soaring and How Can Email Accounts Be Protected?

The past year has seen a steady increase in the number of reported email account compromises, with the healthcare industry one of the main targets for hackers.

Some of those breaches have seen the protected health information of thousands of patients compromised, with the largest phishing attack in 2018 – The phishing attack on Boys Town National Research Hospital – seeing more than 105,000 patients’ healthcare information exposed. Due to reporting requirements under HIPAA, healthcare phishing attacks are highly visible, although email account compromises are occurring across all industry sectors and the problem is getting worse.

284% Increase in Email Account Compromises in a Year

The increase in successful phishing attacks has been tracked by Beazley, a provider of specialist insurance services. The company’s research shows the number of reported phishing attacks increased every quarter since Q1, 2017 when there were 45 reported breaches that involved email accounts being compromised. In Q2, 2018, there were 184 email account compromises reported. Between Q1, 2017 and Q1, 2018, the number of reported data breaches involving compromised email accounts increased by 284%.

Why are email account compromises increasing? What do hackers gain from accessing email accounts rather than say, gaining access to networks which store vast amounts of data?

It can take a significant amount of time and effort to identify a vulnerability such a missed patch, an exposed S3 bucket, or an unsecured medical device, and exploit it.

By comparison, gaining access to an email account is relatively easy. Once access is gained, accessing further email accounts becomes easier still. If a hacker can gain access to an email account with the right level of administrative privileges, it may be possible for the entire mail system of an organization to be accessed.

If a hacker can gain access to a single email account, the messages in the account can be studied to gain valuable information about a company, its employees, and vendors. The hackers can identify further targets within an organization for spear phishing campaigns – termed Business Email Compromise (BEC) attacks – and attacks on contractors and suppliers.

Once One Account is Breached, Others Will Follow

If an executive’s email account is compromised, it can be used to send requests for wire transfers to the accounts department, HR can be emailed requesting W2-Forms that contain all the information necessary for filing fake tax returns and for identity theft. Requests can be sent via email to redirect employees’ paychecks and phishing emails can be sent to other employees directing them to websites where they have to divulge their email credentials.

Figures from the FBI show just how lucrative these Business Email Compromise (BEC) phishing attacks can be. Since October 2013, more than $12.5 billion has been lost to BEC attacks, up from $5.3 billion in December 2016.

Once access to the email system is gained, it is much easier to craft highly convincing spear phishing emails. Past email conversations can be studied, and an individual’s style of writing emails can be copied to avoid raising any red flags.

Email Account Compromises Are Costly to Resolve

Beazley also notes that email account compromises are some of the costliest breaches to resolve, requiring many hours of painstaking work to manually checking each email in a compromised account for PII and PHI. One example provided involved a programmatic search of compromised email accounts to identify PHI, yet that search uncovered 350,000 documents that required a manual check. The cost of checking those documents alone was $800,000.

Beazley also notes that when investigating breaches, the breached entity often discovers that only half of the compromised email accounts have been identified. The data breaches are usually much more extensive than was initially thought.

Unfortunately, once access to a single email account is gained, it is much harder to prevent further email compromises as technological controls are not so effective at identifying emails sent from within a company. However, it is relatively easy to block the initial phishing attempt.

How to Prevent Email Account Compromises

Many companies fail to implement basic controls to block phishing attacks. Even when a phishing-related breach is experienced, companies often remain susceptible to further breaches. The Ponemon Institute/IBM Security Cost of a Data Breach study showed there is a 27.9% probability of a company experiencing a further breach in the 24 months following a data breach.

To prevent phishing attacks, companies need to:

  • Deploy an advanced spam filtering solution that blocks the vast majority of malicious messages
  • Provide ongoing security awareness training to all staff and teach employees how to identify phishing emails
  • Conduct regular phishing simulation exercises to reinforce training and condition employees to be more security aware
  • Implement two-factor authentication to prevent attempts to access email accounts remotely
  • Implement a web filter as an additional control to block the accessing of phishing websites
  • Use strong, unique passwords or passphrases to make brute force and dictionary attacks harder
  • Limit or prevent third party applications from connecting to Office 365 accounts, which makes it harder for PowerShell to be used to access email accounts for reconnaissance.

1.4 Million Patients Potentially Affected by UnityPoint Health Phishing Attack

In recent weeks, several large healthcare data breaches have been reported that have seen cybercriminals gain access to employees’ email accounts and sensitive data, although the recently disclosed UnityPoint Health phishing attack stands out due to the huge number of individuals that have been impacted and the extent of sensitive data exposed.

UnityPoint Health is one of the largest healthcare systems serving Iowa residents. The Des Moines-based healthcare provider recently discovered that its employees have been targeted in a phishing campaign that has seen several email accounts compromised. Those email accounts contained the sensitive information of approximately 1.4 million patients.

That not only makes this the largest phishing incident to have been suffered by a U.S. healthcare provider in 2018, it is also the largest healthcare data breach of 2018 and one of the most serious phishing attacks and data breaches ever reported.

The UnityPoint Health phishing attack has seen highly sensitive data compromised, including names, addresses, health insurance information, medical record numbers, diagnoses, treatment information, lab test results, medications, providers, dates of service, Social Security numbers, driver’s license numbers and, for a limited number of patients, their payment card information.

The phishing emails were sent to employees between March 14 and April 3, 2018, although the breach was not detected until May 31. As is common in phishing attacks on businesses, access to email accounts was gained through the impersonation of a senior executive.

A series of spoofed emails were sent to employees that appeared to have come from a trusted executive’s email account. Employees who opened the email were instructed to click a link that required them to enter their email login information. That information was captured by the attackers who were then able to gain access to the employees’ email accounts.

The UnityPoint Health phishing attack potentially gave the hackers access to all the information stored in the compromised email accounts – Information that could be used for identity theft and fraud. It is unclear whether mailboxes were downloaded, although UnityPoint Health said its forensic investigation suggests that the primary goal was to divert payroll payments and to use account access to fool accounts department staff into making fraudulent wire transfers. It is unclear if any of those attempts succeeded.

This is also not the only UnityPoint Health phishing attack to be reported this year. In March, UnityPoint Health announced that 16,400 patients had been affected by a separate phishing attack that saw multiple email accounts compromised.

The latest incident has prompted the healthcare provider to implement new technology to detect phishing and BEC attacks, multi-factor authentication has been implemented, and additional security awareness training has been provided to employees. Credit monitoring and identify theft monitoring services have been offered to patients whose driver’s license or Social Security number has been exposed, and all patients have been notified by mail.

As the Ponemon Institute’s 2018 Cost of a Data Breach Study showed, the cost of these million-record+ data breaches is considerable. The average cost of such a breach was estimated to be around $40 million.

Cryptocurrency Mining PowerGhost Malware Spreading Like Wildfire

A massive cryptocurrency mining campaign has been uncovered by security researchers at Kaspersky Lab – A campaign that has resulted in the creation of a vast network of devices infected with PowerGhost malware.

PowerGhost malware is being installed on all manner of devices including servers, endpoints, and POS devices. Once infected, each device generates a small amount of a cryptocurrency each day by using the device’s processing power to solve complex computational problems.

While a single device can be used to mine a few dollars of cryptocurrency each day, the returns are significant when the attackers are able to infect server farms and add hundreds of thousands of endpoints to their army of cryptocurrency mining slaves.

Once a device is infected, the cryptocurrency mining tool is downloaded and gets to work. A portion of an infected device’s processing power is then dedicated to mining cryptocurrency until the infection is identified and the malware is removed. PowerGhost malware also spreads laterally to all other vulnerable networked devices.

