Phishing and email spam is estimated to cost industry more than $1 billion each year, and cybercriminals are becoming more sophisticated in the campaigns they launch to try to extract confidential data or passwords from unsuspecting Internet users.
Part of the reason why phishing and email spam continue to work is the language used within the communication. The message to “Act Now” because an account seems to have been compromised, or because a colleague appears to need urgent support, often causes individuals to act before they think.
Even experienced security experts have been caught by phishing and email spam, and the advice provided to every Internet user is:
If you are unsure of whether an email request is legitimate, try to verify it by contacting the sender independently of the information provided in the email.
Never reveal confidential data or passwords requested in an email or on a web page you have arrived at after following a link in an email.
Enable spam filters on your email, keep your anti-virus software up-to-date and enable two-step authentication on all your accounts whenever possible.
Always use different passwords for different accounts, and change them frequently to avoid being a victim of key-logging malware downloads.
Remember that phishing and email spam is not limited to email. Watch out for scams sent via social media channels.
Phishing in particular has become a popular attack vector for cybercriminals. Although phishing goes back to the early days of AOL, there has been a tenfold increase in phishing campaigns over the past decade reported to the Anti-Phishing Working Group (APWG).
Phishing is an extension of spam mail and can target small groups of people (spear phishing) or target executive-level management (whale phishing) in order to collect information or gain access to computer systems.
The best way to protect yourself from phishing and email spam is to follow the advice provided above and – most importantly – enable a reputable spam filter to block potentially unsafe emails from being delivered to your inbox.
The two main cybersecurity threats that businesses now have to deal with are phishing and ransomware attacks and those threats have become even more common over the past 12 months. Cybercriminals stepped up their attacks during the pandemic with many phishing campaigns launched using the novel coronavirus as a lure. These campaigns sought to distribute malware and steal credentials.
Ransomware attacks also increased in 2020. Several new ransomware-as-a-service (RaaS) operations were launched in 2020 and the number of attacks on businesses soared. In addition to encrypting files, data theft was also highly prevalent n 2020, with most ransomware operators stealing data prior to encrypting files. This double extortion tactic proved to be very effective. Many businesses were forced to pay the ransom even though they had backups and could have recovered their files. Payments were made to ensure data stolen in the attack was deleted and not misused, published, or sold.
Phishing and ransomware attacks often go hand in hand and are often used together in the same attack. Phishing emails are used to install malware, which in turn is used to provide access for ransomware gangs. The Emotet and TrickBot Trojans are notable examples. Operators of both of those Trojans teamed up with ransomware gangs and sold access once they had achieved their own objectives. The credentials stolen in phishing attacks are also sold onto RaaS affiliates and provide the foothold they need to conduct their devastating attacks.
Phishing campaigns are easy to conduct, low cost, and they can be very effective. Largescale campaigns involve millions of messages, and while most of those emails will be blocked by email security solutions or will be identified by employees as a threat, all it takes is for one employee to respond to a phishing email for an attacker to gain the access they need.
TitanHQ recently partnered with Osterman Research to explore how these and other cyber threats have affected businesses over the past 12 months. This new and original study involved an in-depth survey of security professionals to find out how those threats have affected their organization and how effective their defenses are at repelling attackers.
The survey showed the most common security incidents suffered by businesses were business email compromise (BEC) attacks, where employees are tricked into taking an action suggested in a scam email from the CEO, CFO or another high-level executive. These attacks often involve the genuine email account of an executive being compromised in a phishing scam and the attacker using that account to target employees in the same organization.
The next biggest threat was phishing emails that resulted in a malware infection, followed by phishing messages that stole credentials and resulted in an account compromise. The survey showed that these attacks are extremely common. 85% of interviewed security professionals said they had experienced one or more of 17 different types of security breaches in the past 12 months. While attacks were common, only 37% of respondents said their defenses against phishing and ransomware attacks were highly effective.
There are several steps that can be taken to improve defenses against phishing and ransomware attacks. End user training is important to teach employees what to look for and how to identify these types of threats. However, there is always potential for human error, so training alone is not the answer. Email security is the best defense. By blocking these threats at source, they will not land in inboxes and employees will not be tested. Email security should be combined with a web security solution to block the web-based component of phishing attacks and stop malware and ransomware downloads from the Internet.
The findings of the Osterman and TitanHQ survey will be explained in detail at an upcoming webinar on June 30, 2021. Attendees will also learn how they can significantly reduce the risk of ransomware and phishing attacks.
The webinar will be conducted by Michael Sampson, Senior Analyst at Osterman Research and Sean Morris, Chief Technology Officer at TitanHQ. You can Register Your Place Here
Threat actors seized the opportunities provided by the pandemic and conducted many phishing campaigns using COVID-19 themed lures. These campaigns took advantage of global interest in the novel coronavirus and preyed on fears of contracting COVID-19 to get people to open the emails, click on malicious hyperlinks, or open attachments that downloaded malware and ransomware payloads. Now that a large percentage of the population has been vaccinated, employers are opening up their offices again and employees are returning to the workplace.
The return to offices has presented another opportunity for scammers, who have launched a new phishing campaign targeting workers returning to offices. The emails appear to be a message from the CIO welcoming employees back to the workplace and claims to provide information about post-pandemic protocols and the procedures that have been put in place to accommodate returning workers to reduce the risk of infection.
The emails have been crafted to make them appear as if they have been sent internally, and include the logo of the targeted company and are signed by the CIO. The emails include a hyperlink that directs employees to a fake Microsoft SharePoint page that hosts two documents, both of which have the company’s branding. The documents are a COVID-19 factsheet and an implementation letter that includes steps that the company has taken based on updates provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), World Health Organization (WHO), and local health officials.
Most phishing campaigns would simply direct people to a landing page that hosts a phishing form where they are asked to enter their Office 365 credentials. This campaign is more sophisticated and includes an additional step. Nothing happens when an employee lands on the page. They are first required to click to open a document before the phish is activated. When the document is clicked, a fake Microsoft login prompt appears and credentials must then be entered in order to view the documents.
If credentials are entered, a message is then generated advising the employee that their account or password is not correct, and they are made to reenter their credentials several times before they are finally redirected to a genuine Microsoft page and are given access to the documents on OneDrive, most likely unaware that their credentials have been phished.
This COVID-19 phishing scam, like many others conducted throughout the pandemic, has a plausible lure. In this case, the emails have been well written and have been targeted for specific companies, making them very believable and likely to fool a great many employees. It is unclear what aims the attackers have once credentials have been harvested. They could be used to plunder sensitive information in Office 365 email accounts, would give the attackers a foothold in the corporate network for a more extensive compromise, or they could be sold to other threat groups such as ransomware gangs.
The best way to counter the threat is to prevent the malicious emails from arriving in inboxes, which requires an advanced spam filtering solution such as SpamTitan. With SpamTitan in place, phishing threats such as this will be identified and blocked at the gateway to ensure that employees’ phishing email identification skills are not put to the test.
If you want to improve your security posture and block more phishing threats, give the TitanHQ team a call today to discover how SpamTitan Email Security and the WebTitan DNS Filter can improve cybersecurity in your organization.
Following on from a supply chain attack that saw the software update feature of the Passwordstate password manager hijacked the threat group developed a convincing phishing campaign targeting enterprise users of the password manager solution.
The supply chain attack was used to infect users of the password manager with malware dubbed Moserpass. Between April 20 and April 22, users of the password manager who downloaded an update through the In-Pass Upgrade mechanism may have had a malicious file downloaded – a malformed Passwordstate_upgrade.zip file.
Downloading the file started a chain of events that resulted in Moserpass being installed, which collected and exfiltrated information about the computer, users, domains, running services and processes, along with password data from the Passwordstate app. The malware also had a loader module, so could potentially download other malware variants onto victims’ devices. Since passwords were potentially compromised, affected users have been advised to reset all of their passwords.
The attack only lasted 28 hours before it was identified and blocked, but in order to remove the malware from customers’ devices, Click Studios, the developer of the password app, emailed customers and encouraged them to apply a hotfix to remove the malware.
Some customers who received the email from Click Studios shared a copy of the message on social media networks. The threat group behind the attack were monitoring social media channels, obtained a copy of the genuine Click Studios email about the hotfix, and used the exact same email for a phishing campaign. Instead of directing users to the hotfix to remove Moserpass malware, the phishing email directed users to a website not under the control of Click Studios which installed an updated version of Moserpass malware.
Since the Passswordstate breach notification emails were virtual carbon copies of genuine communications from Click Studios they were very convincing. Users who followed the instructions in the email would likely think they were removing malware, when they were actually installing it. The fake versions of the emails do not have a domain suffix used by Click Studios, request the hotfix is downloaded from a subdomain, and claim an ‘urgent’ update is required to fix a bug, but it is easy to see how these messages could fool end users.
Click Studios supplies its password manager to around 29,000 enterprises and the solution has hundreds of thousands of users, many of whom will have heard of the breach and be concerned about a malware infection. Click Studios said only a very small number of its customers were affected and had the malware installed – those who downloaded the update in the 28-hour period between April 20 and April 22 – but anyone receiving the fake email could well have been convinced that the email was genuine and taken the requested action.
Phishers often use fake security warnings as a lure, and data breach notifications are ideal for use in phishing attacks. This Passswordstate breach notification phishing campaign highlights the importance of carefully checking any message for signs of phishing, even if the email content seems genuine and the message includes the right branding, and the risks of posting copies of genuine breach notification letters on social media networks.
Many phishing attacks are sophisticated, and it can be difficult for employees to differential between genuine and malicious messages, which is why advanced spam and phishing defenses are required. If you want to improve your defenses against phishing, get in touch with TitanHQ and discover how SpamTitan Email Security can improve your security posture and better protect your organization from phishing and other email-based threats.
Virtually everyone uses email which makes it an attractive attack vector for cybercriminals who use phishing emails to steal credentials, deliver malware, and gain a foothold in corporate networks, but what is a common indicator of a phishing attempt? How can these malicious emails be identified and avoided?
In this post we will list some of the main signs of phishing emails that that all email users should be looking out for in their inboxes.
Phishing is the Number 1 Attack Vector!
In 2021, and for several years previously, phishing has been the main way that cybercriminals obtain login credentials to allow them to access sensitive business data and gain the foothold they need in business networks for more extensive compromises. Phishing emails are also used to deliver malware that provides persistent access to computers and the networks to which they connect. Malware downloaders are commonly delivered via email that download other malicious payloads such as ransomware. Most data breaches start with a phishing email!
Phishing emails were once easy to detect, but that is not always the case now. Many phishing attempts are extremely sophisticated. Emails may only be sent to a handful of people, and even individuals are targeted. The emails are convincing and can be almost impossible to distinguish from the genuine email messages that they spoof.
With an advanced email security solution in place, the majority of these messages will be blocked; however, no email security solution will block every malicious message without blocking an unacceptable number of genuine messages. That means all employees must have the necessary skills to identify a phishing email when it arrives in their inbox.
What is a Common Indicator of a Phishing Attempt?
In order to identify a phishing email, you need to know what to look for, so what is a common indicator of a phishing attempt? Listed below are some of the most common signs of phishing emails for you to look out for.
Unfortunately, there is no single common indicator of a phishing attempt. Tactics, techniques, and procedures are constantly changing, but if you identify any of these signs in an email in your inbox or spam folder, there is a reasonable chance that the message is not genuine and should be reported to your security team. Chances are, there will be other copies of the message in the email system that will need to be removed.
The message is in your spam folder
There is a reason why messages are classified as spam by email security solutions. Analysis of the message has highlighted telltale signs of spam or phishing, but not enough for the message to be blocked at the email gateway. If a message is sent to your spam folder you should exercise caution when opening the message.
It is an unsolicited message
Phishing emails are unsolicited – You certainly didn’t ask to be phished! There may be a seemingly valid reason why you have been sent the message, but if you didn’t request the email and are not on a marketing list for the company or individual sending the message it should be treated as suspect.
Important information is in an attachment
One of the ways that phishers attempt to conceal their malicious intent is to use email attachments. This could be a link in an attached file that you need to click (why not just add it to the message body?) or commonly, you must enable content in an Office file to view the content of the attachment. Doing so will allow macros to run that will download a malicious file. Zip files are also commonly used as they are hard for spam filters to access, or files may be password protected. The files must always be scanned with AV software prior to opening and, even then, treat them with extreme caution.
Urgent action is required and there is a threat in the email
Phishing emails often convey a sense of urgency to get people to respond quickly without thinking too much about the request. There may be a threat of bad consequences if no action is taken – your account will be closed – or some other sense of urgency, such as missing out on an amazing opportunity. Always take time to carefully consider what is being asked and check the email for other signs of phishing.
You are asked to click a link in an email
Spam filters scan messages for malware, so it is common for the malware to be hosted on a website. A link is included that users must click to obtain information or to download a file. The link may take you to a website where you are required to enter your login credentials, and that site may have an exact copy of your usual login prompt – for Google or Office 365 for example. You should carefully check the link to find out the true destination (hover your mouse arrow over it) and then double check the full URL on the destination site. You may have been redirected to a different site after clicking. Is the page on the genuine website used by that company?
The sender of the email is not known to you or the email address is suspect
Phishers spoof email addresses and change the display name to make it appear that the email has been sent from a contact or official source. Check that the actual email address is legitimate – it is the correct domain for the company or individual. Check against past messages received from that individual or company to make sure the email address is the same. Remember, the sender’s email account may have been compromised, so even if the email address is correct that doesn’t necessarily mean the account holder sent the message!
The message has grammatical and spelling errors
Grammatical and spelling errors are common in phishing emails. This could be because English is not the first language of the sender or be deliberate to only get people to respond who are likely to fall for the next stage of the scam. Business emails, especially official communications and marketing emails, do not contain spelling errors or have grammatical mistakes.
The request is unusual, or the tone seems odd
Often the language used in phishing emails is a little odd. Emails impersonating known contacts may be overly familiar or may seem rather formal and different to typical emails you receive from the sender. If the tone is off or you are addressed in a strange way, it could well be a phishing attempt. Phishing emails will also try to get you to take unusual actions, such as send data via email that you have not been asked to send before. A quick phone call using trusted contact information is always wise to verify the legitimacy of an unusual request.
How Businesses can Improve their Phishing Defenses
If you want to block more phishing emails and malware you will need an advanced email security solution. The email security gateway is the first line of defense against malicious emails, but it is not necessary to spend a fortune to have good protection. If you have a limited budget or simply want to save money on email security, TitanHQ is here to help.
SpamTitan is an award-winning advanced email security solution that blocks in excess of 99.97% of malicious messages and spam. The solution is easy to implement, configure, maintain and use, the pricing policy is transparent and extremely competitive, and with TitanHQ you will benefit from industry-leading customer support. You can even try SpamTitan for free to see for yourself how effective it is. Get in touch with us today to find out more via email or just pick up the phone and speak to our friendly and knowledgeable sales team.
Ransomware attacks on the education sector in the United Kingdom have increased sharply since February, and the sector was already extensively targeted by threat groups long before then. The education sector is an attractive target for cybercriminals as sizeable amounts of sensitive data are stored within computer systems that can be easily monetized if stolen.
Students’ personally identifiable information is of more value than that of adults, and it can often be used for years before any fraud is detected. Higher education institutions often have intellectual property and research data that is incredibly valuable and can easily be sold on for a huge profit. Ransomware attacks prevent access to essential data, and with the pandemic forcing the education sector to largely switch to online learning, when communication channels and websites are taken out of action learning can grind to a halt.
In the United Kingdom, the reopening of schools and universities has only been possible with COVID-19 testing and contact tracing, which is also disrupted by ransomware attacks. Files are encrypted which prevents access to essential testing and monitoring data, further hampering the ability of schools, colleges, and universities to operate.
As is the case with healthcare, which has also seen a major increase in cyberattacks during the pandemic, services are majorly disrupted without access to computer systems, and there is considerable pressure on both industries to pay the ransom demands to recover from the attacks more quickly. Ransoms are more likely to be paid than in other industry sectors.
What makes the education sector an even more attractive prospect for cybercriminals is poorer security defenses than other industries. The lack of security controls makes attacks much more likely to succeed. On top of that, students often use their own devices to connect to networks so security can be very difficult to police, and many departments make their own IT decisions, which can easily result in vulnerabilities being introduced and remaining unaddressed.
The ease and profitability of attacks has made education a top target for ransomware gangs. Emsisoft reports education was the sector most targeted by ransomware gangs in 2020.
