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.

Security Awareness Training Company Spoofed in Novel Phishing Campaign

Phishers are constantly devising new ways to trick employees into divulging their credentials. Realistic emails are sent using a variety of ruses to get employees to click on a malicious link, which often aims to obtain Microsoft Office 365 credentials. Office 365 accounts often contain a range of sensitive data, which can be stolen and used for many nefarious purposes.

Recently, a new campaign has been identified targeting businesses that attempts to obtain Microsoft Outlook credentials. The campaign spoofs KnowBe4, a company specializing in security awareness training for employees – Training that helps businesses teach their employees how to recognize a phishing email.

The emails alert the recipient about the impending expiration of a security awareness training module. The recipient is told they only have 24 hours remaining to complete the training. Three links are supplied in the email that appear, at face value, to link to the genuine KnowBe4 website; however, they direct the user to a phishing page on a compromised website where Outlook credentials and personal information are harvested, via a realistic login page for the Outlook Web App.

Instructions are provided for accessing the training outside of the network, with the user instructed to enter their username and password before clicking the sign in button. Doing so, it is claimed, will direct the user to the training module. While the site to which the phishing email links is convincing, the tell-tale sign that this is a scam is the domain. Several different URLs on multiple sites have been used in this campaign, all of which are unrelated to the security awareness training provider. However, busy employees may fail to check the URL before disclosing their credentials.

It is an interesting tactic to spoof a cybersecurity company dedicated to phishing prevention; one that may fool employees into believing the email is genuine.  Any company can be spoofed in a phishing campaign. Just because the company offers services to combat phishing does not mean that the email should not be subjected to the usual checks to verify its validity, which is something that should be emphasized in employee security awareness training sessions.

According to Cofense, which analyzed the websites, the compromised sites have recently hosted a web shell that allowed the attackers to upload and edit files. The websites had been compromised since at least April 2020, unbeknown to the site owners. The phishing kit used in this campaign has been loaded onto at least 30 different websites since the campaign commenced in mid-April.

Employees receive hundreds of emails each week and identifying every phishing email can be a difficult task, especially when many phishing emails are realistic and are very similar to genuine emails that employees receive every day. Security awareness training is important, but it is also essential to implement an advanced spam filtering solution that is capable of blocking virtually all (in excess of 99.9%) malicious emails.

With an advanced spam filtering solution in place – such as SpamTitan – these emails can be blocked at source and will not be delivered to end users’ inboxes, negating the threat.

5 Ways to Quickly Identify a Phishing Email

Even though there are easy ways to identify a phishing email, many employees are fooled by these scams. Phishing attacks involve the use of social engineering to convince the target to take a certain action, such as opening an email attachment that has a malicious script that downloads malware or visiting a website that requires sensitive information to be entered. These scams can be convincing, the reason supplied for taking a particular action is often credible, and any linked website can be difficult to distinguish from the site it impersonates.

Phishing campaigns can be conducted cheaply, little skill is required, phishing can be very profitable, and the attacks often succeed. It is no surprise that more than two thirds of data breaches start with a phishing email, according to the Verizon Data Breach Investigations Report.

How to Identify a Phishing Email

Phishing emails can take many forms and there is a myriad of lures that are used to fool the unwary, but there are tell-tale signs that an email may not be what it seems. By checking certain elements of an email, you will be able to identify all but the most sophisticated phishing attempts. It only takes a few seconds to perform these checks and that time will be well spent as they will help you identify a phishing email and prevent costly data breaches and malware infections.

Check the true sender of the email

This seems an obvious check but spoofing the sender of an email is one of the most common ways that phishers fool people into responding. The display name is spoofed to make it appear that the email has been sent from a trusted contact. The display name may be PayPal, Netflix, the name of your bank, or your boss or a colleague. However, the actual email address is likely to be from a free email service provider such as @gmail.com or @yahoo.co.uk.

Hover your mouse arrow over the display name or click reply and check the actual sender of the email. The domain name (the bit after @) should match the display name and that domain should be one that is used by the company that appears to have sent you the email. Beware of hyphenated domains such as support-netflix.com. These are unlikely to be genuine.

Check for grammatical errors and spelling mistakes

Read the email carefully. Are there spelling mistakes or grammatical errors? Does the wording seem odd, as if it has not been written by a native English speaker? Scammers are often from non-English speaking countries and may use Google translate to create their emails, which is why the wording may seem a little odd.

Before Google, Netflix, or your bank sends an email, it will be subject to proof checking. Mistakes will be made on occasion by they are exceedingly rare. Some phishing scams deliberately include spelling mistakes and poorly written emails to weed out people who are unlikely to fall for the next stage of the scam. If you fall for the email, it is likely that you can be fooled by the next stage of the attack.

Phishing emails are often addressed in a way that makes it clear that the sender does not know your name.  “Dear customer” for example. Most companies will use your name in genuine email communications.

Phishers use urgency and a “threat” if no action is taken

Phishers want you to take action quickly rather than stop and think about the legitimacy of any request. It is common for a request to be made that needs immediate action to prevent something undesirable from happening.

For example, someone has tried to login to your account and you need to take immediate action to secure your account. Something has happened that will result in your account being closed. A payment has been made from your account for something that you have not purchased, and you need to take action to stop that payment from going through. Phishers use fear, urgency, and threats to get prompt action taken and count on people acting quickly without thinking or carefully checking the email. Spending an extra 30 seconds checking an email will not make any difference to the outcome, but it can prevent you from being fooled by a scam.