What makes PowerGhost such a difficult threat to detect is the fact that it doesn’t use any files, instead it is capable of mining cryptocurrency from the memory. PowerGhost is an obfuscated PowerShell script that includes various add-on modules, including the cryptocurrency mining component, mimikatz, and the DLLs required for the operation of the miner. Various fileless techniques are used to infect devices, ensure persistence, and avoid detection by anti-virus solutions. The malware also includes shellcode for the EternalBlue exploit to allow it to spread across a network to other vulnerable devices. Attacks are occurring through the exploitation of unpatched vulnerabilities and through remote administration tools.

PowerGhost malware is primarily being used in attacks on companies in Latin America, although it is far from confined to this geographical region with India and Turkey also heavily targeted and infections detected in Europe and North America.

Companies are being targeted. If a foothold can be gained in a corporate network, hundreds, thousands or tens of thousands of devices can be infected and used for cryptocurrency mining. The potential rewards for a successful attack on a medium to large enterprise is substantial.

In addition to cryptocurrency mining, Kaspersky Lab researchers note that one version of the PowerGhost malware is capable of being used for DDoS attacks, offering another income stream for the cybercriminal gang behind the campaign.

Prompt patching, disabling of remote desktop protocol, and the setting of strong complex passwords can help to protect against this PowerGhost malware campaign.

Cosco Ransomware Attack Affects Americas Arm of Shipping Firm

One of the world’s biggest shipping firms – Cosco – has experienced a ransomware attack that has seen its local email system and network telephone in the Americas taken out of action as the result of widespread file encryption.

The Cosco ransomware attack is believed to have been contained in the Americas region. As a precaution and to prevent further spread to other systems, connections to all other regions have been disabled pending a full investigation. A warning has also been issued to all other regions warning of the threat of attack by email, with the firm telling its staff not to open any suspicious email communications. IT staff in other regions have also been advised to conduct scans of their network with antivirus software as a precaution.

The attack started on Tuesday, July 24, and its IT infrastructure remains down; however, the firm has confirmed that that attack has not affected any of its vessels which continue to operate as normal. Its main business systems are still operational, although the operators of terminals at some U.S ports are experiencing delays processing documentation and delivery orders.

It would appear that the Cosco ransomware attack is nowhere near the scale of the attack on the world’s biggest shipping firm A.P. Møller-Maersk, which like many other firms, fell victim to the NotPetya attacks last year. In that case, while the malware appeared to be ransomware, it was actually a wiper with no chance of file recovery.

The attack, which affected more than 45,000 endpoints and 4,000 servers, is estimated to have cost the shipping company between $250 million and $350 million to resolve. All servers and endpoints needed to be rebuilt, and the firm was crippled for 10 days. In that case, the attack was possible due to an unpatched vulnerability.

Another major ransomware attack was reported last week in the United States. LabCorp, one of the leading networks of clinical testing laboratories in the United States, experienced a ransomware attack involving a suspected variant of SamSam ransomware.  While the variant of ransomware has not been confirmed, LabCorp did confirm the ransomware was installed as a result of a brute force attack on Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP).

Labcorp was both quick to detect the attack and contain it, responding within 50 minutes, although 7,000 systems and 1,900 servers are understood to have been affected. It has taken several days for the systems to be brought back online, during which time customers have been experiencing delays obtaining their lab test results.

Several cybersecurity firms have reported that ransomware attacks are in decline, with cryptocurrency mining offering better rewards, although the threat from ransomware is still ever present and attacks are occurring through a variety of attack vectors – exploitation of vulnerabilities, brute force attacks, exploit kit downloads, and, commonly, through spam and phishing emails.

To protect against ransomware attacks, companies must ensure security best practices are followed. Patches must be applied promptly on all networks, endpoints, applications, and databases, spam filtering software should be used to prevent malicious messages from reaching inboxes, web filters used to prevent downloads of ransomware from malicious websites, and all staff should receive ongoing cybersecurity awareness training.

Additionally, systems should be implemented to detect anomalies such as excessing file renaming, and networks should be segmented to prevent lateral movement in the event that ransomware is deployed.

Naturally, it is also essential that data are backed up regularly to ensure recovery is possible without having to resort to paying the ransom demand. As the NotPetya attacks showed, paying a ransom to recover files may not be an option.

Average Data Breach Mitigation Costs Now $3.86 Million

In 2017, data breach mitigation costs fell year-on year; however, that appears to be a blip. The 2018 Cost of a Data Breach Study conducted by the Ponemon Institute (on behalf of IBM Security) has revealed data breach mitigation costs have risen once again.

The Ponemon Institute conducts the Cost of a Data Breach Study every year. For the 2018 study, the Ponemon Institute conducted interviews with 2,200 IT, data security, and compliance professionals from 477 companies in 15 countries, including the United States, United Kingdom, Germany, France, Canada, Brazil, Japan and Australia. The companies represented in the study came from a wide range of industry sectors. Each of those companies had experienced a data breach in the past 12 months.

Naturally, the larger the breach, the higher the cost of mitigation is likely to be. Breaches involving millions of records would naturally cost more to resolve than breaches of 50,000 records. Catastrophic data breaches – those involving millions of records – are not normally included in the study. This year was the first time that mega data breaches – those involving more than 1,000,000 records – were included, although they were treated separately.

The analysis of the main part of the study involved breaches ranging from 2,500 records to a little over 100,000 records. The average breach size was 24,615 records globally, 31,465 records in the United States, 22,800 records in the UK, and 19,200 records in Japan.

The costs associated with those data breaches was analyzed using the activity-based costing (ABC) methodology. The ABC methodology identified four process-related activities and assigned costs based on actual use. Those activities were Detection and Escalation, Post Data Breach Response, Breach Notifications, and Lost Business Cost. The analysis identified the average total cost of a data breach taking all four activity areas into account.

The study also revealed measures taken prior to the breach, during, and after, that can limit losses or increase data breach mitigation costs.

Average Data Breach Mitigation Costs Have Reached $3.86 Million

A data breach now costs an average of $3.86 million to revolve. Last year, the average cost of a data breach was $3.62 million. Data breach costs have therefore increased by 6.4% in the space of a year.

On average, per capita data breach mitigation costs rose by 4.8%, with a data breach costing, on average, $148 per record. Last year, the global average was $141 per record.

In addition to the rising cost, the severity of the breaches also increased, with the data breaches in this year’s sample impacting 2.2% more individuals on average.

Data breaches cost more to resolve in the United States than any other country. The average data breach mitigation costs in the United States is $7.91 million per breach. The lowest costs were in India, where the average breach cost was $1.77 million. The highest per capita costs were also in the United States at £233 per record.

Hackers and malicious insiders caused the most breaches and they were also the costliest to resolve at $157 per record. System glitches cost an average of £131 per record and breaches caused by human error cost the least at $128 per record.

Data breach costs varied considerably by industry sector, with healthcare data breach mitigation costs the highest by some distance at an average of $408 per record, followed by financial services breaches at $206 per record, services at $181 per record, and pharmaceutical industry breaches at $174 per record. Breaches in the education sector cost an average of $166 per record, retail industry breaches were $116 per record, and the lowest data breach mitigation costs were in the public sector at $75 per record.

The study of mega data breaches revealed a breach of 1 million records costs an estimated $39.49 million to resolve, while a breach of 50 million records costs an estimated $350 million. Since there were only 11 breaches of more than 1 million records in the sample it was not possible to accurately calculate the average cost of these breaches.

What Factors Affect Data Breach Mitigation Costs the Most?