The increase in ransomware attacks on educational institutions in the United Kingdom prompted the UK’s National Cyber Security Center to issue a warning in March to all entities in the education sector about the risk of cyberattacks. NCSC noted in its alert that there was a significant increase in attacks in August and September 2020, and a further rise in attacks since February 2021.
University of Hertfordshire Suffers Major Cyberattack
One of the most damaging university cyberattacks in recent months occurred at the University of Hertfordshire. Late on April 14, cybercriminals struck, with the attack impacting all of the university’s systems. No cloud systems were available, nor MS Teams, Canvas, or Zoom. The attack forced the university to cancel all of its online classes for the following day, although in person teaching was able to continue provided computer access was not necessary.
It has been more than a week since the attack, and while some systems are now back online, disruption is still being experienced with student records, university business services, learning resource centre services, data storage, student services, staff services, and the postgraduate application portal, with the email system also considered to be at risk.
The university has not confirmed the nature of the attack, but it has the hallmarks of a ransomware attack, although the university has issued a statement stating that the attack did not involve data theft.
The University of Hertfordshire is certainly not alone. In March, South and City College of Birmingham was hit with a ransomware attack that took all of its computer systems out of action, with the college forced to switch to online learning for its 13,000 students.
UK Schools also Under Attack
The cyberattacks in the United Kingdom have not been limited to universities. School systems have also suffered more than their fair share of attacks. In March, the Harris Federation, which runs 50 schools in the UK, suffered a ransomware attack that took out communications systems and majorly affecting online learning for 37,000 students.
Also in March, the Nova Education Trust suffered a ransomware attack that took its systems out of action and affected 15 schools, all of which lost access to their communication channels including the phone system, email, and websites. The Castle School Education Trust also suffered a ransomware attack in March that disrupted the online functions of 23 schools.
What Can Be Done to Stop Cyberattacks in Education?
Cybersecurity must become a major focus for schools, colleges, and universities. The attacks are being conducted because they are easy and profitable and, until that changes, the attacks are not likely to slow and, in all likelihood, will continue to increase.
To protect against attacks, the education sector needs to implement multi-layered security defenses and find and address vulnerabilities before they are discovered by ransomware gangs and other cybercriminal operations.
The best place to start is by improving security for the two main attack vectors: email and the Internet. That is an area where TitanHQ can help. To find out more, get in touch with the TitanHQ team today and take the first step towards improving your security posture and better protecting your networks and endpoints from extremely damaging cyberattacks.
A previously unknown malware variant dubbed Saint Bot malware is being distributed in phishing emails using a Bitcoin-themed lure. With the value of Bitcoin setting new records, many individuals may be tempted into opening the attachment to get access to a bitcoin wallet. Doing so will trigger a sequence of events that will result in the delivery of Saint Bot malware.
Saint Bot malware is a malware dropper that is currently being used to deliver secondary payloads such as information stealers, although it can be used to drop any malware variant. The malware was first detected and analyzed by researchers at Malwarebytes who report that while the malware does not use any novel techniques, there is a degree of sophistication to the malware and it appears that the malware is being actively developed. At present, detections have been at a relatively low level but Saint Bot malware could develop into a significant threat.
The phishing emails used to distribute the malware claim to include a Bitcoin wallet in the attached Zip file. The contents of the Zip file include a text file with instructions and a LNK file that has an embedded PowerShell script. A PowerShell downloader delivers an obfuscated .Net dropper and downloader, which in turn deliver a BAT script that disables Windows Defender and the Saint Bot malware binary.
The malware is capable of detecting if it is in a controlled environment and terminates and deletes itself should that be the case. Otherwise, the malware will communicate with its hardcoded command and control servers, send information gathered from the infected system, and download secondary payloads to the infected device via Discord.
The malware has not been linked with any specific threat group and could well be distributed to multiple actors via darknet hacking forums, but it could well become a major threat and be used in widespread campaigns to take advantage of the gap in the malware-as-a-service (MaaS) market left by the takedown of the Emotet Trojan.
Protecting against malware downloaders such as Saint Bot malware requires a defense in depth approach. The easiest way of blocking infections is to implement an advanced spam filtering solution such as SpamTitan to block the phishing emails that deliver the malware. Antivirus software should also be installed on all endpoints and set to update automatically, and communication with the C2 servers should be blocked via firewall rules.
In addition to technical defenses, it is important to provide security awareness training to the workforce to help employees identify malicious emails and condition them how to respond when a potential threat is detected.
How SpamTitan Can Protect Against Phishing and Malware Attacks
SpamTitan is an award-winning anti-spam and anti-phishing solution that provides protection against the full range of email threats from productivity-draining spam to dangerous phishing and spear phishing emails, malware and ransomware.
SpamTitan has a catch rate in excess of 99.99% with a low false positive rate and uses a variety of methods to detect malicious emails, including dual antivirus engines, sandboxing for detecting new malware variants, and machine learning techniques to identify zero-day threats.
SpamTitan’s advanced threat protection defenses include inbuilt Bayesian auto learning and heuristics to defend against sophisticated threats and evolving cyberattack techniques, with 6 specialized Real Time Blacklists to block malicious domains and URLs, DMARC to block email impersonation attacks, and outbound email policies for data loss prevention.
SpamTitan is quick and easy to set up and configure and is frequently praised for the level of protection provided and ease of use. SpamTitan is a 5-star rated solution on Spiceworks, Capterra, G2 Crowd and has won no less than 37 consecutive Virus Bulletin Spam awards.
If you want to improve your email defenses at a very reasonable price and benefit from industry-leading customer support, give the TitanHQ team a call today. Product demonstrations can be arranged, and you can trial the solution free of charge, with full support provided during the trial to help you get the most out of SpamTitan.
During tax season, tax professionals and tax filers are targeted with a variety of IRS phishing scams that attempt to obtain sensitive information that can be used by the scammers to steal identities and file fraudulent tax returns in the names of their victims. The potential rewards for the attackers are significant, with the fake tax returns often resulting in refunds of thousands of dollars being issued by the U.S. Internal Revenue Service (IRS).
This year is certainly no exception. Several tax season phishing scams have been identified in 2021 with one of the latest scams using phishing lures related to tax refund payments. The phishing emails have subject lines such as “Tax Refund Payment” and “Recalculation of your tax refund payment” which are likely to attract the recipient’s attention and get them to open the emails.
The emails use the genuine IRS logo and inform recipients that they are eligible to receive an additional tax refund, but in order to receive the payment they must click a link and complete a form. The form appears to be an official IRS.gov form, with the page an exact match of the IRS website, although the website on which the form is hosted is not an official IRS domain.
The form asks for a range of highly sensitive personal information to be provided in order for the refund to be processed. The form asks for the individual’s name, date of birth, Social Security number, driver’s license number, current address, and electronic filing PIN. For added realism, the phishing page also displays a popup notification stating, “This US Government System is for Authorized Use Only”, which is the same warning message that is displayed on the genuine IRS website.
The attackers appear to be targeting universities and other educational institutions, both public and private, profit and nonprofit with many of the reported phishing emails from staff and students with .edu email addresses.
Educational institutions should take steps to reduce the risk off their staff and students being duped by these scams. Alerting all .edu account holders to warn them about the campaign is important, especially as these messages are bypassing Office 365 anti-phishing measures and are arriving in inboxes.
Any educational institution that is relying on Microsoft Exchange Online Protection (EOP) for blocking spam and phishing emails – EOP is the default protection provided free with Office 365 licenses – should strongly consider improving their anti-phishing defenses with a third-party spam filter.
SpamTitan has been developed to provide superior protection for Office 365 environments. The solution is layered on top of Office 365 and seamlessly integrates with Office 365 email. In addition to significantly improving spam and phishing email protection, dual antivirus engines and sandboxing provide excellent protection from malware.
For further information on SpamTitan anti-phishing protection for higher education, give the SpamTitan team a call today. You can start protecting your institution immediately, with installation and configuration of SpamTitan taking just a few minutes. The solution is also available on a free trial to allow you to assess SpamTitan in your own environment to see the difference it makes before deciding on a purchase.
A phishing attack on an employee of the California State Controller’s Office Unclaimed Property Division highlights how a single response from an employee to a phishing email could easily result in a massive breach. In this case, the phishing attack was detected promptly, with the attacker only having access to an employee’s email account for less than 24 hours from March 18.
In the 24 hours that the attacker had access to the email account, the contents of the account could have been exfiltrated. Emails in the account included unclaimed property holder reports. Those reports included names, dates of birth, addresses, and Social Security numbers – the type of information that could be used to steal identities.
The email that fooled the employee into clicking a link and disclosing login credentials appeared to have been sent from a trusted outside entity, which is why the email was assumed to be legitimate. After stealing the employee’s credentials undetected, the attacker immediately went to work and tried to compromise the email accounts of other state workers.
In the short time that the individual had access to the account, around 9,000 other state workers were sent phishing emails from the compromised account. Fortunately, the attack was detected promptly and all contacts were alerted about the phishing emails and told to delete the messages. That single compromised account could easily have led to a massive email account breach.
Phishing is now the biggest data security threat faced by businesses. The attacks are easy to conduct, require little skill, and can be extremely lucrative. Email accounts often contain a treasure trove of data that can be easily monetized, the accounts can be used to send further phishing emails internally and to external contacts and customers, and a breach of Microsoft 365 credentials could allow a much more extensive attack on a company. Many ransomware attacks start with a single response to a phishing email.
To improve protection against phishing attacks it is important to train the workforce how to identify phishing emails, teach cybersecurity best practices, and condition employees to stop and think before taking any action requested in emails. However, phishing attacks are often highly sophisticated and the emails can be difficult to distinguish from genuine email communications. As this phishing attack demonstrates, emails often come from trusted sources whose accounts have been compromised in previous phishing attacks.
What is needed is an advanced anti-phishing solution that can detect these malicious emails and prevent them from being delivered to employee inboxes. The solution should also include outbound email scanning to identify messages sent from compromised email accounts.
SpamTitan offers protection against these phishing attacks. All incoming emails are subjected to deep analysis using a plethora of detection mechanisms. Machine learning technology is used to identify phishing emails that deviate from typical emails received by employees, and outbound scanning can identify compromised email accounts and block outbound phishing attacks on company employees and contacts.
If you want to improve your defenses against phishing, give the SpamTitan team a call today to find out more. The full product is available on a free trial, and during the trial you will have full access to the product support team who, will help you get the most out of your trial.
Ransomware attacks are soaring and phishing and email impersonation attacks are being conducted at unprecedented levels. In 2020, ransomware attacks ran amok. Security experts estimate the final cost to global businesses from ransomware in 2020 will be $20 billion. They also predict that the ransomware trend will continue to be the number one threat in the coming years. Why? Because ransomware makes money for cybercriminals.
Ransomware criminals know no boundaries in their rush to make money. Every social engineering trick in the book has played out over the years, from sextortion to phishing. Feeding the loop of social manipulation to generate a ransom demand is the proliferation of stolen data, including login credentials: credential stuffing attacks, for example, are often related to ransomware attacks, login to privileged accounts allowing malware installation. Cybersecurity defenses are being tested like never before.
Personal Data is Targeted
Large enterprises are big targets as they store vast quantities of personal data which can be used for identity theft. Retailers are being attacked to obtain credit/debit card information and attacks on hospitals provide sensitive health data that can be used for medical identity theft.
Small businesses are not such an attractive target, but they do store reasonable amounts of customer data and attacks can still be profitable. A successful attack on Walmart would be preferable, but attacks on SMBs are far easier to pull off. SMBs typically do not have the budgets to invest in cybersecurity and often leave gaps that can be easily exploited by cybercriminals.
One of the most common methods of attacking SMBs is phishing. If a phishing email makes it to an inbox, there is a reasonable chance that the message will be opened, the requested action taken and, as a result, credentials will be compromised or malware will be installed.
The 2018 KnowBe4 Phishing Industry Benchmarking Report shows that on average, the probability of an employee clicking on a malicious hyperlink or taking another fraudulent request is 27%. That means one in four employees will click a link in a phishing email or obey a fraudulent request.
Email impersonation attacks are often successful. They involve sending an email to an individual or small group in an organization with a plausible request. The sender of the message is spoofed so the email appears to have been sent from a known individual or company. The email will use a genuine email address on a known business domain. Without appropriate security controls in place, that message will arrive in inboxes and several employees are likely to click and disclose their credentials or open an infected email attachment and install malware. Most likely, they will not realize they have been scammed.
One method that can be used to prevent these spoofed messages from being delivered is to apply Domain-based Message Authentication, Reporting and Conformance (DMARC) rules. In a nutshell, DMARC consists of two technologies – Sender Policy Framework (SPF) and DomainKeys Identified Mail (DKIM).
SPF is a DNS-based filtering control that helps to identify spoofed messages. SPF sets authorized sender IP addresses on DNS servers. Recipient servers perform lookups on the SPF records to make sure that the sender IP matches one of the authorized vendors on the organization’s DNS servers. If there is a match the message is delivered. If the check fails, the message is rejected or quarantined.
DKIM involves the use of an encrypted signature to verify the sender’s identity. That signature is created using the organization’s public key and is decrypted using the private key available to the email server. DMARC rules are then applied to either reject or quarantine messages that fail authentication checks. Quarantining messages is useful as it allows administrators to check to make sure the genuine emails have not been flagged incorrectly.
Reports can be generated to monitor email activity and administrators can see the number of messages that are being rejected or dropped. A sudden increase in the number of rejected messages indicates an attack is in progress.
DMARC seems complex, but with the right setup, it’s an invaluable security tool that defends against phishing and malicious email content. With phishing one of the most common ways attackers steal data, it’s important for organizations to implement the right solutions and rules that stop these messages before they can reach a user’s inbox.
While SPF provides a certain degree of protection against email spoofing, DMARC is far more dependable. SpamTitan email security incorporates DMARC authentication to provide even greater protection against email spoofing attacks. DMARC is not a silver bullet that will stop all email impersonation and phishing attacks. It is an extra layer of security that can greatly reduce the number of threats that arrive in inboxes.
Phishing, Impersonation attacks, ransomware – all must be stopped before the point of entry and not left to be dealt with after an attack has taken hold. The use of social engineering to manipulate users, along with stolen data and credentials to propagate attacks, and adaptive tools that evade detection, makes ransomware a formidable security threat.
Endpoint protection is clearly not enough. A powerful anti-spam solution like SpamTitan can detect threats in real-time before they become an infection. Unlike traditional endpoint anti-malware, smart monitoring platforms perform real-time updates and protect against active and emerging phishing URLs and threats. Cybercriminals are masters of invention and have many tricks up their sleeve, however, businesses can fight back, but to do so, they must take real-time action.
TitanHQ’s anti-phishing and anti-spam solution – SpamTitan – incorporates DMARC to stop email impersonation attacks along with advanced anti-malware features, including a Bitdefender-powered sandbox.
For further information securing email accounts and blocking email impersonation attacks, contact TitanHQ today.
A new PayPal phishing scam has been identified that attempts to obtain an extensive amount of personal information from victims under the guise of a PayPal security alert.
Fake PayPal Email Notifications
The emails appear to have been sent from PayPal’s Notifications Center and warn users that their account has been temporarily blocked due to an attempt to log into their account from a previously unknown browser or device.
The emails include a hyperlink that users are asked to click to log in to PayPal to verify their identity. A button is included in the email which users are requested to click to “Secure and update my account now !”. The hyperlink is a shortened bit.ly address, that directs the victim to a spoofed PayPal page on an attacker-controlled domain via a redirect mechanism.
If the link is clicked, the user is presented with a spoofed PayPal login. After entering PayPal account credentials, the victim is told to enter a range of sensitive information to verify their identity as part of a PayPal Security check. The information must be entered to unlock the account, with the list of steps detailed on the page along with the progress that has been made toward unlocking the account.
First of all, the attackers request the user’s full name, billing address, and phone number. Then they are required to confirm their credit/debit card details in full. The next page requests the user’s date of birth, social security number, ATM or Debit Card PIN number, and finally the user is required to upload a proof of identity document, which must be either a scan of a credit card, passport, driver’s license, or a government-issued photo ID.
Request for Excessive Information
This PayPal phishing scam seeks an extensive amount of information, which should serve as a warning that all is not what it seems, especially the request to enter highly sensitive information such as a Social Security number and PIN.
There are also warning signs in the email that the request is not what it seems. The email is not sent from a domain associated with PayPal, the message starts with “Good Morning Customer” rather than the account holder’s name, and the notice included at the bottom of the email telling the user to mark whitelist the sender if the email was delivered to the spam folder is poorly written. However, the email has been written to encourage the recipient to act quickly to avoid financial loss. As with other PayPal phishing scams, many users are likely to be fooled into disclosing at least some of their personal information.
