Phishing & Email Spam
Phishing and email spam is estimated to cost industry more than $1 billion each year, and cybercriminals are becoming more sophisticated in the campaigns they launch to try to extract confidential data or passwords from unsuspecting Internet users.
Part of the reason why phishing and email spam continue to work is the language used within the communication. The message to “Act Now” because an account seems to have been compromised, or because a colleague appears to need urgent support, often causes individuals to act before they think.
Even experienced security experts have been caught by phishing and email spam, and the advice provided to every Internet user is:
- If you are unsure of whether an email request is legitimate, try to verify it by contacting the sender independently of the information provided in the email.
- Never reveal confidential data or passwords requested in an email or on a web page you have arrived at after following a link in an email.
- Enable spam filters on your email, keep your anti-virus software up-to-date and enable two-step authentication on all your accounts whenever possible.
- Always use different passwords for different accounts, and change them frequently to avoid being a victim of key-logging malware downloads.
- Remember that phishing and email spam is not limited to email. Watch out for scams sent via social media channels.
Phishing in particular has become a popular attack vector for cybercriminals. Although phishing goes back to the early days of AOL, there has been a tenfold increase in phishing campaigns over the past decade reported to the Anti-Phishing Working Group (APWG).
Phishing is an extension of spam mail and can target small groups of people (spear phishing) or target executive-level management (whale phishing) in order to collect information or gain access to computer systems.
The best way to protect yourself from phishing and email spam is to follow the advice provided above and – most importantly – enable a reputable spam filter to block potentially unsafe emails from being delivered to your inbox.
Phishers are constantly coming up with new ways to evade security solutions, steal credentials, and distribute malware. In January, two new tactics were observed in separate phishing campaigns, one hides malicious URLs from security solutions in a credential-stealing campaign, and the other uses OneNote attachments for distributing malware.
Blank Image Phishing Attacks
The blank image phishing attack involves hiding a Scalable Vector Graphics (SVG) image file within an HTML document sent via email. In this campaign, the email claims to include a DocuSign document, which office workers are likely to be familiar with. The email claims the document includes remittance advice. The user is required to click to view the document and will be directed to the legitimate DocuSign webpage if they do.
OneNote Attachments Used to Distribute Malware
Another campaign has been detected that uses OneNote attachments in phishing emails for distributing remote access malware, which can provide initial access to a victim’s system allowing further malicious payloads to be delivered, such as information stealers and ransomware. For many years, Office documents were the preferred attachment for distributing malware. These files can include macros that download a malicious payload, but Microsoft now blocks macros by default in Office files delivered via the internet, which has forced hackers to look for new ways to distribute their malware.
One new tactic is the use of OneNote attachments. OneNote is installed by default with Microsoft Office and Microsoft 365, which means OneNote files can be opened on most devices even if the user does not use the OneNote application. The lures used in these emails vary, although some of the intercepted emails claimed to be shipping notifications, with the details of the shipment included in the OneNote file.
OneNote files cannot contain macros, but it is possible to insert VBS attachments into a NoteBook. When opening the file, the user is told they must double-click to view the file. Doing so will launch the VBS script, which will download and install malware from a remote site. If the user does click, they will be warned that opening attachments can harm their computer. If that warning is ignored and the user chooses to open the attachment, the script will download a decoy OneNote file – a genuine file – so the user is unlikely to realize that anything untoward has happened, but the script will execute a batch file in the background and will install the second downloaded file, which is malware.
How to Defend Against Phishing Attacks
Cybercriminals are constantly developing new methods for distributing malware and stealing credentials, and phishing is the most common way to do this. Defending against these attacks requires a defense-in-depth approach, involving multiple overlapping layers of protection. If anyone measure fails to detect a threat, others are in place to detect and block the threat.
In addition to a secure email gateway or spam filter, businesses should consider a web filter for blocking the web-based component of the attack, multifactor authentication for all accounts, antivirus software/endpoint security solutions, and security awareness training for employees to help them identify and avoid phishing threats. For assistance improving your defenses against phishing, contact TitanHQ.
Toward the end of 2022, a new AI-based chatbot was made available to the public which has proven popular for creating written content. Concern is now growing about the potential for the tool to be used by cybercriminals for creating new phishing lures and for rapidly coding new malware.
ChatGPT was developed by OpenAI and was released on 30 November 2022 to the public as part of the testing process. Just a few days after its release, the chatbot had reached a million users, who were using the tool to write emails, articles, essays, wedding speeches, poems, songs, and all manner of written content. The chatbot is based on the GPT-3 natural language model and can create human-like written content. The language model was trained using a massive dataset of written content from the Internet and can generate content in response to questions or prompts that users enter into the web-based interface.
While articles written using the chatbot would be unlikely to win any awards, the content is grammatically correct, contains no spelling mistakes, and in many cases is far better than you could expect from an average high school student. One of the problems is that while the content may superficially appear to be correct, it is biased by the data it was trained on and may include errors. That said, the generated content is reasonable and sufficiently accurate to pass the Bar exam for U.S. lawyers and the US Medical Licensing exam, although only just. It is no surprise that many school districts have already implemented bans on students using ChatGPT.
To get ChatGPT to generate content, you just need to tell it what you want to create. It is no surprise that it has proven to be so popular, considering it is capable of writing content better than many humans could. While there are many benefits from using AI for chatbots that can create human-like text, there is growing concern that these natural language AI tools could be used for malicious purposes, such as creating social engineering scams and phishing and business email compromise attacks.
The potential for misuse has prompted many security researchers to put ChatGPT to the test, to see whether it is capable of generating malicious emails. The developer has put certain controls in place to prevent misuse, but those controls can be bypassed. For instance, asking ChatGPT to write a phishing email will generate a message saying the request violates the terms and conditions, but by experimenting with the queries it is possible to get the chatbot to generate the required content.
Further, it is possible to write a phishing email and spin up many different combinations that are all unique, grammatically correct, and free from spelling errors. The text is human-like, and far better than many of the phishing emails that are used in real phishing campaigns. The rapid generation of content has allowed security researchers to spin up an entire email chain for a convincing spear phishing attack. It has also been demonstrated that the technology can be rapidly trained to mimic a specific style of writing, highlighting the potential for use in convincing BEC attacks. These tests were conducted by WithSecure prior to public release and before additional controls were implemented to prevent misuse, but they continued their research after restrictions were added to the tool, clearly demonstrating the potential for misuse.
The potential for misuse does not stop there. The technology underlying the chatbot can also be used to generate code and researchers have demonstrated ChatGPT and its underlying codex technology are capable of generating functional malware. Researchers at CyberArk were able to bypass the restrictions and generated a new strand of polymorphic malware, then were able to rapidly generate many different unique variations of the code. Researchers at Check Point similarly generated malicious code, in fact, they generated the full infection process from spear phishing email to malicious Excel document for downloading a payload, and the malicious payload itself – a reverse shell.
At present, it is only possible to generate working malicious code with good textual prompts, which requires a certain level of knowledge, but even in its current form, the technology could help to rapidly accelerate malware coding and improve the quality of phishing emails. There are already signs that the tool is already being misused, with posts on hacking forums including samples of malware allegedly written using the technology, such as a new information stealer and an encryptor for ransomware.
With malicious emails likely to be generated using these tools, and the potential for new malware to be rapidly coded and released, it has never been more important to ensure that email security defenses are up to scratch. Email security solutions should be put in place that are capable of detecting computer-generated malware. SpamTitan includes signature-based detection mechanisms for identifying known malware but also sandboxing to identify new malware based on behavior, as well as machine learning mechanisms for detecting zero-day phishing threats. TitanHQ also recommends implementing multifactor authentication, web filtering for blocking access to malicious websites, and security awareness training for employees. The quality of phishing emails may get better, but there will still be red flags that employees can be trained to recognize.
This month has seen an increase in phishing campaigns targeting professionals purporting to be messages from Human Resources advising them about salary increases, promotions, updates to policies and procedures, and other annual updates. The start of the year typically sees the HR department issue updates to employees, including notifications about changes to employee benefits, proposed pay rises, and annual updates to policies and procedures. It is therefore no surprise that cybercriminals are taking advantage of the increase in HR communications and have adopted lures related to these start-of-year messages. Several campaigns have been detected this month that have targeted employees and used HR-related lures.
The emails have realistic subject lines, appear to have been sent internally, and have lures that are likely to prompt a quick response. Messages about changes to employee benefits, pay rises, and promotions are likely to be opened by employees quickly without thinking, as are other notifications from the HR department such as updates to internal policies. Phishing simulation data shows that these types of emails have some of the highest click rates.
These emails include a combination of attachments and hyperlinks. One campaign claimed to include important information about a new benefits package and required employees to open an attached .shtml file. The email claimed employees needed to review and digitally sign the document to acknowledge receipt. In this case, opening the attached file would load a local copy of a phishing page, which generated a fake Microsoft 365 login prompt in the user’s browser. The user’s email address is populated as the username, and they are required to enter their password. The user is told that their password must be entered as they are accessing sensitive internal information.
These phishing emails may be sent from external email addresses and spoof the HR department, but internal email accounts compromised in previous phishing attacks are often used, adding to the realism of the campaign and making it harder for email security solutions to detect the emails as malicious. It is common for these campaigns to include malicious hyperlinks rather than attachments, where the user is directed to a phishing page that mimics the domain of the organization or a well-known, unrelated company. In one campaign, a healthcare organization was impersonated in an email purporting to provide details of updated medical benefits for employees. One campaign involved notifications about changes to the employee security awareness training program for the new year.
Phishing is one of the most common tactics used by cybercriminals to gain initial access to business networks. The campaigns are easy to conduct, requiring little effort by the attackers, and they are often effective. Simply opening a malicious attachment and enabling the content to view the document is all that is needed to install malware, and if a user can be convinced to disclose their Microsoft credentials, the attacker can gain access to all associated Microsoft applications, including Email, OneDrive, Teams, and SharePoint, giving them the foothold they need for conducting a more extensive attack and access to a considerable amount of sensitive company data.
Cybercriminals mimic the types of emails that employees are likely to receive at different times of the year. Over the next few weeks, it is likely that there will be an increase in phishing campaigns targeting tax professionals, and phishing campaigns targeting individuals that use tax-related lures, such as notifications about tax returns, tax rebates, and unpaid tax as tax season gets into full swing.
Businesses need to take steps to block these attacks. While antivirus software and a spam filter were once effective and could block the vast majority of email-based attacks, phishing is becoming increasingly sophisticated and the speed at which new, previously unseen malware variants can be created and released means these defenses are no longer as effective as they used to be.
To block more phishing attempts, businesses need to adopt a defense in-depth approach. In addition to antivirus/endpoint detection software and an advanced spam filter, they should consider adding a web filter to block access to the web-based component of phishing attacks and block malware downloads from the Internet. Multi-factor authentication should be implemented for accounts, although phishing kits are now being used that can bypass MFA. While any form of MFA is better than nothing, phishing-resistance MFA is ideal and should be implemented, which is based on FIDO standards and provides a much greater level of protection.
While it is the responsibility of organizations to block malicious emails and prevent them from reaching employees, it is inevitable that some will be delivered. It is therefore important to also provide security awareness training to employees to train them how to identify and avoid phishing attempts. Security awareness training combined with phishing simulations, such as those provided by TitanHQ through the SafeTitan platform, are proven to reduce susceptibility to phishing attacks.
Cybercriminals are constantly coming up with new tactics for stealing credentials and other sensitive information. Phishing is one of the main ways that this is achieved, but most businesses have spam filters that block these malicious messages. If a phishing email is developed that can bypass email security measures and land in the inboxes of a business, there is a good chance that the emails will be clicked and at least some accounts can be compromised.
Spam filters such as SpamTitan incorporate a range of advanced measures for detecting phishing emails, including reputation checks of IP addresses, analyses of the message headers and bodies, and machine learning algorithms are used to determine the probability that an email is malicious. Dual anti-virus engines are used for detecting known malware, sandboxing is used to detect zero-day malware threats by analyzing the behavior of files, and hyperlinks in emails are scanned to determine if they are malicious.
To bypass email security solutions, threat actors may link a legitimate website in an email, such as providing a URL for SharePoint, Google Drive, Dropbox, or another legitimate platform. These URLs are more difficult to identify as malicious as these websites pass reputation checks. Malicious URLs on these platforms are often reported and are then blocked by email security solutions, but the URLs often change and are never used for long.
A campaign has recently been detected that uses this tactic and attempts to direct users to the genuine Facebook.com site, with the phishing emails containing a link to a Facebook post. The phishing email comes from a legitimate-looking domain – officesupportonline.com – and warns the user that some of the features of their Facebook account have been deactivated due to copyright-infringing material. Like many phishing emails, the user is told they must take urgent action to prevent the deletion of their account. In this case, they are threatened with the deletion of their account if there is no response within 48 hours.
A link is supplied to a post on Facebook.com that the user is required to click to appeal the decision. The post masquerades as a Facebook.com support page from Facebook Page Support, which provides a link to an external webpage that the user is required to click to “Appeal a Page Copyright Violation”. The URL includes the name of Facebook’s parent company, Meta, although the domain is actually meta.forbusinessuser.xyz – A domain that is not owned by Meta or Facebook. URL shortening services are used in these campaigns to hide the true URL.
If the user clicks the link they will be directed to a page that closely resembles the genuine Facebook copyright appeal page. In order to appeal the decision, the user must complete a form that asks for their full name, email address, phone number, and Facebook username. If that information is submitted through the form, geolocation information is also collected along with the user’s IP address, and the information is sent to the scammer’s Telegram account.
The next stage of the scam sees the user redirected to another page where they are asked to provide a 6-digit one-time password, which they are told is required when a user attempts to sign into their account from a new device or browser. This is a fake 2-factor authentication box, and if the user enters any 6-digit code it will produce an error, but the code entered will be captured by the attacker. The user will be directed to the genuine Facebook site if they click the “need another way to authenticate?” option on the page.
Campaigns such as this highlight the importance of layered defenses. Spam filters are effective at blocking the majority of spam and phishing emails, but some messages will bypass spam filters and will be delivered to inboxes. One of the best ways to augment your phishing defenses is to provide security awareness training to your workforce, and this is key to combatting new phishing tactics such as this Facebook phishing scam.
Employees should be taught how to identify phishing attempts and what to do if a potentially malicious email is received. In addition to providing training, phishing simulations should be conducted on the workforce to give employees practice at identifying phishing threats while they are completing their usual work duties. If a simulation is failed, the employee can be told what went wrong and how they could identify similar threats in the future.
TitanHQ offers businesses a comprehensive security awareness training and phishing simulation platform called SafeTitan. The platform includes an extensive range of training content on all aspects of security, and a phishing simulation platform with hundreds of phishing templates taken from real-world phishing attacks. SafeTitan automates the provision of training and is the only behavior-driven security awareness training platform that delivers intervention training in real-time in response to security mistakes by employees, ensuring training is provided at the time when it is likely to be most effective at changing employee behavior.
Phishing is one of the most common ways that cybercriminals attack businesses. Phishing is used to install malware and steal credentials, both of which will provide them with initial access to the network. Since phishing targets individuals, one of the most important steps to take to prevent phishing attacks is to provide security awareness training to the workforce.
Employees should be warned about the risk of phishing attacks and taught what to look for to help them identify, avoid, and report phishing threats. Training alone is not the answer though, as employees need practice at identifying phishing. Phishing simulations should therefore be conducted. These are realistic but fake phishing emails that are sent to all members of the workforce, the responses to which are tracked. When a user fails a phishing simulation, they can be provided with relevant training to help them identify similar threats in the future and to correct any risky behaviors. The combination of security awareness training and phishing simulations – both of which are provided through SafeTitan – can reduce susceptibility to phishing attacks by up to 80%.
Security awareness training should teach employees the red flags that indicate a phishing attempt. Employees should also be encouraged to report phishing attempts to their security team, as there is a good chance that the phishing email will not be the only such threat in the email system. When these threats are reported, security teams can remove all other copies of that message from the email system, thus preventing other users from being exposed to the threat. It is also important to encourage users to report phishing threats that they have responded to, as the faster the security team is made aware of a clicked link or file download, the faster mitigations can be implemented to reduce the harm that can be caused.
One problem for businesses is employees are often fearful of reporting responses to phishing emails due to the potential for negative repercussions, such as disciplinary action. If reporting is delayed, then mitigations are also delayed, which can potentially have serious consequences. The UK’s National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) has recently suggested that in order to address this issue, businesses need to change their mindset. At many businesses, employees are made to feel that it is their responsibility to identify and avoid phishing attempts when the reality is it is the responsibility of the employer to block threats by implementing a range of technical controls. Employees should be trained on how to identify phishing attempts of course, but in order to develop a strong reporting culture, employees must not be made to think that a failure to avoid a phishing threat is their fault. The NCSC also takes issue with the commonly provided advice that employees should not click hyperlinks in unsolicited emails as, in many cases, that is actually a requirement of their job.