Check the true destination of any link in the email

Most phishing attacks seek sensitive information such as login credentials. For these to be obtained, you will most likely be directed to a website where you must enter login credentials, financial information, and personal details to verify your identity. Emails are often written in HTML and include a button to click that directs you to a website.

You should check the true URL before clicking. Hover your mouse arrow over any button to find out where you are being directed and make sure the URL matches the context of the message and uses an official domain name of the company referenced in the email. The same applies to the anchor text of a link – the text that is displayed in a clickable link. Make sure you perform the same check on any link before clicking.

On a mobile device this is even more important, as the small screen size means it is not always possible to display the full URL. The visible part of the URL may look like it is genuine, but when viewing the full URL you will see that it is not. Just press on the URL and keep pressing until the link is displayed.

Beware of email attachments

Email attachments are used in phishing scams for distributing malware and for hiding content from spam filters. Hyperlinks are put in an attachment rather than the message body to fool security solutions, and scripts are used in email attachments that may run automatically when the attachment is opened.

If you are sent an unsolicited email that includes an attachment, treat it as suspicious and try to verify the email is legitimate. If the email has been sent by a colleague, give them a quick call to make sure they actually sent the email, even if the sender check was passed. Someone may have compromised their account. Do not use any contact information supplied in the email, as it is likely to be incorrect.

Only open email attachments that you are confident are genuine, and then never “enable content” as this will grant a macro or other malicious script permission to run.

Anti-Phishing Solutions for Businesses

TitanHQ has developed two powerful anti-phishing solutions to help businesses block phishing and other email and web-based cyberattacks. SpamTitan is an advanced email security solution that has been independently verified as blocking 99.97% of spam and phishing emails and is used by thousands of businesses to keep their inboxes free of threats.

SpamTitan performs a myriad of checks to determine the likelihood of an email being malicious, including RBL checks, Bayesian analysis, heuristics, machine learning techniques to identify zero-day threats, and sender policy frameworks to block email impersonation attacks. Dual antivirus engines are used to detect known malware and sandboxing is used to analyze suspicious email attachments safely to check for malicious actions.

WebTitan is a DNS filtering solution that blocks the web-based component of phishing attacks by preventing employees visiting known malicious websites, suspicious sites. WebTitan also blocks malware downloads.

Both solutions are competitively priced, easy to implement and use, and provide protection against the full range of email and web-based threats. For further information on improving protection from phishing attacks and other cyber threats, give the TitanHQ team a call. Alternatively, you can register for a no obligation free trial of both solutions to evaluate them in your own environment.

Phishing Protection Measures Every Business Should Have in Place

Phishing is a cybersecurity threat that businesses of all sizes are likely to face and one that requires multiple phishing protection measures to prevent. Phishing is the term given to fraudulent attempts to obtain sensitive information such as login credentials to email accounts or employee/customer information. Phishing can take place over the telephone (vishing), via text message (SMiShing), or through social media networks and websites, but the most common phishing attacks take place over email.

When phishing occurs over email, an attack usually consists of two elements. A lure – a reason given in the email that encourages the user to take a particular action – and a web-based component, where sensitive information is collected.

For instance, an email is sent telling the recipient that there has been a security breach that requires immediate action. A link is supplied in the email that directs the recipient to a website where they are required to login and verify their identity.  The website is spoofed to make it look like the site it is impersonating and when information is entered it is captured by the attacker.

Phishing protection measures should be deployed to block both of these components. First, you need a solution that stops the phishing attack at source and prevents phishing emails from being delivered to inboxes. You should also have security measures in place to prevent information from being handed over to the attackers at the web stage of the attack. As an additional protection, in case both of those measures fail, you need to prevent stolen credentials from being used to gain access to the account.

Four Essential Phishing Protection Measures

Phishing protection measures should consist of four elements: a spam filter, a web filter, end user training, and multi-factor authentication – often referred to as layered phishing defenses. If one layer should fail, others are in place to make sure the attack does not succeed.

Spam filtering

A spam filter is your first line of defense and one that will block the vast majority of email threats. An advanced spam filter will block in excess of 99.9% of spam, phishing, and malware-laced emails. Spam filters incorporate several layers of protection. They use blacklists of known spammers – domains, email accounts, and IP addresses that have previously been used for spamming, phishing, and other nefarious activities. Checks are performed on the message headers and the message body is subjected to multiple checks to identify malicious URLs and keywords commonly used in spam and phishing emails. Each message is given a score, and if that score is higher than a pre-defined threshold, the message will be either deleted or quarantined. Spam filters also incorporate antivirus engines that check messages for malicious attachments.

Web filtering

Cybercriminals are constantly changing tactics and developing new methods to obfuscate their phishing attempts to bypass spam filters. Spam filters are updated to block these new attacks, but there will be a lag and some messages will slip through the net on occasion. This is where a web filter kicks into action. A web filter will check a website against several blacklists and will assess the content of the website in real-time. If the website is deemed to be malicious, the user will not be permitted to connect, instead they will be directed to a local block page.  Web filters also have AV software to prevent malware being downloaded and can be used to control the types of content users can access – blocking pornography for instance, or social media networks, gaming sites and other productivity drains.

End user training

Technical anti-phishing measures are important, but they will not block all attacks. It is therefore essential to provide end user training to help employees identify phishing and other malicious emails. A once-a-year formal training session should be conducted, with ongoing, regular shorter training sessions throughout the year to raise awareness of new threats and to reinforce the annual training. Phishing simulations should also be conducted to test whether training has been effective and to ensure that any knowledge gaps are identified and addressed.