For the study, 22 different factors were assessed to determine how they affected data breach mitigation costs. The most important cost saving measures that can be taken to reduce the cost of a data breach are having an incident response team ($14 less per record), widespread use of encryption ($13.1 less per record), BCM involvement ($9.3 less per record), employee training ($9.3 less per record), participation in threat sharing ($8.7 less per record) and use of an artificial intelligence platform ($8.2 less per record).

The main factors that increased data breach mitigation costs were third party involvement ($13.4 more per record), extensive cloud migration at the time of the breach ($11.9 more per record), compliance failures ($11.9 more per record), extensive use of mobile platforms ($10.0 more per record), lost or stolen devices ($6.5 more per record), and extensive use of IoT devices ($5.4 more per record).

With the cost of data breaches rising, more cyberattacks being conducted, and the likelihood of a breach being experienced now higher, it is essential not only for companies to implement layered security defenses, but also to make sure they are prepared for the worst.

Companies need to assume a breach will be experienced and policies and procedures need to be developed to deal with the breach when it happens. An incident response team should be prepared to spring into action to ensure everyone known what needs to be done when disaster strikes. The sooner a breach is identified and mitigated, the lower the breach mitigation costs will be.

Cryptojacking Attacks Replace Ransomware as Primary Threat

There has been a major increase in cryptojacking attacks in recent months. Many cybercriminal gangs now favoring this method of attack over ransomware and other forms of malware and are taking advantage of the high value of cryptocurrencies.

As with ransomware attacks, cybercriminals need to install malicious code on computers. Instead of encrypting files like ransomware, the code is used to mine for cryptocurrency. Mining cryptocurrencies involves a computers CPU being used to solve complex computational problems, which are necessary for verifying cryptocurrency transactions and adding to the blockchain. In exchange for verifying transactions, the miner is paid a small amount for the effort.

Devoting one computer to the task of cryptocurrency mining could generate a few dollars a day. Using multiple computers for the task can generate a substantial return. The more computers that are used, the more blocks can be added to the blockchain and the greater the profits. When a network of cryptocurrency mining slave computers can be amassed, the profits can be considerable. According to Kaspersky Lab, one cryptojacking gang that focusses on infecting enterprise servers and spreading the malicious code using NSA exploits, has generated around 9,000 Monero, which equates to $2 million.

Not all computers are suitable for mining cryptocurrency. One cybercriminal gang has got around this by developing malware that can decide whether to deploy a cryptocurrency miner or ransomware, with the decision based on the processing power of the computer. If its not suitable for use mining cryptocurrency, ransomware is deployed. This tactic helps maximize profits after compromising a device.

The use of cryptocurrency miners increased sharply last year as the value of cryptocurrencies started to soar. The price of those cryptocurrencies may have fallen, but cryptojacking attacks are still on the rise. The volume of new cryptojacking malware variants has also increased considerably over the past few months.  Figures from McAfee indicate the number of cryptojacking malware variants increased by a staggering 1,189% in the first three months of 2018 alone, rising from around 400,000 malware variants to more than 2.9 million.

Over the same time frame, there has been a fall in the number of ransomware attacks. In Q1, ransomware attacks fell by around 32%, indicating threat actors who previously used ransomware to make money have changed their tactics and are now using cryptocurrency miners.

Ransomware attacks falling by a third is certainly good news, although the threat from ransomware cannot be ignored. Steps must be taken to prevent the installation of the file encrypting code and good backup practices are essential to ensure files can be recovered in the event of an attack. Certain industries face a higher risk of ransomware attacks than others, such as the healthcare industry, where attacks are still rife.

Cryptojacking attacks are more widespread, although the education sector has proven to be a major target. Many mining operations have been discovered in the education sector, although it is unclear whether these mining operations are legitimate, computers are being used by students to mine cryptocurrency, or if educational institutions are being targeted.

One thing is clear. As the value of cryptocurrencies rose, the number of mining attacks increased. That suggests that should prices fall, cybercriminals will switch to other types of attacks, and there could be a resurgence in ransomware attacks.

It could be argued that the installation of cryptocurrency mining malware on a computer is far less of a problem than ransomware or other forms of malware. When the CPU is mining cryptocurrency, the user is likely to find their computer somewhat sluggish. This can result in a drop in productivity. Heavy processing can also cause computers to overheat and hardware damage can result.

Cryptojacking malware is usually installed by a downloader, which can remain on a computer. If the profits from mining cryptocurrency fall, new malware variants could easily be downloaded in its place. Cryptocurrency mining malware can also be bundled with other malware variants that steal sensitive information. Cryptojacking attacks are therefore a major threat.

Protecting against cryptojacking attacks involves the same security controls that are used to block other forms of malware. Cryptojacking malware can be installed by exploiting vulnerabilities so good patch management is essential. Spam and phishing emails are used to install malware downloaders, so an advanced spam filtering solution is a must. Web filters can prevent web-based mining attacks and malware downloads and offer an important extra layer of protection. It is also important not to neglect end users. Security awareness training can help to eradicate risky behaviors.

Additionally, security audits should be conducted, first to scan for the presence of cryptojacking malware, which includes searching for anomalies that could indicate the presence of the malware. Those audits should include servers, end points, POS systems, and all other systems. Any system connected to the network could potentially be used for mining cryptocurrency.

New Rakhni Ransomware Variant Decides Whether to Encrypt Files or Turn Device into a Cryptocurrency Miner

Rakhni ransomware, a malware variant first detected in 2013, has spawned many variants over the past three years and is still an active threat. Rakhni ransomware locks files on an infected device to prevent the user from accessing their data. A ransom demand is issued and if payment is made, the attackers will supply the keys to unlock the encryption. If the ransom is not paid the files will remain encrypted. In such cases, the only option for file recovery is to restore files from backups.

Now the developers of Rakhni ransomware have incorporated new functionality. Checks are performed on an infected device to determine whether it has sufficient processing power to be used as a cryptocurrency mining slave. If so, cryptocurrency mining malware will be downloaded. If not, ransomware will be deployed.

This new development should not come as a major surprise. The massive rise in the value of many cryptocurrencies has made mining cryptocurrencies far more profitable for cybercriminals than ransomware. When ransomware is installed, many victims choose not to pay and instead recover files from backups. Infection is no guarantee that a payment will be received. If a cryptocurrency miner can be installed, it gets straight to work generating money for the attackers. Ransomware attacks are still a major threat, although many cybercriminals have switched their operations to mining cryptocurrencies. In fact, cryptocurrency mining malware attacks are now much more common than ransomware attacks.

However, not all computers have sufficient CPU processing power to make cryptocurrency mining worthwhile, so the method used by the threat actors behind Rakhni ransomware helps them maximize their profits.

The new Rakhni ransomware campaign was detected by researchers at Kaspersky Lab. The malware used is Delphi-based and is being distributed in phishing emails containing a Microsoft Word file attachment.

The user is advised to save the document and enable editing. The document contains a PDF file icon which, if clicked, launches a fake error message suggesting the DLL file required to open the PDF file has not been found. The user needs to click on the OK box to close the error message.

When the error box is closed, the malware performs a series of checks on the machine to identify the processes running on the device and assesses those processes to determine if it is running in a sandbox environment and the likelihood of it being able to run undetected. After these checks have been performed the system is assessed to determine its capabilities.

If the machine has more than two processors and does not have a Bitcoin folder in the AppData folder, a cryptocurrency miner will be installed. The cryptocurrency miner uses fake root certificates which show the program has been issued by Microsoft Corporation to help disguise the miner as a trusted application.

If a Bitcoin folder does exist, certain processes will be stopped, and Rakhni ransomware will be downloaded and run. If there is no Bitcoin folder and only one processor, the malware will use its worm component and twill attempt to spread to other devices on the network where the process starts over.