Consumers need to always exercise caution and should never respond immediately to any email that warns of a security breach, instead they should stop and think before acting and carefully check the sender of the email and should read the email very carefully. To check whether there is a genuine issue with the account, the PayPal website should be visited by typing in the correct URL into the address bar of the browser. URLs in emails should never be used.
To find out more about current phishing scams and some of the key protections you can put in place to improve your resilience against attacks, contact the SpamTitan team today.
Do you use the same password across online accounts?
Make your password hard to guess – use a combination of upper and lower case letters, numbers, and special characters.
Change your password frequently.
Never use the same password with more than one account. If you do and you password is stolen you are exposed and hackers could potentially gain access to every single account that that email address is associated.
If you receive one of these Paypal texts, to delete it immediately. Always read your messages before you click, or even better – don’t click on the link and contact PayPal directly.
Phishing messages can come from a range of sources, including:
Social Media messages
SpamTitan provides phishing protection to prevent whaling and spear phishing by scanning all inbound email in real-time. SpamTitan searches for key indicators in the email header, domain information, and content. SpamTitan also performs reputation analysis on all links (including shortened URLs) contained in emails and block malicious emails before being delivered to the end user. How SpamTitan protects from phishing attempts:
URL reputation analysis during scanning against multiple reputations.
Detect and block malicious spear-phishing emails with either existing or new malware.
Heuristic rules to detect phishing based on message headers. These are updated frequently to address new threats.
Easy synchronization with Active Directory and LDAP.
Spam Confidence Levels can be applied by user, user-group and domain.
Whitelisting or blacklisting senders/IP addresses.
Infinitely scalable and universally compatible.
SpamTitan checks every URL in an email against known blacklists – with 100% active web coverage. Protect your users from email links to malicious sites with SpamTitan. SpamTitan’s sandboxing feature protects against breaches and sophisticated email attacks by providing a powerful environment to run in-depth, sophisticated analysis of unknown or suspicious programs and files.
Our free trial gives you the opportunity to evaluate our industry-leading email security solution in your own environment, and your clients the opportunity to provide feedback on how effective SpamTitan is at preventing all types of malware, ransomware and phishing attacks from entering your network.
Phishing attacks are extremely complex and increasing. The best way to protect against phishing scams is with a modern, robust email security solution such as SpamTitan. SpamTitan utilizes an array of anti-phishing tools such as antivirus scanning, heuristic analysis, DMARC authentication and sandboxing. Few vendors offer all of these solutions in one package.
A PayPal phishing scam was first detected in 2019 – the scam used unusual activity alerts as a lure to get users to login to PayPal to secure their account. This is a common tactic that has been used to steal PayPal credentials before, but this campaign was different as the attackers are after much more than just account credentials. This PayPal phishing campaign stole credentials, credit card details, email addresses and passwords, and security questions and answers.
This PayPal phishing scam has mutated over the years and has proved to be one of the most dangerous to date in terms of the financial harm caused. PayPal accounts can be drained, credit cards maxed out, sensitive information can be stolen from email accounts, and email accounts can be then used for further phishing scams on the victim’s family members, friends, and contacts.
The PayPal phishing scams usually start with a warning designed to get the recipient to take immediate action to secure their account. They are informed that their PayPal account has been accessed from a new browser or device. They are told PayPal’s security controls kicked in and as a result, the user is required to login to their account to confirm their identity and remove limitations that have been placed on the account.
The email points out that PayPal could not determine whether this was a legitimate attempt to access their account from a new browser or device, or a fraudulent attempt to gain access to their PayPal Account. Either way, action is required to confirm their identity. A link is included to allow them to do that.
If the link is clicked, the user will be directed to a fake PayPal website where they are required to login to restore their account. In this first stage, PayPal account credentials are obtained. The user is then directed to a new page where they are asked to update their billing address. In addition to their address, they are also asked for their date of birth and telephone number.
The next page asks for their credit card number, security code, and expiry date, which it is claimed will mean they do not need to re-enter that information again when using PayPal. They are also then asked to confirm the details in a second step, which is an attempt to make sure no errors have been made entering credit card information.
The user is then taken to another page where they are asked for their email address and password to link it to their PayPal account. After all the information has been entered, they are told the process has been completed and their account has been secured and successfully restored.
All of these phishing pages have the feel of genuine PayPal web pages, complete with genuine PayPal logos and footers. The domains used for the scam are naturally fake but have some relevance to PayPal. The domains also have authentic SSL certificates and display the green padlock in the browser.
Security experts are still finding fake paypal websites that impersonate PayPal. Using advanced social engineering techniques they try to trick users into handing over sensitive data including log in credentials.
Read more on current phishing scams and how to prevent attacks.
IT professionals are seeing an enormous number of Covid-19 themed email phishing attacks. SpamTitan is blocking increasing levels of these phishing emails. What started out as dozens of Covid 19 phishing websites has morphed to tens of thousands – more are being identified and blocked daily. With a large percentage of the workforce working from home, cybercriminals are trying to capitalize on the heightened anxieties of the public during the current crisis.
COVID-19 phishing scams are the most sophisticated versions of phishing emails the industry has seen. Are your employees and customers aware and are they protected?
COVID-19 vaccine scams
Cybercriminals are now shifting their focus to phishing email around Covid-10 vaccines. These vaccine themed phishing emails use subject lines referencing vaccine registration, locations to receive the vaccine, how to reserve a vaccine, and vaccine requirements.
For your employees looking for vaccination information on company devices the consequences are obvious. If the user falls for the scam email they may divulge sensitive or financial information, open malicious links or attachments exposing the organization to attack. These phishing campaigns are sophisticated and may impersonate trusted entities, such as health or government agencies playing a central role in the COVID vaccination rollout.
Preventing Phishing Attacks
Naturally you should take any security warning you receive seriously, but do not take the warnings at face value. Google, PayPal, and other service providers often send security warnings to alert users to suspicious activity. These warnings may not always be genuine and that you should always exercise caution.
The golden rule? Never click links in emails.
Always visit the service provider’s site by entering the correct information into your web browser to login, and always carefully check the domain before providing any credentials.
Without the right security tools in place, organizations are vulnerable to phishing attacks. SpamTitan provides phishing protection by scanning all inbound email in real-time. SpamTitan searches for key indicators in the email header, domain information, and content and performs reputation analysis on all email links, ultimately blocking malicious emails before they reach the end-user.
SpamTitan checks every URL in an email against known blacklists – with 100% active web coverage. SpamTitan’s sandboxing feature protects against sophisticated email attacks by providing a powerful environment to run in-depth analysis of unknown or suspicious programs.
Phishing attacks are increasingly complex and growing in number. One of the most effective ways to protect against phishing scams is with a powerful email security solution such as SpamTitan. SpamTitan utilizes an array of anti-phishing tools such as antivirus scanning, heuristic analysis, DMARC authentication and sandboxing. Few vendors offer all of these solutions in one package.
To protect against advanced phishing threats you need advanced protection.
A round up of some of the phishing campaigns and phishing tactics identified over the past few days in campaigns targeting businesses in the banking and IT sectors, and individuals seeking unemployment benefits.
Fake Google ReCAPTCHA Used in Ongoing Phishing Campaigns
The use of CAPTCHA, an acronym for “Completely Automated Public Turing test to tell Computers and Humans Apart”, is now common in phishing campaigns. CAPTCHA involves an image test, such as identifying all images in a group that contain cars, a test to identify characters in a slightly obfuscated image, or simply confirming that “I am not a robot.”
The Google reCAPTCHA is used on websites to distinguish human traffic from machines to protect against abusive activities by malicious code and software. ReCAPTCHA is a sign of security and the use of this system on a website helps to inspire trust. That trust is being abused by cybercriminals who have added fake Google ReCAPTCHAs to phishing sites. This tactic is becoming much more common.
One recently identified campaign uses emails with a message about a voicemail message that impersonate company communication tools. The attachment directs the user to a phishing website where they are presented with a CAPTCHA challenge. In this campaign, the user must complete the standard ‘I am not a robot’ challenge and will then be presented with a Microsoft 365 login prompt. In addition to using Microsoft logos, the corporate logo of the company being targeted is also included. When credentials are entered, the user is told they have successfully validated and will proceed to a generic voicemail message. The lures used in these campaigns change frequently, with requests to review documents also common.
This campaigns targets business executives in the banking and IT sectors, although the same tactic has been used throughout 2020 on targets in other industry sectors.
NFA Impersonated in Phishing Campaign Targeting Member Firms
A phishing campaign has been detected targeting the financial industry which impersonates the National Futures Association (NFA). The tactics used in this campaign are common in phishing scams – Impersonating a trusted entity and abusing that trust to get individuals to install malware.
The emails in this campaign have been sent from an email address on a domain that closely resembles the legitimate NFA domain. The official NFA domain is nfa.futures.org, whereas the phishing emails have been sent from the domain nfa-futures[.]org.
The emails appear to have been sent by legitimate NFA staff members, with the signature including their name, job title, and the correct address of the office, with fake phone numbers. The signature of the email lists two websites: The official domain and also the fake domain.
As with many phishing campaigns, the recipient is told urgent action must be taken. The message says the NFA has made many attempts to contact the recipient about a matter that requires an urgent response. These emails are being used to direct individuals to malicious website or convince them to open malicious attachments with the aim of delivering malware.
Phishing Campaign Impersonates State Workforce Agencies Offering Unemployment Benefits
Cybercriminals are creating fake websites that mimic genuine state workforce agencies (SWAs) in the United States in order to steal sensitive personal information that can be used for identity theft and fraud. The tactics are similar to the above campaign, although the aim is to obtain sensitive information rather than install malware on a business network.
The state workforce agency websites that the malicious sites impersonate are used by individuals to apply for unemployment benefits. In order to receive those benefits, individuals must provide personally identifiable information. Campaigns are being conducted to impersonate these sites and trick people into believing they are on the genuine website. After landing on the malicious page, a series of questions must be answered as part of a fake application for unemployment insurance benefits.
Traffic to the fake unemployment benefit websites is generated through phishing emails and text messages that impersonate an SWA, encouraging recipients to apply for benefits. These messages have been created to closely resemble official communications, using the official logos and color schemes of each SWA, with the domain linked in the email closely resembling the official SWA website.
Solutions to Improve Defenses Against Phishing Attacks
Phishing attacks are often sophisticated and highly targeted, and tactics, techniques, and procedures continually change to bypass technical and human defenses. To stay one step ahead of the scammers, businesses need to adopt a defense in depth approach to cybersecurity and implement multiple overlapping layers of security to block threats. If phishers and hackers manage to bypass one layer of security defenses, others will be in place to provide protection.
Human defenses, such as training the workforce how to identify phishing emails is important. When a threat is encountered, employees will know how to react. It is also possible to condition employees not to take risks, such as opening emails attachments in unsolicited messages from unknown senders. The sophistication of campaigns, spoofing of email addresses, lookalike domains, and email impersonation tactics make it difficult for some phishing emails to be distinguished from genuine email communications.
Technical defenses will ensure most threats are blocked and do not reach inboxes. An email security gateway solution is a must and should also be used on Office 365 environments. The standard Office 365 spam filter is simply not good enough at blocking threats. Spam filters with machine learning capabilities and greylisting will help to ensure more threats are blocked, and multiple malware detection methods should be used, including sandboxing to detect new malware threats. A web filter should also be considered for blocking the web-based component of phishing attacks. A web filter will provide time-of click protection and prevent individuals from visiting malicious sites and downloading potentially malicious files.
For more information on improving your phishing defenses and to register for a free trial of two award-winning anti-phishing solutions, contact the TitanHQ team today.
One of the most prolific ransomware gangs has updated its ransomware giving it worm-like capabilities, allowing it to self-propagate and spread to other devices on the local network.
Ryuk ransomware first emerged in the summer of 2018 and has grown to become one of the biggest ransomware threats. The ransomware operation is believed to be run by an Eastern European threat group known as Wizard Spider, aka UNC1878.
In 2020, Ryuk ransomware was extensively used in attacks on large organizations. While some ransomware gangs took the decision not to attack healthcare organizations that were on the front line in the fight against COVID-19, that was not the case with Ryuk. In fact, the threat group embarked upon a major campaign specifically targeting the healthcare industry in the United States. In October 2020, the gang attacked 6 U.S. hospitals in a single day. If security researchers had not uncovered a plan by the gang to attack around 400 hospitals, the campaign would have claimed many more victims.
According to the ransomware remediation firm Coveware, Ryuk ransomware was the third most prolific ransomware variant in 2020 and was used in 9% of all ransomware attacks. An analysis of the Bitcoin wallets associated with the gang suggest more than $150 million in ransoms have been paid to the gang.
Ryuk ransomware is under active development and new capabilities are frequently added. The Ryuk gang was one of the first ransomware operators to adopt the double-extortion tactics first used by the operators of Sodinokibi and Maze ransomware, which involve stealing data prior to the use of encryption and threatening to publish or sell the stolen data if the ransom is not paid.
Ryuk ransomware also had a feature added that allowed it to mount and encrypt the drives of remote computers. The ransomware accesses the ARP table on a compromised device to obtain a list of IP addresses and mac addresses, and a wake-on-LAN packet is sent to the devices to power them up to allow them to be encrypted.
The latest update was discovered by the French national cybersecurity agency ANSSI during an incident response it handled in January. ANSSI discovered the latest variant had worm-like capabilities that allow it to propagate automatically and infect all machines within the Windows domain. Every reachable machine on which Windows RPC accesses are possible can be infected and encrypted.
Ryuk is a human-operated ransomware variant, but the new update will greatly reduce the manual tasks that need to be performed. This will allow the gang to conduct more attacks and will decrease the time from infection to encryption, which gives security teams even less time to identify and remediate an attack in progress.
While different methods are used for initial access, Ryuk ransomware is usually delivered by a malware dropper such as Emotet, TrickBot, Zloader, Qakbot, Buer Loader, or Bazar Loader. These malware droppers are delivered via phishing and spear phishing emails. Around 80% of Ryuk ransomware attacks use phishing emails as the initial attack vector.
Once a device has been compromised it is often too late to identify and block the attack before data theft and file encryption, especially since the attacks typically occur overnight and during the weekend when IT teams are depleted. The best defense is to block the initial attack vector: The phishing emails that deliver the malware droppers.
Having an advanced spam filtering solution in place is essential for blocking Ryuk ransomware attacks. By identifying and quarantining the phishing emails and preventing them from reaching inboxes, the malware droppers that deliver Ryuk will not be downloaded.
To block these attacks, consider augmenting your email security defenses with SpamTitan. SpamTitan is an award-winning email security gateway that is proven to block phishing emails that deliver malware downloaders. To find out more, contact the SpamTitan team or start a free trial of the solution today.
A new phishing scam has been detected targeting UK residents that spoofs the National Health Service (NHS) and offers recipients the opportunity to register to receive a COVID-19 vaccination. The NHS COVID-19 vaccine scam is one of several to be intercepted in recent weeks that offers the chance to get a vaccine, when in reality it will involve disclosing sensitive information.
Since the SARS-CoV-2 virus started spreading beyond the borders of China, scammers have been conducting a wide range of COVID-19 phishing scams. Now that the vaccine rollout is progressing in the UK and globally, using the promise of an early vaccine as a lure was to be expected.
In the latest campaign, the sender’s address has been spoofed to make it appear than the messages have been sent by the NHS, and NHS branding is used in the message body. Recipients are instructed that they have been selected to receive the vaccine based on their family and medical history.
The lure is plausible, as in the UK the most at-risk groups have mostly been vaccinated, and the NHS is now moving into priority group 6, which is all individuals aged 16 to 65 with an underlying medical condition. The NHS has also asked people to be patient and to wait until they are contacted about the vaccine to arrange an appointment, which may be via email.
The NHS COVID-19 vaccine scam emails require the recipient to click a link that directs them to a website where they are instructed to provide some information to confirm their identity. In this case, the aim of the scam is not to obtain credentials, but personal information including name, address, date of birth, and credit card details.
Phishing has become the attack vector of choice for many cybercriminal operations during the pandemic. One study indicates an increase of 667% in phishing as an attack vector, showing the extent to which cybercriminals have changed their attack tactics during the pandemic. One study by Centrify shows the number of phishing attacks had increased by 73% between March 2020 and September 2020.
Research published by the ransomware response firm Coveware shows that the volume of ransomware attacks using phishing as the infection vector increased sharpy in the final quarter of 2020, overtaking all other methods of attacks to become the main method of gaining access to business networks.