Multi-factor authentication

If credentials are stolen in a phishing attack, or are otherwise obtained by a cybercriminal, multi-factor authentication can prevent those credentials from being used. In addition to a password, a second factor must be provided before account access is granted. This could be a token, code, or one-time password, with the latter usually sent to a mobile phone. While multi-factor authentication will block the majority of attempts by unauthorized individuals to access accounts, it is not infallible and should not be considered as a replacement for the other protections. Multi-factor authentication will also not stop malware infections.

Phishing Protection Solutions from TitanHQ

TitanHQ has developed two powerful cybersecurity solutions to help you protect against phishing and malware attacks: SpamTitan email security and the WebTitan web filter. Both of these solutions have multiple deployment options and are easy to implement, configure, and use. The solutions are consistently rated highly by end users for the level of protection provided, ease of deployment, ease of use, and for the excellent customer support if you ever have any problems or questions.

On top of that, pricing is totally transparent with no hidden extras, and the solutions are very competitively priced. Both are available on a free trial to allow you to test them in your own environment before committing to a purchase.

For further information, give the TitanHQ team a call today or sign up for a free trial and immediately improve your phishing defenses!

A Lesson Learned from a Recent Phishing Attack on a Security Awareness Training Organization

Businesses are constantly targeted by cybercriminals and phishing one of the easiest ways that they can gain a foothold in corporate networks. An email is sent to an employee with a lure to entice them to click an embedded hyperlink and visit a website. When they arrive on the site, they are presented with a login prompt and must enter their credentials. The login prompt is indistinguishable from the real thing, but the domain on which the login prompt appears is controlled by the attacker. Any information entered on the website is captured.

End user training will go a long way to keeping your business protected against phishing attacks. Phishers target people using a variety of “social engineering” tactics to get them to take a specific action, which could be visiting a website and downloading malware, giving up their login credentials, or sending a wire transfer to the criminal’s bank account. By conditioning employees to perform checks and to stop and think before taking any action suggested in an email, you will greatly improve resilience to phishing attacks.

Many employees will say that they can identify a phishing email and will never be fooled, but the number of successful phishing attacks that are occurring every day suggests there are gaps in knowledge and even the most tech-savvy individuals can be fooled.

To illustrate this point, consider the SANS Institute. If you have never heard of the SANS Institute, it is one of the world’s leading computer and information security training and certification organizations, including anti-phishing training.

In August 2020, the SANS Institute announced that one of its employees had fallen for a phishing scam and disclosed their login credentials. The attacker used those credentials to access the account and set up a mail forwarder that sent a copy of every email to the attacker’s email account. 513 emails, some of which contained sensitive information on SANS members, were forwarded to the account before the attack was detected. The emails contained the personally identifiable information of 28,000 SANS members. The SANS Institute decided to use this attack as a training tool and will be providing details of how it succeeded to help others prevent similar attacks.

This incident shows that even the most highly trained individuals can fall for a phishing email. Had training not been provided, instead of one compromised email account there could have been many.

Phishers are constantly changing tactics and developing new scams to fool people and technological anti-phishing solutions. The key to phishing attack prevention is to implement a range of defenses to block attacks. Any one of those measures may fail to detect a phishing email on occasion, but others will be in place to provide protection. This defense-in depth approach is essential given the sophistication of phishing attacks and the volume of messages now being sent.

In addition to regular end user training and phishing simulation emails to harden the human element of your defenses, you need an advanced spam filter. If you use Office 365 you will already have a basic level of protection provided through Microsoft’s basic spam filter, Exchange Online Protection (EOP), but this should be augmented with a third-party solution such as SpamTitan to block more threats. EOP blocks spam, known malware, and many phishing emails, but SpamTitan will greatly improve protection against more sophisticated phishing attacks and zero-day malware.

You should also consider implementing a web filter to block the web-based component of phishing attacks. When an employee attempts to visit a malicious website that is used to steal credentials and other sensitive information, a web filter can prevent that website from being accessed.

With a spam filter, web filter, and end user training, you will be well protected, but you should also implement 2-factor authentication. If credentials are stolen, 2-factor authentication can prevent those credentials from being used by the attacker to gain access to the account.

For more information on spam filtering, web filtering, and phishing protection, give the TitanHQ team a call. Our team of experienced engineers will be happy to help you set up SpamTitan email security and the WebTitan web filter on a free trial so you can see for yourself how effective both are at blocking phishing attacks and other cybersecurity threats.

Warning for Small Businesses About SBA Loan Phishing Scams

Several SBA loan phishing scams identified in recent weeks that impersonate the U.S. Small Business Administration in order to obtain personally identifiable information and login credentials for fraudulent purposes.

Due to the hardships suffered by businesses due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the SBA’s Office of Disaster Assistance is offering loans and grants to small businesses to help them weather the storm.

Hundreds of millions of dollars has been made available by the U.S government under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act) to help struggling individuals and companies during the pandemic. Cybercriminals have been quick to develop campaigns to fraudulently obtain those funds, raid bank accounts, steal sensitive information, and distribute malware and ransomware.

Several phishing campaigns have been launched since April 2020 targeting businesses that are considering or have already applied for loans under the SBA’s Economic Injury Disaster Loan Program.

Phishing emails have been sent encouraging small businesses to apply for a loan. One such campaign confirms that the business is eligible for a loan and the loan has been pre-approved. The purpose of the scam is to obtain business information that allows the scammers to apply for a loan on behalf of the business and pocket the funds.

