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.

Erebus Ransomware Attack Results in $1 Million Ransom Payment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Southern Oregon University Phishing Attack Nets Criminals $1.9 Million

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

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

The Southern Oregon University Phishing Attack Required a Single Email

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

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

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

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

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

Rise in BEC Attacks Prompts FBI Warning to Universities

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

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

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

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

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

Restaurants Facing Barrage of Fileless Malware Phishing Attacks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Corporate Phishing Emails Increased by 400% in Q2, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Phishing Attacks Likely to Follow Hotels.com Breach

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Phishing Attacks on Healthcare Organizations Can Result in HIPAA Fines

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Beware of WannaCry Phishing Emails

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

DocuSign Phishing Emails Sent to Account Holders Following Data Breach

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jaff Ransomware: A New Variant from the Distributors of Locky

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

WannaCry Ransomware Campaign Claims Victims in 150 Countries

On Friday May 12, a massive WannaCry ransomware campaign was launched, with the UK’s National Health Service (NHS) one of the early victims. The ransomware attack resulted in scores of NHS Trusts having data encrypted, with the infection rapidly spreading to networked devices. Those attacks continued, with 61 NHS Trusts now known to have been affected. Operations were cancelled and doctors were forced to resort to pen and paper while IT teams worked around the clock to bring their systems back online.

Just a few hours after the first reports of the WannaCry ransomware attacks emerged, the scale of the problem became apparent. The WannaCry ransomware campaign was claiming tens of thousands of victims around the world. By Saturday morning, Avast issued a statement confirming there had been more than 57,000 attacks reported in 100 countries. Now the total has increased to more than 200,000 attacks in 150 countries. While the attacks appear to now be slowing, security experts are concerned that further attacks will take place this week.

So far, in addition to the NHS, victims include the Spanish Telecoms operator Telefonica, Germany’s rail network Deutsche Bahn, the Russian Interior ministry, Renault in France, U.S. logistics firm FedEx, Nissan and Hitachi in Japan and multiple universities in China.

The WannaCry ransomware campaign is the largest ever ransomware attack conducted, although it does not appear that many ransoms have been paid yet. The BBC reports that the WannaCry ransomware campaign has already resulted in $38,000 in ransom payments being generated. That total is certain to rise over the next few days. WannaCry ransomware decryption costs $300 per infected device with no free decryptor available. The ransom amount is set to double in 3 days if payment is not made. The attackers threaten to delete the decryption keys if payment is not made within 7 days of infection.

Ransomware attacks usually involve malware downloaders sent via spam email. If emails make it past anti-spam solutions and are opened by end users, the ransomware is downloaded and starts encrypting files. WannaCry ransomware has been spread in this fashion, with emails containing links to malicious Dropbox URLs. However, the latest WannaCry ransomware campaign leverages a vulnerability in Server Message Block 1.0 (SMBv1). The exploit for the vulnerability – known as ETERNALBLUE – has been packaged with a self-replicating payload which can spread rapidly to all networked devices. The vulnerability is not a new zero day however. In fact, Microsoft patched the vulnerability in its MS17-010 security bulletin almost two months ago. The problem is many organizations have not installed the update and are vulnerable to attack.

The ETERNALBLUE exploit was reportedly stolen from the National Security Agency by Shadow Brokers, a cybercriminal gang with links to Russia. ETERNALBLUE was allegedly developed as a hacking weapon to gain access to Windows computers used by enemy states and terrorists. Shadow Brokers managed to steal the tool and published the exploit online in mid-April. While it is not known whether Shadows Brokers is behind the attack, the publication of the exploit allowed the attacks to take place.

The exploit allows the attackers to drop files on a vulnerable system, with that file then executed as a service. The dropped file then downloads WannaCry ransomware, which searches for other available networked devices. The infection spreads before files are encrypted. Any unpatched device with port 445 open is vulnerable.

The WannaCry ransomware campaign would have resulted in far more infections had it not been for the actions of a security researcher in the UK. The researcher –@MalwareTechBlog – found a kill switch to prevent encryption. The ransomware attempts to communicate with a specific domain. If communication is possible, the ransomware does not proceed with encryption. If the domain cannot be contacted, files are encrypted.

@MalwareTechBlog discovered the reference to the nonsense domain, saw that it was unregistered and bought it. By doing so, the ransomware attack was thwarted. The domain checking mechanism was presumably added to prevent the ransomware from running in a sandbox environment.

However, a new version of the ransomware without the kill switch has reportedly already been released, which could see the victim count increase substantially over the next few days. Organizations that have not applied Microsoft’s patch are advised to do so as a priority to block the attack.

The massive ransomware attack should serve as reminder to all organizations of the importance of applying patches promptly. That will be a particularly painful reminder for many organizations that fell victim to this preventable ransomware attack.