Advanced anti-virus software can provide protection against this attack, while spam filtering solutions can prevent the phishing emails from being delivered to end users. Businesses should also ensure that their employees are made aware of the risk of these types of attacks through security awareness training. Employees should be instructed never to open attachments in emails from unknown senders and taught the warning signs of a potential attack in progress. Naturally, good data backup practices are essential to ensure that if all other controls fail, files can be recovered without paying a ransom.

Children’s Mercy Hospital Phishing Attack Highlights Need for Effective Anti-Phishing Protections

A major Children’s Mercy Hospital phishing attack has highlighted the importance of implementing effective spam filtering controls and the need to provide security awareness training to end users.

Phishing is a method of fraudulently obtaining sensitive information through deception. While attacks can occur over the telephone, via social media sites, or through text messages and chat platforms, the most common attack vector is email.

Convincing emails are sent to end users urging them to open an email attachment or to click on a malicious link. Attachments are used to install malware, either directly through malware attached to the email, or more commonly, using macros or other malicious code in documents which download scripts that in turn download the malicious payload.

In the case of embedded hyperlinks in emails, they typically direct an end user to a website that asks them to login. The website could ask for their email credentials, appear to be a Google login box, Dropbox login page, or other file sharing platform. Disclosing login credentials on that webpage sends the information to the attackers. These login pages are convincing. They look exactly like the sites that they are spoofing.

That was the case with the Children’s Mercy Hospital phishing attack. The Kansas City, MO, hospital received several phishing emails which directed employees to fake login pages on criminally-controlled websites.

The phishing attack occurred on or shortly before December 2, 2017. On Dec 2, Children’s Mercy’s security team identified authorized access to two employees’ email accounts. Access to the accounts was blocked the same day and the passwords were reset. Two weeks later, on December 15 and Dec 16, two further email accounts were accessed by unauthorized individuals. Again, unauthorized access was detected and blocked the same day. A fifth email account was accessed on January 3, 2018 with access blocked the following day.

The prompt action in response to the Children’s Mercy phishing attack limited the potential for those email accounts to be abused. When criminals gain access to email accounts they often use them to send further phishing emails. Since those emails come from a legitimate email account, the recipients of the messages sent from that account are more likely to open the emails as they come from a trusted source. That is why business email compromise scams are so effective – because employees trust the sender of the email and take action as requested in the belief that they are genuine communications.

In the case of the Children’s Mercy phishing attack, the criminals acted quickly. Following a forensic investigation into the attacks, Children’s Mercy discovered on January 19, 2018, that even though access to the accounts was promptly blocked, the attackers had successfully downloaded the mailboxes of four of the five employees. The messages contained a wide range of protected health information (PHI) of 63,049 patients.

The PHI included information such as name, gender, age, height, weight, BMI score, procedure dates, admission dates, discharge dates, diagnosis and procedure codes, diagnoses, health conditions, treatment information, contact details, and demographic information.

While Social Security numbers, insurance information, and financial data were not obtained – information most typically required to commit fraud – such detailed information on patients could be used in impersonation attacks on the patients. It would be quite easy for the attackers to pretend they were from the hospital and convince patients to provide their insurance information for example, which could then be used for medical identity fraud.

Due to the scale of the attack and number of emails in the compromised accounts, it has taken a considerable time to identify the individuals affected. The Kansas City Star reports that some patients are only just being notified.

In response, the hospital implemented 2-factor authentication and other technical controls to prevent further attacks.

2-factor authentication is an important security measure that provides protection after a phishing attack has occurred. If login credentials are supplied, but the location or the device used to access the account is unfamiliar, an additional method of authentication is required before access to the account is granted – a code sent to a mobile phone for example.

Two of the most effective security controls to prevent credential theft via phishing are spam filters and security awareness training.

An advanced spam filter is an essential security measure to block phishing attacks. The changing tactics of cybercriminals means no spam filtering solution will be able to block every single phishing email, although SpamTitan, a highly effective spam filtering solution with advanced anti-phishing protections, blocks more than 99.97% of spam and malicious emails to ensure they do not arrive in end users’ inboxes.

Security awareness training helps to prevent employees from clicking on the small percentage of messages that get past perimeter defenses. Employees need to be trained to give them the skills to identify phishing attempts and report them to their security teams. An ongoing training program, with phishing simulation exercises, will help to condition employees to recognize threats and respond appropriately. Over time, phishing email detection skills will improve considerably.

An effective training program can limit the number of employees that respond to phishing attacks, either preventing the attackers from gaining access to email accounts or severely limiting the number of employees who respond and disclose their credentials.

The Children’s Mercy phishing attack is one of many such attacks on healthcare organizations and businesses, and as those attacks increase and more data is obtained by criminals, implementing advanced phishing protections has never been more important.

For further information on email security controls that can prevent phishing attacks, contact the TitanHQ team today and enquire about SpamTitan.

Survey Explores the Effect of Web Filtering on Security and Productivity

A recent survey of members of the Spiceworks community investigated the use of web filtering by businesses and the effect of web filtering on security and productivity. The survey was conducted on 645 members of its professional network based in the United States and Europe from a wide range of industries including healthcare, finance, and manufacturing.

Web filtering is an important security control that can provide an additional layer of protection against malware and phishing attacks. Web filters can also be used to improve the productivity of the workforce by limiting access to certain types of websites. The Internet can help to improve productivity, although it can also prove a temptation for workers and a major distraction. When a complicated report must be produced, cat videos can be especially tempting.

The survey sought to find out more about the effect of web filtering on security and productivity, how web filters are being used by businesses, the amount of time that employees are wasting on personal Internet use, and the types of websites that businesses are blocking to improve productivity.

Web Filtering is Used by the Majority of Businesses

The survey revealed widespread use of web filters by businesses. Overall, 89% of organizations have implemented a web filter and use it to block certain types of productivity-draining Internet content such as social media websites, dating sites, gambling sites, and streaming services.

The larger the business, the more likely it is that Internet content control will be implemented. 96% of large organizations (1,000+ employees) use web filters to limit employee Internet activity. The percentage drops to 92% for mid-sized businesses (100-999 employees) and 81% for small businesses (up to 99 employees). 58% of organizations said they use a web filtering solution to monitor Internet use by employees.

The survey asked IT professionals who have not implemented a web filtering solution how many hours they think employees are wasting on personal Internet use each week. 58% of employees were thought to waste around 4 hours a week on personal internet use and around 26% of workers spend more than 7 hours a week on non-work-related websites. Without a web filter, most employees will spend around 26 days a year on personal Internet use which, based on average earnings, corresponds to $4,500 paid per employee to slack off on the Internet.

Compare that to the figures for companies that restrict access to at least one category of website and the percentages fall to 43% of employees spending more than 4 hours a week on personal Internet use and 18% who spend more than 7 hours a week on non-work-related websites. The biggest drain of productivity was social media sites, with the figures falling to 30% of employees spending more than 4 hours a week on non-work-related sites when social media sites were blocked.

What are the Most Commonly Blocked Websites?

How are web filters used by businesses and what types of website are most commonly blocked? Unsurprisingly, the most commonly blocked websites were illegal sites and inappropriate sites (pornography for example). Both categories were blocked by 85% or organizations.

After that, the most commonly blocked category of content was dating sites – blocked by 61% of organizations. Businesses are more permissive about the use of social media websites, with only 38% blocking those sites, while instant messaging services were blocked by 34% of organizations. Even though they can be a major drain on bandwidth, streaming services were only blocked by 26% of companies.

What are the Main Reasons for Implementing a Web Filter?