Another scam impersonates the SBA and claims an application for a loan is complete and payment will be made once supporting documents have been received. The emails include an attached form that must be completed and uploaded to the SBA website. The email attachment appears to be a .img file but has a hidden double extension and is actually a .exe executable. Double clicking and running the file will see GuLoader malware installed, which is a downloader that can deliver a range of different malicious payloads.

The same email address used for that campaign was used in a different attack that included a PDF form that requested bank account information and other sensitive data, which needed to be completed and uploaded to a spoofed SBA website.

In the past few days, yet another SBA loan phishing scam has come to light. Phishing emails were sent to Federal Executive Branch, and state, local, tribal, and territorial government agencies. The phishing scam relates to an SBA application for a loan with the subject line “SBA Application – Review and Proceed.” The emails links to a cleverly spoofed SBA web page that indistinguishable from the genuine login page apart from the URL that attempts to steal credentials. The scam prompted the DHS’ Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) to issue an emergency alert warning of the scam.

These SBA loan phishing scams use a variety of lures and have multiple aims, but they can be avoided by following good cybersecurity best practices.

First and foremost, you should have an advanced spam filtering solution in place such as SpamTitan. SpamTitan checks email headers and message content for the signs of spam, phishing and scams and uses DMARC and sender policy framework (SPF) to identify and block email impersonation attacks.

Dual antivirus engines detect 100% of known malware and sandboxing is used to subject attachments to deep analysis to identify malicious code and malware that has not been seen before. Machine learning technology is also used to identify new phishing scams, along with multiple threat intelligence feeds to identify known phishing scams.

Prior to opening any downloaded document or file it should be scanned using antivirus software that has up to date virus definitions. Check the properties of files to make sure they are what they claim to be and do not have a double extension.

Care should be taken opening any email or email attachment, even emails that are expected. Steps should be taken to verify the legitimacy of any request received via email, especially one that requires the provision of personally identifiable information or requests bank account and other highly sensitive information.

Emails and websites may look legitimate and have SBA logos, but that does not guarantee they are genuine. Always carefully check the sender of the email – Genuine SBA accounts end with sba.gov. The display name can easily be spoofed so click reply and carefully check the email address is correct. Care should be taken when visiting any website linked in an email. Check the full URL of any website to make sure it is the legitimate domain.

CISA also recommends monitoring users’ web browsing habits and restricting access to potentially malicious websites. The easiest way to do this is by using a web filtering solution such as WebTitan. WebTitan allows businesses to monitor Internet activity in real-time, send automatic alerts, block downloads of certain file types, and carefully control the types of website that can be accessed by employees.

For more information on spam filtering and web filtering solutions to protect your business from phishing and other cyberattacks, give the SpamTitan team a call today.

Increase in Netwalker Ransomware Attacks Prompts FBI Warning

Over the past few months, cyberattacks involving Netwalker ransomware have been steadily increasing and Netwalker has now become one of the biggest ransomware threats of 2020.

Netwalker ransomware is the new name for a ransomware variant called Mailto, which first appeared a year ago in August 2019. The threat actors behind the ransomware rebranded their malware as Netwalker in late 2019 and in 2020 started advertising for affiliates to distribute the ransomware under the ransomware-as-a-service model. In contrast to many RaaS offerings, the threat group is being particularly choosy about who they recruit to distribute the ransomware and has been attempting to build a select group of affiliates with the ability to conduct network attacks on enterprises that have the means to pay large ransoms and the data to warrant such large payments if attacked.

Netwalker ransomware was used in an attack in February on Toll Group, an Australian logistics and transportation company, which caused widespread disruption although the firm claims not to have paid the ransom. Like several other ransomware gangs, the Netwalker gang took advantage of the COVID-19 pandemic and was using COVID-19 lures in phishing emails to spread the ransomware payload via a malicious email attachment, opting for a Visual Basic Scripting (.vbs) loader attachments.

Then followed attacks on Michigan State University and Columbia College of Chicago, with the frequency of attacks increasing in June. The University of California San Francisco, which was conducting research into COVID-19, was attacked and had little choice other than to pay the $1.14 million ransom demand to regain access to essential research data that was encrypted in the attack. More recently Lorien Health Services, a Maryland operator of assisted living facilities, also had files encrypted by the Netwalker gang.

The recent attacks have seen the attack vector change, suggesting the attacks have been the work of affiliates and the recruitment campaign has worked. Recent attacks have seen a range of techniques used in attacks, including brute force attacks on RDP servers, exploitation of vulnerabilities in unpatched VPN systems such as Pulse Secure VPNs that have not had the patch applied to correct the CVE-2019-11510 vulnerability. Attacks have also been performed exploiting user interface components of web apps, such as the Telerik UI vulnerability CVE-2019-18935, in addition to vulnerabilities in Oracle WebLogic and Apache Tomcat servers.

With the ransoms paid so far, the group is now far better funded and appears to have skilled affiliates working at distributing the ransomware. Netwalker has now become one of the biggest ransomware threats and has joined the ranks of Ryuk and Sodinokibi. Like those threat groups, data is stolen prior to file encryption and threats are issued to publish or sell the data if the ransom is not paid.

The increase in activity and skill of the group at gaining access to enterprise networks prompted the FBI to issue a flash alert warning of the risk of attack in late July. The group appears to be targeting government organizations, educational institutions, healthcare providers and entities involved in COVID-19 research, and the attacks are showing no sign of slowing, in fact they are more than likely to increase.