Technical Recommendations for Protecting Against Phishing Attacks
So how should businesses combat phishing? What technical measures should be implemented to improve defenses and make it much harder for phishing attacks to succeed? TitanHQ has long recommended what the NCSC suggests, and that is phishing prevention requires a defense-in-depth approach, where multiple overlapping layers of protection are implemented. This is vital, as no single anti-phishing measure will be 100% effective, 100% of the time.
The NCSC recommends multiple technical measures, the most important of which are a spam filtering solution that scans all inbound emails for phishing signatures and the setting of DMARC and SPF policies, as these are effective at blocking the majority of phishing threats. TitanHQ’s SpamTitan solution incorporates DMARC, DKIM, and SPF for blocking phishing threats, machine learning for identifying zero-day threats, as has constantly updated blacklists of malicious IP addresses and domains. SpamTitan also has a sandbox for deep behavioral inspection of attachments, in addition to dual anti-virus engines.
The NCSC also recommends implementing web proxies or web filters to prevent employees from accessing malicious websites linked in phishing emails. SpamTitan Plus rewrites URLs in phishing emails and follows them, providing protection against these malicious links. The WebTitan DNS filter will block access to known malicious websites and will also prevent downloads of malicious or risky files from the Internet, such as executable files – another recommendation of NCSC.
While not often considered by businesses as a phishing prevention measure, a password manager does provide a degree of protection against phishing attacks that harvest credentials, so businesses should provide one for their employees to use and they should encourage employees to use it. Password managers suggest strong passwords and then autofill them when they are required. Since the password is tied to a specific URL or domain, if a user lands on a phishing site that spoofs a brand, the password manager will not auto-fill the password, since the URL/domain is not associated with that password. It is also important to ensure that multi-factor authentication is enabled. Ideally, businesses should opt for passwordless authentication with a FIDO token.
Additional safeguards that should be considered include allow-listing to prevent executable files from running from any directories that users can write them and configuring the Registry to ensure that dangerous scripting or file types are opened in Notepad and are not executed. NCSC also recommends using PowerShell in constrained mode, script signing, disabling the mounting of .iso files on endpoints, locking down the macro settings, and only allowing users to enable macros if they need to do so for their job. Businesses should also stay up to date on the latest threats and ensure that mitigations are implemented against those threats and that they are incorporated into security awareness training programs, as TitanHQ does with SafeTitan.
By implementing all of these mitigations and adopting a defense-in-depth approach it becomes less important that employees can recognize and avoid threats, although training is still important because one or more of the above measures may fail. Businesses should also avoid punishing employees for failing to identify phishing attempts, as that is likely to create a culture of fear rather than a culture of reporting threats.
TitanHQ can help businesses significantly improve their defenses and implement many of the NCSC recommendations for combatting phishing. For more information on TitanHQ solutions, give the team a call today, or take advantage of the free trials on all TitanHQ products.
Phishing is one of the most effective ways of gaining initial access to business networks, either by stealing credentials or installing malware. Phishing exploits human weaknesses and involves tricking individuals using social engineering into taking a certain action, such as visiting a website where they are asked for sensitive information or opening a file that contains malicious code.
One of the best defenses against phishing attacks is a spam filter. A spam filter will scan all incoming (and often outbound) emails looking for the signatures of spam and phishing. Suspect messages are quarantined pending a manual review and rules can be set for confirmed phishing emails, which is often to delete the messages or quarantine them for further investigation. Spam filters will prevent the majority of malicious emails from reaching inboxes, but crucially, not all. Some malicious messages will bypass the spam filter and will land in inboxes, no matter what spam filtering solution you use.
Advanced spam filters such as SpamTitan provide several layers of protection against spam, phishing, and malware but even advanced spam filters are not sufficient on their own to combat phishing. Cybercriminals are now conducting highly sophisticated attacks, so further layers need to be added to your defenses. A web filter is recommended for blocking access to the URLs linked in phishing emails. Spam filters may check links in emails, but these may be made malicious after emails are delivered. A web filter provides time-of-click protection against malicious links. Web filters can also be configured to block certain file downloads from the Internet.
To protect against credential theft, businesses should consider providing a password manager to their employees. Phishing attacks that seek credentials usually direct users to a spoofed website, such as a site with a fake Microsoft login prompt for stealing Microsoft 365 credentials. Employees are often fooled by these scams as the phishing sites look exactly the same as the brands they spoof. Password managers provide some protection. When a password is added to the password vault, it is associated with a specific URL or domain. If the user lands on that URL or domain, the password manager will autofill the password. If the user lands on an unrelated domain, the password will not be filled as the URL or domain is not associated with that password. That serves as a warning that the URL has not been visited before.
Sometimes, employees will be fooled and will disclose their login credentials. This is where multi-factor authentication helps. With multi-factor authentication enabled, compromised passwords will not grant access to accounts unless an additional factor is provided. Since phishing kits are in use that are capable of intercepting MFA codes, the choice of MFA is important. For the best protection use phishing-resistant MFA, which is based on FIDO authentication.
By implementing all of the above technical measures, businesses will be well protected against phishing attacks, but that does not mean it is not necessary to provide security awareness training to the workforce. Security awareness training forms the final layer of protection and prepares employees for the threats they are likely to encounter. Security awareness training teaches employees about phishing, malware, business email compromise, and other cyber threats, and explains best practices and why they are essential for security. The goal of security awareness training is to create a security culture where all employees are aware that they play a role in the security of their organization and to develop a reporting culture where the IT department is made aware of any threats that bypass defenses. That allows the IT department to tweak security solutions to make sure similar threats are blocked in the future.
Security awareness training should be accompanied by phishing simulations. These simulated phishing attacks identify weaknesses that can be addressed. That may be a gap in the training content or an individual who has not understood the training. Simulations allow gaps to be proactively addressed before they are exploited in real cyberattacks. Simulations also help to keep training fresh in the mind and give employees practice at identifying cyber threats.
TitanHQ can help your business to improve defenses against phishing and cyberattacks through layered defenses provided by SpamTitan email security, WebTitan web filtering, and SafeTitan security awareness training. For more information on improving your phishing defenses, give the TitanHQ team a call.
This month has seen a return of the Emotet botnet after a 4-month period of inactivity, with a high-volume email campaign identified that is increasing the size of the botnet. Emotet started life as a banking Trojan but has been updated over the years to add new functionality. Devices infected with Emotet are added to the botnet and can be used for a variety of purposes, but one of the main functions of Emotet is as a malware dropper, delivering additional malicious payloads on devices once the botnet operator has achieved their own goals. Currently, Emotet is being used to drop a new variant of the IcedID loader. IcedID is a banking Trojan that is similarly used to drop other malware variants.
Emotet is primarily spread via phishing emails, with the campaigns typically consisting of hundreds of thousands of emails a day. The lures used in these messages are often changed, but the threat actor behind Emotet tends to opt for traditional lures such as IRS notifications and business-themed emails. The Emotet Trojan is able to hijack message threats from infected devices and reply, including a copy of itself in the emails. Since the emails come from a genuine email account and appear to be a response to a past conversation, the probability of the recipient opening the email and attachment is all the greater.
The emails in the latest campaign still use XLS attachments with Auto_Open macros to deliver the malicious payload, despite Microsoft disabling macros in files delivered via the Internet. In some of the emails, the .xls file is directly attached to the email, although it is commonly included in a .zip file. The zip files are often password-protected to prevent them from being scanned by email security solutions, with the password – and often little else other than the file name and a signature – included in the message body.
To get around Microsoft’s macro protections, the user is advised when they open to the .xls file to copy the file to a whitelisted directory and reopen it. The user is told this is a necessary requirement of their security policy to be able to view the contents of the file, with instructions provided for different Microsoft Office versions. By copying the file to the suggested location and then reopening it, Microsoft’s protections will not be applied, and the macro will be able to run. The latest campaign is predominantly targeting the United States, although it is likely that the campaign will be expanded to target other geographical regions.
Defending against Emotet requires a combination of measures. While email security solutions such as SpamTitan can detect and block Emotet phishing emails, a defense-in-depth approach is recommended that includes comprehensive security awareness training for the workforce and more advanced endpoint detection solutions than standard antivirus software.
TitanHQ offers security awareness training and phishing simulations through the SafeTitan platform which trains employees how to recognize the phishing emails that are being used to deliver Emotet. The phishing simulator includes real-world examples of the types of emails that the gang uses to trick employees into installing Emotet.
For further information on improving your defenses against Emotet and other email threats, give the TitanHQ team a call. All TitanHQ cybersecurity solutions are available on a free trial to allow you to test them for effectiveness and usability before making a decision about a purchase.
A new malware variant called StrelaStealer has been identified that is being distributed via email that targets credentials for two of the most popular email clients: Outlook and Thunderbird. This previously unknown malware was first identified earlier this month, and so far, has been used to target Spanish speakers.
The campaign was identified by security researchers at DCSO CyTec. The intercepted emails have an ISO (optical disc image) file attachment. These files contain all the data that would normally be written to an optical such as a CD, DVD, or Blu-ray disc, sector by sector, with the content bundled into a single file.
One of the files analyzed by the researchers contained an executable file that sideloads the malware contained in the ISO file via DLL order hijacking. The ISO file also contains a .lnk file and polyglot file. A polyglot file can be treated as several different file formats depending on the application that opens it. In this case, the polyglot file is an x.html file, which is both an x.html file and a DLL program that loads StrelaStealer malware. Execution sees the malware loaded in the memory and simultaneously a decoy document is displayed in the web browser while the malware is executed.
Interestingly the malware does not target browser data, cryptocurrency wallets, and other data commonly obtained by information-stealing malware. Instead, it searches for the %APPDATA%\Thunderbird\Profiles directory looking for login.json and key4.db. The former contains the account and password, and the latter is the password database. Both are then exfiltrated to the attacker’s command and control server.
The malware also searches the Windows Registry and retrieves the Outlook software key, and locates the IMAP User, IMAP Server, and IMAP password values. The passwords for Outlook are encrypted, but the malware uses the CryptUnprotectData function of Windows to decrypt the data before exfiltrating the decrypted data to the C2 server
Cybercriminals are constantly developing new techniques for distributing malware. Security awareness training typically focuses on raising awareness of the most common methods of malware delivery, such as Office files containing malicious macros. Since employees are likely to be much less familiar with ISO files, they may not identify these emails as malicious, or may not report them to their security teams due to the decoy document that is displayed, in the belief that nothing untoward has happened.
To improve protection against campaigns such as this, businesses should consider configuring their email security solution to quarantine emails containing risky file attachments such as executable files, and also configure their web filter to block downloads of these file types from the Internet. That is a simple process with SpamTitan Email Security and the WebTitan web filter.
A new phishing campaign has been detected that is being used to distribute a relatively new malware threat called IceXLoader. The malware was first identified in the summer and is being actively developed, with version 3.3 of the malware being distributed in the latest campaign. The malware appears to be a work in progress, with the latest version of the malware having enhanced functionality and a new method of installation is now being used. While it has only been distributed for a few months, it already represents a significant threat.
As the name suggests, IceXLoader is a malware dropper that is designed to deploy additional malicious payloads on infected devices. This could include additional tools to help the operators of the malware achieve their aims or it could be offered to a range of threat actors under the malware-as-a-service model for delivering information stealers, ransomware, and other malicious payloads. The malware was first identified by researchers at Fortinet, who named the malware IceXLoader due to the presence of ICE_X strings in samples of the malware code.
The malware is delivered via phishing emails with a .zip compressed file attachment, which contains the first stage extractor. If allowed to run, this will create a new hidden folder in C:\Users\<username>\AppData\Local\Temp, and will then drop and execute the second stage executable file, which creates a new registry key and deletes the temporary folder. The second stage executable downloads a PNG file from a hardcoded URL, and converts it into an obfuscated DLL file, which is IceXLoader. The dropper will perform checks to see if it is running in a virtual environment and will wait 35 seconds before executing IceXLoader to avoid sandbox detection. IceXLoader will collect a variety of information about its host, will connect to its command-and-control server and exfiltrate that information, and will then drop additional malicious payloads.
The malware is capable of evading Windows Defender and other anti-malware programs to prevent scanning of the folder where IceXLoader resides. Researchers at Minerva Labs note that the exfiltrated data is freely accessible on the C2 server, so the threat actors are currently not interested in securing the stolen data.
Due to the ability of the malware to evade traditional antivirus software solutions, the key to blocking this threat is implement next-generation endpoint detection solutions that are able to identify malware by their behavior, and ensure that strong, multi-layered anti phishing defenses are implemented to block the initial phishing emails, including an advanced spam filter for blocking the email and web filtering technology to prevent downloads of malicious files from the Internet.
It is also important not to neglect the human element of defenses. Security awareness training for the workforce will go a long way toward preventing these and other email-based attacks from succeeding, by teaching employees email security best practices.
The construction firm Interserve has been slapped with a £4.4 million GDPR fine for failing to prevent a phishing attack and the theft of the personal and financial information of up to 113,000 employees.
Interserve is a construction and outsourcing group, which, at the time of the cyberattack in 2020, was a strategic supplier to the UK government, including the Ministry of Defense. An employee received a phishing email and forwarded it to a colleague, who opened the email and downloaded the malicious content, which saw malware installed on its network. What happened next is all too common in cyberattacks. The threat actors had a foothold in the network, then moved laterally, and compromised 283 Interserve systems and 16 accounts.
Interserve’s anti-virus software was then uninstalled by the threat actors, and ransomware was deployed to encrypt files on the network. The information accessed, encrypted, and stolen by the attackers included highly sensitive employee information such as contact information, national insurance numbers, and bank account details. Data classed as special category data under the GDPR was also compromised, including ethnic origin, religion, details of any disabilities, sexual orientation, and health information.
The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) investigated the cyberattack and data breach and determined Interserve had failed to put appropriate security measures in place to prevent cyberattacks such as this, and the lack of appropriate safeguards left Interserve vulnerable to cyberattacks from March 2019 to December 2020.
The ICO identified several areas where the attack could have been identified and blocked. The initial phishing email was not blocked, nor was the malicious email detected when it was forwarded internally. The company had anti-virus software installed, which quarantined the malware and generated a security alert, yet Interserve failed to investigate the suspicious activity. Had it been investigated Interserve should have been able to determine that the attacker still had access to its network. The ICO also found outdated software systems and protocols in use, there was a lack of staff training, and insufficient risk assessments had been performed.
The failure to implement appropriate safeguards violated information privacy laws, resulting in a £4.4 million fine being proposed. The response of Interserve to that notice of intent to fine did nothing to warrant any reduction in the penalty.
“The biggest cyber risk businesses face is not from hackers outside of their company, but from complacency within their company. If your business doesn’t regularly monitor for suspicious activity in its systems and fails to act on warnings, or doesn’t update software and fails to provide training to staff, you can expect a similar fine from my office,” said UK Information Commissioner, John Edwards.
These cybersecurity failures are all too common at businesses and they leave the door wide open for hackers, yet malware and ransomware attacks such as this can easily be prevented. In this case, following cybersecurity best practices, ensuring employees practice good cyber hygiene, and responding to security alerts quickly could have prevented or certainly reduced the severity of the data breach.
An effective email security solution should have been in place for detecting malicious emails, first when the initial email was received and again when it was forwarded. The email should have been quarantined and checked by the IT security team. Had appropriate end-user training been provided, both employees should have been aware of the threat of email-based attacks and known how to identify phishing emails. The IT security team should also have investigated the alert and suspicious network activity.
It is not possible to prevent all cyberattacks but implementing an advanced spam filter and providing security awareness training to employees will go a long way toward improving an organization’s security posture. Those are areas where TitanHQ can help. TitanHQ has developed a suite of cybersecurity solutions including SpamTitan Email Security, the SafeTitan Security Awareness and Phishing Simulation Platform, and the WebTitan DNS Filter for blocking web-based attacks.
For more information on improving your security posture to block cyberattacks, prevent data breaches, and protect against financial penalties from regulators, give the TitanHQ team a call.
When multifactor authentication is set up on accounts, attempts to access those accounts using stolen credentials will be prevented, as in addition to a correct username and password, another factor must be provided to authenticate users. Phishing attacks may allow credentials to be stolen, but that does not guarantee accounts can be accessed. More companies are implementing multifactor authentication which means phishing attacks need to be more sophisticated to bypass the protection provided by multifactor authentication.