Phishing attacks are expected to continue to increase in 2021 due to the ease at which they can be conducted and the effectiveness of the campaigns. Attacks are also becoming more sophisticated and harder for employees to identify.
Spear phishing attacks that target certain companies and individuals are becoming much more prevalent. These campaigns involve prior research, and the messages are tailored to maximize the chance of a response.
With phishing so prevalent, it is vital for businesses to ensure they are sufficiently protected and have an email security solution installed that is capable to blocking these threats.
Dual AV engines and sandboxing are capable of blocking known and zero-day malware and ransomware threats, while machine learning technology and multiple threat intelligence feeds provides protection against current and emerging phishing threats.
SpamTitan significantly improves protection for Microsoft Office 365 accounts, the credentials to which are highly sought after by phishers and offers businesses excellent protection from all email-based attacks at a very affordable price.
If you want to protect your inboxes and block more malicious emails, contact TitanHQ for more information about SpamTitan. The multi-award-winning antispam solution is also available on a free trial for you to see for yourself how effective it is and how easy it is to use.
Tax season has begun and so have the annual scams targeting tax professionals. Each year in the run up to the tax filing deadline, cybercriminals conduct scams in order to obtain electronic filing identification numbers (EFINs).
In the United States, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) issues EFINS to tax professionals and individuals to allow them to file tax returns electronically. If cybercriminals obtain these EFINs they can file fraudulent tax returns in victims’ names to obtain tax rebates. Obtaining an e-file number of a tax professional will allow tax returns to be filed for many individuals, so these scams can be very lucrative.
These scams usually start with a phishing email using a lure to get the recipient to visit a malicious website where they are asked to provide information or upload documents that contain sensitive information. Alternatively, recipients are told to download files which silently install a malware downloader which ultimately gives the attackers full control of the victim’s computer.
Commonly, the spam emails spoof the IRS and instruct tax professionals to provide information or documents in order to prevent the suspension of their account. At such as busy time of year, suspension of an account is best avoided. Faced with this threat, tax professionals may provide the requested information.
One of the phishing emails recently intercepted spoofed the IRS by using the sender name “IRS Tax E-Filing,” with the subject line “Verifying your EFIN before e-filing.” The emails looked convincing and required “authorized e-file originators” to reverify prior to filing returns through the IRS system. The emails claimed the IRS had started using this new security measure to prevent unauthorized and fraudulent activities. The scammers requested a PDF file/scan of the EFIN acceptance letter and both sides of the individual’s driver’s license. Similar scams have been conducted that require tax preparers’ ID numbers and e-services usernames and passwords to be provided.
This year, in addition to the usual phishing emails spoofing the IRS, campaigns have been detected where the attackers claim to be potential clients looking for tax preparers ahead of the filing deadline. Attachments are provided that would typically be needed by tax preparers, but they are laced with malicious scripts that install keylogging malware that records and exfiltrates keystrokes, with are likely to include usernames and passwords.
Tax preparers that fall victim to these scams can suffer catastrophic damage to their reputations, so it is important to exercise caution when opening any emails and to stop and think carefully about any request to provide sensitive information or download files.
One of the easiest ways to protect against these scams is to implement an advanced spam filtering solution that can identify and block these malicious messages. SpamTitan is a powerful email security solution that identifies and blocks malware and documents containing malicious scripts with dual antivirus engines, sandboxing, and machine learning techniques. In addition to blocking malware threats, SpamTitan is highly effective at blocking phishing emails containing malicious links.
The award-winning spam filter is quick and easy to implement and maintain, requiring no technical knowledge. You can be up and running in minutes and protecting your inbox from phishing and malware attacks, which will allow you to concentrate on your business at this busy time of year and avoid costly cyberattacks.
For more information about SpamTitan, to book a product demonstration or to register for a free trail, give the SpamTitan team a call today.
Phishers regularly changes their tactics, techniques and procedures and create more convincing scams to trick employees into disclosing sensitive information or installing malware on their computers. One novel tactic that was first observed in the fall of 2020 involved the use of malformed URL prefixes. Over the following months, the number of emails sent with these atypical URL prefixes grew, and according to GreatHorn researchers, the volume of these messages increased by almost 6,000% in the first month of the year.
URLs start with either HTTP:// or HTTPS://, which are the standard URL protocols. While end users may check to see if the URL starts with HTTP or HTTPS to determine whether the connection to the website is encrypted, they may not notice or be overly concerned about what comes after the colon. That is also true of certain security solutions and browsers, which also do not check that part of the URL.
The new tactic sees one of the forward slashes swapped with a backslash, so HTTPS:// becomes HTTP:/\ and it is enough of a change to see phishing emails delivered to inboxes. This tactic has been combined with another tactic that reduces the chance of the link being identified as malicious. The URL linked in the emails directs the user to a web page that includes a reCAPTCHA security feature. This feature will be known to most internet users, as it is used by a great deal of websites and search engines to distinguish between real users and robots.
The challenge must be passed for a connection to the website to me made. Having this security feature helps to convince the visitor that they are arriving on a legitimate site, but it also stops security solutions from assessing the content of the site. If the user passes the reCAPTCHA challenge, they are then redirected to a different URL that hosts the phishing form. That webpage very closely resembles the login prompt of Office 365 or Google Workspace, with this campaign mostly targeting Office 365 credentials.
Since this new tactic is now proving popular it is worthwhile incorporating this into your security awareness training sessions to make employees aware of the need to check the URL prefix, and also add a rule in SpamTitan to block these malformed URLs.
A new Adidas phishing scam has been detected that offers free shoes and money. The messages claim that Adidas is celebrating its 93rd anniversary and is giving 3000 lucky customers a free pair of Adidas sneakers and a free $50 a month subscription.
“Adidas is giving away 3000 Free Pair of Shoes to celebrate its 93rd anniversary. Get your free shoes at <link>”
The very same scam was run in 2019 claiming to celebrate 69th anniversary and on that occasion was giving 2,500 lucky customers a free pair of Adidas sneakers and a free $50 a month subscription. The scammer saw success previously and have clearly decided it’s worth trying again.
The Scam Adidas Email
There is also an email version of the scam. The fake Adidas email claims the recipient has won a large sum of money and all they need to do to claim the cash is send their personal details via email.
A successful breach can cost an organization millions but defending against this kind of attack requires powerful anti-spam and malware technology. To defend against this kind of phishing attack you need a cutting edge email security solution to stop scam emails, a security aware workforce to identify a scam email and spot a spoof email, and powerful web protection that blocks user from accessing dangerous websites
WhatsApp phishing scam
The WhatsApp phishing scam is targeting users on mobile devices in specific locations. If the user clicks the link in the message and is determined not to be using a mobile device, they will be directed to a webpage that displays a 404 error. The scam will also only run if the user is in the United States, Pakistan, India, Norway, Sweden, Nigeria, Kenya, Macau, Belgium or the Netherlands.
Provided the user is on a mobile device and located in one of the targeted countries, a series of four questions will be asked. The responses to the questions are irrelevant as all users will be offered a “free” pair of sneakers after answering the four questions.
In order to be able to claim the prize, users must share the offer with their contacts on WhatsApp. Regardless of whether the user does this, they will be directed to another webpage where they are asked further questions and are finally offered a “free” pair of sneakers worth $199.
There is another catch. In order to claim their free sneakers, the user must pay $1. The user is advised that they will also be charged $49.99 a month for the subscription at the end of the month if they do not cancel. The user is told they can cancel at any point.
On the payment screen the user is told that the payment will be processed by organizejobs.net. Proceeding with the payment will see the user charged $1, followed by the subscription cost of $49.99 in 7 days.
The campaign is being run on WhatsApp, although similar scams have been conducted via email and SMS messages. Several variations along the same theme have also been identified spoofing different shoe manufacturers.
The link supplied in the WhatsApp phishing message appears to be genuine, using the official domain for the country in which the user is located. While the domain looks correct, this is an example of a homoglyph attack. Instead of the domain adidas.de, the i is replaced with a vertical line – a homoglyph attack.
These types of scams are commonplace. Homoglyph scams take advantage of the ability to use non-ASCII characters in domain names. Similar scams use a technique called typosquatting – where domains closely matching real brand names are registered: Incorrect spellings for instance, such as “Addidas” instead of Adidas, or with an i replaced with a 1 or an L.
In this case, the attackers appear to be earning a commission for getting users to sign up, although disclosing debit and credit card details could easily see the information used to run up huge bills or drain bank accounts.
There are various warning signs indicating this is an Adidas phishing scam. Close scrutiny of the domain will reveal it is incorrect. The need to share the message to contacts is atypical, being notified of a charge after being told the shoes are free, the failure to ask the user to choose a pair of shoes or even select their size, and an odd domain name is used to process payment. However, even with these tell-tale signs that the offer is not genuine, this adidas phishing scam is likely to fool many people.
Be warned. If you receive any unsolicited WhatsApp message offering you free goods, best to assume it is a phishing scam.
To find out more about some of the key protections you can put in place to improve your resilience against email scams and phishing attacks, contact the SpamTitan team today.
Ransomware attacks in 2020 were conducted at twice the rate of the previous year, with many organizations falling victim and having to pay large ransoms to recover their data or risk sensitive information being published or sold to cybercriminal organizations.
At the start of 2020, data exfiltration prior to the deployment of ransomware was still only being conducted by a small number of ransomware gangs, but that soon changed as the year progressed. By the end of the year, at least 17 cybercriminal gangs were using this double extortion tactic and were stealing sensitive data prior to encrypting files. Faced with the threat of publication of sensitive data, many attacked organizations felt they had little alternative other than to pay the ransom demand.
The extent of ransomware attacks in 2020 has been highlighted by various studies by cybersecurity researchers over the past few weeks. Chainalysis recently released a report that suggests more than $350 million has been paid to cybercriminals in 2020 alone, based on an analysis of the transactions to blockchain addresses known to be used by ransomware threat groups. Of course, that figure is likely to be far lower than the true total, as many companies do not disclose that they have suffered ransomware attacks. To put that figure into perspective, a similar analysis in 2019 estimated the losses to be around $90 million. Those figures are for ransom payments alone, not the cost of resolving attacks, which would be several orders of magnitude higher.
The increase in attacks can be partly attributed to the change in working practices due to the pandemic. Many companies switched from office-based working to a distributed remote workforce to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and keep their employees protected. The rapid change involved hastily implementing remote access solutions to support those workers which introduced vulnerabilities that were readily exploited by ransomware gangs.
Most Ransomware Attacks Now Start with Phishing
Throughout 2020, phishing was commonly used as a way to gain access to corporate networks, accounting for between 25% and 30% of all ransomware attacks, but new data released by the ransomware attack remediation firm Coveware shows the attack methods changed in the last quarter of 2020. As companies and organizations addressed vulnerabilities in remote access solutions and VPNs and improved their defenses, phishing became the most common attack method. Coveware’s analysis shows that in the final quarter of 2020, more than 50% of ransomware attacks started with a phishing email.
Ransomware can be delivered directly through phishing emails, although it is more common to use intermediary malware. The most commonly used malware variants for distributing ransomware are Trojans such as Emotet and TrickBot, both of which are extensively delivered via phishing emails. These malware variants are also capable of self-propagating and spreading to other devices on the network.
Access to compromised devices is then sold to ransomware gangs, who access the devices, steal sensitive data, then deploy their ransomware payload. The Emotet botnet played a large role in ransomware attacks in 2020, and while it has now been disrupted following a joint law enforcement operation, other malware variants are certain to take its place.
The same report also highlighted the nature of businesses attacked with ransomware. Far from the gangs targeting large enterprises with deep pockets, most attacks are on small- to medium-sized businesses with under 250 employees. 30.2% of attacks were on businesses with between 11 and 100 employees, with 35.7% on businesses with 101 to 1,000 employees. Healthcare organizations, professional services firms, and financial services companies have all been targeted and commonly fall victim to attacks, although no sector is immune.
70% of ransomware attacks now involve data theft prior to encryption, so even if backups exist and can be used to restore data, it may not be possible to avoid paying the ransom. There is also a growing trend for data to be permanently deleted, which leaves businesses with no way of recovering data after a ransomware attack.
Steps to Take to Block Ransomware Attacks
What all businesses and organizations need to do is to make it as hard as possible for the attacks to succeed. While there is no single solution for blocking ransomware attacks, there are measures that can be taken that make it much harder for the attacks to succeed.
With most ransomware attacks now starting with a phishing email, an advanced email security solution is a must. By deploying best-of-breed solutions such as SpamTitan to proactively protect the Office365 environment it will be much easier to block threats than simply relying on Office 365 anti-spam protections, which are commonly bypassed to deliver Trojans and ransomware.
A web filtering solution can provide protection against ransomware delivered over the internet, including via links sent in phishing emails. Multi-factor authentication should be implemented for email accounts and cloud apps, employees should be trained how to identify threats, and monitoring systems should be implemented to allow attacks in progress to be detected and mitigated before ransomware is deployed.
DMARC email authentication is an important element of phishing defenses, but what is DMARC email authentication, what does it do, and how does it protect against email impersonation attacks?
There is some confusion about what DMARC email authentication is and what it can do. In this post we explain in clear English what DMARC means and why it should be part of your anti-phishing defenses.
What is DMARC
DMARC is short for Domain-based Message Authentication, Reporting, and Conformance. Its purpose is to make it harder for threat actors to conduct phishing attacks that spoof brands and get those messages delivered to inboxes. DMARC is a critical component of email cybersecurity that reduces an attacker’s ability to get email threat to an end user’s inbox.
With DMARC, organizations can create a record of who is authorized to send emails from their domain. This helps to prevent misuse of a company brand in phishing campaigns.
If DMARC is implemented on email, a business can have all incoming emails checked against DMARC records and any email that fails the check can be subjected to certain actions.
The message can be delivered as normal with a warning and the email will be included in a report of emails that failed the check. The message could automatically be sent to quarantine for manual approval before delivery is made. Alternatively, the message could be rejected or subjected to a custom policy. An organization can select the best policy to adopt based on their level of risk tolerance.
DMARC will not stop all phishing emails from being delivered, but it is an important measure to implement to stop email spoofing and reduce the number of phishing emails that reach inboxes. DMARC is just one of several rules that are used to determine whether emails are genuine and should be delivered or if the messages have been sent from an unauthorized user.
Sender Policy Framework (SPF), DomainKeys Identified Mail (DKIM), and DNS records are also used to determine whether the email server being used is authorized to send emails for the organization.
What is Sender Policy Framework (SPF)
The Sender Policy Framework (SPF) is an email-authentication technique used to restrict who can send emails from your domain. It allows your mail server determine when a message comes from the domain that it uses. SPF has three major elements: a policy framework, an authentication method and specialized headers to convey the information.
An email message contains two sender addresses:
The From:header, displaying the name and email address of the sender
The Envelope From:or Return-Path email address.
Both types of sender addresses can be easily spoofed.
SPF uses a DNS record to verify the Envelope From:only. This means that if a spammer spoofs the Envelope From: address using a domain where SPF is enabled, the mail will be caught by the receiving server. If the spammer spoofs the From: header, SPF will not catch this. The SPF record indicates which email servers are authorized to send mail on behalf of a domain. This would be the organization itself and any third parties, such as marketing companies. The SPF record is a DNS TXT record that includes IP addresses and hostnames that are allowed to send emails from a particular domain. The SPF record is the first thing checked by DMARC rules.
Together with the DMARC related information, this gives the receiver (or receiving systems) information on how trustworthy the origin of an email is. SPF is, just like DMARC, an email authentication technique that uses DNS (Domain Name Service). This gives you, as an email sender, the ability to specify which email servers are permitted to send email on behalf of your domain.
DKIM is more advanced and uses a TXT record and asymmetric public-private key encryption. With DMARC enabled, the signature is encrypted with the public key and the key is published on DNS servers. The domain’s private key is then used at the recipient’s email server for verification.
If DKIM is enabled, the public key-encrypted signature is compared with the message that is decrypted using a newly generated key to confirm that the message has not been altered. DKIM also confirms that the sender is from the listed domain and that the sender has not been spoofed.
DMARC offers a much greater level of protection than SPF and is more dependable, so both should be implemented. Both SPF and DMARC are incorporated into SpamTitan to better protect users from email spoofing attacks. Enabling SPF, DKIM and DMARC will help greatly reduce the amount of spoof emails recieved, and that is only good.
The notorious Emotet botnet, which has been used in extensive attacks on companies around the globe for many years, has been taken down as part of a coordinated effort by Europol, the FBI, the UK National Crime Agency, and other law enforcement agencies.