Defending against the attacks requires a defense in depth approach and adoption of good cyber hygiene. An advanced spam filtering solution should be used to block email attacks, end users should be taught how to recognize malicious emails and shown what to do if a suspicious email is received. Vulnerabilities in software are being exploited so prompt patching is essential. All devices should be running the latest software versions.

Antivirus and anti-malware software should be used on all devices and kept up to date, and policies requiring strong passwords to be implemented should be enforced to prevent brute force tactics from succeeding. Patched VPNs should be used for remote access, two-factor authentication should be implemented, web filters used for secure browsing of the internet, and backups should be performed regularly. Backups should be stored on a non-networked device that is not accessible over the internet to ensure they too are not encrypted in an attack.

Watch Out for This New Netflix Phishing Scam!

Any popular platform is an attractive target for phishers, and with more than 167 million subscribers worldwide, the Netflix streaming service certainly falls into that category. While Netflix may not seem a key target for phishers, a successful attack could give scammers access to credit card and banking information.

Netflix phishing scams are common, so it is not unusual to see yet another scam launched, but one of the latest uses a novel tactic to evade security solutions. By incorporating a CAPTCHA challenge, it is harder for security solutions to access the phishing websites and identify their malicious nature.

This Netflix phishing scam starts with an email like many other Netflix scams that precede it. The emails appear to have been sent from the Netflix customer support team and advise the recipient there has been a problem with billing for the latest monthly payment. As a result, the subscription will be suspended in the next 24 hours.

The Netflix user is provided with a link to click and they are told they need to update their information on file. The emails also include a link to unsubscribe and manage communication preferences, although they do not work.

As with most phishing scams there is urgency and a threat. Update your information within 24 hours or you will lose access to the service. Clicking the link will direct the user to a fully functioning CAPTCHA page, where they are required to go through the standard CAPTCHA checks to verify they are not a bot. If the CAPTCHA challenge is passed, the user will be directed to a hijacked domain where they are presented with the standard Netflix sign-in page.

They must sign-in, then they are asked to enter their billing address, along with their full name and date of birth, followed by a second page where they are asked for their card number, expiry date, CVV code, and optional fields for their bank sort code, account number, and bank name. If the information is entered, they are told that they have correctly verified their information and they will be redirected to the real Netflix page, most likely unaware that they have given highly sensitive information to the scammers.

There have been many Netflix phishing emails intercepted over the past few months claiming accounts have been put on hold due to problems with payments. The emails are convincing and very closely resemble the emails sent out regularly by Netflix to service subscribers. The emails feature the Netflix logo, correct color schemes, and direct the recipients to very realistic looking login pages.

What all of these emails have in common is they link to a domain other than Netflix.com. If you receive an email from Netflix, especially one that contains some sort of warning or threat, login to the site by typing the correct domain into the address bar and always make sure you are on the correct website before entering any sensitive information.

Phishing Warning Issued to Sports Industry Following Spate of Attacks

Football is big business and large quantities of money are often transferred electronically between clubs to bring in new players. If scammers were to insert themselves into the communications between clubs, huge payments could easily be diverted. In 2018, the Italian football club Lazio was targeted with a phishing scam that resulted in a payment of €2 million being sent to an account under the control of scammers. The money was never recovered.

Now it appears that the sports industry is being targeted again. Recently, a similar scam was conducted on a Premier League football club in England. The hackers gained access to the email account of the managing director of the club through a phishing campaign after directing the MD to a domain where Office credentials were harvested. Those credentials were then used to access the MD’s email account, and the scammers inserted themselves into and email conversation with another club looking to purchase a player. Fortunately, the scam was detected by the bank and a £1 million fraudulent payment was blocked.

This type of scam starts with a phishing email but is referred to as a Business Email Compromise (BEC) scam. BEC scams are commonplace and often successful. They range from simple scams to complicated multi-email communications between two parties, whether one party believes they are communicating with the genuine email account holder when they are actually communicating with the scammer. When the time comes to make payment, the scammer supplies their own account credentials. All too often, these scams are not detected until after payment is made.

That is far from the only cyberattack on the sports industry in recent weeks and months. There have been several attempted cyberattacks which prompted to the UK’s National Cyber Security Center (NCSC) to issue a warning advising the UK sports sector to be on high alert.

Prior to lockdown, a football club in the UK was hit with a ransomware attack that encrypted essential systems, including the computer systems that controlled the turnstiles, preventing them from working. A game nearly had to be abandoned due to the attack. The ransomware attack is suspected to have also started with a phishing email.

The recent attacks are not limited to football clubs. NCSC data show that 70% of sports institutions in the United Kingdom have suffered a cyberattack in the past 12 months.

NCSC figures show approximately 30% of incidents resulted in financial losses, with the average loss being £10,000, although one organization lost £4 million in a scam. 40% of the attacks involved the use of malware, which is often delivered via spam email. A quarter of attacks involved ransomware.

While malware and ransomware attacks are costly and disruptive, the biggest cause of losses is BEC attacks. Figures from the FBI show these scams accounted for around half of all losses to cybercrime in 2019. $1.77 billion was lost to BEC attacks in 2019, with an average loss of $75,000 (£63,333). The true figure is likely to be even higher, as not all BEC attacks are reported. The FBI anticipates even greater losses this year.

While there are many different attack methods, email remains the most common vector used in cyberattacks on businesses. It is therefore essential to implement a robust email security solution that can block malicious emails and prevent them from being delivered to inboxes.