One of the ways that multifactor authentication can be bypassed is by using a reverse proxy. In a phishing attack, an email is sent to a target and a link is provided to a malicious website hosting a phishing form that spoofs the service of the credentials being targeted – Microsoft 365 for example. Instead of just collecting the login credentials and using them to try to remotely access the user’s account, a reverse proxy is used.
The reverse proxy sits between the phishing site and the genuine service that the attacker is attempting to access and displays the login form on that service. When the credentials are entered, they are relayed in real-time to the legitimate service, and requests are returned from that service, such as MFA requests. When the login process is successfully completed, a session cookie is returned which allows the threat actor to access the genuine service as the victim. The session cookie can also contain the authentication token. In these attacks, once the session cookie has been obtained, the victim is usually presented with a notification telling them the login attempt has failed or they are directed to another site and will likely be unaware that their credentials have been stolen and their account is being accessed.
These attacks allow the victim’s account to be accessed for as long as the session cookie remains valid. If it expires or is revoked, the attacker will lose access to the account. To get around this and gain persistent access, account details may be changed or other authentication methods will be set up.
These types of phishing attacks are much more sophisticated than standard phishing attacks, but the extra effort is worth the investment of time, money, and resources. Many advanced persistent threat actors use reverse proxies in their phishing campaigns and have developed their own custom reverse proxies and tools. There are, however, publicly available kits that can be used in phishing campaigns such as Modlishka, Necrobrowser, and Evilginx2. These kits can be used at a cost and allow MFA to be bypassed, although they can be complicated to set up and use.
Now a new phishing-as-a-Service (PaaS) platform has been identified – EvilProxy – that is being pushed on hacking forums. EvilProxy allows authentication tokens to be stolen from a range of vendors including Microsoft, Apple, Twitter, Facebook, Google, and more, according to Resecurity which recently reported on the phishing kit.
EvilProxy lowers the bar considerably and makes conducting reverse proxy phishing attacks far simpler. The service includes instructional videos, provides a user-friendly graphical interface, and even supplies templates of cloned phishing pages for stealing credentials and auth tokens. Through the graphical interface, threat actors can set up and manage their phishing campaigns with ease. EvilProxy comes at a cost, starting at $150 for 10 days up to $400 for a month. While the service is not cheap, the potential rewards can be considerable. EvilProxy allows low-skill threat actors to gain access to valuable accounts, which could be used or sold on to other threat actors such as ransomware gangs.
Multifactor authentication is strongly recommended as it will block the majority of attacks on accounts; however, it can be bypassed by using reverse proxies. Protecting against reverse proxy phishing attacks requires a defense-in-depth approach. An email security solution – SpamTitan for example – should be implemented to block the initial phishing email. A web filter – WebTitan – should be used to block attempts to visit the malicious websites used in these man-in-the-middle attacks. Security awareness training is important for training employees on how to recognize and avoid phishing threats, and employers should conduct phishing simulation tests as part of the training process. TitanHQ’s SafeTitan platform allows businesses to conduct regular training and phishing simulations with ease.
Phishing attacks are mostly conducted via email but there has been a major increase in hybrid phishing attacks over the past 12 months, especially callback phishing. Here we explain what callback phishing is, why it poses such a threat to businesses, and why threat actors are favoring this new approach.
What is Callback Phishing?
Email phishing is used for credential theft and malware distribution, but one of the problems with this type of phishing is most businesses have email security solutions that scan inbound emails for malicious content. Phishing emails and malicious files distributed via email are often identified as such and are rejected or quarantined. Some threat actors conduct voice phishing, where an individual is contacted by telephone, and attempts are made to trick them into taking an action that benefits the scammer using a variety of social engineering tactics.
Callback phishing is a type of hybrid phishing where these two methods of phishing are combined. Initially, an email is sent to a targeted individual or company that alerts the recipient to a potential problem. This could be an outstanding invoice, an upcoming payment or charge, a fictitious malware infection or security issue, or any of a long list of phishing lures. Instead of further information being provided in an attachment or on a website linked in the email, a telephone number is provided. The recipient must call the number for more information and to address the issue detailed in the email.
The phone number is manned by the threat actor who uses social engineering techniques to trick the caller into taking an action. That action is usually to disclose credentials, download a malicious file, or open a remote desktop session. In the case of the latter, the remote desktop session is used to deliver malware that serves as a backdoor into the victim’s computer and network.
This hybrid approach to phishing allows threat actors to get around email security solutions. The only malicious element in the initial email is a phone number, which is difficult for email security solutions to identify as malicious and block. That means the emails are likely to reach their targets.
Major Increase in Callback Phishing Attacks
Callback phishing was adopted by the Ryuk ransomware threat group in 2019 to trick people into installing BazarBackdoor malware, in a campaign that was dubbed BazarCall/BazaCall. Typically, the lure used in these attacks was to advise the user about an upcoming payment for a subscription or the end of a free trial, with a payment due to be automatically taken unless the trial/subscription is canceled by phone.
The Ryuk ransomware operation is no more. The threat actors rebranded as Conti, and the Conti ransomware operation has also now shut down; however, three threat groups have been formed by members of the Conti ransomware operation – Silent Ransom, Quantum, and Zeon – and all have adopted callback phishing as one of the main methods for gaining initial access to victims’ networks for conducting ransomware attacks. These three groups impersonate a variety of companies in their initial emails and trick people into believing they are communicating with a genuine company. The aim is to get the user to establish a remote desktop session. While the user is distracted by the call, a second member of the team uses that connection to install a backdoor or probe for ways to attack the company, without the user being aware what is happening.
Callback phishing is also used by other threat groups for credentials theft and malware distribution, often by impersonating a cybersecurity firm and alerting the user to a security threat that needs to be resolved quickly. These attacks see the user tricked into installing malware or disclosing their credentials. According to cybersecurity firm Agari, phishing attacks increased by 6% from Q1, 2022 to Q2, 2022, and over that same time frame hybrid phishing attacks increased by an incredible 625%.
How to Protect Against Callback Phishing Attacks
As is the case with other forms of phishing, the key to defending against attacks is to implement layered defenses. Email security solutions should be implemented that perform a range of checks of inbound emails to identify malicious IP addresses. Email security solutions such as SpamTitan incorporate machine learning mechanisms that can detect emails that deviate from those normally received by an organization. Multi-factor authentication should be implemented on accounts to block attempts to use stolen credentials.
The best defense against callback phishing is to provide security awareness training to the workforce. Employees should be told about the social engineering tactics used in these attacks, the checks everyone should perform before responding to any email, and the signs of callback phishing to look out for. Callback phishing simulations should also be conducted to gauge how susceptible the workforce is to callback phishing. A failed simulation can be turned into a training opportunity to proactively address the lack of understanding.
TitanHQ offers a comprehensive security awareness training platform for businesses – SafeTitan – that covers all forms of phishing and the platform included a phishing simulator for conducting phishing tests on employees. For more information, give the TitanHQ team a call today.
Business Email Compromise (BEC), also known as Email Account Compromise (EAC), is one of the most financially damaging types of cyberattacks, and attacks have been increasing. These attacks involve gaining access to business email accounts, often the email account of the CEO or CFO, and using those accounts to send emails to staff that has responsibility for making payments and tricking them into wiring funds to an attacker-controlled account. The attacks can also be conducted to make changes to payroll information to get employees’ salaries deposited to attacker-controlled accounts.
BEC scams have resulted in losses in excess of $43 billion over the past 5 years according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), and that is just complaints submitted to its Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3). In 2021 alone, almost $2.4 billion in losses to BEC attacks were reported to IC3.
Anatomy of a BEC Attack
BEC attacks require considerable effort by threat actors, but the rewards from a successful attack are high. BEC attacks often see fraudulent transfers made for hundreds of thousands of dollars and in some cases several million. Companies are researched, individuals to target are identified, and attempts are made to compromise their accounts. Accounts can be compromised through phishing or brute force attempts to guess weak passwords.
With access to the right email accounts, the attacker can study the emails in the account. The usual communication channels can be identified along with the style of emails that are usually sent. The attacker will identify contracts that are about to be renewed, invoices that will soon be due, and other regular payments to try to divert. Timely and convincing emails can then be sent to divert payments and give the attacker sufficient time to move the funds before the scam is uncovered.
A recent report from Accenture suggests the rise in ransomware attacks is helping to fuel the rise in BEC attacks. Ransomware gangs steal data before encrypting files and publish the data on their data leak sites. The stolen data can be used to identify businesses and employees that can be targeted, and often includes contract information, invoices, and other documents that can cut down on the time spent researching targets and identifying payments to divert. Some ransomware gangs are offering indexed, searchable data, which makes life even easier for BEC scammers.
How to Improve Your Defenses Against BEC Attacks
Defending against BEC attacks can be a challenge for businesses. Once an email account has been compromised, the emails sent from the account to the finance department to make wire transfers can be difficult to distinguish from genuine communications.
Use an Email Security Solution with Outbound Scanning
An email security solution such as SpamTitan can help in this regard, as all outbound emails are scanned in addition to inbound emails. However, the key to blocking attacks is to prevent the email accounts from being compromised in the first place, which is where SpamTitan will really help. SpamTitan protects against phishing emails using multiple layers of protection. Known malicious email accounts and IP addresses are blocked, other checks are performed on message headers looking for the signs of phishing, and the content of the emails is checked, including attachments and embedded hyperlinks. Emails are checked using heuristics and Bayesian analysis to identify irregularities, and machine learning helps to identify messages that deviate from the normal emails received by a business.
Implement Robust Password Policies and MFA
Unfortunately, it is not only phishing that is used to compromise email accounts. Brute force tactics are used to guess weak passwords or credentials stuffing attacks are performed to guess passwords that have been used to secure users’ other accounts. To block this attack vector, businesses need to implement robust password policies and enforce the use of strong passwords. Remembering complex passwords is difficult for employees, so a password manager solution should be used so they don’t need to. Password managers suggest complex, unique passwords, and store them securely in a vault. They autofill the passwords when they are needed so employees don’t need to remember them. If email account credentials are compromised, they can be used to remotely access accounts. Multifactor authentication can stop this, as in addition to a password, another form of authentication must be provided.
Provide Security Awareness Training to the Workforce
Providing security awareness training to the workforce is a must. Employees need to be taught how to recognize phishing emails and should be trained on cybersecurity best practices. If employees are unaware of the threats they are likely to encounter, when the threats land in their inboxes or are encountered on the web, they may not be able to recognize them as malicious. Training should be tailored for different users, and training on BEC attacks should be provided to the individuals who are likely to be targeted: the board, finance department, payroll, etc.
Security awareness should be accompanied by phishing simulations – fake, but realistic, phishing emails sent to the workforce to test how they respond. BEC attacks can be simulated to see whether the scams can be recognized. If a simulation is failed it can be turned into a training opportunity. These campaigns can be created, and automated, with the SafeTitan Security Awareness Training and Phishing Simulation Platform.
Set Up Communication Channels for Verifying Transfer Requests
Employees responsible for making wire transfers or changing payroll information should have a communication channel they can use to verify transfers and bank account changes. Providing them with a list of verified phone numbers will allow them to make a quick call to verify changes. A quick phone call to verify a request can be the difference between an avoided scam and a major financial loss.
Speak to TitanHQ about Improving Your Defenses Against BEC Attacks
TitanHQ offers a range of cybersecurity solutions for blocking email and web-based cyber threats. For more information on SpamTitan Email Security, WebTitan Web Filtering, and SafeTitan Security Awareness Training, give the TitanHQ team a call. All solutions are quick and easy to set up and use, and all have been developed to make it easy for MSPs to offer these cybersecurity solutions to their clients. With TitanHQ solutions in place, you will be well protected from phishing, malware, ransomware, botnets, social engineering, and BEC attacks.
Phishing is mostly conducted via email; however, a recent data breach at the cloud communication company Twilio demonstrates that phishing can be highly effective when conducted using other popular communication methods, such as SMS messages.
An SMS phishing attack – known as SMiShing – involves sending SMS messages with a link to a malicious website with some kind of lure to get people to click. Once a click occurs, the scam progresses as an email phishing attack does, with the user being prompted to disclose their credentials on a website that is usually a spoofed site to make it appear genuine. The credentials are then captured and used by the attacker to remotely access the victims’ accounts.
Twillio provides programmable voice, text, chat, video, and email APIs, which are used by more than 10 million developers and 150,000 businesses to create customer engagement platforms. In this smishing attack, Twilio employees were sent SMS messages that appeared to have been sent by the Twilio IT department that directed them to a cloned website that had the Twilio sign-in page. Due to the small screen size on mobile devices, the full URL is not displayed, but certain keywords are added to the URLs that will be displayed to add realism to the scam. The URLs in this campaign included keywords such as SSO, Okta, and Twilio.
According to Twilio EMEA Communications director, Katherine James, the company detected suspicious account activity on August 4, 2022, and the investigation confirmed that several employee accounts had been accessed by unauthorized individuals following responses to the SMS messages. The attackers were able to access certain customer data through the Twilio accounts, although James declined to say how many employees were tricked by the scam and how many customers had been affected.
Twilio was transparent about the data breach and shared the text of one of the phishing emails, which read:
Notice! [redacted] login has expired. Please tap twilio-sso-com to update your password!
The text messages were sent from U.S. carrier networks. Twilio contacted those companies and the hosting providers to shut down the operation and take down the malicious URLs. Twilio said they were not the only company to be targeted in this SMS phishing campaign, and the company worked in conjunction with those other companies to try to shut the operation down; however, as is common in these campaigns, the threat actors simply switch mobile carriers and hosting providers to continue their attacks.
The smishing attack and data breach should serve as a reminder to all businesses of the risk of smishing. Blocking these types of phishing attacks can be a challenge for businesses. The best starting point for improving your defenses is to provide security awareness training for the workforce. Security awareness training for employees usually has a strong emphasis on email phishing, since this type of phishing is far more common, but it is important to also ensure that employees are trained on how to recognize phishing in all its forms, including smishing, social media phishing, and voice phishing – vishing – which takes place over the telephone.
The easiest way to do this is to work with a security vendor such as TitanHQ. TitanHQ offers a comprehensive security awareness training platform – SafeTitan – with an extensive range of training content on all aspects of security, including smishing and voice phishing. The training content is engaging, interactive, and effective at improving cybersecurity understanding, and SafeTitan is the only security awareness training platform that delivers training in real-time in response to the behavior of employees. The platform also includes a phishing simulator for automating simulated phishing tests on employees.
For more information about improving security awareness in your organization, contact TitanHQ today.
TitanHQ has announced an update has been made to its flagship anti-phishing solution, SpamTitan Plus. The new enhancements have been added to the predictive phishing detection capabilities of SpamTitan Plus to help users block personalized URL attacks.
Phishing attacks on businesses have become much more sophisticated and new tactics are constantly being developed to evade standard email security solutions. While commercial email security solutions perform well at identifying and blocking spam emails, achieving detection rates in excess of 99%, blocking phishing emails is more of a challenge and many phishing threats sneak past email security solutions and are delivered to inboxes.
One of the ways that cyber threat actors bypass email security solutions is by creating personalized URLs for their phishing emails. One of the methods used by email security solutions for blocking phishing URLs is a real-time blacklist of known malicious URLs and IP addresses. If an email is sent from an IP address that has previously been used to send spam or phishing emails, the IP address is added to a blacklist and all emails from that IP address will be blocked. The URLs in phishing campaigns are set up and massive email runs are performed. When those URLs are detected as malicious, they are also added to a blacklist and will be blocked by email security solutions.
However, it is becoming increasingly common for personalized URLs to be used. These URLs can be personalized for the targeted organizations at the path and parameter level, and since a unique URL is used in each attack, standard anti-phishing measures such as blacklists are ineffective at detecting these URLs as malicious. That means the emails containing these malicious URLs are likely to be delivered to inboxes and can only be blocked after they have been delivered. That typically means an employee needs to report the email to their security team, and the security team must then act quickly to remove all phishing emails in that campaign from the email system. That process takes time and there is a risk that the links in the emails could be clicked, resulting in credential theft or malware infections. Most of the phishing detection feeds that are used by email security solutions do not gather the necessary intelligence to be able to inform customers of the level at which a phishing campaign should be blocked. SpamTitan Plus, however, does have that capability.
“With predictive phishing detection, SpamTitan Plus can now combat automated bot phishing,” said Ronan Kavanagh, CEO of TitanHQ. “At TitanHQ we always strive to innovate and develop solutions that solve real-security problems and provide tangible value to our customers. The end goal is to have our partners and customers two or three steps ahead of the phishers and cybercriminals.”
SpamTitan Plus is an AI-driven anti-phishing solution that is capable of blocking even the newest zero-day phishing threats. The solution has better coverage than any of the current market leaders and provides unparalleled time-of-click protection against malicious hyperlinks in phishing emails, with the lowest false positive rate of any product. SpamTitan Plus benefits from massive clickstream traffic from 600+ million users and endpoints worldwide, which sees the solution block 10 million new, never-before-seen phishing and malicious URLs a day.