While Internet content control – in some form – has been implemented by the majority of companies, it was not the main reason for implementing a web filter. Money could be saved by improving productivity, but the biggest reason for implementing a web filter was security. 90% of businesses said they had implemented a web filter to protect against malware and ransomware infections and with good reason: Inappropriate Internet access leads to data breaches.

38% of surveyed companies said they had experienced a data breach in the past 12 months as a result of employees visiting non-work-related websites, most commonly webmail services (15%) and social media sites (11%).

Other reasons for implementing a web filter were to block illegal activity (84%) and discourage inappropriate Internet access (83%). 66% of organizations use a web filter to avoid legal liability while 57% used web filters to prevent data leakage and block hacking.

Web Filtering from TitanHQ

TitanHQ has developed an innovative web filtering solution for businesses that helps them improve their security posture, block malware downloads, prevent employees from visiting phishing websites, and limit personal Internet use.

WebTitan Cloud is a 100% cloud-based web filtering solution that can be easily implemented by businesses, without the need for any hardware purchases or software downloads. The solution has excellent scalability, is cost effective, and easy to configure and maintain.

The solution provides Internet content control and malware protection regardless of the device being used to access the Internet and the solution can provide malware protection and allow content control for on-site and remote workers.

Granular controls ensure accurate content filtering without overblocking, time-based filters can be set to restrict access to certain websites at busy times of the day, and different policies can be applied at the organization, department, group, or individual level.

If you have not yet implemented a web filtering solution, are unhappy with your current provider or the cost of your solution, contact the TitanHQ team today and find out more about WebTitan.

FBI 2017 Internet Crime Report: $1.4 Billion Lost to Business Email Compromise Scams

The FBI has published its 2017 Internet Crime Report, which details the main types of online crime reported to its Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3).

In 2017, businesses and consumers reported 301,580 incidents to IC3 and more than $1.4 billion was lost to cybercriminals. Of course, these are only reported losses. Many Internet crimes go unreported, so the true losses are likely to be substantially higher.

2017 saw more complaints of Internet crime than any other year since 2013 when the reports first started to be published.

Identity theft and corporate data breaches often make the headlines, although by far the biggest area of criminal activity are business email compromise (BEC) scams – or email account compromise (EAC) when the scams target individuals.

Business Email Compromise Scams – The Main Cause of Losses in 2017

More than three times as much money was lost to BEC and EAC scams than the next highest cause of losses: confidence fraud/romance scams. In 2017, the reported losses from BEC/EAC scams was $676,151,185.

Business email compromise and email account compromise scams involve the use of a compromised email account to convince individuals to make transfers of funds to accounts controlled by criminals or to send sensitive data via email.

BEC scams usually start with compromising the email account of the CEO, CFO or another board member – which is why this type of scam is also known as CEO fraud. Access to the executive’s email account is gained via brute force guessing of passwords or, most commonly, social engineering techniques and phishing scams.

Once access to the email account is gained, an email conversation is initiated with another member of the workforce, typically an individual responsible for making wire transfers. That individual is instructed to make a transfer to a new bank account – that of the attacker. Alternatively, the data of employees is requested – W2 Forms – or other sensitive company information.  These scams often involve large transfers of funds. In 2017 there were 15,690 such scams reported to IC3, making the average loss $43,094.

Phishing Extensively Used in Internet Crime

Phishing, vishing, smishing and pharming were grouped together. They ‘only’ resulted in losses of $29,703,421, although the losses from these crimes are difficult to calculate accurately. The losses associated with phishing are grouped in many other categories. BEC scams often start with a phishing attack and research from Cofense suggests 91% of corporate data breaches start with a phishing email.

The 2017 Internet Crime Report reveals the extent to which phishing is used in cyberattacks. There were 25,344 phishing incidents reported to IC3 in 2017 – the third highest category of Internet crime behind non-payment/non-delivery and personal data breaches. Many personal data breaches start with a phishing email.

Ransomware Attack Mitigation Proves Expensive

In addition to the threat of BEC attacks, the FBI’s 2017 Internet Crime Report warns of the threat from ransomware. Ransomware only resulted in reported losses of $2.3 million and attracted 1,783 complaints, although it is worthy of a mention due to the considerable disruption that attacks can cause. The reported losses – in terms of the ransoms paid – may be low, but actual losses are substantially higher. The ransomware attack on the City of Atlanta in April 2018 saw a ransom demand of $52,000 issued, although the actual cost of mitigating the attack was reported to be at least $2.7 million in April. However, in June 2018, city Information Management head Daphney Rackley indicated a further $9.5 million may be required over the coming year to cover the cost of mitigating the attack.

Tech Support Fraud Losses Increased by 90%

Another hot topic detailed in the 2017 Internet Crime Report is tech support fraud – This is a widespread scam where individuals are fooled into thinking they have a computer problem such as a virus or malware installed, when they do not. Calls are made warning of detected malware, and users are directed to malicious websites via phishing emails where pop-up warnings are displayed, or screen lockers are used.

These scams usually require the victim to pay the scammer to remove a fictitious infection and provide them with remote access to a computer. In addition to the scammers charge for removing the infection, sensitive data such as usernames, passwords, Social Security numbers, and bank account information are often stolen. 2017 saw a 90% increase in losses from tech support scams.

Protecting Against Internet Crime

One of the most important defenses for businesses to implement to protect against the leading cause of financial losses is an advanced spam filtering solution. Business email compromise scams often start with a phishing email and effective spam filtering will reduce the potential for email accounts to be compromised. Ransomware and malware are also primarily distributed via email. An advanced spam filter such as SpamTitan will block 100% of all known malware and prevent malicious messages from being delivered to inboxes.

Security awareness training is also essential. Malicious messages will make it past spam filtering solutions on occasion, so it is important for all end users to be prepared for malicious messages and taught security best practices. Training should be provided to every individual in the company with a corporate email account or access to an Internet facing computer, including board members.

A web filtering solution is also an important consideration. A web filter is an additional anti-malware control that can be used to prevent employees from visiting malicious websites – either via links in emails, redirects, or through general web browsing. A web filter, such as WebTitan, will block ransomware and malware downloads and prevent end users from accessing the types of phishing websites used to initiate BEC attacks.

These three cybersecurity measures should be part of all organizations’ cybersecurity defenses. They will help to prevent businesses from being included in next year’s FBI Internet Crime Report.

TitanHQ’s WebTitan Added to Datto Networking Solution Suite

TitanHQ, the award-winning provider of email and web security solutions to SMBs, has partnered with the networking giant Datto. The partnership has seen TitanHQ integrate its cutting-edge cloud-based web filtering solutions – WebTitan Cloud and WebTitan Cloud for Wi-Fi – into the Datto networking range.

Datto was formed in 2007 and fast became the leading provider of MSP-delivered IT solutions to SMBs. The company selects the best products and tools for its MSP partners to allow them to meet the needs of their clients and improve their bottom lines.

The company’s solutions include data backup and disaster recovery solutions, cloud-to-cloud data protection services, managed networking services, professional services automation, remote monitoring and management tools, and a wide range of security solutions.

Now that TitanHQ’s DNS-based web filtering solutions have been included, MSPs can offer their clients even greater protection from malware and phishing threats.

WebTitan Cloud and WebTitan Cloud for WiFi use a combination of AI-based services and human-supervised machine learning to block Internet-based threats. The solutions provide real-time protection against malicious URLs and phishing sites by preventing end users from visiting malicious webpages. The solutions also allow companies to carefully control the Internet content that can be accessed through their wired and wireless networks.