The threat actors behind Emotet used their malware to create a backdoor in the systems of many companies, with access then sold to other threat groups to conduct further malicious activities including stealing sensitive data and extortion through the deployment of ransomware.
The operation has been planned for around two years and was coordinated to ensure that the multi-country infrastructure was simultaneously taken down to disrupt any attempts by the threat group to reconstruct the network. Law enforcement agencies have seized control of hundreds of servers and have taken control of the entire Emotet infrastructure, in what will be seen by many to be the most important malware takedowns to date. The takedown has prevented the Emotet gang from communicating with the malware and has resulted in the loss of control of the army of compromised devices that make up the botnet.
Europol and its partners succeeded in mapping the entire infrastructure, took control of the network, and deactivated the Emotet Trojan. A software update was placed on the main servers used to control the malware, two of which were located in the Netherlands. Infected computer systems will retrieve the update, which will see Emotet Trojan on those systems quarantined.
The Most Dangerous Malware and Most Prolific Botnet
Emotet is arguably the most dangerous malware of recent years and the botnet used to distribute it is one of the most prolific. Around 30% of all malware attacks in 2020 involved the Emotet Trojan.
Phishing emails were used to deliver the Emotet Trojan. Massive phishing campaigns were conducted using a wide range of lures to trick recipients into opening malicious attachments or visiting websites that downloaded the Emotet Trojan. The lures used in the campaigns frequently changed, taking advantage of world events to maximize the probability of the attachments being opened.
Emotet started life as a banking Trojan but was later developed to also serve as a malware dropper. Emotet delivered other banking Trojans such as TrickBot as the secondary malware payload, and ransomware variants such as Ryuk – each of which were dangerous in their own right.
Devices infected with Emotet are added to the botnet and used to distribute copies of the Emotet Trojan to other devices on the network and the user’s contacts by hijacking the user’s email account. A single device on a corporate network that was infected with Emotet could quickly result in widespread infection. The Trojan was also particularly difficult to eradicate, as removal of the infection would only be temporary, with other devices on the network simply re-infecting the cleaned device.
In the leadup to the 2020 Presidential election in the United States, Microsoft and its partners succeeded in seizing control of some of the infrastructure used to control and distribute the TrickBot Trojan. In that case the operation was only temporarily successful, as the TrickBot gang was able to rapidly recover and restore its infrastructure.
Time will tell as to how successful the Emotet takedown has been and whether the operation has only temporarily disrupted the activities of the Emotet gang or whether the takedown has left it completely crippled.
A new phishing campaign has been identified that abuses the Windows Finger command to download a malware variant called MineBridge.
The Finger command in Windows can be used by a local user to obtain a list of users on a remote machine or, alternatively, to obtain information about a specific remote user. The Finger utility originated in Linux and Unix operating systems but is also included in Windows. The utility allows commands to be executed to find out whether a particular user is logged on, although this is now rarely used.
There are also security concerns with the finger utility, and it has been abused in the past to find out basic information about users that can be targeted in social engineering attacks. Vulnerabilities in the finger protocol have also been exploited in the past by some malware variants.
Recently, security researchers discovered Finger can be used as a LOLBin to download malware from a remote server or to exfiltrate data without triggering alerts from security solutions. Finger is now being used in at least one phishing campaign to download malware.
MineBridge malware is a Windows backdoor written in C++ that has previously been used in attacks on South Korean companies. The malware was first identified in December 2020 by researchers at FireEye and in January 2020 several campaigns were identified distributing the malware via phishing emails with malicious Word attachments.
The latest campaign sees the attackers impersonate a recruitment company. The email is a recommendation of a candidate for consideration for a position at the targeted firm. The sender recommends even if there are no current openings, the CV should be checked, and the candidate considered. The email is well written and believeable.
As is common in phishing campaigns, if the document is opened a message will be displayed that tells the user the document has been created in an old version of Windows and to view the content the user needs to ‘enable editing’ and then ‘enable content’. Doing so will run the macro, which will fetch and download a Base64 encoded certificate using the Finger command. The certificate is a malware downloader that used DLL hijacking to sideload the MineBridge backdoor. Once installed, MineBridge will give the attacker control over an infected device and allow a range of malicious actions to be performed.
It is easiest to block attacks like this by installing an advanced spam filtering solution to block the malicious emails and prevent them from reaching inboxes. As an additional protection against this and other campaigns that abuse the Finger.exe utility in Windows, admins should consider disabling finger.exe if it is never used.
Phishing scams can be difficult for employees to identify. The emails provide a plausible reason for taking a certain action, such as clicking a link in an email. The websites that users are directed to are virtually indistinguishable from the genuine websites that the scammers spoof and credentials are commonly captured.
The pandemic has seen increasing numbers of employees working from home and accessing their company’s cloud applications remotely. Businesses are now much more reliant on email for communication than when employees were all office based. Cybercriminals have been taking advantage and have been targeting remote workers with phishing scams and many of these attacks have been successful.
Employees often receive training on cybersecurity and are told to be wary of emails that have been sent from unknown individuals, but many still open the emails and take the requested action. The emails often spoof an individual that is known to the recipient, which increases the likelihood of that email being opened. It is also common for well known brands to be impersonated in phishing attacks, with the attackers exploiting trust in that brand.
A recent analysis of phishing emails by Check Point revealed the most commonly impersonated brand in phishing attacks over the past 3 months is Microsoft, which is not surprising given the number of businesses using Office 365. The study revealed 43% of phishing attempts that mimic brands impersonate Microsoft.
Microsoft credentials are then captured in these attacks and are used to remotely access accounts. The data stored in a single email account can be substantial. There have been many healthcare phishing attacks that have seen a single account compromised that contained the sensitive data of tens of thousands or even hundreds of thousands of patients. These phishing emails are often only the first step in a multi-stage attack that gives the threat actors the foothold they need for a much more extensive attack on the organization, often resulting in the theft of large amounts of data and ending with the deployment of ransomware.
Microsoft is far from the only brand impersonated. The analysis revealed DHL to be the second most impersonated brand. DHL-based phishing attacks use failed delivery notifications and shipping notices as the lure to get individuals to either disclose sensitive information such as login credentials or open malicious email attachments that download malware. 18% of all brand impersonation phishing attacks involve the impersonation of DHL. This makes sense as the phishers target businesses and especially during a pandemic when there is increased reliance on courier companies.
Other well-known brands that are commonly impersonated include PayPal and Chase to obtain account credentials, LinkedIn to allow professional networking accounts to be compromised, and Google and Yahoo are commonly impersonated to obtain account credentials. Attacks spoofing Amazon, Rakuten, and IKEA also make the top 10 most spoofed brand list.
Phishers mostly target business users as their credentials are far more valuable. Businesses therefore need to ensure that their phishing defenses are up to scratch. Security awareness training for employees is important but given the realistic nature of phishing emails and the plausibility of the lures used, it is essential for more reliable measures to be implemented to block phishing attacks.
Top of the list of anti-phishing measures should be an advanced spam filter. Many businesses rely on the spam filtering capabilities of Office 365, but this only provides a level of protection. The default spam filter in Office 365 is not particularly effective at blocking sophisticated phishing attacks. Businesses that rely on Microsoft’s Exchange Online Protection (EOP) see many phishing emails delivered to inboxes where they can be opened by employees.
To better protect against phishing attacks, a third-party spam filter should be layered on top of Office 365. SpamTitan has been developed to provide enhanced protection for businesses that use Office 365. The solution implements seamlessly with Office 365 and the solution is easy to implement and maintain. The result will be far greater protection from phishing attacks and other malicious emails that employees struggle to identify.
For further information on SpamTitan, to register for a free trial, and for details of pricing, give the TitanHQ team a call today.
A Trump-themed phishing campaign has been detected that attempts to deliver the Qnode Remote Access Trojan (QRAT) under the guise of a video file that appears to be a Donald Trump sex tape.
QRAT is a Java-based RAT that was first detected in 2015 that has been used in several phishing campaigns over the years, with an uptick in distribution observed from August 2020. Interestingly, the malicious file attachment – named “TRUMP_SEX_SCANDAL_VIDEO.jar” – bears no relation to the phishing email body and subject line, which offers a loan as an investment for a dream project or business plan. The subject line is “GOOD LOAN OFFER,” and the sender claims a loan will be provided if there is a good return on the investment and between $500,000 and $100 million can be provided. It is unclear whether an error has been made and the wrong file attachment was added to the email or if this was a deliberate mismatching of a malicious .jar file. While the emails are unlikely to fool many end users, there may be enough interest in the video to pique the interest of some recipients.
The phishing campaign does appear to be poorly constructed, but the same cannot be said of the malware the campaign attempts to deliver. The version of QRAT delivered in this campaign is more sophisticated than previously detected versions, with several improvements made to evade security solutions. For instance, the malicious code used as the QRAT downloader is obfuscated and split across several different buffers within the .jar file.
Phishing campaigns often take advantage of interest in popular new stories and the Presidential election, allegations of election fraud, and recent events at Capitol Hill have seen President Trump trending. It is likely that this will not be the only Trump-themed phishing campaign to be conducted over the next few days and months.
This campaign appears to target businesses, where the potential returns from a malware infection is likely to be far higher than an attack on consumers. Blocking threats such as this is easiest with an advanced email security solution capable of detecting known and new malware variants.
SpamTitan is an advanced, cost-effective spam filtering for businesses and the leading cloud-based spam filter for managed service providers serving the SMB market. SpamTitan incorporates dual anti-virus engines to identify known malware threats, and a Bitdefender-powered sandbox to identify zero-day malware. The solution also supports the blocking of risky file types such as JARs and other executable files.
SpamTitan is also effective at blocking phishing emails without malicious attachments, such as emails with hyperlinks to malicious websites. The solution has multiple threat detection features that can identify and block spam and email impersonation attacks and machine learning technology and multiple threat intelligence feeds that provide protection against zero-minute phishing attacks.
One of the main reasons why the solution is such as popular choice with SMBs and MSPs is the ease of implementation, use, and maintenance. SpamTitan takes the complexity out of email security to allow IT teams to concentrate on other key tasks.
SpamTitan is the most and top-rated email security solution on Capterra, GetApp and Software Advice, is a top three solution in the three email security categories on Expert Insights and has been a leader in the G2 Email Security grids for 10 consecutive quarters.
If you want a spam filtering solution that is effective and easy to use, look no further than SpamTitan. For more information, give the TitanHQ team a call. SpamTitan is also available on a free trial to allow you to evaluate the solution in your own environment before deciding on a purchase.
The threat from phishing is ever present and phishing remains the leading cause of data breaches. All it takes is for one employee to fall for a phishing email for threat actors to gain the foothold they need to conduct more extensive attacks on the organization. But how common is phishing? In this post we provide some key 2020 phishing statistics to raise awareness of the threat and highlight the need for businesses to rethink their current phishing defenses.
2020 Phishing Statistics
Phishing is the easiest way for cybercriminals to gain access to sensitive data and distribute malware. Little skill or effort is required to conduct a successful phishing campaign and steal credentials or infect users with malware. The latest figures show that in 2020, 22% of reported data breaches started with a phishing email and some of the largest data breaches in history have started with a phishing attack, including the 78.8 million record data breach at the health insurer Anthem Inc., and the massive Home Depot data breach in 2014 that saw the email addresses of 53 million individuals stolen.
Phishing can be conducted over the phone, via SMS, social media networks, or instant messaging platforms, but email is most commonly used. Around 96% of all phishing attacks occur via email. Successful phishing attacks result in the loss of data, theft of credentials, or the installation of malware and ransomware. The cost of resolving the incidents and resultant data breaches is substantial. The 2020 Cost of a Data Breach Report by the Ponemon Institute/IBM Security revealed the average cost of a data breach is around $150 per compromised record with a total cost of $3.86 million per breach. A single spear phishing attack costs around $1.6 million to resolve.
Employees may believe they are able to spot phishing emails, but data from security awareness training companies show that in many cases, that confidence is misplaced. One study in 2020 revealed that 30% of end users opened phishing emails, 12% of users clicked a malicious link or opened the attachment in the email, and one in 8 users then shared sensitive data on phishing websites. Bear in mind that 78% of users claimed that they know they shouldn’t open email attachments from unknown senders or click links in unsolicited emails.
The 2020 phishing statistics show phishing and spear phishing are still incredibly common and that phishing attacks often succeed. Another study revealed 85% of companies have fallen victim to a phishing attack at least once. Phishing websites are constantly being created and used in these scams. Once a URL is confirmed as malicious and added to a blacklist, it has often already been abandoned by the threat actors. In 2020, around 1.5 million new phishing URLs were identified every month.
2020 has seem a massive increase in ransomware attacks. While manual ransomware attacks often see networks compromised by exploiting vulnerabilities in firewalls, VPNs, RDP, and networking equipment, ransomware is also delivered via email. Since 2016, the number of phishing emails containing ransomware has increased by more than 97%.
How to Detect and Block Phishing Threats
Tackling phishing and preventing successful attacks requires a defense in depth approach. An advanced spam filtering solution is a must to prevent phishing emails from reaching inboxes. Companies that use Office 365 often rely on the protections provided as standard with their licenses, but studies have shown that the basic level of protection provided by Microsoft’s Exchange Online Protection (EOP) is insufficient and average at best and phishing emails are often not detected. A third-party, solution is recommended to layer on top of Office 365 – One that incorporates machine learning to identify never before seen phishing threats. The solution should use email authentication protocols such as DMARC, DKIM, and SPF to identify and block email impersonation attacks and outbound scanning to identify compromised mailboxes.
End user training is also important. In the event of a phishing email arriving in an inbox, employees should be trained to identify it as such and be conditioned into reporting the threat to their IT team to ensure action can be taken to remove all instances of the threat from the email system. Web filters are also important for blocking the web-based component of phishing attacks and preventing employees from visiting phishing URLs. Multi-factor authentication on email accounts is also essential. In the event of credentials being stolen, MFA will help to ensure that the credentials cannot be used to access email accounts.
Cybercriminals are leveraging interest in COVID-19 vaccination programs and are conducting a range of COVID-19 vaccine phishing scams with the goal of obtaining sensitive data such as login credentials or to distribute malware. Several government agencies in the United States have recently issued warnings to businesses and consumers about the scams including the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Inspector General and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, and law enforcement agencies such as the FBI.
COVID-19 vaccine scams can take many forms. Campaigns have already been detected that offer early access to COVID-19 vaccines. These scams require a payment to be made as a deposit or a fee to get to the top of the waiting list. Other scams offer the recipients a place on the waiting list if they apply and provide personal information.
COVID-19 vaccine phishing scams are being conducted via email; however, it is likely that fraudsters will advertise on websites, social media channels, or conduct scams over the telephone or via SMS messages and instant messaging platforms. While many of these scams target consumers, there is potential for businesses to be affected if employees access their personal emails at work or if the scam emails are sent to work email addresses.
Scam emails often include links to websites where information is harvested. These links may be hidden in email attachments to hide them from email security solutions. Office documents are also commonly used for delivering malware, via malicious macros.
The emails typically impersonate trusted entities or individuals. COVID-19 vaccine scam emails are likely to impersonate healthcare providers, health insurance companies, vaccine centers, and federal, state, or local public health authorities. During the pandemic there have been many cases of fraudsters impersonating the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO) in Covid-19 related phishing scams.
The U.S. Department of Justice recently announced that two domains have been seized that impersonated vaccine developers. The domains were virtual carbon copies of the legitimate websites of two biotechnology companies involved in vaccine development. The malicious content has been removed, but there are likely to be many more domains registered and used in COVID-19 vaccine phishing scams over the coming weeks.
Warnings have also been issued about the risk of ransomware attacks that take advantage of interest in COVID-19 vaccines and provide the attackers with the foothold in networks they need to conduct their attacks.
There are four important steps that businesses can take to reduce to risk of falling victim to these scams. Since email is extensively used, it is essential to have an effective spam filtering solution in place. Spam filters use blacklists of malicious email and IP addresses to block malicious emails, but since new IP addresses are constantly being used in these scams, it is important to choose a solution that incorporates machine learning. Machine learning helps to identify phishing threats from IP addresses that have not previously been used for malicious purposes and to identify and block zero-day phishing threats. Sandboxing is also important for identifying and blocking zero-day malware threats that have yet to have their signatures incorporated into the virus definition lists of antivirus engines.
While spam filters can identify and block emails that contain malicious links, a web filtering solution is also recommended. Web filters are used to control the websites that employees can access and prevent visits to malicious websites through general web browsing, redirects, and clicks on malicious links in emails. Web filters are constantly updated via threat intelligence feeds to provide protection against recently discovered malicious URLs.