The solution protects against URL-based email threats including malware and phishing, performs predictive analyses to identify suspicious URLs, URLs are rewritten to protect users, real-time checks are performed on every click, and the solution includes 100% of all current market-leading anti-phishing feeds. That translates into a 1.5x increase in unique phishing URL detections, 1.6x faster phishing detections than the current market leaders, and 5 minutes from initial detection of a malicious URL to protecting all end user mailboxes.
For more information about the best phishing solution for businesses, give the TitanHQ team a call today. Current users of SpamTitan Plus already have these new capabilities added, at no additional cost.
A new phishing campaign is being conducted that abuses trust in cybersecurity companies. The campaign uses scare tactics to get company employers to pick up the phone and speak to the cybersecurity vendor about a recently detected data breach and potential workstation compromise.
It is becoming increasingly common for phishing scams to involve initial contact via email with requests to make a call. This tactic is often used in tech support scams, where victims are convinced they have a malware infection or another serious security issue on their device, and they are tricked into downloading malicious software such as Remote Access Trojans (RATs).
RATs give the attackers access to the user’s computer, and that access can be abused by the attacker or the access can be sold to other threat groups such as ransomware gangs. Affiliates of ransomware-as-a-service operations may use this technique to conduct attacks and are then paid a percentage of any ransom payments they generate.
In this campaign, the impersonated companies are very well-known providers of enterprise security solutions, such as CrowdStrike, and the emails are very well written and convincing. They claim that a data breach has been detected that affected the part of the cybersecurity provider’s network associated with the customer’s workstation and warns that all workstations on the network may have been compromised. As such, the cybersecurity company is conducting an audit.
The emails claim that the cybersecurity vendor has reached out to the IT department, which has instructed the vendor to contain individual users directly. The emails claim that the audit is necessary for compliance with the Consumer Privacy Act of 2018 (CCPA) and other regulations and that the agreement between the targeted individual’s company and the cybersecurity vendor allows it to conduct regular audits and security checks. A phone number is provided for the individual to make contact, and the email includes the correct corporate logo and genuine address of the cybersecurity vendor.
CrowdStrike reports that a similar scam has been conducted by the Wizard Spider threat group, which was responsible for Ryuk ransomware attacks. That campaign delivered BazarLoader malware, which was used to deliver the ransomware payload.
This type of phishing attempt is known as callback phishing. This technique can be effective at bypassing email security solutions since the emails contain no malicious content – There are no hyperlinks and no file attachments. This scam highlights the importance of conducting security awareness training on the workforce to help employees identify and avoid phishing scams.
How TitanHQ Can Help
TitanHQ provides a range of security solutions for blocking phishing attacks, including SpamTitan Email Security, WebTitan DNS Filtering, and the SafeTitan Security Awareness and Phishing Simulation Platform.
SafeTitan has an extensive library of interactive, gamified, and engaging training content for improving security awareness of the workforce, including phishing and the full range of cyberattacks that employees are likely to encounter. The training is delivered in easily assimilated modules of no more than 8 to 10 minutes, and training can be delivered in real-time in response to risky user behaviors to nip bad security practices in the bud. The platform also includes hundreds of phishing templates for conducting and automating phishing simulations on the workforce, to gain insights into the individuals who are susceptible to phishing attacks and any knowledge gaps.
For more information on improving your defenses against phishing attacks, review our solutions in the links at the top of this page or give the team a call. Products are available on a free trial and demonstrations can be arranged on request.
Phishing can take many forms and while email is the most common vector used in these scams, other types of phishing such as voice phishing (vishing), SMS phishing (Smishing), and social media phishing increasing. In particular, there has been a recent spike in social media phishing attempts.
The threat from email phishing can be greatly reduced with an email security solution; however, these solutions will do nothing to block vishing, smishing, and social media phishing attempts. Businesses can improve their defenses by also using a DNS filtering solution. DNS filters block attempts to visit malicious websites and work in tandem with email security solutions to block email phishing and can also block the web-based component of smishing attacks and social media phishing to a certain extent. Unfortunately, since the social media networks where phishing takes place are not malicious websites, it will not prevent people from encountering phishing attempts.
This is why security awareness training is so important. Security awareness training gives employees the skills they need to recognize and avoid phishing attempts, no matter where the phishing attack is conducted. By training the workforce on security threats, risky behaviors can be eradicated, and employees can be taught the signs of phishing to look out for. The SafeTitan Security Awareness Training platform also delivers training in real-time, in response to risky behaviors by employees. This ensures training is delivered instantly when risky behavior is detected and training is likely to have the greatest benefit.
Social Media Phishing
Two social media phishing campaigns have recently been identified by researchers at Malwarebytes, the goal of which is to obtain the credentials for social media accounts. If the credentials are disclosed, the attacker can access the victim’s account and use it to conduct further attacks on the victim’s followers. If the credentials for a corporate social media account are stolen, attacks could be conducted on all the company’s followers. These attacks abuse the trust customers have in the company. The two campaigns have been conducted on Twitter and Discord users. Both use social engineering to trick people into disclosing their account credentials.
Twitter Phishing Campaign
In the Twitter campaign, the scammer sends a direct message to the user informing them that their account has been flagged for hate speech and threatens an immediate suspension of the account unless action is taken. The user is told that they must authenticate the account via the Twitter Help Center, a link for which is provided in the message. The link directs the user to a phishing page that spoofs Twitter where they are asked to log in. If they do, their credentials will be captured.
Discord Phishing Campaign
The Discord campaign sees a message sent from either a contact of the victim using a compromised Discord account or from strangers. The account owner is accused of disseminating explicit photographs and the sender says they are going to block the account until an explanation is provided. A link is provided to a server where the recipient has allegedly been named and shamed. If the message recipient tries to respond to the message, their message will not be sent as they will have been blocked, increasing the likelihood of their clicking the link to the server.
Victims are required to log in via a QR code and once they have attempted that they are locked out of their accounts, which are then under the full control of the scammer. The scammer is then free to use the legitimate account to continue their scam on all the victims’ contacts. Social media scams such as these try to scare or shame users into responding. This tactic can be very effective, even if the user has never said a bad word on Twitter or sent an explicit photograph to anyone on Discord.
Other Social Media Phishing Campaigns
Phishing can – and does – occur on all social media platforms. One scam that has proven successful targets Instagram users and offers them the verified Instagram badge. In order to receive the badge, they are required to log in to verify their identity, naturally via a malicious link. Doing so will allow the scammer to take full control of the user’s Instagram account.
It is a similar story on LinkedIn. One of the most common scams involves impersonating a company and sending a message to an individual about a job offer, or a message suggesting they have been headhunted. Fake connection requests are also common. In this scam, the user is provided with a link to a scam site that spoofs LinkedIn and again is conducted to harvest credentials.
On Facebook, phishing scams are rife but often they seem innocuous. If you use Facebook, you will no doubt have seen countless posts asking site users to determine their band name, porn star name, pirate name, etc., by providing information such as the month and year of birth. Posts asking what was your first car? Where did you grow up? What was your favorite teacher’s name? and many more do not seek credentials, but the information disclosed can be used to answer security questions that are asked in order to recover accounts. These scams also make brute force attacks to guess passwords so much easier.
Dangers of Social Media Phishing
The loss of access to a social media account may not be the end of the world and is likely far better than having a bank account emptied, but the damage caused can be considerable. Many small businesses rely on social media for publicity and generating sales, and the loss of an account or scamming of customers can be devastating. The passwords used for social media accounts are often reused across multiple platforms. Scammers often conduct credential stuffing attacks on other platforms and accounts using the same password. Fall victim to a social media phishing scam and many other accounts could be compromised.
Blocking social media phishing attacks can be a challenge. You should also ensure that two-factor authentication is enabled on social media accounts, consider restricting who can send direct messages to your account, and who can view your profiles. If you encounter a scam, be sure to report it.
For businesses, employees with access to corporate social media accounts should be given specific training on social media phishing to ensure they can recognize and avoid phishing scams. The SafeTitan Security Awareness Training platform makes this simple and helps businesses instantly correct risky behaviors through the automated delivery of a relevant training course in real-time. The platform has a wealth of engaging, gamified training content and a phishing simulation platform for testing resilience to phishing attacks.
For more information on SafeTitan and improving your phishing defenses through the use of an email security solution and DNS filtering, give the TitanHQ team a call today.
Microsoft previously announced a new security feature that would see VBA macros automatically blocked by default, but there has been a rollback in response to negative feedback from users.
Phishing emails are commonly used for malware delivery which contain links to websites where the malware is hosted or by using malicious email attachments. Word, Excel, Access, PowerPoint, and Visio files are commonly attached to emails that include VBA macros. While there are legitimate uses for VBA macros, they are often used for malware delivery. When the documents are opened, the macros would run and deliver a malware loader or sometimes the malware payload directly.
Office macros have been used to deliver some of the most dangerous malware variants, including Emotet, TrickBot, Qakbot, Dridex. To improve security, in February 2022, Microsoft announced that it would be blocking VBA macros by default. If macros are blocked automatically, it makes it much harder for this method of malware delivery to succeed.
With autoblocking of macros, users are presented with a security alert if a file is opened that includes a VBA macro. When opening a file with a VBA macro, the following message is displayed in red:
“SECURITY RISK: Microsoft has blocked macros from running because the source of this file is untrusted.”
The user would not be able to click the warning to override the blocking, instead, they would be directed to a resource that provides further information on the risk of enabling macros. They would have the option of ignoring the warning but would be strongly advised not to. Previously, a security warning was displayed in a yellow warning box that says, “Security Warning: Macros have been disabled.” The user would be presented with a prompt to Enable Content, and thus ignore the warning.
Microsoft had rolled out this new security feature, but recently Windows users started to notice that the new security warning was no longer being displayed, instead, Microsoft appeared to have rolled back to its previous system without announcing it was doing so.
Microsoft did confirm that it is rolling back this security feature and that an update announcing that has been planned; however, it had not been announced before the rollback started. The process has been heavily criticized, not for the rollback itself (although there has been criticism of that), but for starting the rollback without first making an announcement.
Microsoft said the rollback was due to negative feedback it had received, but it is not known at this stage which users had complained. It is suspected that the change posed a problem for individuals who commonly use VBA macros, and the automatic blocking made the process of running macros cumbersome. Most SMB users, however, do not deal with macros frequently, so the rollback means a reduction in security.
It took several days for Microsoft to confirm that the rollback is temporary and that it was necessary to make changes to improve usability. Microsoft said it is still committed to blocking macros by default for users. So, while this is a U-turn, it is just a temporary one.
While automatically blocking macros is important to improve security, it is still strongly recommended to implement a robust email security solution, as macros are not the only way that malware is delivered via email. Also, blocking macros will do nothing to stop phishing emails from being delivered.
With SpamTitan Email Security, phishing and malware threats can be easily blocked. For more information, give the TitanHQ team a call.
Cybercriminals are constantly changing tactics and lures in their phishing campaigns, so it is no surprise to see a new technique being used by affiliates of the Lockbit ransomware-as-a-service operation. A campaign has been identified by researchers at AhnLab in Korea that attempts to deliver a malware loader named Bumblebee, which in turn is used to deliver the LockBit 2.0 ransomware payload.
Various lures are used in phishing campaigns for delivering malware loaders, with this campaign using a warning about a copyright violation due to the unauthorized use of images on the company’s website. As is common in phishing emails, the emails contain a threat should no action be taken – legal action. Emails that deliver malware loaders either use attached files or contain links to files hosted online. The problem with attaching files to emails is they can be detected by email security solutions. To get around this, links are often included. In this case, the campaign uses the latter, and to further evade detection, the linked file is a password-protected archive. This is a common trick used in malware delivery via email to prevent the file from being detected as malicious by security solutions, which are unable to open the file and examine the contents. The recipient of the message is provided with the password to open the file in the message body.
The password-protected zip file contains a file that masquerades as a PDF file, which the user is required to open to obtain further information about the copyright violation. However, a double file extension is used, and the attached file is actually an executable file, which will deliver the Bumblebee loader, and thereafter, LockBit 2.0 ransomware.
These types of phishing attacks are all too common. Believable lures are used to trick people into taking the requested action, a threat is included should no action be taken, and multiple measures are used to evade security solutions. Any warning about a copyright violation must be taken seriously but as with most phishing emails, there are red flags in this email that suggest this is a scam. Security-aware employees should be able to recognize the red flags and while they may not be able to confirm the malicious nature of the email, they should report such messages to their IT department or security team for further investigation. However, in order to be able to identify those red flags, employees should be provided with security awareness training.
Through regular training employees will learn the signs of phishing emails, can be conditioned to always report the emails to their security team, and can be kept abreast of the latest tactics used in phishing emails for malware delivery. It is also recommended to conduct phishing simulations to test whether employees are being fooled by phishing attempts. If employees fail phishing simulations it could indicate issues with the training course that need to be addressed, or that certain employees need to be provided with additional training. Through regular security awareness training and phishing simulations, businesses can create a human firewall capable of detecting phishing attempts that bypass the organization’s email and web security defenses.
TitanHQ can provide assistance in this regard through the SafeTitan Security Awareness Training and Phishing Simulation Platform – Further information on the solution can be found here.
Phishing is commonly used to gain access to credentials to hijack email accounts for use in business email compromise (BEC) attacks. Once credentials have been obtained, the email account can be used to send phishing emails internally, with a view to obtaining the credentials of the main target. Alternatively, by spear phishing the target account, those steps can be eliminated.
If the credentials are obtained for the CEO or CFO, emails can be crafted and sent to individuals responsible for wire transfers, requesting payments be made to an attacker-controlled account. A common alternative is to target vendors, in an attack referred to as vendor email compromise (VEC). Once access is gained to a vendor’s account, the information contained in the email accounts provides detailed information on customers that can be targeted.
When a payment is due to be made, the vendor’s email account is used to request a change to the account for the upcoming payment. When the payment is made to the attacker-controlled account, it usually takes a few days before the non-payment is identified by the vendor, by which time it may be too late to recover the fraudulently transferred funds. While BEC and VEC attacks are nowhere near as common as phishing attacks, they are the leading cause of losses to cybercrime due to the large amounts of money obtained through fraudulent wire transfers. One attack in 2018 resulted in the theft of $23.5 million dollars from the U.S. Department of Defense.
In this case, two individuals involved in the scam were identified, including a Californian man who has just pleaded guilty to six counts related to the attack. He now faces up to 107 years in jail for the scam, although these scams are commonly conducted by threat actors in overseas countries, and the perpetrators often escape justice. The scam was conducted like many others. The BEC gang targeted DoD vendors between June 2018 and September 2018 and used phishing emails to obtain credentials for email accounts. An employee at a DoD vendor that had a contract to supply Aviation JA1 Turbine fuel to troops in southeast Asia for the DoD received an email that spoofed the U.S. government and included a hyperlink to a malicious website that had been created to support the scam.
The website used for the scam had the domain dia-mil.com, which mimicked the official dla.mil website, and email accounts were set up on that domain to closely resemble official email accounts. The phishing emails directed the employee to a cloned version of the government website, login.gov, which harvested the employee’s credentials. The credentials allowed the scammer to change bank account information in the SAM (System for Award Management) database to the account credentials of the shell company set up for the scam. When the payment of $23,453,350 for the jet fuel was made, it went to the scammers rather than the vendor.
Security systems were in place to identify fraudulent changes to bank account information, but despite those measures, the payment was made. The SAM database is scanned every 24 hours and any bank account changes are flagged and checked. The scammers learned of this and made calls to the Defense Logistics Agency and provided a reason why the change was made and succeeded in getting the change manually approved, although flags were still raised as the payment was made to a company that was not an official government contractor. That allowed the transfer to be reverted. Many similar scams are not detected in time and the recovery of funds is not possible. By the time the scam is identified, the scammers’ account has been emptied or closed.
The key to preventing BEC and VEC attacks is to deal with the issue at its source to prevent phishing emails from reaching inboxes and teach employees how to identify and avoid phishing scams. TitanHQ can help in both areas through SpamTitan Email Security and the SafeTitan security awareness training and phishing simulation platform. Businesses should also implement multifactor authentication to stop stolen credentials from being used to access accounts.
It took 10 months for the operators of the Emotet botnet to return after their botnet infrastructure was shut down in an international law enforcement operation, and then just a further 3 months for Emotet malware to regain its position as the most widely deployed malware.
According to Check Point, in March 2022, Emotet reestablished itself as the most widely distributed malware. Emotet has emerged like a phoenix from the flames, and infections have been soaring, with March seeing an astonishing increase in infections. Check Point says as many as 10% of all organizations globally were infected with Emotet in March, which is twice the number of infections the firm recorded in February.