Fatboy Ransomware – A New RaaS That Sets Ransoms by Location

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sabre Corporation Data Breach: PII and Payment Card Data Potentially Exposed

A Sabre Corporation data breach has potentially resulted in the theft of credit card details and PII from the SynXis Hospitality Solutions reservation system. The Sabre Corporation data breach was acknowledged in Sabre Corp’s Q2 10-Q filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission. Few details about the security incident have been released as the incident is currently under investigation.

What is known is the incident affects SynXis, a cloud-based SaaS used by more than 36,000 independent hotels and global hotel chains. The system allows employees to check room availability, pricing and process bookings.

Sabre Corporation recently discovered an unauthorized third party gained access to the system and potentially viewed the data of a subset of Sabre Corp’s hotel clients. Information potentially compromised as a result of the Sabre Corporation data breach includes the personally identifiable information and payment card information of hotel guests.

At this stage, Sabre Corporation is still investigating the breach and has not disclosed how the individual gained access to the payment system or when access was first gained. Sabre Corp is currently trying to determine exactly how many individuals have been affected, although affected companies have now been notified of the incident.

Sabre Corp has confirmed that the security breach only affected its SynXis Central Reservations system and unauthorized access has now been blocked. Law enforcement has been alerted to the incident and cybersecurity firm Mandiant contracted to conduct a full forensic investigation of its systems.

The Sabre Corporation data breach is the latest in a string of cyberattacks on hotel chains. Hyatt Hotels Corp, Kimpton Hotels and Restaurants, Omni Hotels & Resorts, Trump Hotels, Starwood Hotels & Resorts, Hilton Hotels, HEI Hotels & Resorts and InterContinental Hotels Group have all experienced data breaches in recent months that have resulted in the attackers gaining access to their card payment systems.

While the method used to gain access to Sabre’s system is not yet known, similar cyberattacks on hotel reservation and payment systems have involved malware and compromised login credentials.

If malware is installed on systems it can be used to monitor keystrokes and record login credentials. The sharing of login credentials and poor choices of passwords can also allow attackers to gain access to login credentials.

To protect against cyberattacks, hotels and their contracted SaaS providers should use layered defences including multiple systems to prevent the downloading of malware and multi-factor authentication to reduce the risk from compromised login credentials being used to gain access to POS systems.

Web filters should be used to control employees’ Internet access and downloads, an antispam solution used to prevent malicious emails from reaching end users’ inboxes and anti-virus and anti-malware solutions should be kept up to date and set to scan networks regularly.

Organizations in the hospitality sector must also ensure they have the basics correct, such as changing default passwords, using strong passwords and employing good patch management policies.

Millions Affected by Google Phishing Scam

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Employees Still Lack Security Awareness

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How to Improve Defenses Against Email Attacks

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

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

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

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

Law Firm Ransomware Attack Locks Data for Three Months

A law firm ransomware attack has resulted in business files being left encrypted and inaccessible for three months, causing considerable billing losses for the firm.

Why did the law firm not simply pay the ransom demand to regain access to their files? Well, they did. Unfortunately, the attackers took the money and did not supply viable keys to unlock the encrypted files. Instead, they had a much better idea. To issue another ransom demand to try to extort even more money from the law firm.

The law firm, Providence, RI- based Moses Afonso Ryan Ltd, was forced to negotiate with the attackers to gain access to its data. It took more than three months and ransomware payments of $25,000 to finally regain access to its files. However, the ransomware payment represented only a tiny proportion of the cost of the attack. During the three months that data were locked, the firm’s lawyers struggled to work.

Moses Afonso Ryan made a claim against its insurance policy for lost billings as a result of the attack; however, the insurer, Sentinel Insurance Co., has refused to pay the bill. The law firm claims to have lost $700,000 as a result of the attack in lost billings alone. The firm has recently filed a U.S. District Court lawsuit against its insurer claiming breach of contract and bad faith for denying the claim.

The law firm ransomware attack involved a single phishing email being opened by one of the firms’ lawyers. That email has so far cost the firm more than $725,000 and the losses will continue to rise.

Important lessons can be learned from this law firm ransomware attack. First, the importance of training all staff members on the risk of ransomware attacks and teaching security best practices to reduce the risk of attacks being successful.

Since phishing emails are now highly sophisticated and difficult to identify, technical solutions should be implemented to prevent emails from reaching employees’ inboxes. Endpoint protection systems can reduce the risk of ransomware being installed and can detect infections rapidly, limiting the damage caused.

All businesses should take care to segment their networks to ensure that a ransomware infection on a single computer does not result in an entire network being impacted.

It is also essential for backups to be performed regularly and for those backups to be tested to ensure data can be recovered. This law firm cyberattack clearly demonstrated that organizations cannot rely on attackers making good on their promise to unlock data if the ransom is paid.

There have been cases where the attackers have not been able to supply a functional key to unlock data, and numerous examples of attackers issuing further ransom demands in an attempt to extort even more money out of companies.

Healthcare Ransomware Attacks Accounted for 50% of All Security Incidents

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cyberattacks on Educational Institutions Increase Sharply

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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