Businesses should not neglect end user training and should regularly provide refresher training to employees to help them identify phishing threats and malicious emails. Phishing simulation exercises are also beneficial for evaluating the effectiveness of security awareness training.
Multi-factor authentication should also be applied as a last line of defense. In the event of credentials being compromised, multi-factor authentication will help to ensure that stolen credentials cannot be used to remotely access accounts.
With these measures implemented, businesses will be well protected from malware, COVID-19 vaccine phishing scams, and other phishing threats.
For further information on spam filtering, web filtering, and protecting your business from malware and phishing attacks, give the TitanHQ team a call today.
Recently, a new technique has been identified that is being used by hackers to conduct cross-site scripting attacks from within PDF files.
PDF files have long been used by hackers for phishing attacks and malware delivery. Oftentimes, emails are sent with PDF file attachments that contain hyperlinks to malicious websites. By adding these links into the files rather than the body of the email message, it is harder for security solutions to identify those malicious links.
The latest attack method also uses PDF files, but instead of tricking employees into revealing their login credentials or visiting a malicious website where malware is downloaded, the attackers attempt to obtain sensitive information contained in PDF files.
The technique is similar to those used to by hackers in web application attacks. Cross-site scripting attacks – or XXS attacks for short – typically involve injecting malicious scripts into trusted websites and applications. When a user visits a website or a hacked application, the script executes. The scripts give the attackers access to user information such as cookies, session tokens, and sensitive data saved in browsers, such as passwords. Since the website or application is trusted, the web browser will not recognize the script as malicious. These attacks are possible in websites and web applications where user input is used to generate output without properly validating or encoding it.
What sort of data could be captured in such an attack? A substantial amount of sensitive data is contained in PDF files. PDF files are used extensively for reports, statements, logs, e-tickets, receipts, boarding passes, and much more. PDF files may contain passport numbers, driver’s license numbers, bank account information, and a range of other sensitive data. The presenters at the conference explained they found some of the largest libraries of PDF files worldwide were sensitive to XXS attacks.
In the most part, the vulnerabilities in PDF files that allow XXS attacks are not due to the PDF files themselves, but improper coding. If PDF libraries fail to properly parse code of escape characters and allow unprotected formats, they will be vulnerable. Fortunately, Adobe released an update on December 9 which prevents this type of security vulnerability from being exploited, although companies that create PDF files must update their software and apply the update to be protected.
This is just one way that malicious attachments can be used to obtain sensitive information. As previously mentioned, malicious macros are commonly added to office documents, executable files are added as attachments to emails and masquerade as legitimate files, and malicious code can be injected into a range of different file types.
One of the best ways to protect against attacks via email using malicious attachments is to use an advanced email security solution that can detect not just known malware but also never-before-seen malicious code. This is an area where SpamTitan Email Security excels.
SpamTitan incorporates dual anti-virus engines (Bitdefender/ClamAV) to catch known malware threats and sandboxing to identify malicious code that has been added to email attachments. Files are subjected to in-depth analysis in the security of the sandbox and are checked for any malicious actions.
To find out more about protecting your organization from malicious emails and malware, give the TitanHQ team a call.
The healthcare industry in the United States has long been targeted by cybercriminals seeking access to sensitive patient data. Patient data is a valuable commodity, as it can be used for a multitude of fraudulent purposes including identity theft, tax fraud, insurance fraud, and blackmail and understandably has a high black market value.
Some of the largest healthcare data breaches ever reported have started with a phishing attack, including the 78.8 million-record data breach at the health insurer Anthem Inc. and the cyberattack on Premera Blue Cross, another U.S. health insurer, which affected around 11 million individuals, both of which were reported in 2015.
While healthcare data breaches on the scale of Anthem’s have been avoided since, large phishing-related breaches are still occurring. The latest phishing-related data breach to be reported by a U.S. health insurer resulted in the exposure of the health records of almost 500,000 Aetna health plan members.
The phishing attack saw the attackers gain access to the email system of a business associate of Aetna. EyeMed manages vision benefits services for the health insurer and has several other healthcare clients. The compromised account contained highly sensitive information such as names, addresses, dates of birth, and full or partial Social Security numbers – information that is extremely valuable to phishers and identity thieves. In total, the records of 484,157 Aetna members were potentially compromised, along with the data of 60,000 members of Tufts Health Plan, and around 1,000 members of Blue Cross Blue Shield of Tennessee. While it was not the largest healthcare data breach of 2020, it does rank in the top 10 healthcare data breaches of the year.
Unfortunately, healthcare industry phishing attacks involving the exposure and/or theft of more than 100,000 patient records are far from unusual. There have been more than a dozen such breaches reported by healthcare organizations and their business associates in 2020, and several dozen smaller phishing attacks.
The healthcare industry is extensively targeted and is vulnerable to phishing attacks. Unfortunately, all it takes is for one employee to respond to a phishing email for their account to be compromised. Emails often contain personal and protected health information and can be downloaded by the attackers, and the compromised account can be used to send further phishing emails to other employees in the organization. In addition to gaining access to multiple email accounts, phishing can give attackers the foothold they need for a more extensive compromise, as was the case with the Anthem and Premera data breaches.
According to a report released by the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS), its survey of healthcare cybersecurity professionals revealed 57% had experienced a successful phishing attack in the past year.
Securing the email system can be a challenge in healthcare and preventing phishing attacks is a constant struggle. Unfortunately, while there are excellent email security solutions available that will ensure the vast majority of phishing emails are blocked, it is not possible to deploy a single solution and prevent all phishing attacks from succeeding. What is required is a layered approach to phishing defenses. With multiple layers of protection, if one layer fails to block a threat, others will help to ensure the threat is blocked.
At the heart of phishing defenses should be an advanced machine-learning/AI-based anti-phishing solution such as SpamTitan. SpamTitan itself provides multiple layers of protection to block known phishing threats, while the machine-learning components identify new phishing threats that have yet to be seen. SpamTitan also incorporates multiple measures to identify and block email impersonation attacks, has a data loss protection feature, and anti-malware capabilities that block both known and zero-day malware threats.
A web filter is an often-overlooked anti-phishing measure. Web filters target the web-based component of phishing attacks and provide time-of-click protection to stop employees from visiting phishing websites via links in malicious emails.
As Microsoft pointed out in a summer blog post this year, multi-factor authentication is a must. Multi-factor authentication kicks in when credentials are obtained in phishing attacks and stops those credentials from being used to access email accounts. MFA can block more than 99.9% of attacks using compromised credentials.
End user training should also not be neglected. Conditioning employees how to recognize phishing emails and respond appropriately is essential, not just for cybersecurity but also HIPAA compliance.
These measures can be the difference between a successfully thwarted attack and a costly data breach, and the cost of implementing these solutions is cheaper than many people think. To find out more, give the TitanHQ team a call.
After a 2-month break, the Emotet botnet is back up and running and has been observed conducting a phishing email campaign that is delivering between 100,000 and 50,0000 messages to inboxes a day.
Emotet first appeared in 2014 and started life as a banking Trojan; however, over the years the malware has evolved. While Emotet remains a banking Trojan, it is now best known as a malware downloader that is used to deliver a range of secondary payloads. The malware payloads it delivers also act as malware downloaders, so infection with Emotet often results in multiple malware infections, with ransomware often delivered as the final payload.
Once Emotet is installed on an endpoint it is added to the Emotet botnet and is used for spam and phishing campaigns. Emotet sends copies of itself via email to the user’s contacts along with other self-propagation mechanisms to infect other computers on the network. Emotet can be difficult to eradicate from the network. Once one computer is cleaned, it is often reinfected by other infected computers on the network.
Emotet often goes dormant for several weeks or even months, but even with long gaps in activity, Emotet is still the biggest malware threat. Emotet went dormant around February 2020, with activity resuming five months later in July. Activity continued until late October when activity stopped once again until Tuesday this week when it returned in time for Christmas. In 2020, Emotet has been observed delivering TrickBot and other payloads such as Qakbot and ZLoader.
During the periods of inactivity, the threat actors behind the malware are not necessarily inactive, they just stop their distribution campaigns. During the breaks they update their malware and returned with a new and improved version that is more effective at evading defenses.
The latest campaign uses similar tactics to past campaigns to maximize the probability of end users opening a malicious Office document. The phishing emails are usually personalized to make them appear more authentic, with Emotet using hijacked message threats with malicious content inserted. Since the emails appear to be responses to past conversations between colleagues and contacts, there is a greater chance that the recipient will open the email attachment or click a malicious hyperlink.
This campaign favors password-protected files, with the password to open the file supplied in the message body of the email. Since email security solutions cannot open these files, it is more likely that they will be delivered to inboxes. The malicious documents delivered in this campaign contain malicious macros. If the macros are enabled – which the user is told is necessary to view the content of the document – Emotet will be downloaded, after which the TrickBot Trojan will be delivered, usually followed by a ransomware variant such as Ryuk.
Previous campaigns have not displayed any additional content when the macros are enabled; however, this campaign displays an error message after the macros have been enabled instructing the user that Word experienced an error opening the file. This is likely to make the user believe the Word document has been corrupted. A variety of themes are used for the emails, with the latest campaign using holiday season and COVID-19 related lures.
An analysis by Cofense identified several changes in the latest campaign, including switching the malware binary from an executable (.exe) file to a Dynamic Link Library (.dll) file, which is executed using rundll32.exe. The command-and-control infrastructure has been changed and now uses binary data rather than plain text, both of which make the malware harder to detect.
Businesses need to be particularly vigilant and should act quickly if infections are detected and should take steps to ensure their networks are protected with anti-virus software, security policies, spam filters, and web filters.
The COVID-19 pandemic has forced businesses to reassess working practices and adapt to a new way of working, where employees no longer come to the office and instead work remotely. With COVID-19 vaccines on the way, businesses will soon be able to return to “a normal workplace.” However, many employees have got used to working from home and enjoy not having to commute and businesses have already put the effort into making sure their workforce can work effectively from home. Many businesses also report that there have been benefits, such as increases in productivity.
Once the pandemic is over it is likely that the normal workplace will be different from how it was before the pandemic. Many businesses have already stated they will adopt a hybrid workplace model, where employees can spend at least some of the week working remotely.
One of the problems with remote working is how to ensure that threats are dealt with effectively. Throughout the pandemic, cybercriminals and nation state hackers have targeted remote workers who are seen as an easy way to gain access to sensitive data and business networks. One of the ways that this is achieved is through phishing attacks.
One recent study, conducted by the security awareness training firm Terranova Security, explored how remote workers performed at detecting phishing emails and compared the results to phishing simulations conducted before the pandemic.
The company hosted a global ‘Gone Phishing Tournament’ with participants from 98 countries taking part over 11 days in October. Simulated phishing emails were sent to employees that mirrored real world phishing scenarios and responses were tracked, including clicks on suspicious links and any information entered into the webpages that users were directed to.
An analysis of the results revealed a significant year-over-year increase in click rates, which in a real-world scenario would mean that their credentials would have been stolen or they would have downloaded malware onto their computers.
20% of respondents quickly clicked phishing links in emails, compared to 11% before the pandemic. Worryingly, 67% of those who clicked revealed their login credentials on the fake phishing web pages compared to just 2% before the pandemic.
Naturally, the findings show just how important it is to provide ongoing security awareness training to the workforce to condition employees to check for the signs of phishing emails and teach them how to spot scams. They also highlight just how important it is to have an effective anti-spam solution that prevents the vast majority of phishing and scam emails from reaching inboxes where they can easily be clicked without thinking.
TitanHQ can’t help your business train your workforce how to recognize phishing emails and become more security conscious. That requires a commitment to training and phishing simulation exercises. TitanHQ can however help by ensuring phishing emails are not delivered to inboxes where they can attract a click.
TitanHQ developed SpamTitan to protect businesses from phishing and malware attacks via email, even sophisticated email-based attacks. SpamTitan incorporates many layers of protection such as blacklists of known spammers, message header analysis, content analysis, threat intelligence feeds, DMARC and SPF, and a machine learning system that can detect zero-day phishing attacks. Malware protection is provided by dual antivirus engines and sandboxing to identify never-before seen malware threats.
These and other protection mechanisms ensure that 99.97% of threats are detected and blocked, which helps reduce reliance on security awareness training and employees identifying phishing emails.
SpamTitan is an ideal solution for small- to medium-sized businesses and managed service providers serving the SMB market. Contact TitanHQ today to find out more about the solution, how cost-effective SpamTitan is, and how easy the solution is to implement, use, and maintain. Also be sure to check out the customer reviews on Capterra, GetApp and Software Advice, Google Reviews, Expert Insights, and G2 Crowd, where the solution consistently achieves high scores and, in many cases, is the top-rated email security solution.
Banking Trojans have long posed a threat to businesses, but one in particular has stood head and shoulders above the rest in 2020: The Emotet Trojan.
Emotet: The Biggest Malware Threat in 2020
The Emotet Trojan first appeared in 2014 and was initially a banking Trojan, which was used to steal sensitive data such as bank account information from browsers when the user logs into their bank account. The Emotet Trojan has since been developed and it has now evolved into a much bigger threat.
Emotet is now far more effective at spreading to other devices, using a worm like element to infect other devices on the network as well as hijacking the user’s email account and using it to send copies of itself to victims’ contacts. Infected devices are added to the Emotet botnet, and have been used in attacks on other organizations. The operators of Emotet have now joined forces with other cybercriminal operations and are using their malware to deliver other Trojans such as TrickBot and QakBot, which in turn are used to deliver ransomware.
Data from HP Inc. revealed Emotet infections increased by 1,200% from Q2 to Q3, showing the extent to which activity has increased recently. Data from Check point show Emotet is the biggest malware threat, accounting for 12% of all infections in October 2020. TrickBot, which is delivered by Emotet, is the second biggest threat, accounting for 4% of infections.
Emotet and TrickBot are Driving the Increase in Ransomware Infections
The Emotet and TrickBot Trojans are driving the increase in ransomware infections globally, especially attacks on healthcare organizations. The healthcare industry in the United States is being targeted by ransomware gangs due to the increased chance of the ransom being paid. In many cases, the recent ransomware attacks have been made possible due to previous Emotet an TrickBot infections.
Unfortunately, due to the efficient way that Emotet spreads, removing the malware can be problematic. It is probable that more than one device has been infected, and when the Trojan is removed from one device, it is often reinfected by other infected devices on the network.
The best way of preventing attacks is stopping the Emotet emails from reaching inboxes and making sure that employees are trained how to recognize phishing emails.
How SpamTitan Can Protect Your Organization
SpamTitan use a wide range of different techniques to identify phishing emails that are used to deliver malware such as Emotet. These measures provide layered protection, so should one check fail to identify the threat, several others are in place to provide protection.
SpamTitan uses dual antivirus engines to identify previously seen malware variants and sandboxing to identify new (zero day) malware threats. Suspicious email attachments are sent to the sandbox where they are subjected to in depth analysis to identify malicious actions such as command and control center callbacks.
SpamTitan uses Sender Policy Framework (SPF) and DMARC to block spoofing and email impersonation attacks, which are used to convince employees to open attachments and click malicious links. SpamTitan also includes outbound scanning, which detects devices that have potentially been infected and prevents messages from spreading Emotet internally and to business contacts.
There are many cybersecurity solutions that can provide protection against malware, but finding one that is easy to use, effective, and reasonably priced can be a challenge.
SpamTitan ticks all of those boxes. It is the most and best ranked email security solution on Capterra, GetApp and Software Advice, has achieved a rating of 4.9 out of 5 on Google reviews, and is listed in the top three in the email security gateway, MSP email security, and email security for Office 365 categories.
If you want to protect your organization from Emotet and other malware and phishing attacks, give the TitanHQ team a call to find out more about SpamTitan Email Security.
Black Friday and Cyber Monday are fast approaching and this year even more shoppers will be heading online to secure their Christmas bargains due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In many countries, such as the UK, lockdowns are in place that have forced retailers to close the doors of their physical shops, meaning Black Friday deals will only be available online. 2020 is likely to see previous records smashed with even more shoppers opting to purchase online due to many shops being closed and to reduce the risk of infection.
Surge in Phishing Attacks in the Run Up to Black Friday
The fact that many consumers have been forced to shop online due to COVID-19 has not been missed by cybercriminals, who have started their holiday season scams early this year. Every year sees a sharp rise in phishing emails and online scams that take advantage of the increase in sales in the run up to Christmas, but this year the data show cybercriminals have stepped up their efforts to spread malware, steal sensitive data, and fool the unwary into making fraudulent purchases.