Emotet first appeared in 2014 and was initially a banking Trojan; however, the malware has evolved considerably. Like many other banking Trojans, modules have been added to give the malware new functionality and today the malware is operated under the malware-as-a-service model, with access to Emotet-infected devices sold to other cybercriminal operations, which in the past has included the TrickBot operators and ransomware gangs.
In November 2021, 10 months after the botnet’s infrastructure was taken down, security researchers started reporting the resurrection of Emotet. The TrickBot operators helped to rebuild the Emotet botnet by using their malware to download Emotet as a secondary payload, and in the past couple of months, massive spamming campaigns have been launched to distribute Emotet which have proven to be highly successful. Emotet is also a self-propagating malware and the emails used to distribute it are convincing. One of the Emotet spam email campaigns being tracked by Kaspersky has been scaled up considerably, increasing 10-fold in just one month. That campaign is being used to distribute Emotet and the linked malware QBot. In February, Kaspersky intercepted 3,000 emails. In March, 30,000 emails were intercepted.
Like previous campaigns distributing Emotet, business email threads are hijacked and replies are sent to those messages that contain malicious hyperlinks or attachments. Since the messages come from trusted senders and appear to be responses to genuine messages, the chance of them attracting a click is high. This campaign highlights the importance of having an email security solution than conducts scans of outbound as well as inbound mail. Security Awareness training is also important to condition the workforce to constantly be on the lookout for potential threats, even when emails appear to have been sent internally from corporate accounts or other trusted senders.
Some of the spam email campaigns have revealed new tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTPs) are being tested to distribute the malware. This April, Microsoft started blocking macros in Office files downloaded from the Internet by default. This is a problem for threat actors that have previously relied on macros in Excel spreadsheets and Word documents to download their malware, so it is no surprise to see the Emotet operators changing their tactics to get around this.
One campaign has been identified that uses XLL files – a type of dynamic link library (DLL) file – rather than Excel and Word files. XLL files increase the functionality of Excel, and using these files gets around the problem of VBA macros being blocked. Emotet is known for large spamming campaigns; however, this campaign was conducted on a small scale, possibly to test its effectiveness. Should the campaign prove successful, it will likely be scaled up. In this campaign, the emails are linked to OneDrive, and if the link in the email is clicked, the XLL file is downloaded in a password-protected .zip file. The password to unlock the .zip file is provided in the message body.
Emotet is also being distributed via Windows shortcut files (.LNK). The Emotet operators have used this tactic in the past in combination with VBS code; however, this campaign does away with the VBS code, and instead, the .LNK files are used to directly execute PowerShell commands that download the Emotet payload.
Is likely that the operators will switch to new variants that have lower detection rates by AV engines, as has been done many times in the past, which is why it is important to have an email security solution that is not reliant on signature-based detection mechanisms. Behavioral analysis is vital for detecting these new variants. An email security solution with email sandboxing will help to protect against new malware variants that have not had their Signatures uploaded into AV engines.
LinkedIn has jumped to the top of the list of the most impersonated brands in phishing attacks, now accounting for 52% of all phishing attacks involving brand impersonation – a 550% increase from the 8% in the previous quarter, according to Check Point.
LinkedIn phishing scams take various forms, although one of the most common is a fake request from an individual to connect on the platform. The phishing emails include the official LinkedIn logo and are indistinguishable from the genuine LinkedIn communications that they spoof. If the user clicks on the Accept button, they are directed to a phishing webpage that is a carbon copy of the genuine LinkedIn page aside from the domain.
The increase in LinkedIn phishing attacks is part of a trend in attacks targeting social media credentials. While these credentials do not provide an immediate financial return, social media account credentials are valuable to cybercriminals as they allow them to conduct highly effective spear phishing attacks. If a corporate social media account is compromised, trust in the company can be abused to distribute malware and links can be added to direct followers to malicious websites.
Failed delivery and shipping notifications are still a common theme in phishing emails targeting businesses and consumers. Around 22% of phishing attacks in Q1, 2022 involved the impersonation of shipping and delivery companies. The package delivery firm DHL is the second most spoofed brand accounting for 14% of brand impersonation attacks. Many of these shipping and delivery phishing emails are conducted to distribute malware, usually through the downloading of fake documents that include malicious code that installs malware such as remote access Trojans.
Phishing is the number one threat faced by businesses. Most successful cyberattacks start with a phishing email, with stolen credentials or malware providing cybercriminals with the foothold they need in a corporate network to launch an extensive attack. Phishing attacks are cheap and easy to conduct and they target employees, who can easily be fooled into installing malware or disclosing their credentials.
This month, a healthcare data breach was reported by Christie Clinic in the United States that involved a hacker gaining access to a single email account. That account was used in a business email compromise attack to divert a large vendor payment. Business email compromise attacks are the main cause of losses to cybercrime according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation. In this breach, the compromised email account contained the personal data of more than half a million patients. Cyberattacks such as this only require one employee to respond to a phishing email for a costly data breach to occur.
Also this month, a new malware distribution campaign has been identified that attempts to install the Meta information stealer, which is capable of stealing passwords stored in browsers and cryptocurrency wallets. The malware is delivered via phishing emails with Excel spreadsheet attachments, which include malicious macros that download and install malware via HTTPS from GitHub. In this campaign, the lure used to trick recipients into opening the file claims to be a notification about an approved transfer of funds to Home Depot, the details of which are detailed in the attached spreadsheet. In order to view the contents of the spreadsheet, the user is told they must enable content to remove DocuSign protection. Enabling content allows the macros to run.
An advanced spam filtering solution such as SpamTitan will help to ensure that inboxes are kept free of phishing emails and any emails containing malicious scripts or attachments are not delivered. SpamTitan includes dual antivirus engines to ensure malware is identified and sandboxing to catch malware variants that bypass signature-based detection mechanisms.
While a spam filter used to be sufficient for blocking phishing emails, the sophisticated nature of phishing attacks today and the sheer volume of phishing emails being sent, mean some phishing emails will inevitably arrive in inboxes. For this reason it is also important to provide regular security awareness training to the workforce. TitanHQ can help in this regard through SafeTitan security awareness training and phishing simulations. SafeTitan is the only behavior-driven security awareness solution that delivers security awareness training in real-time. The solution is proven to significantly improve resilience to phishing attacks.
Phishing remains the top cybersecurity threat to businesses. Phishing scams can be realistic and difficult for people to identify for the scams that they are. The sender field is often spoofed to make it appear that the emails have been sent by known individuals or trusted companies, the body of the messages often contains well-known branding, and templates are used for messages that are carbon copies of the genuine emails they impersonate.
The emails may contain malicious attachments if the aim is to install malware, and malicious hyperlinks if credential harvesting is the goal. The hyperlinks direct users to a website where they are asked to enter their credentials – a web page that is difficult to distinguish from the genuine web page being spoofed. As if those messages were not convincing enough, there is now a new Chrome phishing toolkit that makes credential theft even easier.
Most Internet users will be familiar with websites that use Single Sign-on popups to authenticate users. Rather than requiring website users to register an account, they can authenticate using an existing Google, Apple, or Facebook account. This way of logging in is popular, as users do not need to create and remember another set of login credentials. There is, however, a problem with this approach, and that is that single sign-on popups are easy to spoof in Chrome.
As previously mentioned, phishing scams can be convincing, but there are often red flags and the biggest flag is the URL of the website used for phishing. If you are expecting to sign in to Facebook for example, and you are directed to what is clearly not a Facebook-owned domain, the phishing scam can be easily identified.
The latest toolkit does not produce this red flag. The single sign-on popup generated on the webpage looks exactly the same as the genuine popup being spoofed, including the URL. If an individual is directed to one of these fake phishing forms, it is highly unlikely that they would be able to identify it as malicious and their credentials will be stolen.
A phishing email could be sent advising the recipient that a file has been shared with them, inviting them to log in to Dropbox for instance. The link is clicked, and the user will be directed to the website and will be presented with the login box which includes the address bar with the URL of the login form. For example, if you attempt to log in with your Google account, the URL will start with accounts.google.com/. The phishing toolkit uses pre-made templates that are fake, but incredibly realistic. These Chrome popup windows allow a custom address URL and title to be displayed.
This toolkit was created by the security researcher dr. d0x, who made them available on GitHub. They allow any would-be hacker to quickly and easily create a highly convincing SSO pop-up window, which could be added to any website and be used for a browser-in-the-browser phishing attack. This attack method is nothing new, as fake SSO pop-up windows have been created in the past, but previous attempts have not been particularly convincing, as they do not exactly replicate the genuine pop-ups. The popups have previously been used on fake gaming websites to harvest credentials from the unwary. This kit is different as it is so convincing, and could easily be used to steal credentials and even 2FA codes.
2019 was a particularly bad year for ransomware attacks, and while there was a reduction in the use of ransomware in 2020, attacks increased sharply in 2021, with the education sector and government organizations the most attacked sectors, although no industry sector is immune to attacks.
There is growing concern about the increase in attacks on critical infrastructure organizations, which are an attractive target for ransomware gangs. According to the data from the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), and the National Security Agency (NSA), 14 of the 16 critical infrastructure sectors in the United States reported ransomware attacks in 2021, including the defense industrial base, emergency services, healthcare, food and agriculture, information technology, and government facilities. Cybersecurity agencies in the United Kingdom and Australia have also said critical infrastructure has been targeted.
Critical Infrastructure Organizations Warned About AvosLocker Ransomware Attacks
This week, a warning has been issued by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the U.S. Department of the Treasury, and the U.S. Treasury Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) about ransomware attacks using AvosLocker ransomware.
AvosLocker was first identified as a threat in late June 2021 and despite being a relatively new threat, poses a significant risk. Attacks using the ransomware increased in the latter half of 2021, with spikes in attacks occurring in November and December. Variants of AvosLocker ransomware have now been developed to attack Linux as well as Windows systems.
As is now common, the attackers engage in double extortion and demand payment for the keys to decrypt files and to prevent the release of stolen data. The gang operates a data leak site where a sample of stolen data is uploaded and made accessible to the public. The gang says it then sells the stolen data to cybercriminals if payment is not made. AvosLocker is one of a handful of ransomware operations that also makes contact with victims by phone to encourage them to pay the ransom. The gang is known to issue threats of Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) to further pressure victims into paying the ransom.
AvosLocker is a ransomware-as-a-service operation where affiliates are recruited to conduct attacks for a percentage of any ransom payments they generate. Consequently, the attack vectors used in attacks depend on the skillsets of the affiliates. Common vulnerabilities are known to be exploited to gain initial access to networks, including vulnerabilities associated with Proxy Shell and unpatched vulnerabilities in on-premises Microsoft Exchange Servers. However, over the past year, spam email campaigns have been a primary attack vector.
Email Filtering Vital for Defending Against Ransomware Attacks
Spam email is a common attack vector used by ransomware gangs. Spam email campaigns are effective and provide low-cost access to victim networks. Phishing and spam campaigns either use malicious attachments or embedded hyperlinks in emails, along with social engineering techniques to convince end users to open the attachments or click the links.
The primary defense against these attacks is email filters. Email filters scan all inbound emails and attachments and prevent malicious messages from being delivered to inboxes. Since cyber actors are constantly changing their lures, social engineering methods, and strategies to bypass email security solutions, it is vital to have an email security solution in place that can respond to changing tactics.
Email security solutions that use artificial intelligence and machine learning to identify and block threats outperform solutions that rely on antivirus engines and blacklists of known malicious IP addresses. SpamTitan incorporates artificial intelligence in addition to blacklists, dual antivirus engines, and sandboxing to identify malicious emails, and has comprehensive threat intelligence feeds to identify new threats rapidly. SpamTitan also provides time-of-click protection against malicious hyperlinks in emails to ensure users are well protected against phishing, malware, ransomware, and other email threats.
Don’t Neglect Security Awareness Training for the Workforce
It is also important to provide security awareness training to all members of the workforce from the CEO down. The FBI and the U.S. Treasury Department recommended in the latest alert to “Focus on cyber security awareness and training,” and “Regularly provide users with training on information security principles and techniques as well as overall emerging cybersecurity risks and vulnerabilities (i.e., ransomware and phishing scams).” TitanHQ can help in this regard with SafeTitan – “The only behavior-driven security awareness solution that delivers security training in real-time.”
For more information on improving your defenses against ransomware and other cyber threats, give the TitanHQ team a call to inquire about email filtering, web filtering, and security awareness training for your workforce.
The Lapsus ransomware gang has arrived on the scene and has already claimed several high-profile targets, with victims including Impresa – the largest media conglomerate in Portugal, Brazil’s Ministry of Health (MoH), the Brazilian telecommunications operator Claro, and most recently, the Santa Clara, CA-based GPU vendor NVIDIA.
The Lapsus ransomware gang – also referred to as Lapsus$ – is a relatively new threat actor and is making a reputation for itself in an already crowded ransomware market. Most ransomware gangs now practice double extortion, where prior to encrypting files they exfiltrate sensitive data and threaten to publish the data if the ransom is not paid. Triple extortion tactics are now becoming common, where threats are also issued to notify shareholders, partners, and customers about attacks. The Lapsus gang has taken things a step further still and is boasting about its attacks and causing major embarrassment for victims.
In January, the Lapsus ransomware gang attacked the Brazilian car rental firm Localiza, which is one of the largest car rental firms in South America. In addition to stealing data and encrypting files, the gang redirected the company’s website to an adult website and publicly announced that the company is now a porn site. The redirection was only in place for a few hours, but it was enough to damage the company’s reputation.
Also in January, Impresa was targeted. Impresa is the owner of SIC and Expresso, the largest TV channel and weekly newspaper in Portugal. The attack targeted Impresa’s online IT servers resulting in company websites being taken offline and the temporary loss of Internet streaming services. The gang defaced the company’s websites by adding their ransom note and claimed they had taken control of Impresa’s Amazon Web Services account. The gang then used the hijacked Expresso Twitter account and sent a tweet stating, “Lapsus$ is officially the new president of Portugal.” The gang also gained access to its newsletter and sent phishing emails to subscribers informing them in the emails that the President of Portugal had been murdered.
On February 25, NVIDIA experienced a cyberattack that saw parts of its IT infrastructure taken offline for a couple of days. NVIDIA announced that it was investigating a security incident, and then the Lapsus gang said it was behind the attack and issued a threat to leak around 1TB of data. The gang published screenshots indicating they had leaked password hashes for NVIDIA employees, source code, and highly sensitive proprietary company information.
There was some good news – the Lapsus gang then experienced its own ‘ransomware’ attack. There have been reports in the media that NVIDIA hacked back and gained access to the attackers’ virtual machine and encrypted its data, although security research Marcus Hutchins offered an alternative view, suggesting this could have been due to the gang installing Nvidia’s corporate agent on their virtual machine and then triggering a data loss prevention policy.
In addition to demanding a ransom, the Lapsus ransomware gang also demanded NVIDIA remove its lite hast rate (LHR) limitations on its GeForce 30 series firmware – which halve the hash rate when it detects the GPUs are being used for mining Ethereum – and also requested NVIDIA commits to completely open source their GPU drivers forever. If the demands are not met, the gang said it will release the complete silicon, graphics, and computer chipset files for its most recent GPUs.
While many ransomware gangs are focused purely on extortion, the Lapsus gang appears to like the limelight and brags about their attacks, which makes attacks by the gang even more serious for victims due to the brand and reputation damage they cause.
The extent of the attack vectors used by the gang is not known, but they appear to have used phishing emails to gain access to some victims’ networks, including the attack on Impresa. Phishing is a popular attack vector in ransomware attacks. Around half of all ransomware attacks start with a phishing email, according to a recent Statista survey. Employees respond to phishing emails and disclose their credentials, which give the attackers the foothold in the network they need for a deeper compromise.
Businesses could be lulled into a false sense of security with the disbanding of major ransomware operations and arrests of key gang members. The REvil ransomware gang may be no more, and DarkSide has been shut down, but other ransomware gangs are more than happy to plug the gap. Lapsus only announced its presence on the scene at the start of the year but is already growing into a major threat.
The best defense against Lapsus ransomware attacks and other cyberattacks is to adopt a defense-in-depth strategy. That should include an advanced spam filtering solution to block email phishing attacks, content filtering to prevent employees from visiting malicious websites, multi-factor authentication on all email accounts and local/cloud apps, ensuring patches and software updates are applied promptly, and providing ongoing security awareness training to the workforce to help employees identify and avoid phishing and social engineering attempts.
TitanHQ can help organizations improve their defenses against the full range of cyberattacks by providing advanced cybersecurity solutions for SMBs, enterprises, and Managed Service Providers, including spam filtering, DNS filtering, email encryption, email archiving, and security awareness training.