TitanHQ has developed a powerful, advanced email security solution that can help businesses improve their email security defenses and block phishing, spear phishing, BEC, malware, and ransomware attacks. SpamTitan incorporates multiple threat intelligence feeds, machine learning systems to identify phishing attempts, dual anti-virus engines, and a sandbox to subject suspicious email attachments to in-depth analysis. SpamTitan also incorporates SPF and DMARC to identify and block email impersonation attacks.

If you are concerned about email security and want to improve your defenses against email threats, give the TitanHQ team a call to find out more about SpamTitan and other security solutions that can help you defend your organization from cyberattacks.

Our customer service team will be happy to discuss your options and help set you up for a free trial so you can see for yourself the difference SpamTitan makes to email security.

Phishers Use Google Cloud Services to Steal Office 365 Credentials

A new phishing campaign has been detected that uses Google Cloud Services to fool victims into giving up their Office 365 credentials. The new campaign is part of a growing trend of disguising phishing attacks using legitimate cloud services.

The phishing attack starts like any other with an email containing a hyperlink that the recipient is requested to click. If the user clicks the link in the email, they are directed to Google Drive where a PDF file has been uploaded. When the file is opened, users are asked to click a hyperlink in the document, which appears to be an invitation to access a file hosted on SharePoint Online.

The PDF file asks the victim to click the link to sign in with their Office 365 ID. Clicking the link will direct the user to a landing page hosted using Google’s storage.googleapis.com. When the user arrives on the landing page, they are presented with an Office 365 login prompt that looks exactly like the real thing. After entering their credentials, they will be directed to a legitimate PDF whitepaper that has been obtained from a well-respected global consulting firm.

The campaign has been designed to make it appear that the victim is simply being directed to a PDF file that has been shared via Sharepoint, and the actual PDF file is displayed after the victim has divulged their credentials. It is therefore likely that the victim will not realize that their Office 365 credentials have been phished. The only sign that this is a scam is the source code on the phishing page, which even tech-savvy individuals would be unlikely to check.

This campaign was identified by researchers at Check Point, but it is just one of many similar campaigns to have been identified over the past few months. Since these domains are legitimate and have valid SSL certificates, they are difficult to detect as malicious. This campaign abused Google Cloud Services, but several other campaigns have been detected using the likes of IBM Cloud, Microsoft Azure and others to add legitimacy to the campaigns.

This campaign highlights the importance of providing security awareness training to the workforce and warning employees about the risks of clicking links in unsolicited emails, even those that link to genuine domains. An advanced email security solution should also be implemented to block malicious emails and ensure the majority of malicious messages are not delivered to inboxes. That is an area where TitanHQ can help.

Emotet Botnet Activity Resumes with Trickbot/Qakbot Malware Campaign

Emotet was the most prolific malware botnet of 2018 and 2019, but the botnet fell silent on February 7, 2020 but it has now sprung back to life and is being used to distribute Trojan malware.  The botnet returned with a malicious spam campaign on July 17 of at least 30,000 emails, mostly targeting organizations in the United States and United Kingdom. The scale of the campaign has now grown to around 250,000 emails a day with the campaign now global.

The Emotet botnet is a network of computers infected with Emotet malware and there are estimated to be around half a million infected Windows computers under the control of the botnet operators. Those infected devices are contacted through the attackers’ command and control (C2) servers and are sent instructions to send out spam emails spreading Emotet malware.

Once the malware is downloaded, the infected computer is added to the botnet and is used to send spam emails. Emotet infections can also spread laterally within an organization. When investigations are launched following the detection of Emotet, it is common for other computers to be discovered to be infected with the malware.

What makes Emotet particularly dangerous is the operators of the botnet pair up with other threat groups and deliver other malware variants. Emotet has been used to distribute a range of malware variants since its creation in 2014, but recently the malware payload of choice was the TrickBot Trojan. TrickBot is a banking trojan cum information stealer that also serves as a malware downloader. In addition to stealing sensitive data, the operators of TrickBot pair up with other malware developers, notably the developers of Ryuk ransomware.  Once TrickBot has stolen information, the baton is passed over to Ryuk, which will also steal data before encrypting files on network. The new Emotet campaign started by distributing the TrickBot Trojan, although the payload has since switched to the QakBot banking Trojan.  QakBot also delivers ransomware as a secondary payload, with Prolock often used in the past.

Emotet emails use a variety of lures to get recipients to click links to malicious websites or open infected email attachments. Emotet targets businesses, so the lures used are business related, such as fake shipping notices, invoices, purchase orders, receipts, and job applications. The emails are often personalized, and the threat actors known to hijack email threads and send responses with malicious documents added.

An Emotet infection is serious and should be treated with the same urgency as a ransomware attack. Prompt action may allow Emotet to be removed before a secondary payload is delivered.

Fortunately, Emotet malware is delivered via email so that gives businesses an opportunity to prevent infections. By deploying an advanced spam filter such as SpamTitan that has sandboxing to subject email attachments to deep analysis, these malicious emails can be identified and quarantined. Coupled with other email security measures such as end user training, businesses can mount a robust defense and block infections.

The return of Emotet was inevitable, and while the resumption of activity is bad news, there is some good news. A vigilante hacker has started sabotaging Emotet operations by targeting a weak link in their infrastructure. Emotet malware is downloaded from the internet from a range of hacked WordPress sites. The vigilante has found that the temporary stores of Emotet can be easily hacked as they tend to all use the same password. After guessing that password, the Emotet payload has been replaced with a variety of animated GIFs and has disrupted operations, reducing infections to around a quarter of their normal levels. That said, the Emotet gang is attempting to regain control of its web shells and infections with Emotet are still growing.