Recent figures released by Check Point show there has been a 13-fold increase in phishing emails in the past 6 weeks with one in every 826 emails now a phishing attempt. To put that figure into perspective, 1 in 11,000 emails in October 2020 were phishing emails. Check Point reports 80% of the phishing emails were related to online sales, discounts, and special offers, and as Black Friday and Cyber Monday draws ever closer, the emails are likely to increase further.
Local lockdowns have piled pressure on smaller retailers, who are at risk of losing even more busines to the large retailers such as Amazon. In order to get their much-needed share of sales in the run up to Christmas, many have started conducting marketing campaigns via email to showcase their special offers and discounts. Those messages are likely to make it easier for cybercriminals to operate and harder for individuals to distinguish the genuine special offers from the fraudulent messages.
Cybercriminals have also started using a range of different techniques to make it harder for individuals to identify phishing and scam messages. Some campaigns involved the use of CAPTCHAs to fool both security solutions and end users, and the use of legitimate cloud services such as Google Drive and Dropbox for phishing and malware distribution is also rife.
With the scams even harder to spot and the volume of phishing and other scam emails up considerably, it is even more important for businesses to ensure their security measures are up to scratch and scam websites and phishing emails are identified and blocked.
How to Improve your Defenses Against Black Friday Phishing Scams and Other Threats
This is an area where TitanHQ can help. TitanHQ has developed two security solutions that work seamlessly together to provide protection from phishing and malware attacks via email and the Internet, not just protecting against previously seen threats, but also zero-day malware and phishing threats.
The SpamTitan email security and WebTitan web security solutions use a layered approach to threat detection, each incorporating multiple layers of protection to ensure that threats are identified and blocked. Both solutions leverage threat intelligence using a crowd sourced approach, to provide protection against emerging and even zero-minute threats.
SpamTitan uses smart email filtering and scanning, incorporating machine learning and behavioral analysis techniques to detect and isolate suspicious emails, dual antivirus engines, sandboxing to trick cybercriminals into thinking they have reached their target, and SPF, DKIM, and DMARC to detect and block email impersonation attacks.
WebTitan is an AI-powered cloud-based DNS web filtering solution that provides protection from online threats such as malware and ransomware and the web-based component of phishing attacks. The solution uses automation and advanced analytics to search through billions of URLs/IPs and phishing sites that could lead to a malware or ransomware infection or the compromising of employee credentials. The solution is an effective cybersecurity measure for protecting against web-based threats for office-based employees and remote workers alike.
If you want to protect your business this holiday season and beyond and improve your defenses against email and web-based threats, give the TitanHQ team a call. Product demonstrations can be arranged, advice offered on the best deployments, and if the solutions are not suitable for your business, we will tell you so. You can also trial both solutions free of charge to evaluate their performance in your own environment before making a decision on a purchase.
A phishing campaign has been identified that spoofs the U.S. Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and advises recipients that they are facing imminent legal action to recover outstanding tax.
The emails are convincing and well written and are final demands for payment to prevent legal action to recover the outstanding funds. The emails warn the recipient that the IRS has made several attempts to make contact by telephone after no response was received to a written demand for payment that the emails claim was mailed 18 months previously in May 2019. The failure to respond has led to the IRS taking legal action, with charges due to be filed imminently to recover the outstanding tax.
In contrast to many scams that seek login credentials or attempt to get the user to open file attachments to trigger a malware download, this scam uses social engineering techniques to scare the recipient into making contact via email to resolve the fictitious issue. The purpose of the scam is to get the recipient to make a fraudulent payment or disclose their financial account information.
The lack of any hyperlinks or email attachments makes it more likely that the email will be delivered to inboxes and will not be identified as malicious by security solutions. Fortunately, SpamTitan users will be protected from this scam as multiple checks are performed which identify the scam for what it is.
The message body contains all the classic hallmarks of a phishing scam:
There is urgency to get prompt action taken – Immediate resolution of the issue is necessary
There is a threat of negative consequences if no action is taken – Legal action to recover funds
The request is plausible, but an atypical request is made – to only make contact via email
The emails include a case file number, detail the outstanding amount – $1450.61 in this case – and include a docket number and warrant ID for the impending legal action. The recipient is told that legal action will proceed in 4 days if payment is not made, and that the opportunity for voluntary action to rectify the issue is coming to an end.
In addition to the threat of legal action and a court case, the recipient is informed that credit reference bureaus may also be notified about the late/missed payment, which would negatively impact their credit score.
The emails have the subject line “Re: Re: Case ID#ON/7722 / WARRANT FOR YOUR ARREST,” indicating this is not the first time that the message has been sent, helping to emphasize that this is a final warning.
Steps have been taken to make the email appear official, with the display text of the sender address indicating the message has been sent from support @ irs.gov – the legitimate domain used by the IRS. However, the reply to email address supplied is legal.cc @ outlook.com – Which is clearly not an official IRS domain and the message headers show that the email was not sent from the domain stated.
The email does include a postal address; however, no telephone number is supplied. Full contact information would be provided in official IRS communications, although the IRS would not initiate contact with individuals via email.
The phishing emails highlight the importance of stopping to think about what is being requested and to take time to check emails carefully before responding, no matter how pressing the threat may be. Any request for payment should be verified by phone, with contact information obtained from a trusted source, never the contact details supplied in the email. A call to the IRS would quickly reveal this to be a scam.
The reason these scams succeed is because they rely on individuals responding quickly without thinking. Fortunately, an effective spam filter will detect these scam emails and will quarantine or reject the messages.
Cybercriminals have taken advantage of the uncertainty over the U.S. presidential election result over the past few days and are using exploiting fear about voting fraud to infect users with malware. With so many postal votes being sent this year, which take much longer to count than in-person votes, there was always going to be a delay in determining the outcome of the presidential election. In such a close election a winner may not be declared for some time, certainly several days after election day, and possibly weeks given the likelihood of several legal challenges and recounts.
Spam campaigns exploiting the situation started to be sent soon after the polls had closed distributing the QBot banking Trojan. When a device is infected with the QBot Trojan, the user’s email account is hijacked and used to send copies of the malware to the user’s contacts. To increase the probability of emails being opened by the recipients, previous email threads are hijacked, and a response is sent with a malicious attachment containing a macro that downloads the malware.
In this campaign, a search is performed for emails containing the word “election” and replies are sent to the senders of those messages. A zip file is attached to the emails named “ElectionInterference,” with the zip file containing a malicious spreadsheet.
The messages encourage the recipient to open the attached spreadsheet to discover important information about interference in the election. With President Trump suggesting in press conferences that there is substantial evidence of election fraud, these messages may seem very credible and enticing to recipients.
The spreadsheet mimics a secure DocuSign file and the user is instructed to enable content to decrypt the file and view the contents; however, doing so will allow macros to run which will silently download the Qbot Trojan.
The QBot Trojan was first identified in 2008; however, it has received many updates over the years to add new functions and mechanisms to evade security solutions. The ability to hijack Outlook email threads is a fairly new feature. The same tactic is also used by the Emotet Trojan to increase the probability of messages and their malicious attachments being opened. The tactic has proven very effective for the operators of Emotet.
In addition to targeting customers of major financial institutions, the QBot Trojan steals sensitive information such as credit card information and passwords. Like Emotet and the TrickBot Trojan, QBot is also a malware dropper. The operators of QBot team up with other threat groups and deliver their malicious payloads, with ransomware often delivered to QBot victims.
Threat actors are quick to seize any opportunity to infect devices with malware, as was seen in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic when threat groups switched their spamming infrastructure to send COVID-19 themed lures. Election-themed emails are likely to continue for some time with legal challenges to the result expected. Holiday season is also fast approaching, and like previous years, threat actors will send Black Friday, Cyber Monday, and other holiday period themed phishing lures to steal credentials and distribute malware.
Businesses can protect against these phishing and malspam campaigns using a combination of a spam filter, web filter, antivirus software, and end user training.
The healthcare industry is one of the main targets for hackers, and while ransomware attacks have increased considerably in recent months and vulnerabilities in VPNs, RDP, and software solutions are frequently exploited, healthcare phishing attacks are far more common.
Phishing attacks on healthcare organizations allow threat actors to steal credentials to gain access to email accounts and other systems and steal highly sensitive data. Phishing emails are also used to deliver malware loaders such as the Emotet Trojan, which delivers other malware payloads such as the TrickBot banking Trojan, which in turn delivers ransomware.
Most cyberattacks start with a phishing email, so it is essential for healthcare organizations to ensure they implement safeguards to block these attacks and by doing so, prevent costly data breaches and regulatory fines.
The HHS’ Office for Civil Rights has imposed substantial fines on HIPAA-covered entities for data breaches that have started with a phishing email, including the two largest ever HIPAA fines issued to date – the $16 million financial penalty for Anthem Inc. for its 78.8 million-record data breach and the $6,850,000 penalty for Premera Blue Cross for its breach of the protected health information 10,466,692 individuals.
Tips to Prevent Healthcare Phishing Attacks…
Unfortunately, as far as phishing goes, there is no silver bullet. No single solution will provide total protection against healthcare phishing attacks. What is required is layered defenses – technical solutions providing overlapping layers of security – and adherence to tried and tested cybersecurity best practices. Some of the most important anti-phishing measures you can implemented to stop healthcare phishing attacks are detailed below:
Implement an Advanced Spam Filter
A spam filter is one of the most important technical controls to block phishing attacks and prevent malicious emails from reaching the inboxes of your employees. Advanced spam filters use a combination of blacklists of known malicious IPs, email header and content scanning, link analysis, anti-virus scans, sandboxing, SPF, DKIM, and DMARC to detect and block email impersonation attacks, and AI and machine learning to identify zero-day phishing attacks.
You should implement an advanced spam filter and set rules to filter out all suspicious emails and reject malicious messages. Outbound scanning is also important to detect compromised email accounts that are being used to conduct further phishing attacks on your organization and vendors.
Use a Web Filter to Block the Web-Based Component of Phishing Attacks
Email filters are effective, but not infallible. New tactics, techniques, and procedures are commonly developed by threat actors to fool email security solutions. You may be able to block all malware and 99.9% or more of all malicious messages, but some messages are likely to sneak past your defenses.
A web filter provided additional protection by preventing your employees from visiting known malicious URLs that have been masked in phishing emails. Web filters block the web-based component of phishing attacks and malware downloads from the internet and work in tandem with spam filters to improve your security posture and block healthcare phishing attacks.
Implement Multi-Factor Authentication
A SANS Institute report suggests multi-factor authentication will block 99% of attempts by threat actors to use stolen credentials to remotely access email accounts, while Microsoft says MFA will stop more than 99.9% of email account attacks, yet many admins have not implemented multi-factor authentication. A recent survey by CoreView researchers suggests 78% of Microsoft 365 admins have not enabled MFA on their M365 accounts.
In the event of credentials being stolen – in a phishing attack or using brute force tactics – MFA should prevent those credentials from being used to remotely access your accounts.
Provide Regular Security Awareness Training
Technical measures are important for preventing healthcare phishing attacks but don’t forget the human element. Employees need to be trained how to recognize phishing emails and taught the correct response when a suspicious email is received. Security awareness training should also cover cybersecurity best practices.
To create a “security aware” culture in your organization, you need to provide regular security awareness training sessions, including an annual training session for all staff and more frequent shorter sessions or online CBT sessions throughout the year, making sure you keep the workforce aware of the latest threats. Not only will training help to prevent healthcare phishing attacks from succeeding, it is also a requirement for HIPAA compliance.
Conduct Phishing Simulation Exercises
Training is important, but so is testing. If you do not test your employees’ security knowledge, you will not know whether your training has been successful. There will always be employees that require more training than others, and through testing you will be able to identify the individuals that need more help.
Phishing simulation exercises are the best way to achieve this. You can find weak links in your workforce as well as your training program and ensure they are addressed.
Take Care with the Information You Make Available Online
In order to conduct a targeted phishing attacks on your organization, an attacker needs to know your email addresses. This information can often easily be found online in organizational charts and staff directories. Limiting the information you publish online will make it harder for email addresses to be harvested and used in attacks on your organization.
How to Reduce the Severity of Successful Healthcare Phishing Attacks
Healthcare phishing attacks are extremely common and often result in the exposure or theft of large amounts of protected health information. The Office for Civil Rights breach portal lists many email security breaches that have exposed the personal and health information of tens of thousands and even hundreds of thousands of patients and health plan members.
When conducting a risk analysis, consider what would happen in the event of a breach and take steps to reduce the severity of a breach should your defenses be penetrated. It is a good best practice to implement an email archiving solution to send all emails to a secure, cloud archive to ensure that no email data is lost and to implement policies requiring emails containing PHI to be deleted from your mail system. In the event of a breach, the PHI exposed will be greatly reduced and so too will the breach costs.
By using an email archive, you will still be able to remain compliant and retain al email data, but you will be able to significantly reduce risk while improving the performance of your mail server.
The cybercriminal organization behind Ryuk ransomware – believed to be an eastern European hacking group known as Wizard Spider – has stepped up attacks on hospitals and health systems in the United States. This week has seen a wave of attacks on hospitals from the Californian coast to the eastern seaboard, with 6 Ryuk ransomware attacks on hospitals reported in a single day.
Ryuk ransomware causes widespread file encryption across entire networks, crippling systems and preventing clinicians from accessing patient data. Even when the attacks are detected quickly, systems must be shut down to prevent the spread of the ransomware. While hospitals have disaster protocols for exactly this kind of scenario and patient data can be recorded using pen and paper, the disruption caused is considerable. Non-essential surgeries and appointments often need to be cancelled and, in some cases, hospitals have been forced to divert patients to alternative medical facilities.
It is unclear if any ransomware attacks on U.S. hospitals have resulted in fatalities, but there was recently a fatality in an attack in Germany, where a patient was rerouted to a different hospital and died before lifesaving treatment could be provided. Had the ransomware attack not occurred, treatment could have been provided in time to save the patient’s life. The attacks in the United States also have the potential to result in loss of life, especially in such as large-scale, coordinated campaign.
Earlier in the week, the U.S. Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), the FBI, and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) issued an advisory after credible evidence emerged indicating Ryuk ransomware attacks on U.S. hospitals and healthcare providers were about to increase.
It is unclear why the attacks have increased now and the exact motives behind the current campaign, but recently Microsoft and U.S. Cyber Command, in conjunction with several cybersecurity firms, disrupted the TrickBot botnet – A network of devices infected with the TrickBot Trojan. The TrickBot Trojan is operated by a different cybercriminal group to Ryuk, but it was extensively used to deliver Ryuk ransomware. The botnet is back up and running, with the threat actors switching to alternative infrastructure, but there have been suggestions that this could be a response to the takedown.
The Ryuk ransomware attacks on hospitals come at a time when healthcare providers are battling the coronavirus pandemic. In the United States the number of new cases is higher than at any time since the start of the pandemic. Hospitals cannot afford to have systems taken out of action and patient care disrupted. The timing of the attacks is such that hospitals may feel there is little alternative other than paying the ransom to ensure that disruption is kept to a minimum. Ransomware gangs are known to time their attacks to cause maximum disruption.
Ryuk ransomware attacks on hospitals have been steadily increasing in the United States prior to the latest spike. Figures released by Check Point Research in the past few days show ransomware attacks on hospitals increased 71% from September, with healthcare the most targeted industry sector, not only in October, but also Q3, 2020. Ryuk ransomware attacks account for 75% of all ransomware attacks on hospitals in the United States.
There is concern that the latest attacks will be just the tip of the iceberg. Some security experts suggest the gang is looking to target hundreds of hospitals and health systems in the United States in this campaign. Each attack on a health system could see several hospitals affected. The attack this week on the University of Vermont Health Network impacted 7 hospitals.
Defending against ransomware attacks can be a challenge, as multiple methods are used to gain access to healthcare networks. Ryuk ransomware is commonly delivered by the TrickBot Trojan, which is delivered as a secondary payload by the Emotet Trojan. The Buer loader and BazarLoader are also being used to deliver Ryuk ransomware. These malware downloaders are delivered via phishing emails so a good spam filter is therefore important.
Employees should be made aware of the increased threat of attack and advised to exercise extra caution with emails. Software updates need to be applied promptly and all systems kept fully patched and up to date. Default passwords should be changed, and complex passwords used, with multi-factor authentication implemented where possible. If it is not necessary for systems to be connected to the Internet, they should be disconnected, and RDP should be disabled where possible.
It is also essential for regular backups of critical data to be made and for those backups to be stored securely on non-networked devices to ensure that in the event of an attack hospitals have the option to recover their data without having to pay the ransom.