Microsoft may be the most impersonated brand in phishing attacks, but the impersonation of LinkedIn is also common and there has been a massive increase in phishing attacks spoofing the professional networking platform in recent weeks.
LinkedIn is an ideal brand to impersonate in phishing attacks and now is the perfect time to be running phishing campaigns due to the Great Resignation. For those unaware of the term, the Great Resignation is a phenomenon where record numbers of employees quit their jobs. The term was coined in May 2021 by Professor Anthony Klotz of Texas A&M University, who predicted that when the pandemic ends there will be a mass exodus of people leaving their jobs.
While there were mass layoffs as a result of the pandemic, many workers who retained their jobs chose not to leave due to the uncertainty of the job market, but now many workers who are not living from paycheck to paycheck are reconsidering their positions. There has certainly been an upward trend in workers voluntarily leaving their jobs since the start of 2021, indicating the great resignation has begun.
LinkedIn is used by job seekers to identify contacts, network, research companies, and find new employment opportunities. A phishing email that spoofs LinkedIn and indicates a potential employer has been reading a user’s profile, shows a message has been sent through the platform, or advises the user about a new job opportunity is likely to be clicked.
LinkedIn phishing campaigns are helped by the regular email communications from LinkedIn advising users of the platform of the number of searches they appeared in, new messages, and alerts about jobs. That means that users of the platform are used to receiving regular communications from the platform, so if a phishing email is received that looks exactly like a LinkedIn communication, there is likely to be less scrutiny of the email that there would be of an email from a platform that rarely communicates with users via email.
The latest LinkedIn phishing campaign uses HTML templates that include the LinkedIn logo and the color scheme used in official LinkedIn communications. The emails also have the same footer as genuine email communications from the platform, including the correct address and unsubscribe option. The display name is spoofed to make it appear as if the emails are official communications; however, closer inspection will reveal the emails have been sent from webmail addresses.
The phishing emails include subject lines such as “Who’s searching for you online”, “You Have 1 New Message,” and “You appeared in 4 searches this week,” exactly mirroring official LinkedIn emails and they also reference well-known companies such as American Express and Tesla to make it appear that the user is being headhunted by a major corporation. The emails have an HTML button to click that will direct the user to a website where LinkedIn credentials are harvested.
LinkedIn phishing campaigns can be highly effective, but as with all phishing scams, there are ways of blocking the attacks. The first is to ensure that an advanced email security solution is deployed to block the phishing emails at the gateway to prevent them from being delivered to inboxes. SpamTitan Plus uses machine learning techniques and predictive analysis to identify suspicious URLs in emails and provides time-of-click protection. If a link is found to be unsafe, a user will be presented with a block page containing additional information and further options.
SpamTitan Plus has 100% coverage of all current market-leading anti-phishing feeds, a 1.5X increase in unique phishing URL detections, and 1.6X faster phishing detections than the current market leaders, with 10 million net new, previously undiscovered phishing URLs added to the solution every single day.
It is also important to provide security awareness training to the workforce to teach employees how to identify phishing emails and to encourage following email security best practices. TitanHQ has created SafeTitan security awareness training to help train the workforce to be security titans. SafeTitan provides behavior-driven security awareness training tailored for the behaviors of individual employees, includes an extensive library of training courses, videos, and quizzes, and provides real-time intervention training combined with simulated phishing attacks. The solution is proven to reduce employee susceptibility to phishing attacks by up to 92%.
For more information on SpamTitan Plus and SafeTitan security awareness training, give the TitanHQ team a call and take the first step toward improving your defenses against phishing attacks.
Business Email Compromise (BEC) is the leading cause of financial losses to cybercrime. The U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) received 19,369 complaints about BEC scams in 2020, resulting in adjusted losses of $1.87 billion. While BEC crime ranked number 10 based on victim count, it topped the list in terms of the losses sustained by victims, with three times as much lost to the scams as the second-biggest loss to cybercrime – Confidence/romance fraud.
Business Email Compromise scams usually start with a phishing attack to gain access to email credentials. The attackers seek the credentials of the CEO, CFO, or another executive, and either target those individuals directly with spear phishing emails or compromise the email accounts of lower-level employees and use their email accounts to send phishing emails to the targeted individuals. Once the right credentials have been obtained, the executive’s email account is used to send messages to individuals responsible for wire transfers to trick them into making substantial wire transfers to attacker-controlled bank accounts. While these scams require planning and research, the time spent setting up the scams is well spent, as BEC attacks are often successful.
While BEC scams are usually conducted via email, BEC scammers are increasingly using virtual meeting platforms such as Microsoft Teams and Zoom in their scams. The scammers have taken advantage of the increase in remote working due to the pandemic and the popularity of virtual meeting platforms for communication and collaboration.
Once the scammers have access to the CEO’s email account, they identify their next target and send a request for a virtual meeting. When the target connects to the meeting, the scammer explains that they are having problems with their audio and video, so the meeting proceeds with the scammer on text chat. Oftentimes they will insert a picture of the CEO for added realism. The scammer then provides a reason for the out-of-band request, then asks the employee to make a wire transfer, either in the meeting or after the meeting via email.
The FBI has recently issued a warning to businesses about the increase in the use of virtual meetings for BEC scams, having observed an increase in the use of these platforms for BEC scams between 2019 and 2021. Scammers are also compromising employee email accounts and are inserting themselves into work meetings to gather information about the day-to-day processes at businesses. Since the scammers use genuine email accounts to connect, and audio/visual problems are relatively common, they are able to gather information and steal funds without being detected. The scammers also use compromised CEO email accounts to send emails to employees claiming they are stuck in a virtual meeting and unable to arrange an important wire transfer and ask an employee to initiate the transfer on their behalf.
There are several steps that businesses can take to improve their defenses against BEC attacks. Defending against these attacks should start with an advanced email security solution to block the phishing attacks that allow scammers to gain access to email accounts. SpamTitan has industry-leading detection of phishing URLs in emails and can prevent employees from visiting the web pages where credentials are harvested.
Security awareness training is important as some malicious emails bypass all spam filters. Employees need to be trained on how to identify scam emails. Security awareness training is concerned with creating a ‘human firewall’ to augment technical defenses and should make employees aware of BEC scams and how to identify scam emails from internal email accounts. TitanHQ has recently launched a new security awareness platform called SafeTitan to help businesses with training. SafeTitan is the only behavior-driven security awareness platform that provides real-time training to deal with threats targeting employees.
It is also recommended to implement policies and procedures that require secondary channels or two-factor authentication to verify requests for any changes to account information or atypical requests for bank transfers.
If you provide security awareness training to the workforce, you will no doubt have highlighted the risk of opening Microsoft Office email attachments, especially when sent from unknown individuals. Microsoft Office files can include macros, which if allowed to run, can silently deliver malicious payloads. Comma-separated values (CSV) files are often not viewed as malicious, as they are simple text files, but a campaign has been identified by security researcher Chris Campbell that uses CSV files to deliver BazarBackdoor malware.
BazarBackdoor is a fileless malware that is believed to have been created by the threat actors behind the TrickBot banking Trojan. BazarBackdoor is used as the first stage of an attack that provides threat actors with remote access to an infected device, which can be leveraged to conduct more extensive compromises and deliver other malicious payloads. BazarBackdoor is fileless malware, which makes it difficult to detect. It resides in the memory, does not touch the hard drive, and does not leave a footprint.
Throughout the pandemic, BazarBackdoor has been delivered using COVID-19-themed and business-related lures via embedded hyperlinks in emails. The links direct users to a web page where they are tricked into downloading and running an executable file. The landing pages often claim to be web-hosted PDF, Word, or Excel files. When the file is downloaded and executed, it delivers BazarBackdoor malware. The latest campaign is a departure from the typical method of malware delivery and is one that could easily fool users as CSV files are often viewed as benign.
CSV files are often used to transfer data between different applications, such as databases and spreadsheets. A CSV file contains text separated by commas, with each comma denoting a new column and each line denoting a new row. Since a CSV file is a text file, it cannot contain any macros and cannot, by itself, execute any malicious code; however, that does not mean CSV files are entirely benign, as this latest campaign demonstrates.
The issue is not the CSV file itself, but a feature of Microsoft Excel that allows CSV files to be used in a malicious way. Excel supports Dynamic Data Exchange (DDE), which is a message-based protocol for sharing data between applications running under Windows systems. DDE can be used to execute commands that have their output inputted into an open spreadsheet, including CSV files.
The CSV files used in this campaign are like any other, with data separated by commas; however, the file includes a WMIC call that launches a PowerShell command. If the CSV file is opened using Excel – on most devices CSV files are associated with Excel – DDE uses WMIC to create a PowerShell process, which opens a remote URL that uses PowerShell to download a .jpg file, which is saved as a DLL file and executed using rundll32.exe. The DLL file installs BazarLoader, which in turn downloads and executes BazarBackdoor. If the CSV file is opened in Excel, two warnings will be generated, but users may ignore those warnings, and it would appear many have done so.
Since BazarBackdoor and other fileless malware are difficult to detect, the key to protecting against campaigns such as this is to block the threat before the malware can be delivered, which requires a combination of technical measures and end user training.
The lures and techniques used to deliver malware via phishing emails are diverse and new methods are constantly being developed to fool end users and email security solutions. While the use of Office files for delivering malware is common, other files can also be used so it is important to teach employees to be wary of any email file attachment and to never ignore any security warnings. An advanced email security solution is required to identify malicious email attachments, but antivirus engines alone will not block threats such as this. Email security solutions that include sandboxing are important. Suspicious email attachments are opened in the sandbox and are subjected to in-depth analysis. It is also recommended to also use a web filter to block access to malicious websites and control the files that can be downloaded to users’ devices.
If you want to improve your defenses against email- and web-based cyber threats, give the TitanHQ team a call. TitanHQ has developed advanced, effective, and easy-to-use cloud-based cybersecurity solutions for SMBs, enterprises, and managed service providers to protect against all email- and web-delivered threats. You may be surprised to discover how little it costs to implement these solutions and ensure malware and phishing threats never trouble your business.
Cyberattacks are now being reported at an incredible rate, with many of those attacks having devastating consequences for small- and medium-sized businesses. According to Cybersecurity Ventures, around 60% of small- to medium-sized companies go out of business within 6 months of suffering a data breach. Cyberattacks are becoming much more sophisticated, but oftentimes these incredibly damaging attacks are not conducted by highly skilled hackers. The bar for conducting these attacks can be incredibly low, which means anyone with a modicum of skill can conduct attacks and profit. One of the ways that would-be hackers can start conducting attacks is by taking advantage of the many ransomware-as-a-service and malware-as-a-service offerings on hacking forums and darknet marketplaces. Take Redline malware for example.
Redline malware is a commodity information stealer that is easily obtained on hacking and cybercrime forums. The malware costs between $100-$200, and payment can be made anonymously using cryptocurrencies. At such a low price it is available to virtually anyone, and conducting attacks requires little effort or skill.
The Redline stealer was first identified in March 2020 and soon became one of the most prevalent malware threats with the number of attacks continuing to grow. Redline malware has been used in attacks on a wide range of businesses, with the manufacturing and healthcare sectors two of the most commonly attacked sectors.
Redline malware has been updated several times since it first emerged, with new features added such as the ability to exfiltrate credentials, steal cryptocurrency wallets, FTP authentication data, passwords stored in browsers, and gather information about the infected system. It is also capable of loading remote payloads and uses a SOAP API for C2 communication. One successful attack could see the attacker recover the purchase cost many times over.
Like many other malware variants, the most common method of delivery is email. Emails are broadcast using huge mailing lists, which can also be purchased at a low cost on cybercrime forums. Alternatively, more targeted campaigns can be conducted on specific businesses, with the emails often having a much higher chance of success due to the personalization of the emails.
The emails usually contain a malicious hyperlink and use social engineering techniques to trick employees into clicking. When the link is clicked, the binary file is downloaded and installed on the user’s device. While antivirus software should identify and block the malware threat, there have been many cases where AV engines have failed to detect the malware.
Redline malware will obtain a list of processes running on an infected device, including the security solutions in place. Attackers can interact with the malware remotely and view information about the infected system, can create and download remote files, silently run commands on an infected machine, and steal highly sensitive information. One of the biggest threats is the ability to steal data from browsers, including passwords stored in the Chrome, Edge, and opera browsers. Most browsers encrypt stored passwords, but Redline malware can programmatically decrypt the password store in Chromium-based browsers, provided they are logged in as the same user. Redline malware runs as the user that infected the device and can steal that user’s passwords from their password file.
Not everyone stores their passwords in their browser, but there is still a threat. When the browser suggests storing a password and the request is refused, a record is kept about that refusal so a further request will not be suggested next time the user visits that particular website. That record can be stolen from the browser, so the attacker will discover what accounts the user has and can then conduct phishing campaigns to obtain the passwords or use credential stuffing attacks. Much of the data stolen in redline malware attacks can easily be monetized on cybercrime forums.
Malware-as-a-service has opened up cyberattacks to a much broader range of individuals, but ultimately the attacks depend on employees being tricked into clicking links in emails or opening infected email attachments. Blocking those emails is the best approach to blocking the malware threats, which is where SpamTitan is invaluable.
SpamTitan Plus includes 100% of all current market-leading anti-phishing feeds. That translates into a 1.5x increase in phishing URL detections and 1.6x faster phishing detections than the current market leaders. 10 million net new, previously undiscovered phishing URLs are identified every day, and it takes just 5 minutes from a phishing URL being detected to all end users’ inboxes being protected. Time-of-click verification of links in emails involves multiple dynamic checks of redirects and there are dual anti-virus engines and a Bitdefender-powered sandbox to identify any malicious files attached to emails.
If you want to protect against malware and phishing attacks and ensure your company does not suffer an incredibly damaging cyberattack and data breach, give the TitanHQ team a call for more information on SpamTitan.
Phishing is the attack vector of choice for many cybercriminals. Attacks are easy to perform, they are often successful, and they provide the foothold in business networks that is required for more extensive compromises. The best defense against phishing is to implement a technological solution – a spam filter – to prevent phishing emails from reaching inboxes. If phishing emails are blocked at the email gateway, they will not arrive in inboxes where they can fool employees.
End-user training is also important, as no spam filter will block all malicious emails. A recent large-scale study has been conducted to determine whether end-user training and phishing warnings are effective, how vulnerability to phishing attacks evolves over time, which employees are most likely to fall for a phishing scam, and whether employees can actually play an important role in phishing email detection, The results of the survey are interesting and provide insights into susceptibility to phishing attacks that can be used by businesses to develop effective employee training programs.
The study was conducted on 14,733 participants by researchers at ETH Zurich and over a period of 15 months and involved another company sending phishing email simulations to see who opened the messages and who clicked on links in the emails. The employees that were tested had no knowledge that simulations were being conducted to make the simulations closely mirror real-world phishing attacks.
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There were notable differences in susceptibility to phishing attacks with different age groups, with younger employees more likely to respond to the phishing emails than all other age groups. 18- and 19-year-olds were by far the most likely age group to fall for phishing emails, with the over 60s the least likely. From ages 20 to 59, the percentage of dangerous actions taken in response to phishing emails increased for each age group, with 20- to 29-year olds the least likely to take dangerous actions.
Individuals who are not required to use computers for their day-to-day jobs might be considered to be most at risk of falling for a phishing scam, but that was not the case. Infrequent computer users were the least likely to fall for the scams followed by frequent users, with individuals who use specialized software for repetitive tasks the most susceptible to phishing emails.
In this study, men and women were found to be equally susceptible to phishing emails across the entire study. This contrasts with several other studies that suggest there is a gender bias, with women less likely to fall for phishing scams than men. However, there were differences between the genders when combined with the frequency of computer use data. Men who use specialist software to automate tasks were the most likely to fall for phishing emails, followed by women who used specialist software, then women who are frequent users of computers, and men who are infrequent users. Female infrequent users were the least likely to fall for phishing scams.
The study confirmed the findings of several others in that some individuals are prone to respond to phishing emails. After responding to one simulated phishing email they would go on to respond to more. 30.62% of individuals who clicked on one phishing email were repeated clickers, and 23.91% of individuals who took dangerous actions such as enabling macros in email attachments did it on more than one occasion. These findings show the importance of conducting phishing email simulations to identify weak links who can receive additional training.
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Phishing simulations are often conducted by businesses to test the effectiveness of their training programs, but one notable finding was that voluntary training when a simulated phishing email attracted a response was not effective. In fact, not only was this not effective, it appeared to make employees even more susceptible to phishing emails.