The MSP-friendly solutions can be rapidly deployed by MSPs, without the need for site visits, software installations or additional hardware purchases. The multi-tenant solutions allow all client deployments to be managed through a single, intuitive administration console and can be configured in minutes.

MSPs are also offered multiple hosting solutions, including hosting WebTitan in their own environment, and the solutions can be provided in full white-label format.

“We are delighted that Datto has chosen TitanHQ as a partner in web security. By integrating TitanHQ’s secure content and web filtering service, we are well positioned to offer Datto MSPs a best of breed solution for their small to mid-size customers,” said TitanHQ CEO, Ronan Kavanagh.

“We pride ourselves in equipping our community of Managed Service Provider partners with the right products and tools to allow each and every customer to succeed,” said John Tippett, VP, Datto Networking. “With that in mind, I’m delighted to welcome TitanHQ as a security partner and look forward to growing our partnership.”  

TitanHQ is a sponsor of the upcoming DattoCon 2018 conference – The largest MSP event in the United States. The full TitanHQ team will be in attendance and Datto’s MSP partners can come and meet the team and see WebTitan in action.

In addition to showcasing WebTitan Cloud, MSPs will also be able to find out more about SpamTitan – TitanHQ’s 100% cloud-based spam filtering solution, and ArcTitan – Its MSP-friendly email archiving solution.

DattoCon 2018 runs from June 18-20 in Austin, Texas at the Fairmont Austin Hotel. The TitanHQ team will be at booth #66 in the exhibition hall for all three days of the conference.

Worst Passwords of 2018 and Bad Password Trends Revealed

A recent study of commonly used passwords by Dashlane/Virginia Tech has revealed some of the worst passwords of 2018.

For the study, Virginia Tech researchers provided Dashlane with an anonymized copy of 61.5 million passwords. The password list was created from 107 individual lists of passwords available on forums and in data archives, many of which have come from past data breaches.

The analysis of the list revealed many common themes. These include the names of favorite sports teams: In the UK, common password choices were liverpool, chelsea and arsenal – the leading soccer teams in the premier league.

Popular brand names were also chosen, such as cocacola, snickers, mercedes, skittles, mustang, and playboy. MySpace and LinkedIn were also common choices, alarmingly, to secure accounts on those sites.

Bands and movie references were often used, with Spiderman, superman, starwars, and pokemon all common choices as were expressions of frustration – a**hole, bull****, and f***you were often chosen.

The Dashlane report shows that despite warnings about the risk of using easy-to-remember passwords, end users are still choosing weak passwords. One particularly worrying trend is the use of seemingly secure passwords, which are anything but secure.

1q2w3e4r5t6y and 1qaz2wsx3edc may appear to be relatively secure passwords; however, how they are created makes them easy to guess. They are certainly better than “password” or letmein” but not by much.

The passwords are created by a process that Dashlane calls password walking – the use of letters, numbers, and symbols next to each other on a keyboard. Simpler variations on this theme are qwerty and asdfghjk. To get around password rules, the same technique is used with the incorporation of capital letters and symbols.

The study shows that even though many companies require end users to set strong passwords, employees ignore password advice or choose passwords that pass security checks but are really not that secure.

What Makes a Good Password?

A good password will not be in the dictionary, will not use sequential numbers or be created by walking fingers along a keyboard. Brand names and locations should also be avoided. Passwords should be a minimum of 8 characters and should be unique – never used before by the user, and never reused on a different platform.

Passwords should include at least one capital letter, lowercase letter, symbol and number. If all lowercase letters are used, each letter in the password could be one of 26 letters. Add in capitals and the possible options double to 52. There are 10 digits, increasing the options to 62, and let’s say 32 special characters, bringing the total up to 94 options. With so many options and possible combinations, randomly generated passwords are particularly difficult to guess. However, randomly generated passwords are also particularly difficult to remember.

Recently, that problem has been recognized by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), which has revised its advice on passwords (See special publication 800-63B).

While the use of random strings of characters and symbols makes passwords particularly difficult to guess and more resilient to hackers’ brute force password guessing tactics, end users have trouble remembering their passwords and that leads to particularly risky behaviors such as writing the password down or storing it in a browser.

NIST now suggests the use of longer passphrases rather than passwords – Iboughtacarwithmyfirstpaypacket or ifihadahorseIwouldcallitDave– for example. Passphrases are more user-friendly and easier to remember, but are still secure – provided a sufficient number of characters are used. If passphrases are encouraged rather than difficult to remember passwords, end users will be less likely to set passwords that meet strong password guidelines but are not particularly secure – LetMeIn! for example.

The minimum number of characters can be set by each organization, but rather than restricting the characters at 16, companies should consider expanding this to at least 64. They should also accept all printable ASCII characters, including spaces, and UNICODE characters.

Since some end users will attempt to set weak passwords, it is important to incorporate controls that prevent commonly used passwords from being chosen. Each password choice should be checked against a blacklist before it can be set.

New Spam Campaign Uses Malicious Excel Web Query Files to Deliver Malware

A new spam campaign has been identified that uses Excel Web Query files to deliver malware. In this case, the .iqy files are used to launch PowerShell scripts that give the attackers root access to a device. .iqy files are not usually blocked by spam filters, making the technique effective at silently delivering malware.

The spam emails are being delivered via the Necurs botnet. Three spam campaigns have been detected by Barkly that use these attachments, although further campaigns are almost certain to be launched.

Excel Web Query files obtain data from an external source and load it to Excel. In this case, the external data is a formula which is executed in Excel. The formula is used to run PowerShell scripts which, in at least one campaign, downloads a Remote Access Trojan (RAT) called FlawedAmmyy Admin – a tweaked legitimate remote administration tool that gives the attacker full control of a computer, allowing any number of malicious programs to be installed.

The emails masquerade as purchase orders, unpaid invoices, and scanned documents – Common themes used in spam emails to deliver malware. These spam email campaigns often use Word documents with malicious macros. Macros are usually disabled by default. Through security awareness training, end users have been conditioned not to enable macros on documents from unknown senders, thus preventing malware downloads.

Since most end users will not be used to receiving .iqy files, these attachments should arouse suspicion. Microsoft has also built in warnings to prevent these files from being run by end users. If an end user attempts to open one of these files it will trigger a warning alerting the user that the file may not be safe as it enables an external connection. The end user would be required to click enable before the connection is made and data is pulled into Excel.  A second warning would then be displayed, again requiring authorization. Only if both warnings are ignored will the script be allowed to run that downloads the malicious payload.

There are two steps you can take to protect your endpoints and networks from these types of attacks. The first is to configure your email spam filter to quarantine any emails containing .iqy attachments. SpamTitan allows certain attachment types to be blocked such as executable files and iqy files. You can set the policy to quarantine, reject, or delete the emails. Since these types of files are not usually sent via email, rejecting the messages or deleting them is the safest option.

You should also cover the use of these files in your security awareness training sessions and should consider sending an email alert to end users warning them about the threat.

Further information on steps you can take to prevent malware infections spread via email can be found in our anti-spam tips page. You can find out more about the capabilities of SpamTitan by calling the sales team:

  • USA: +1 5859735070
  • UK/EU: +44 (0)2476993640
  • Ireland: +353 91 545555
  • Mid East: +971 4 3886998

Cybersecurity Breaches Survey Shows Almost Half of UK Businesses Experienced a Cyberattack in 2017

The UK Government’s Department for Digital, Culture, Media, & Sport has published its Cybersecurity Breaches Survey for 2018. The survey, conducted by Ipsos MORI, was a quantitative and qualitative survey conducted in the winter of 2017 on 1,519 UK businesses and 569 UK registered charities.