Phorpiex Botnet Activity Surges with Large-Scale Avaddon Ransomware Campaign

Over the past month there has been a surge in Phorpiex botnet activity. A botnet is a network of computers that have been infected with malware, placing them under the control of the botnet operator. Those computers are then used to send spam and phishing emails, often with the aim of distributing malware and ransomware. There are known to be around 500,000 computers in the Phorpiex botnet globally and the botnet has been in operation for almost 10 years.

The Phorpiex botnet has previously been used for sending sextortion emails, distributing cryptocurrency miners, and malware such as the Pony information stealer, GandCrab ransomware, and the XMRig cryptocurrency miner. In June, the Phorpiex botnet was used to conduct a massive Avaddon ransomware campaign that saw around 2% of companies targeted around the world.

Ransomware attacks have increased over the past few months, with many ransomware gangs delivering ransomware manually after gaining access to corporate networks by exploiting vulnerabilities in VPNs and other software or taking advantage of insecure default software configurations. There has also been an increase in ransomware attacks using email as the attack vector. Several ransomware variants are now being primarily delivered by email, and Avaddon ransomware was one of the biggest email threats in June. One week in June saw more than 1 million spam emails sent via the Phorpiex botnet, with most of those emails targeting U.S. companies.

Avaddon ransomware is a new ransomware variant that was first detected in June. The operators of Avaddon ransomware are advertising their malware as ransomware-as-a-service (RaaS) and have been recruiting affiliates to distribute the ransomware for a cut of the profits.

In early June, an Avaddon ransomware campaign was detected that used JavaScript attachments in spam emails. The files had a double extension which made them appear to be JPG files on Windows computers. Windows computers hide file extensions by default, so the file attachment would appear to be named IMG123101.jpg on a Windows computer in the default configuration. If Windows had been changed to display known file extensions, the user would see the file was actually IMG123101.jpg.js. Opening the file would launch a PowerShell and Bitsadmin command that would trigger the download and execution of Avaddon ransomware.

More recently, a campaign was detected that distributed Avaddon ransomware using spam emails with Excel spreadsheet attachments with malicious Excel 4.0 macros. In contrast to JavaScript files, which will run when opened by users, Excel macros require user action to run, so they are less effective. That said, users are instructed to enable the macros using a variety of social engineering techniques and they are still effective.

Avaddon ransomware searches for a range of file types, encrypts those files and adds the .avdn extension. A ransom note is dropped, and a link is supplied to a Tor site along with a unique user ID to allow the victim to login to pay the ransom for the keys to unlock encrypted files. There is no free decryptor available for Avaddon ransomware. File recovery will only be possible if the ransom is paid or if viable backups exist that have not also been encrypted by the ransomware.

Several subject lines have been used in the emails, such as “Your new photo?” and “Do you like my photo?”, with only a 😉 emoji in the body of the email. This tactic is simple, yet effective.

There are several steps that can be taken by businesses to prevent Avaddon and other email-based ransomware attacks. End user security awareness training should raise awareness of the threat and teach employees how to recognize phishing and malspam threats and condition them to report emails to their security team. If possible, macros should be disabled on all end user devices, although the email attachments used often change and disabling macros will not therefore always prevent infection.

One of the best defenses against email threats such as phishing, malware and ransomware is to install a powerful anti-spam solution such as SpamTitan. SpamTitan can work as a standalone anti-spam solution, but also as an additional level of protection for Office 365 email, complementing Microsoft Exchange Online Protection (EOP) and providing an additional layer of security to block zero-day phishing and malware threats.

For more information on protecting your organization from ransomware and other email threats, give the TitanHQ team a call today.

Phishing Scam Targets Remote Workers Returning to the Office

A new phishing campaign has been identified that targets remote workers that will soon be returning to the workplace and claims to include information on coronavirus training. The campaign is one of the most realistic phishing scams in recent weeks, as it is plausible that prior to returning to the office after lockdown would involve some changes to workplace procedures to ensure employee safety.

This campaign targets Microsoft Office 365 users and attempts to obtain users’ Office 365 credentials under the guise of a request to register for COVID-19 training.  The emails include the Office 365 logo and are short and to the point.

They just include the text, “COVID-19 Training for Employees: A Certificate For Healthy Workspaces (Register) to participate in Covid-19 Office Training for Employees.”

The message includes a button to click to register, and the emails claim to be “powered by Microsoft Office 365 health safety measures.”

Clicking the link will direct the user to a malicious website where they are required to enter their Office 365 credentials.

This campaign, like many others to have emerged over the past few weeks, closely follow world events. At the start of the pandemic, when there was little information available about COVID-19, phishers were offering new information about COVID-19 and the Novel Coronavirus. As more countries were affected and cases were increasing, incorporation was being offered about local cases in the area. Now that most countries have passed the peak of infections and lockdowns have helped to bring the virus under control, tactics have changed once again.

Campaigns have been detected in the United Kingdom related to the new Track and Trace system being used by the NHS to help control infections warning users that they need to purchase a COVID-19 test. Another campaign targeted parents who are experiencing financial difficulties due to COVID-19, asking for bank account information to allow them to receive a support payment from the government. Messages have also been detected about Free school dinners over the summer, now that the UK government has said that it will be providing support to parents.

There have been several campaigns that have taken advantage of the popularity of the Black Lives Matter movement following the death of George Floyd. This campaign asked recipients of the email to register their opinions about Black Lives Matter and leave a review, with the campaign used to deliver the TrickBot Trojan.