Another interesting finding related to adding warnings to emails. When warnings about potential phishing emails, such as emails coming from an external email address, were included in emails, employees were less likely to be duped. However, the lengthier the warning, the less effective it is. Detailed warnings were less likely to be read and acted upon.
When a phishing email reporting option was added to the mail client, employees often reported phishing emails. This feature involved a phishing email button that sent a warning to the IT team. There did not appear to be any waning of reporting over time, with employees not appearing to suffer from reporting fatigue. A few reports would be submitted within 5 minutes of an email arriving, around 30% of reports were within 30 minutes, and over 50% came within 4 hours. The reports could give IT security teams time to take action to remove all instances of phishing emails from the mail system or send warnings to employees.
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What the study clearly demonstrated is that even employees who are adept at identifying phishing emails are likely to fall for one eventually, so while security awareness training is important, having an effective spam filtering solution is vital. Even individuals who were regularly exposed to phishing emails were eventually duped into clicking a phishing link or taking a dangerous action. Across the entire study, 32.1% of employees clicked on at least one dangerous link or opened a potentially dangerous email attachment.
Healthcare data carries a high value on the black market as it can be monetized in a variety of ways. One of the main methods used to gain access to the healthcare networks where patient data are stored is phishing emails. Phishing emails are also a leading vector for malware delivery, and initial access brokers often target healthcare providers with phishing emails to steal credentials, then provide access to healthcare networks to ransomware gangs.
This month, a major phishing attack was reported by Morgantown, WV-based Monongalia Health System (Mon Health) which affected two of its hospitals. Hackers sent phishing emails to Mon Health employees, with the responses to those messages providing the hackers with the credentials they needed to access corporate email accounts. Those email accounts contained the personal and protected health information of patients and employee information. Notification letters have recently been sent to 398,000 individuals affected by the attack.
While healthcare data is valuable, this phishing attack was conducted for another reason, although it is possible healthcare data were stolen by the attackers. This attack was what is commonly referred to as a business email compromise (BEC) attack.
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BEC attacks can involve the theft of sensitive data but they are most commonly conducted to trick individuals responsible for making wire transfers into making fraudulent transfers to attacker-controlled accounts or to change payroll details to get direct deposits of salaries paid into the attacker’s account.
BEC attacks often start with a phishing email. Once access is gained to an employee’s account, phishing emails are sent to other employees to compromise more accounts. When the required accounts are compromised, the account owner is impersonated and an email is sent to an individual responsible for wire transfers that requests a change to bank account information on file.
In this attack, the attackers gained access to a contractor’s email account that was used to change payment details. Since the email requesting the payment details change came from a legitimate and trusted email account, the change was made and the attack went undetected. The BEC attack was detected when a payment issue was reported, and it was confirmed that the payment had left Mon Health’s account.
Mon Health is far from the only U.S. healthcare organization to suffer an attack such as this. Also this month, Florida Digestive Health Specialists started notifying 212,000 patients about an email breach that occurred in December 2020. Again, the attack was conducted to try to divert payments to an attacker-controlled account. In this case, the process of checking every email and attachment for sensitive patient data took 11 months.
These attacks risk the loss of funds through fraudulent transfers, but even if patient data are not stolen, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) requires patients to be notified, and usually, it is necessary to offer complimentary credit monitoring and identity theft protection services to affected patients. Those costs, in addition to the investigation and mitigation measures, can be substantial.
Once an employee email account has been compromised it can be difficult to detect and block an attack, and recovering funds after they have been transferred may not be possible unless the fraudulent wire transfer is detected quickly. The key to blocking these attacks and preventing losses is to prevent the phishing emails from reaching employee inboxes, to provide training to the workforce to help employees identify phishing emails that are delivered, and to implement multifactor authentication on email accounts to make it harder for stolen credentials to be used to access accounts.
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SpamTitan Gateway and SpamTitan Cloud are two excellent choices for businesses looking to improve their defenses against phishing attacks. The solutions block more than 99.97% of spam and phishing emails from reaching inboxes, and also include outbound scanning to help identify compromised mailboxes. SpamTitan Plus, a new phishing solution released this month, takes protection to another level. SpamTitan Plus includes all major phishing feeds and has faster and better detection of malicious URLs in emails than any of the current market-leading anti-phishing solutions.
If you want to improve your defenses against phishing and BEC attacks, give the TitanHQ team a call for further information on the SpamTitan suite of products.
The Emotet botnet was one of the largest ever seen and certainly one of the most dangerous. Phishing emails were used to infect devices with Emotet malware, which added the devices to the botnet. The operators of Emotet then sold access to other threat actors such as ransomware gangs. The botnet was shut down by an international law enforcement effort and the cleanup operation saw the malware removed from all infected devices. While that severely disrupted the Emotet operation for several months, the botnet is now back with a vengeance.
The TrickBot Trojan was one of the malware variants downloaded by Emotet, but it was used in the early stages of rebuilding the Emotet botnet, with the two malware operations completely reversing roles. The Emotet botnet has been rapidly rebuilt and is being used once again to infect victims’ devices with malware Qbot. Emotet is no longer relying on TrickBot to infect devices.
Emotet is once again being distributed by hijacking email threads and sending messages that appear to a reply to a previous conversation. While this method has previously seen malicious attachments added to those threads, according to Bleeping Computer a new tactic is now being used. A malicious hyperlink is inserted into the message threads that appears to be a link to a PDF file hosted on a remote server. In one example, “Please see attached and thanks” was inserted along with a hyperlink in response to a previous conversation.
If the link is clicked, the user is directed to what appears to be a shared document on Google Drive, where the user is asked to click the link to preview the PDF file. However, clicking the link attempts to open an appinstaller file hosted on Microsoft Azure. The user is required to accept the appinstaller prompt, which appears to be attempting to install an Adobe PDF component with permissions to use all system resources.
The package has a valid certificate and includes the Adobe PDF logo, but it will install a malicious appxbundle that will infect the user’s device with the Emotet Trojan. Emotet will then download other malicious payloads, which often lead to a ransomware attack. The Cryptolaemus group, which tracks and reports on Emotet activity, says the new URL-based lures are being used in addition to the standard Emotet tactics of distributing the malware using .zip and .docx email attachments.
The Emotet botnet has been rebuilt at a tremendous pace and there has been a massive increase in Emotet activity in the past few days. Malwarebytes detected a major spike in activity on November 26 and abuse.ch reported an even bigger spike on December 1, when 447% more malicious sites were being used to distribute the malware than in early November. Emotet has once again grown into a significant threat and its infrastructure has been upgraded to make it even more resilient and prevent any further takedown attempts by law enforcement. It is looking like the Emotet botnet is back and stronger than it was before the takedown.
So how can businesses protect against Emotet? End user training is important, but the tactics used by the Emotet gang are effective and fool many users into starting the infection process. The key to protection is to block the phishing emails that are the initial attack vector and that requires an advanced spam filtering solution.
TitanHQ has recently launched a new product – SpamTitan Plus – with significantly improved protection against malicious links which, coupled with dual antivirus protection and sandboxing, can protect against phishing and malware threats delivered by email.
To find out more about how TitanHQ solutions can protect your business against malware, phishing, and ransomware attacks, give the TitanHQ team a call.
A new Omicron phishing scam has been detected in the UK that spoofs the NHS and attempts to steal personal and financial information using a free COVID Omicron PCR test as a lure. The campaign is likely to be one of many taking advantage of fears about the latest SARS-CoV-2 variant of concern.
COVID-19 phishing scams have been a regular feature of the pandemic, so it is no surprise that the latest turn of events has triggered a wave of new phishing emails. The emergence of Omicron, a variant of concern that has the potential to escape the protections provided by COVID-19 vaccines, has naturally alarmed scientists and the general public alike and has created an opportunity for phishers.
Phishers use fear and urgency in their phishing scams to convince people to take an action that they would otherwise not do. The emergence of the Omicron variant has already generated fear, and the phishers are providing a solution. The Omicron phishing campaign was detected in the United Kingdom and impersonates the National Health Service (NHS). The emails offer a newly developed COVID-19 PCR test that is able to detect infection with the Omicron variant. The campaign is being conducted via email and text message, but this approach could easily be conducted by telephone.
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One of the intercepted phishing emails tells the recipient that “NHS scientists have warned that the new Covid variant omicron spreads rapidly, can be transmitted between fully vaccinated people, and makes jabs less effective,” echoing the current fears of scientists. The email goes on to say, “However, as the new covid variant (Omicron) has quickly become apparent, we have had to make new test kits as the new variant appears dormant in the original tests.”
In order to receive the new test, the victim must click on a hyperlink in the email and will be directed to a webpage that spoofs the NHS patient portal. They are asked to enter their personal information, including their name, address, date of birth, contact telephone numbers, and email address. The NHS is a free healthcare service; however, the scammers request payment to cover postage costs. In order to pay the £1.24 delivery charge, the phishing page asks for bank account/credit card information and mother’s maiden name.
As is common in phishing campaigns, emails also include a threat. In a section titled, “What happens if you decline a COVID-19 Omicron test?”, victims are told that they will be required to isolate. While the emails contain red flags, such as multiple spelling and grammatical errors, the NHS branding and email address used to send the messages – contact-nhs[@]nhscontact.com – may be enough to convince people that the request is legitimate.
The success of this Omicron phishing scam depends on people taking action without carefully considering what they are being asked to do. While Omicron is a genuine cause of concern, always stop and think about any request for sensitive information via email, text message, social media messages, or phone calls. Official messages from the NHS will be free of spelling mistakes and the NHS will never ask for payment for sending COVID-19 tests.
While this Omicron phishing scam targets individuals, many COVID-19 phishing campaigns have targeted businesses and attempt to either obtain credentials or deliver malware. Businesses need to ensure they implement an anti-phishing solution that is capable of identifying and blocking phishing emails.
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TitanHQ has developed a suite of cybersecurity solutions to protect businesses from cyberattacks such as phishing, with the latest solution – SpamTitan Plus – providing even greater protection against phishing attacks. SpamTitan Plus includes additional measures to improve malicious URL detection along with time-of-click protection to prevent employees from visiting the malicious websites linked in phishing emails.
If you want to improve protection against phishing attacks and the full range of email threats, contact TitanHQ today for more information on the best phishing solution to meet the needs of your business.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has issued a warning about an increase in spear phishing campaigns impersonating big name brands. Brand phishing is incredibly common and is an effective way of getting individuals to disclose sensitive information such as login credentials or install malware.
Brand phishing abuses trust in a brand. When individuals receive an email from a brand they know and trust, they are more likely to take the action requested in the email. Brand phishing emails usually include the logo of the targeted brand, and the emails use the same message formats as genuine communications from those brands. Links are usually included to malicious web pages that are often hidden in buttons to hide the true destination URL.
If a user clicks the link, they are directed to an attacker-controlled domain that similarly uses branding to fool the victim and make them think they are on the genuine website of the spoofed brand. These webpages include forms that harvest sensitive data. Alternatively, malicious files may be downloaded, with social engineering techniques used to trick victims into opening the files and installing malware.
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Cyber threat actors are offering scampage tools on underground marketplaces to help other cybercriminals conduct more effective phishing campaigns. These scampage tools are offered under the product-as-a-service model and allow individuals to conduct convincing phishing campaigns, even people who do not possess the skills to conduct phishing campaigns. With phishing opened up to would-be cybercriminals, the threat to individuals and businesses increases.
The FBI says the scampage tools now being offered can recognize when individuals use their email address as their login ID for a website. Websites require a unique username to be provided when creating an account, and many use an individual’s email address as their username by default.
The scampage tools can identify when a user has set their email address as their username, and when that is detected, they will be directed to a scampage for the same email domain. The user is required to enter their password to log in, which will allow the threat actor to obtain the password and access the victim’s email. With access to the email account, attackers can intercept 2-factor authentication codes, thus bypassing this important control mechanism. With 2FA codes, the attacker will be able to gain access to accounts and make changes, including updating passwords to lock users out of their accounts or change security rules before the owner of the account can be notified.
“Much like the threat with ransomware-as-a-service, this type of product-as-a-service distribution of scampage and credential harvesting tools presents an increased nationwide risk to private sector businesses and their consumers,” said the FBI in its public service announcement. “Brand-phishing email campaigns and scampage tools that help bypass 2FA security measures represent another aspect to this emerging cyber threat.”
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To counter the threat, businesses should implement an advanced spam filtering solution to block phishing emails and prevent them from being delivered to employee inboxes. Password policies should be created that require strong passwords to be set, and checks performed to ensure commonly used or weak passwords cannot be set on accounts. Employees should be told to never reuse passwords on multiple accounts and to ensure that all business accounts have unique passwords. Security awareness training should be provided to the workforce to teach email security best practices and train employees on how to identify phishing emails and other scams.
Given the increase in the use of scampage tools, if there is the option, users should set a unique username for an account that is not associated with their primary email address. 2-factor authentication should be configured, and where possible, a software-based authenticator program should be used or a USB security key as the second factor. Alternatively, provide a mobile number for a 2FA code and avoid using a primary email address to receive 2FA codes. If an email address is required, it is best to use an alternative email account.
There has been an increase in LinkedIn phishing scams of late that attempt to trick professionals into installing malware, disclosing their login credentials, or providing sensitive information that can be used to create convincing spear phishing emails.
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Many professionals rely on LinkedIn for getting new business and finding employment. The professional networking platform has proven to be incredibly popular and, being business-related, notifications from the platform are less likely to be turned off, as they often are with social media networks such as Facebook.
A notification from LinkedIn could be a prospective client, a potential job opportunity, or an opportunity to grow your network but LinkedIn notifications may not be what they seem.
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Common LinkedIn Phishing Scams
LinkedIn phishing attacks can take many forms and are conducted to achieve a variety of objectives. One common denominator in LinkedIn phishing emails is the use of LinkedIn logos and color schemes to make it appear that the notifications are genuine.
One of the most common scams involves messages that appear to have been sent via the professional networking platform from an individual looking to do business with a company. The emails include buttons that appear at face value to direct a user to LinkedIn, yet the destination URL is different. The landing page displays the LinkedIn login box, which has been scraped from the genuine website. The scam aims to steal LinkedIn credentials, which can be used to hijack accounts and conduct scams on the user’s connections. These scams can be identified quite easily by checking the destination URL in the message before clicking. If a link is clicked, always check the URL in the address bar before attempting to log in to ensure you are on the genuine LinkedIn website.
There has been an uptick in another type of LinkedIn phishing scam of late. Standard LinkedIn email templates, such as information about the number of profile views a user has received and the number of searches they have appeared in are common. As with the previous scam, while the messages look genuine, the hyperlinks in the messages do not direct the user to the LinkedIn website, instead they direct them to URLs hosting phishing kits. The landing pages use a variety of ruses to get the user to disclose sensitive information. One common scam is an online survey that asks a series of questions to obtain information that can be used to create convincing spear phishing emails.
Scammers often create fake profiles in an attempt to trick platform users into thinking they are conversing with a genuine user. These profiles tend to be used in targeted attacks for cyberespionage purposes. These attacks often see the scammer engage in conversations with the targets to build trust, before tricking them into visiting a malicious website or opening an emailed document that installs malware. These scams can be more difficult to identify than the previous two scams, although there are clues that this is a scam. Always check the profile of any potential connection. Fake profiles often have incomplete or inconsistent information, suspiciously low numbers of connections, and odd connections given the individual’s claimed job. Even if the profile appears genuine, you should always be wary of any links or documents that are shared.
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A Spam Filtering Solution Could be Your Savior!
Some of the scams are easy to identify, but many are very realistic and have convincing lures that can be difficult to distinguish from genuine emails. These scams fool many people into disclosing sensitive information or installing malware, even individuals who believe they are security-aware and would not be fooled by phishing scams. Vigilance is the key to identifying the scams but an advanced spam filtering solution will ensure that you are not troubled by these scam emails and phishing attempts.
Businesses that rely on the basic spam protections provided with the Microsoft 365 license should consider investing in a more advanced spam filtering solution, as many phishing emails bypass the Exchange Online Protection (EOP) mechanisms provided free with Microsoft 365 accounts. For greater protection, consider a spam filtering solution such as SpamTitan, which augments Microsoft 365 defenses and will better protect you against phishing attacks.
For more information about SpamTitan and how it can protect you and your employees from phishing attacks, botnets, viruses, malware, and ransomware attacks, give the TitanHQ team a call or sign up for the free trial and find out for yourself the different SpamTitan makes.
At the start of 2021, a Europol and Eurojust-led operation involving law enforcement agencies in 8 countries successfully took down the infamous Emotet botnet. The botnet consisted of an estimated 1.6 million devices worldwide that had been infected with the Emotet Trojan.