The purpose of the cybersecurity breaches survey was to identify the nature and significance of cyberthreats, determine how prevalent cyberattacks are, and what is being done to prevent such attacks.

The cybersecurity breaches survey revealed UK businesses and charities are being targeted by cybercriminals intent on gaining access to sensitive information, email accounts, corporate networks, and bank accounts and attacks are on the rise.

43% of businesses and 19% of charities experienced a cybersecurity breach or cyberattack in the past 12 months with large businesses and charities more likely to be attacked. 72% of large businesses – those with more than 250 employees – and 73% of large charities – with incomes over £5 million – experienced a cyberattack in the past year.

While not all security breaches result in material losses such as theft of data or personal information, when there is a material outcome the costs can be significant. The average costs of breaches with a material outcome is £3,100 for businesses and £1,030 for charities, although the larger the business, the greater the cost. Medium sized businesses have average costs of £16,100 and large businesses have an average breach cost of £22,300.

The high probability of a breach occurring and the high cost of remediating breaches has seen cybersecurity become a priority for senior managers. The percentage of businesses (74%) and charities (53%) that say cybersecurity is a high priority has risen year on year and the percentage of businesses (30%) and charities (24%) that say cybersecurity is a low priority has fallen once again. Cybersecurity is also now a high priority for many small businesses (42%) having risen from 33% last year when the survey was conducted. Cybersecurity may be a high priority, but just 3 out of 10 businesses and under a quarter of charities have board members with a responsibility for cybersecurity.

The most common type of breaches and cyberattacks involve fraudulent emails directing employees to malicious websites. 75% of UK businesses and 74% of UK charities that experienced a breach in the past year experienced these types of attacks. Email impersonation attacks were the second most common breach type with 28% of UK businesses and 27% of UK charities saying they had experienced these types of incidents in the past 12 months.

Not only are these types of attacks common, they also cause the most disruption. 48% of UK businesses and charities said fraudulent emails and being directed to malicious websites caused the most disruption out of all cybersecurity breaches experienced, well ahead of malware infections which were rated as the most disruptive cyberattacks by 13% of UK businesses and 12% of UK charities.

The cybersecurity breaches survey clearly highlights the importance of implementing robust defenses to prevent malicious emails from being delivered to employees’ inboxes and to ensure staff are well trained and taught how to identify malicious emails.

TitanHQ offers two cybersecurity solutions that can help UK businesses block the most common and most disruptive types of cyberattack. SpamTitan is a powerful spam filtering solution that blocks more than 99.97% of spam emails and 100% of known malware from being delivered to end users’ inboxes.

WebTitan is a cloud-based web filtering solution that prevents employees from visiting malicious websites, such as those used in phishing emails to steal credentials and spread malware.  Implementing these solutions is far cheaper than having to cover the cost of remediating cyberattacks.

There is also clearly a problem with training in the UK. Only 20% of UK businesses and 15% of UK charities have had staff attend internal or external cybersecurity training in the past year, even though security awareness training has clearly been shown to be effective at reducing susceptibility to email-based attacks.

Data Breach Costs Have Increased by 36% for SMBs in the Past Year

Data breach costs have risen considerably in the past year, according to a recent study of corporate IT security risks by Kaspersky Lab. Compared to 2016, the cost of a data breach for enterprises increased by 24% in 2017, and by even more for SMBs, who saw data breach costs rise by 36% in 2017.

The average cost of data breach recovery for an average-sized enterprise is now $1.23 million per data breach, while the cost for SMBs is now $120,000 per incident.

For the study, Kaspersky Lab surveyed 6,614 business decision makers. Respondents were asked about the main threats they have to deal with, cybersecurity incidents they have experienced in the past year, how much they spent resolving those incidents, and how that money was spent.

When a data breach is experienced, the costs can quickly mount. Enterprises and SMBs must contain the attack, scan systems for malware and backdoors, and pay for improvements to security and infrastructure to prevent similar attacks from occurring in the future. Staff need to receive additional training, new staff often need to be brought in, and third-parties hired to assist with recovery and security assessments.

Data breach recovery can take time and considerable effort. Additional wages have to be paid to staff assisting in the recovery process, there can be losses due to system downtime, repairing damage to a brand prove costly, credit monitoring and identity theft recovery services may have to be provided to breach victims, insurance premiums rise, credit ratings drop, and there may also be regulatory fines to cover.

The largest component of data breach costs is making emergency improvements to security and infrastructure to prevent further attacks, which is around $193,000 per breach for enterprises, the second biggest cost for enterprises is repairing reputation damage, which causes major increases in insurance costs and can severely damage credit ratings. On average, this costs enterprises $180,000. Providing after-the-event security awareness training to the workforce was the third biggest cost for enterprises at $137,000.

It is a similar story for SMBs who typically pay around $15,000 for each of the above three cost categories. A lack of inhouse expertise means SMBs often have to call in cybersecurity experts to assist with making improvements to security and for forensic analyses to determine how access to data was gained.

Data breaches affecting third-party hosted infrastructure are the costliest for SMBs, followed by attacks on non-computing connected devices, third party cloud services, and targeted attacks. For enterprises, the costliest data breaches are targeted attacks followed by attacks on third-party infrastructure, attacks on non-computing connected devices, third party cloud services, and leaks from internal systems.

The high cost of recovering from a data breach means a successful cyberattack on an SMB could be catastrophic, forcing the company to permanently shut its doors. It is therefore no surprise that businesses are allocating more of their IT budgets to improving their security defenses. Enterprises are now spending an average of $8.9 million on cybersecurity each year, while SMBs spend an average of $246,000. Even though the cost of additional cybersecurity defenses is high, it is still far lower than the cost of recovering from data breaches.

While data breach prevention is a key driver for greater investment in cybersecurity, that is far from the only reason for devoting a higher percentage of IT budgets to security. The main drivers for increasing security spending are the increasing complexity of IT infrastructure (34%), improving the level of security expertise (34%), and management wanting to improve security defenses (29%).

VPNFilter Malware Installed on More than Half a Million Routers

A suspected nation-state sponsored hacking group has succeeded in infecting at least half a million routers with VPNFilter malware.

VPNFilter is a modular malware capable of various functions, including the monitoring of all communications, launching attacks on other devices, theft of credentials and data, and even destroying the router on which the malware has been installed. While most IoT malware infections – including those used to build large botnets for DDoS attacks – are not capable of surviving a reboot, VPNFilter malware can survive such a reset.

The malware can be installed on the type of routers often used by small businesses and consumers such as those manufactured by Netgear, Linksys, TP-Link and MikroTik, as well as network-attached storage (NAS) devices from QNAP, according to security researchers at Cisco Talos who have been monitoring infections over the past few months.

The ultimate aim of the attackers is unknown, although the infected devices could potentially be used for a wide range of malicious activities, including major cyberattacks on critical infrastructure, such as disrupting power grids – as was the case with BlackEnergy malware.

Since it is possible for the malware to disable Internet access, the threat actors behind the campaign could easily prevent large numbers of individuals in a targeted region from going online.

While the malware has been installed on routers around the world – infections have been detected in 54 countries – the majority of infections are in Ukraine. Infections in Ukraine have increased significantly in the past few weeks.

While the investigation into the campaign is ongoing, the decision was taken to go public due to a massive increase in infected devices over the past three weeks, together with the incorporation of advanced capabilities which have made the malware a much more significant threat.

While the researchers have not pointed the finger at Russia, they have identified parts of the code which are identical to that used in BlackEnergy malware, which was used in several attacks in Ukraine. BlackEnergy has been linked to Russia by some security researchers. BlackEnergy malware has been used by other threat actors not believed to be tied to Russia to the presence of the same code in both forms of malware is not concrete proof of any link to Russia.