Further information on indicators of compromise and other mitigations are available in the CISA Ryuk ransomware advisory.
Teleconferencing applications have been invaluable during the coronavirus pandemic. They have helped businesses continue to operate during extremely challenging times and have helped support a largely remote workforce.
Platforms such as Zoom, Skype, and Microsoft Teams saw user numbers skyrocket as national lockdowns were imposed and the high usage has continued as lockdowns have eased. The popularity of these platforms has not been missed by cybercriminals, who have devised many phishing campaigns targeting users of these platforms.
The platforms are used as instant messaging services by many workers who are keen to show that they are working hard while at home, so when a message arrives in an inbox informing them they have people trying to connect, they have missed a meeting, or there is a problem with their account, they are likely to reply quickly, often without thinking about the legitimacy of the request.
At first glance these emails appear to be genuine. The request is credible, the images and logos are legitimate, but closer inspection should reveal the messages are not what they seems.
Microsoft Teams Phishing Scams
One of the latest phishing campaigns to spoof a teleconferencing platform targets Office 365 users by spoofing Microsoft Teams. The messages advise the recipient that “There’s new activity in Teams,” and “Your teammates are trying to reach you in Microsoft Teams.” The email claims messages are waiting, and it is necessary to “Reply in Teams” to connect.
Clicking the link will direct the user to a web page that requires them to login to their Microsoft account. Everything on the page is how it should be, as the spoofed login page has been copied from Microsoft. However, close inspection of the URL will reveal a typo. The URL starts with microsftteams to make the web page appear genuine at first glance, but the full URL shows this is not a Microsoft domain. If the user enters their credentials they will be captured and used by the scammers to access the user’s account.
This is far from the only phishing scam to target Microsoft Teams users to obtain Microsoft Office credentials. Several Microsoft Teams phishing scams have attempted to obtain credentials using missed messages from teammates and other plausible lures.
Microsoft Office credentials are extremely valuable to scammers. Accounts can be used to gain access to email data, send further phishing emails, access intellectual property, and can be used as a launchpad for further attacks on the organization. The credentials can also be sold to other cybercriminals.
Similar scams have targeted users of other platforms such as Skype and Zoom. Users of the latter were targeted in one campaign that claimed a meeting was cancelled due to the pandemic, using subject lines such as “Meeting Canceled – Could we do a Zoom call.” A link is included in the email to initiate a call, with the destination site similarly harvesting credentials.
How to Avoid Teleconferencing Platform Phishing Scams
As with other forms of phishing scams, employees need to be vigilant. The emails create a sense of urgency and there is often a “threat” of bad consequences if no action is taken, but it is important to stop and think before responding to a message and to take time to check the email carefully.
You should not open any email attachments or click links in unsolicited emails, especially messages sent from unknown email addresses. Even if the email address appears genuine, take care. Access the teleconferencing platform using your normal login method, never using the links in the emails.
Businesses can protect their remote workers by implementing an advanced spam filtering solution such as SpamTitan to block these emails at source and ensure they are not delivered to their remote workers’ inboxes. A web filtering solution such as WebTitan is also advisable, as it will block attempts to visit malicious websites used to phish for credentials.
For further information on spam filtering and web filtering to protect your business, give the TitanHQ team a call today. Both solutions are available on a free trial – with full product support – to allow you to evaluate their effectiveness before making a decision.
The TrickBot Trojan, one of the biggest malware threats to appear in recent years, has had its backend infrastructure taken down by a coalition of tech firms.
TrickBot started life in 2016 as a banking Trojan used to target Windows devices but the malware has received many updates over the years and has had many new modules added to give it a much wider range of capabilities. TrickBot targets hundreds of different banks and also steals credentials and Bitcoin wallets. In recent years, the operators have teamed up with several different criminal organizations and have used the Trojan to deliver keyloggers, cryptominers, information stealers and ransomware variants such as Ryuk and Conti. TrickBot can now perform a huge range of malicious actions via many different plugins and in January and February 2020 was targeting more than 600 websites via a webinject module, most of which being financial institutions.
The Trojan achieves persistence on infected devices and adds them to a botnet, which has grown into one of the largest in operation. The operators of the Trojan are also known to use the EternalBlue exploit to move around infected networks and spread the Trojan to other devices on the network. This can make removal of the Trojan difficult, as once it is removed from a device, other infected devices on the network simply reinfect it when it is reconnected.
TrickBot is primarily spread via phishing emails via malicious macros, but other malware-as-a-service operations also deliver TrickBot, such as Emotet. TrickBot typically used lures aimed at business users, such as shipment receipts, receipt reminders, required declarations, delivery notifications, and other logistics themes using Word and Excel attachments and Java Network Launch Protocol (.jnlp) attachments, as well as malicious hyperlinks embedded in emails. In 2020, a large-scale campaign was conducted using coronavirus and COVID-19 themed lures, one of which spoofed humanitarian groups and claimed to offer free COVID-19 tests.
Those emails were sent by a diverse range of compromised email accounts and marketing platforms, with the threat group also using domains with their own mail servers to distribute the malware. There has been growing concern that the botnet could also be used in campaigns to disrupt the upcoming November 3, 2020 U.S. presidential election.
TrickBot is stealthy and uses a variety of mechanisms to evade detection by security solutions, including password protected zip files, delayed downloads of the Trojan when macros are run, heavily obfuscated loaders, encryption of configuration files, and a complex command and control infrastructure. The latter has now been untangled and its backend infrastructure has been taken down.
Several tech firms including Microsoft, ESET, Black Lotus Labs, and NTT have been working together for months to try to disrupt the TrickBot operation. More than 125,000 samples of the TrickBot Trojan were analyzed along with over 40,000 configuration files used by various TrickBot modules. After several months of painstaking work, the command and control servers used by the botnet were identified and its network infrastructure was mapped. Armed with the IP addresses, Microsoft obtained a court order and seized control of the infrastructure of servers used to distribute and communicate with the malware and its various modules. The IP addresses associated with the malware have now been disabled.
When the takedown occurred, more than 1 million devices had been infected with the malware and were part of its botnet. The takedown is great news, as one more malware threat – and a major one at that – has been taken out of action, at least temporarily. Efforts are now underway by ISPs to contact victims to ensure the Trojan is removed from their systems.
Businesses in the United Kingdom are being targeted by scammers impersonating Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs. There have been several campaigns identified over the past weeks that are taking advantage of the measures put in place by the UK government to help businesses through the COVID-19 pandemic and the forced lockdowns that have prevented businesses from operating or have forced them to massively scale back operations.
The HMRC scams have been numerous and diverse, targeting businesses, the self-employed, furloughed workers and others via email, telephone, and SMS messages. Some of the scams involve threats of arrest and jail time due to the underpayment of tax, demanding payment over the phone to avoid court action or arrest.
One scam targeted clients of Nucleus Financial Services and used a genuine communication from the firm as a template. The genuine email appears to have been obtained from a third-party hacked email account. The email advised recipients that they were due a tax refund from HMRC. A link is supplied in the email that the recipient is required to click to receive their refund. In order to apply to receive the refund the user must enter sensitive information into the website, which is captured by the scammers.
Another campaign has been identified that spoofs HMRC and similarly seeks sensitive information such as bank account and email credentials. In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the UK government launched a scheme to help businesses by allowing them to defer their VAT payments between March and June 2020, until June 2021 to help ease the financial burden of the nationwide lockdown. Many businesses took advantage of the scheme and applied to have their Value Added Tax (VAT) payments deferred.
The campaign uses emails that spoof HMRC and inform businesses that their application to have their VAT payments deferred has been rejected as the company is in arrears. The emails include an attachment with further information and a report on their application. The document is password protected and the password is supplied in the email to allow the file to be opened.
A hyperlink is supplied which must be clicked which directs the user to a website where they are asked to enter sensitive information such as their bank account details and email address and password, which are captured by the scammers.
COVID-19 has presented scammers with a host of new opportunities to fool businesses into disclosing sensitive information. Many of the lures used in the emails, calls, and text messages are credible, the messages are well written, and the scammers have gone to lengths to make their phishing websites look like the entities they spoof.
Businesses should be on high alert and be particularly vigilant for phishing scams. They should advise their employees to take extra care with any request that requires the disclosure of sensitive information.
Technical controls should also be considered to block phishing emails at source and prevent visits to malicious websites. That is an area where TitanHQ can help. TitanHQ offers two anti-phishing solutions for businesses and MSPs to help them block phishing attacks: SpamTitan and WebTitan.
SpamTitan is a powerful email security solution that blocks phishing emails at source, preventing malicious messages from reaching inboxes. WebTitan is a DNS filtering solution that is used to control the websites that can be accessed over wired and wireless networks, blocking access to web pages that are used for phishing and malware delivery.
Both solutions are available on a free trial to allow you to evaluate their effectiveness before deciding on a purchase. Further information on the solutions, their benefits, and pricing can be obtained by calling the TitanHQ team.
Phishers are constantly devising new ways to trick employees into divulging their credentials. Realistic emails are sent using a variety of ruses to get employees to click on a malicious link, which often aims to obtain Microsoft Office 365 credentials. Office 365 accounts often contain a range of sensitive data, which can be stolen and used for many nefarious purposes.
Recently, a new campaign has been identified targeting businesses that attempts to obtain Microsoft Outlook credentials. The campaign spoofs KnowBe4, a company specializing in security awareness training for employees – Training that helps businesses teach their employees how to recognize a phishing email.
The emails alert the recipient about the impending expiration of a security awareness training module. The recipient is told they only have 24 hours remaining to complete the training. Three links are supplied in the email that appear, at face value, to link to the genuine KnowBe4 website; however, they direct the user to a phishing page on a compromised website where Outlook credentials and personal information are harvested, via a realistic login page for the Outlook Web App.
Instructions are provided for accessing the training outside of the network, with the user instructed to enter their username and password before clicking the sign in button. Doing so, it is claimed, will direct the user to the training module. While the site to which the phishing email links is convincing, the tell-tale sign that this is a scam is the domain. Several different URLs on multiple sites have been used in this campaign, all of which are unrelated to the security awareness training provider. However, busy employees may fail to check the URL before disclosing their credentials.
It is an interesting tactic to spoof a cybersecurity company dedicated to phishing prevention; one that may fool employees into believing the email is genuine. Any company can be spoofed in a phishing campaign. Just because the company offers services to combat phishing does not mean that the email should not be subjected to the usual checks to verify its validity, which is something that should be emphasized in employee security awareness training sessions.
According to Cofense, which analyzed the websites, the compromised sites have recently hosted a web shell that allowed the attackers to upload and edit files. The websites had been compromised since at least April 2020, unbeknown to the site owners. The phishing kit used in this campaign has been loaded onto at least 30 different websites since the campaign commenced in mid-April.
Employees receive hundreds of emails each week and identifying every phishing email can be a difficult task, especially when many phishing emails are realistic and are very similar to genuine emails that employees receive every day. Security awareness training is important, but it is also essential to implement an advanced spam filtering solution that is capable of blocking virtually all (in excess of 99.9%) malicious emails.
With an advanced spam filtering solution in place – such as SpamTitan – these emails can be blocked at source and will not be delivered to end users’ inboxes, negating the threat.
Even though there are easy ways to identify a phishing email, many employees are fooled by these scams. Phishing attacks involve the use of social engineering to convince the target to take a certain action, such as opening an email attachment that has a malicious script that downloads malware or visiting a website that requires sensitive information to be entered. These scams can be convincing, the reason supplied for taking a particular action is often credible, and any linked website can be difficult to distinguish from the site it impersonates.
Phishing campaigns can be conducted cheaply, little skill is required, phishing can be very profitable, and the attacks often succeed. It is no surprise that more than two thirds of data breaches start with a phishing email, according to the Verizon Data Breach Investigations Report.
How to Identify a Phishing Email
Phishing emails can take many forms and there is a myriad of lures that are used to fool the unwary, but there are tell-tale signs that an email may not be what it seems. By checking certain elements of an email, you will be able to identify all but the most sophisticated phishing attempts. It only takes a few seconds to perform these checks and that time will be well spent as they will help you identify a phishing email and prevent costly data breaches and malware infections.
Check the true sender of the email
This seems an obvious check but spoofing the sender of an email is one of the most common ways that phishers fool people into responding. The display name is spoofed to make it appear that the email has been sent from a trusted contact. The display name may be PayPal, Netflix, the name of your bank, or your boss or a colleague. However, the actual email address is likely to be from a free email service provider such as @gmail.com or @yahoo.co.uk.
Hover your mouse arrow over the display name or click reply and check the actual sender of the email. The domain name (the bit after @) should match the display name and that domain should be one that is used by the company that appears to have sent you the email. Beware of hyphenated domains such as support-netflix.com. These are unlikely to be genuine.
Check for grammatical errors and spelling mistakes
Read the email carefully. Are there spelling mistakes or grammatical errors? Does the wording seem odd, as if it has not been written by a native English speaker? Scammers are often from non-English speaking countries and may use Google translate to create their emails, which is why the wording may seem a little odd.
Before Google, Netflix, or your bank sends an email, it will be subject to proof checking. Mistakes will be made on occasion by they are exceedingly rare. Some phishing scams deliberately include spelling mistakes and poorly written emails to weed out people who are unlikely to fall for the next stage of the scam. If you fall for the email, it is likely that you can be fooled by the next stage of the attack.
Phishing emails are often addressed in a way that makes it clear that the sender does not know your name. “Dear customer” for example. Most companies will use your name in genuine email communications.
Phishers use urgency and a “threat” if no action is taken
Phishers want you to take action quickly rather than stop and think about the legitimacy of any request. It is common for a request to be made that needs immediate action to prevent something undesirable from happening.
For example, someone has tried to login to your account and you need to take immediate action to secure your account. Something has happened that will result in your account being closed. A payment has been made from your account for something that you have not purchased, and you need to take action to stop that payment from going through. Phishers use fear, urgency, and threats to get prompt action taken and count on people acting quickly without thinking or carefully checking the email. Spending an extra 30 seconds checking an email will not make any difference to the outcome, but it can prevent you from being fooled by a scam.
Check the true destination of any link in the email
Most phishing attacks seek sensitive information such as login credentials. For these to be obtained, you will most likely be directed to a website where you must enter login credentials, financial information, and personal details to verify your identity. Emails are often written in HTML and include a button to click that directs you to a website.
You should check the true URL before clicking. Hover your mouse arrow over any button to find out where you are being directed and make sure the URL matches the context of the message and uses an official domain name of the company referenced in the email. The same applies to the anchor text of a link – the text that is displayed in a clickable link. Make sure you perform the same check on any link before clicking.
On a mobile device this is even more important, as the small screen size means it is not always possible to display the full URL. The visible part of the URL may look like it is genuine, but when viewing the full URL you will see that it is not. Just press on the URL and keep pressing until the link is displayed.
Beware of email attachments
Email attachments are used in phishing scams for distributing malware and for hiding content from spam filters. Hyperlinks are put in an attachment rather than the message body to fool security solutions, and scripts are used in email attachments that may run automatically when the attachment is opened.
If you are sent an unsolicited email that includes an attachment, treat it as suspicious and try to verify the email is legitimate. If the email has been sent by a colleague, give them a quick call to make sure they actually sent the email, even if the sender check was passed. Someone may have compromised their account. Do not use any contact information supplied in the email, as it is likely to be incorrect.
Only open email attachments that you are confident are genuine, and then never “enable content” as this will grant a macro or other malicious script permission to run.
Anti-Phishing Solutions for Businesses
TitanHQ has developed two powerful anti-phishing solutions to help businesses block phishing and other email and web-based cyberattacks. SpamTitan is an advanced email security solution that has been independently verified as blocking 99.97% of spam and phishing emails and is used by thousands of businesses to keep their inboxes free of threats.
SpamTitan performs a myriad of checks to determine the likelihood of an email being malicious, including RBL checks, Bayesian analysis, heuristics, machine learning techniques to identify zero-day threats, and sender policy frameworks to block email impersonation attacks. Dual antivirus engines are used to detect known malware and sandboxing is used to analyze suspicious email attachments safely to check for malicious actions.
WebTitan is a DNS filtering solution that blocks the web-based component of phishing attacks by preventing employees visiting known malicious websites, suspicious sites. WebTitan also blocks malware downloads.
Both solutions are competitively priced, easy to implement and use, and provide protection against the full range of email and web-based threats. For further information on improving protection from phishing attacks and other cyber threats, give the TitanHQ team a call. Alternatively, you can register for a no obligation free trial of both solutions to evaluate them in your own environment.