The Emotet Trojan first appeared in 2014 and was originally a banking trojan, although it evolved into a malware downloader that was rented out to cybercrime gangs under the malware-as-a-service model. The botnet was used to give those threat actors a foothold in victims’ environments and allowed them to install malware such as IcedID, QakBot, and TrickBot. Those malware variants were then used to deliver ransomware such as Conti and Ryuk.
Emotet posed a massive threat to businesses worldwide prior to its takedown. In addition to being a malware distribution tool, the botnet was used to launch Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks and largescale spamming campaigns against high-profile targets around the world.
The Emotet botnet was controlled by a network of hundreds of servers worldwide. The takedown, which occurred on January 27, 2021, saw its infrastructure taken over by law enforcement. On April 25, 2021, law enforcement in Germany launched a cleanup operation that added a module that removed the Emotet Trojan from victims’ systems. 2 individuals were arrested who were suspected of involvement in maintaining the botnet, and in the weeks and months that followed no Emotet activity was detected. However, that has now changed.
The Emotet Botnet is Back
Law enforcement took control of the command-and-control infrastructure of Emotet and removed the Emotet Trojan from all infected devices, and while that was sufficient to kill the botnet, it was not enough to prevent its return. Researchers at GData, Advanced Intel, and Cryptolaemus have all discovered instances where the TrickBot Trojan has delivered an Emotet loader.
The Emotet botnet operators have previously worked with the threat actors behind the Trickbot Trojan, using their botnet to grow the TrickBot botnet. That process is now happening in reverse. A new version of the loader and Emotet Trojan have been created and it appears that the Emotet botnet is being reconstructed from scratch.
At this stage, there are relatively few devices infected with Emotet but that is not likely to remain the case for long. Around 246 devices are known to have had the Emotet Trojan installed, and they are being used as its command-and-control infrastructure at present.
Emotet was known for conducting malspam campaigns to grow the botnet, and spamming campaigns have already been detected using several different lures and a variety of attachments. Spam emails spreading Emotet have used Word files and Excel spreadsheets with malicious macros, and to prevent analysis by email security solutions, some emails have used password-protected zip files. Some of the lures detected by security researchers in the first campaigns include notifications about canceled dental insurance, Cyber Monday and Black Friday sales, notifications about canceled meetings, and requests for political party donations.
How to Protect Against Infection with Emotet
Protecting against Emotet involves implementing measures that also protect against TrickBot infections. Since both Emotet and TrickBot are extensively delivered via malspam emails, implementing an advanced email security solution is a good place to start.
One of the most effective tactics used by the Emotet gang was hijacking message threads. This involves sending replies to previous message conversations and adding a malicious hyperlink or infected email attachment. Since the messages were sent from email accounts known to the recipient, links were often clicked, and attachments opened.
Security awareness training often teaches employees to be suspicious of unsolicited messages from unknown individuals. It is important to make employees aware that malicious emails may also come from known individuals and to warn employees that hijacked message threads are used to deliver malware. Security awareness training can be effective, but it is nowhere near as effective as technical solutions that block malicious messages.
Security can be improved by choosing an email security solution with outbound email scanning. This feature will scan outgoing messages to detect compromised email accounts, allowing security teams to take prompt action to isolate infected devices. You should also ensure that your email security solution includes sandboxing in addition to antivirus engines, as the latter can only detect known malware variants. Attachments that pass standard AV scans are sent to a sandbox where they are subjected to in-depth analysis to identify malicious actions.
These features and many more are included in SpamTitan from TitanHQ. SpamTitan is effective at blocking the full range of email-based threats and is easy to implement and use. If you want to improve your defenses against dangerous email threats such as TrickBot, IcedID, QakBot, and Emotet without breaking the bank, give the TitanHQ team a call for more information about SpamTitan.
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The stock trading platform Robinhood has announced a major breach of the personal data of 7 million of its customers, who now face an elevated risk of phishing attacks.
Phishing attacks on businesses are incredibly common. While phishing can take many forms, the most common method involves sending emails to company employees and using social engineering tactics to get them to take a specific action. That action is often to click on a malicious hyperlink in the email that directs them to a website where they are asked to provide sensitive information such as their login credentials.
Phishing can also occur via SMS messages, instant messaging platforms, or social media networks. While it is less common for phishing to occur over the telephone – termed vishing – this method actually predates email phishing attacks. Vishing attacks are more labor-intensive and are a form of spear phishing, where a small number of individuals are targeted.
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Vishing Attack Allowed Attacker to Obtain 5 Million Email Addresses
It was a vishing attack that allowed a threat actor to obtain the personal data of Robinhood customers. The threat actor called a Robinhood customer service employee and used social engineering techniques over the phone to get the employee to disclose sensitive information. The information obtained allowed the threat actor to access its customer service system, through which it was possible to obtain a limited amount of data of a portion of its customer base.
It is unclear what tactics the threat actor used, although, in these types of attacks, tech support scams are common. This is where a threat actor impersonates the IT department and tricks an employee into disclosing credentials under the guise of a software update or a fix for a malware infection.
Regardless of the lure, the threat actor was able to access its system and stole a list of 5 million customer email addresses, a list of the full names of 2 million individuals, and the names, dates of birth, and zip codes of 310 individuals.
No financial information or Social Security numbers are believed to have been obtained in the attack, but the Robinhood data breach is still serious for affected individuals who now face an elevated risk of phishing attacks.
Robinhood said after the customer lists were exfiltrated, a ransom demand was received. Robinhood did not say whether the ransom was paid, only that the cybersecurity firm Mandiant was investigating, and the incident has been reported to law enforcement.
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Risk of Phishing Attacks in Wake of Robinhood Data Breach
Attacks such as this where an attempt is made to extort money from a company after sensitive data are stolen are commonplace. If a company refuses to pay, the attack is monetized by selling the stolen data. Even if a ransom is paid, there is no guarantee that data will not be sold. A list of the email addresses of users of a trading platform would be highly sought after by cybercriminals, who could craft convincing phishing emails to obtain sensitive data to allow users’ accounts to be accessed.
There have been many cases where email addresses have been used in phishing campaigns that reference the breach itself, spoofing the company that was attacked although all manner of lures could be used. There is a fair probability that phishing campaigns will be conducted using the stolen data, so users of the Robinhood platform should be on high alert.
Robinhood has advised customers to be wary of any emails that claim to be from the company and said it would never send a hyperlink in an email to access an account, instead users should only trust Robinhood messages that are sent within the app. For further protection, 2-factor authentication should be enabled, and users of the app should be cautious when opening any email messages, and to be particularly wary about any message that requests sensitive information or includes a hyperlink or email attachment, especially if it is an unsolicited email from an unknown sender.
Phishing involves sending emails that try to trick the recipients into taking a specific action, which could be to send sensitive data via email, open an infected email attachment, or click a link to a malicious website.
Phishing campaigns require little effort or skill to conduct. Lists of email addresses can easily be purchased on hacking forums or can be scraped from websites using widely available programs. Malware does not need to be developed, as this can be purchased through many malware-as-a-service operations. Phishing campaigns that direct individuals to a malicious website where credentials are harvested require those websites to be set up to trick users and capture credentials, but even that process is made simple with phishing kits.
Phishing kits can easily be purchased on hacking forums. These kits contain files that can be uploaded to compromised or owned websites that will collect and transmit credentials when they are entered. Phishing kits are usually sold on hacking forums for a one-time payment and typically contain everything required to start conducting phishing campaigns, including scripts, HTML pages, images, and often phishing email templates. Phishing kits allow individuals without much knowledge of how to conduct a phishing campaign to easily start running their own campaigns.
New Phishing Kit Being Used in Extensive Series of Phishing Campaigns
There are many phishing kits currently available on hacking forums, but a new one has recently been discovered that appears to have been developed using at least six other phishing kits. The new phishing kit, which Microsoft calls TodayZoo, combines the best features of other available phishing kits and is believed to have been developed by an individual who has decided to get into the phishing kit market by plagiarizing others.
The TodayZoo kit has been active since at least December 2020 and is known to have been used in an extensive series of phishing campaigns to steal Microsoft 365 credentials. The TodayZoo phishing campaigns detected so far impersonate Microsoft, with the emails using lures such as password resets, and fake notifications about faxes and shared scanned documents.
The messages direct the recipients to a webpage hosting the phishing kit that similarly impersonates Microsoft, with victims told they must log in with their Microsoft 365 credentials to either reset their password or view the fake faxes or documents. If credentials are entered, the phishing kit captures the information and transmits it to the person running the campaign.
A large part of the TodayZoo phishing kit has been taken from the DanceVida kit, with Microsoft’s analysis revealing it also includes code from the Botssoft, FLCFood, Office-RD117, WikiRed, and Zenfo phishing kits.
So not only are phishing kits purchased for conducting campaigns, but those also kits themselves can be copied and customized and used by individuals to launch their own phishing-as-a-service operations.
Phishing Prevention Requires a Defense in Depth Approach
Phishing kits lower the bar for conducting phishing campaigns, and along with malware-as-a-service and ransomware-as-a-service offerings, allow low-level threat actors to start conducting their own campaigns with ease. These services are fueling the increase in cyberattacks on businesses. Fortunately, there are low-cost cybersecurity solutions that businesses can use to block these phishing and malware campaigns.
Unfortunately, there is no silver bullet. It is no longer sufficient given the level of the threat to rely on one method of blocking attacks. A defense-in-depth approach is required, which means implementing multiple layers of protection. If one of those layers fails to block a threat, others are there to provide protection.
Phishing protection should start with a spam filter. Spam filters conduct a range of checks on all incoming emails and will block more than 99% of spam and phishing emails. TitanHQ’s email security solution, SpamTitan, has been independently tested and shown to block in excess of 99.9% of spam and phishing emails. SpamTitan also includes dual anti-virus engines to detect malicious attachments, and a sandbox to subject attachments that pass AV controls to an in-depth analysis. SpamTitan uses blacklists of malicious IP addresses, performs a range of checks on the message body and headers, and incorporates machine learning technology to detect messages that deviate from standard messages ensuring the spam filter improves over time.
A web filter is another important security measure that should be included in a defense-in-depth strategy to block phishing and malware attacks. A web filter works in tandem with a spam filter but blocks the web component of the attacks. When a user clicks a link in an email that directs them to a phishing website, that attempt is blocked. A web filter also allows users to block certain file downloads from the Internet, such as those commonly associated with malware.
Antivirus software should be installed on all endpoints as additional protection against malicious file downloads, and security awareness training should be regularly provided to the workforce. In the event of credentials being obtained in a phishing attack, multifactor authentication can prevent those credentials from being used to gain access to accounts. With these measures in place, businesses will be well protected.
For further information on spam filtering, web filtering, and to find out more about SpamTitan and WebTitan, give the TitanHQ team a call today. Both solutions are available on a 100% free trial to allow you to evaluate the products in your own environment to see how effective they are and how easy they are to use before committing to a purchase.
A new malware variant dubbed Squirrelwaffle has been identified which is being distributed via spam emails. Squirrelwaffle was first identified in September 2021, with the number of spam emails distributing the malware increasing throughout the month and peaking at the end of September.
The takedown of the Emotet botnet in January 2021 left a gap in the malware-as-a-service market, and several new malware variants have since emerged to fill that gap. Emotet was a banking Trojan that was used to distribute other malware variants to Emotet-infected machines, with Squirrelwaffle having similar capabilities. Squirrelwaffle allows the threat group to gain a foothold in compromised devices and networks, which allows other malware variants to be delivered.
Investigations of the malspam campaign have revealed it is currently being used to distribute Qakbot and Cobalt Strike, although the malware could be used to download any malware variant. The spam emails that deliver Squirrelwaffle include a hyperlink to a malicious website which is used to deliver a .zip file that contains either a .doc or .xls file. The Office files have a malicious script that will deliver the Squirrelwaffle payload.
The Word documents use the DocuSign signing platform to lure users to activate macros, claiming the document was created using a previous version of Microsoft Office Word which requires the user to “enable editing” then click “enable content” to view the contents of the file. Doing so will execute code that will deliver and execute a Visual Basic script, which retrieves the Squirrelwaffle payload from one of 5 hardcoded URLs. Squirrelwaffle is delivered as a DLL which is then executed when downloaded and will silently download Qakbot or Cobalt Strike, which both provide persistent access to compromised devices.
As was the case with the Emotet Trojan, Squirrelwaffle can hijack message threads and send malspam emails from infected devices. Since replies to genuine messages are sent from a legitimate email account, a response to the message is more likely. This tactic proved to be highly effective at distributing the Emotet Trojan. The campaign is mostly conducted in English, although security researchers have identified emails in other languages including French, German, Dutch, and Polish.
The similarities with Emotet could indicate some individuals involved in that operation are attempting a return after the law enforcement takedown, although it could simply be an attempt by unrelated threat actors to fill the gap left by Emotet. Currently, the malware is not being distributed in anywhere near the volume of Emotet but it is still early days. Squirrelwaffle may turn out to be the malware distribution vehicle of choice in the weeks and months to come.
To counter the threat, it is vital for email security measures to be implemented to block the malspam at source and ensure the malicious messages are not delivered to inboxes. Since message threads are hijacked, a spam filtering solution that also scans outbound emails– SpamTitan for example – should be used. Outbound scanning will help to identify compromised devices and prevent attacks on other individuals in the organization and address book contacts. SpamTitan also incorporates sandboxing, which works in conjunction with antivirus engines. Suspicious attachments that bypass the AV engines are sent to the sandbox for in-depth analysis.
As part of a defense-in-depth strategy, other measures should also be deployed. A web filter is a useful tool for blocking C2 communications, endpoint security solutions will help to protect against Squirrelwaffle downloads, and regular security awareness training for the workforce is recommended to teach cybersecurity best practices and train employees how to identify malicious emails. Employees should be told to never click links or open attachments in unsolicited emails or messages and to be wary of messages from unknown accounts. It is also important to explain that some malware variants can hijack message threads, so malicious emails may come from colleagues and other address book contacts.
The threat group known as TA505 (aka Hive0065) is known for conducting large-scale phishing campaigns but has not been active since 2020. Now phishing campaigns have been detected that indicate the threat group is conducting attacks once again, with the first mass-phishing campaigns by the group detected in September 2021.
The initial campaigns were small and consisted of a few thousand phishing emails, but as the month progressed larger and larger campaigns were conducted, with phishing campaigns conducted by the group now consisting of tens of thousands of messages. The geographic range has also been increased beyond North American where the gang was initially concentrating its attacks.
Social engineering techniques are used to convince victims to open email attachments or visit links and view shared files, with a variety of lures used by the gang in its phishing attacks. Emails intercepted from the latest campaigns claim to provide insurance claims paperwork, situation reports, media release requests, health claims, and legal requests. Many of the campaigns so far have targeted employees in financial services.
One of the hallmarks of the group is using Excel file attachments in emails that contain malicious macros which deliver a Remote Access Trojan (RAT), the downloading and execution of which gives the group control over victims’ devices. The group is also known to use HTML files that link to malicious websites where the malicious Excel files are downloaded.
While the attacks often start with a file attachment, later in the attack process a Google feedproxy URL is used with a SharePoint and OneDrive lure that appears to be a file share request, which delivers the weaponized Excel file.
The initial infection stage involves the downloading of a Microsoft installer package, which delivers either a KiXtart or REBOL malware loader, which pulls a different MSI package from the C2 server, which then installs and executes the malware. TA505 is known to use the FlawedGrace RAT, which first appeared in 2017, and the latest campaign delivers a new variant of this malware using a malware loader dubbed MirrorBlast. According to an analysis of MirrorBlast by Morphisec labs, the malware will only run in 32-bit versions of Microsoft Office as there are compatibility issues with ActiveX objects.
Macros are disabled by default in Microsoft Excel as a security measure, so social engineering techniques are used in the attacks to convince victims to enable macros. Macros are more commonly used in Excel files than Word files, and end users may not be as suspicious of Excel macros as Word macros.
Email security solutions are capable of detecting files containing Excel macros, especially email security solutions with sandboxing. In an attempt to bypass those measures and ensure the emails are delivered, TA505 uses lightweight, legacy Excel 4.0 XLM macros rather than the newer VBA macros, which has seen many of the messages bypass email security gateways.
TA505 is a highly creative threat group that regularly changes its attack techniques to achieve its goals, with the gang known to have conducted campaigns to deliver the Dridex banking Trojan, Locky and Jaff ransomware, and the Trick banking Trojan.
The group is known for conducting high-volume phishing campaigns that have targeted a range of different industry sectors and geographical areas.
TA505’s tactics, techniques, and procedures are expected to continue to evolve so it is vital for organizations to ensure email security defenses are implemented to block the emails. Security awareness training should also be provided to the workforce and employees should be made aware of the latest tricks and tactics used by the gang, including raising awareness of the use of Excel files with macros in phishing emails.