The FBI has gone a step further by attributing the malware campaign to the hacking group Fancy Bear (APT28/Pawn Storm) which has links to the Russian military intelligence agency GRU. Regardless of any nation-state backing, the sophisticated nature of the malware means it is the work of a particularly advanced hacking group.

Most of the attacked routers are aging devices that have not received firmware updates to correct known flaws and many of the attacked devices have not had default passwords changed, leaving them vulnerable to attack. It is not entirely clear exactly how devices are being infected although the exploitation of known vulnerabilities is most probable, rather than the use of zero-day exploits; however, the latter has not been ruled out.

Some progress has been made disrupting the VPNFilter malware campaign. The FBI has seized and sinkholed a domain used by the malware to communicate with the threat group behind the campaign. Without that domain, the attackers cannot control the infected routers and neither identify new devices that have been infected.

Ensuring a router is updated and has the latest firmware will offer some degree of protection, as will changing default passwords on vulnerable devices. Unfortunately, it is not easy to tell if a vulnerable router has been infected. Performing a factory reset of a vulnerable router is strongly recommended as a precaution.

Rebooting the device will not eradicate the malware, but it will succeed in removing some of the additional code downloaded to the device. However, those additional malware components could be reinstalled once contact is re-established with the device.

Ransomware Attacks on the Decline but the Threat Level is Still Critical

Ransomware attacks on businesses appear to be declining. In 2017 and 2018 there has been a marked decrease in the number of attacks. While this is certainly good news, it is currently unclear whether the fall in attacks is just a temporary blip or if the trend will continue.

Ransomware attacks may have declined, but there has been a rise in the use of cryptocurrency mining malware, with cybercriminals taking advantage in the high price of cryptocurrencies to hijack computers and turn them into cryptocurrency-mining slaves. These attacks are not as devastating or costly as ransomware attacks, although they can still take their toll, slowing down endpoints which naturally has an impact on productivity.

While ransomware attacks are now occurring at a fraction of the level of 2016 – SonicWall’s figures suggest there were 184 million attacks in 2017 compared to 638 million in 2016 – the risk of an attack is still significant.

Small players are still taking advantage of ransomware-as-a-service – available through darknet forums and marketplaces – to conduct attacks and organized cybercriminal gangs are conducting targeted attacks. In the case of the latter, victims are being selected based on their ability to pay and the likelihood of a payment being made.

These targeted attacks have primarily been conducted on organizations in the healthcare industry, educational institutions, municipalities and the government. Municipalities are targeted because massive disruption can be caused, and attacks are relatively easy to pull off. Municipalities typically do not have the budgets to devote to cybersecurity.

Attacks in healthcare and education industries are made easier by the continued use of legacy software and operating systems and highly complex networks that are difficult to secure. Add to that the reliance on access to data and not only are attacks relatively easy, there is a higher than average chance of a ransom being paid.

In the past, the aim of ransomware gangs was to infect as many users as possible. Now, targeted attacks are conducted with the aim of infecting as many end points as possible within an organization. The more systems and computers that are taken out of action, the greater the disruption and cost of mitigating the attack without paying the ransom.

Most organizations, government agencies, municipalities, have sound backup policies and can recover all data encrypted by ransomware without paying the ransom. However, the time taken to recover files from backups and restore systems – and the cost of doing so – makes payment of the ransom preferable.

The attack on the City of Atlanta shows just how expensive recovery can be. The cost of restoring systems and mitigating the attack was at least $2.6 million – The ransom demand was in the region of $50,000. It is therefore no surprise that so many victims have chosen to pay up.

Even though the ransom payment is relatively low compared to the cost of recovery, it is still far more expensive than the cost of implementing security solutions to prevent attacks.

There is no single solution that can block ransomware and malware attacks. Multi-layered defenses must be installed to protect the entire attack surface. Most organizations have implemented anti-spam solutions to reduce the risk of email-based attacks, and security awareness training is helping to eliminate risky behaviors and teach security best practices, but vulnerabilities still remain with DNS security often lacking.

Vulnerabilities in DNS are being abused to install ransomware and other malware variants and hide communications with command and control servers and call home addresses. Implementing a DNS-based web filtering solution offers protection against phishing, ransomware and malware by preventing users from visiting malicious websites where malware and ransomware is downloaded and blocking C2 server communications. DNS-based web filters also provide protection against the growing threat from cryptocurrency mining malware.

To mount an effective defense against phishing, malware and ransomware attacks, traditional cybersecurity defenses such as ant-virus software, spam filters, and firewalls should be augmented with web filtering to provide security at the DNS layer. To find out more about how DNS layer security can improve your security posture, contact TitanHQ today and ask about WebTitan.

Leominster School District Ransomware Attack Sees $10,000 Ransom Paid

Another school district has fallen victim to a ransomware attack, which has seen files encrypted and systems taken out of action for two weeks. The Leominster school district ransomware attack saw a ransom demand of approximately $10,000 in Bitcoin was issued for the keys to unlock the encrypted files, which includes the school’s entire student database.

School districts attacked with ransomware often face a difficult decision when ransomware is installed. Attempt to restore systems and recover lost data from backups or pay the ransom demand. The first option is time consuming, costly, and can see systems remain out of action for several days. The second option includes no guarantees that the attackers will make good on their promise and will supply valid keys to unlock the encryption. The keys may not be held, it may not be possible to unlock files, or a further ransom demand could be issued. There have been many examples of all three of those scenarios.

The decision not to pay the ransom demand may be the costlier option. The recent ransomware attack on the City of Atlanta saw a ransom demand issued in the region of $50,000. The cost of recovering from the attack was $2.6 million, although that figure does include the cost of improvements to its security systems to prevent further attacks.

School districts are often targeted by cybercriminals and ransomware offers a quick and easy way to make money. The attackers know all too well that data can most likely be recovered from backups and that the ransom does not need to be paid, but the cost of recovery is considerable. Ransom demands are set accordingly – high enough for the attackers to make a worthwhile amount, but low enough to tempt the victims into paying.

In the case of the Leominster ransomware attack, the second option was chosen and the ransom demand of was paid. That decision was taken after carefully weighing up both options. The risk that no keys would be supplied was accepted. In this case, they were supplied, and efforts are well underway to restore files and implement further protections to ensure similar incidents do not occur in the future.

Even though the ransom was paid, the school district was still without access to its database and some of its computer systems two weeks after the attack. Files were encrypted on April 14, but systems were not brought back online until May 1.

Unfortunately for the Leominster School District, ransom payments are not covered by its cyberinsurance policy, so the payment had to come from its general fund.

There is no simple way to defend against ransomware attacks, as no single cybersecurity solution will prove to be 100% effective at blocking the threat. Multiple attack vectors are used, and it is up to school districts to implement defenses to protect the entire attack surface. The solution is to defend in numbers – use multiple security solutions to create layered defenses.

Some of the most important defenses include:

  • An advanced firewall to defend the network perimeter
  • Antivirus and anti-malware solutions on all endpoints/servers
  • Vulnerability scanning and good patch management policies. All software, systems, websites, applications, and operating systems should be kept up to date with patches applied promptly
  • An advanced spam filtering solution to prevent malicious emails from being delivered to end users. The solution should block all executable files
  • Disable RDP if it is not required
  • Provide security awareness training for employees and teach staff and students the skills to enable them to identify malicious emails and stop risky behaviors
  • A web filtering solution capable of blocking access to malicious websites

The cost of implementing these solutions is likely to be far lower than the cost of a ransom payment and certainly lower than the cost of mitigating a ransomware attack.