What these phishing campaigns clearly demonstrate is the fluid nature of phishing campaigns, that are regularly changed to reflect global events to maximize the chance of the emails being opened. They show that users need to remain on their guard and be alert to the threat from phishing and always take time to consider the legitimacy of any request and to perform a series of checks to determine whether an email is what it claims to be. This can be tackled through security awareness training, which should be provided to employees regularly.

Naturally, the best defense is to make sure that these emails are blocked and do not reach inboxes, which is why it is important to have layered defenses in place. An advanced spam filtering solution such as SpamTitan is required that uses machine learning and other advanced detection measures to identify new phishing scams along with measures to detect previously unseen malware variants. As an additional layer of protection, you should consider implementing a web filtering solution such as WebTitan that provides time-of-click protection to block the web-based component of phishing attacks and stop drive-by malware downloads. Alongside security awareness training, these solutions will help you to mount a formidable defense against phishing attacks.

iCalandar Phishing Scam Attempts to Obtain Banking Credentials

A new phishing campaign has been detected that uses calendar invitations to steal banking and email credentials. The messages in the campaign include an iCalendar email attachment which may fool employees as this is a rare file type for phishing. These attachments are therefore unlikely to have been specifically covered in security awareness training.

iCalendar files are the file types used to store scheduling and calendaring information such as tasks and events. In this case, the messages in the campaign have the subject line “Fault Detection from Message Center,” and have been sent from a legitimate email account that has been compromised by the attackers in a previous campaign.

Because the email comes from a legitimate account rather than a spoofed account, the messages will pass checks such as those conducted through DMARC, DKIM, and SPF, which identify email impersonation attacks where the true sender spoofs an account. DMARC, DKIM, and SPF check to see if the true sender of an email is authorized to send messages from a domain.

As with most phishing campaigns, the attackers use fear and urgency to get users to click without considering the legitimacy of the request. In this case, the messages include a warning from the bank’s security team that withdrawals have been made from the account that have been flagged as suspicious. This campaign is targeting mobile users, with the messages asking for the file to be opened on a mobile device.

If the email attachment is opened, the user will be presented with a new calendar entry titled “Stop Unauthorized Payment” which includes a Microsoft SharePoint URL. If that link is clicked, the user will be directed to a Google-hosted website with a phishing kit that spoofs the login for Wells Fargo bank. Both of these websites have valid SSL certificates, so they may not be flagged as suspicious. They will also display the green padlock that shows that the connection between the browser and the website is encrypted and secure, as would be the case for the genuine bank website.

The user is then asked to enter their username, password, PIN, email address, email password, and account numbers. If the information is entered it is captured by the attacker and the information will be used to gain access to the accounts. To make it appear that the request is genuine, the user will then be directed to the legitimate Wells Fargo website once the information is submitted.

There are warning signs that the request is not genuine, which should be identified by security conscious individuals. The use of SharePoint and Google domains rather than a direct link to the Wells Fargo website are suspect, the request to only open the file on a mobile device is not explained. The phishing website also asks for a lot of information, including email address and password, which are not relevant.

These flags should be enough to convince most users that the request is not genuine, but any phishing email that bypasses spam filtering defenses and is delivered to inboxes poses a risk.

Phishing Campaign Uses Fake Supreme Court Summons to Obtain Office 365 Credentials

A U.S. Supreme Court phishing campaign has been detected that uses a fake subpoena to appear in court as a lure to obtain Office 365 credentials. The emails are personalized and are addressed to the victim and claim to be a writ issued by the Supreme Court demanding the recipient attend a hearing. This is a targeted campaign rather than a spray and pray attack that attempts to obtain the credentials of high value targets such as C-Suite members.

The emails include a link that the recipient is required to click to view the subpoena. Clicking the link in the email directs the user to a malicious website where they are required to enter their Office 365 credentials to view the subpoena.

The domain used is brand new and, as such, it is not recognized as malicious by many security solutions, including the default anti-phishing measures of Office 365. The scammers have also used multiple redirects to hide the destination URL in another attempt to thwart anti-phishing defenses.

Prior to the user being directed to the phishing page, they are presented with a CAPTCHA page. CAPTCHA is used to prevent web visits by bots, but in this case, it may be used to add legitimacy to the phish to make the request appear genuine. The CAPTCHA page is real, and the user must correctly select the images in order to proceed. The page also includes the name of the user, further adding legitimacy to the scam. The CAPTCHA may also be a further attempt to make it difficult for the destination URL to be analyzed by security solutions.

This phishing campaign is realistic and uses urgency to get the user to take action quickly, rather than stopping to think about the request. There are signs that this is a scam, such as the domain name which clearly has nothing to do with the U.S. Supreme Court, and a few grammatical and spelling mistakes which would not be expected of any Supreme Court request.

However, the sender name in the email was spoofed to make it appear to have been sent by the “Supreme Court”, the request is certain to scare some recipients into clicking the link, and the landing page is sufficiently realistic to fool busy employees into disclosing their login credentials.

Exchange Online protection (EOP), which is provided by Microsoft free of charge with all Office 365 accounts, often fails to spot these zero-day attacks.

To improve protection against new phishing campaigns, an anti-spam solution is required that incorporates predictive techniques, threat intelligence feeds, and machine learning algorithms. SpamTitan incorporates these and several other layers of protection to identify zero-day phishing, malware, and ransomware campaigns and email impersonation attacks.

SpamTitan can be layered on top of Microsoft’s Exchange Online Protection to serve as an additional layer to your email security defenses to ensure that more malicious emails are blocked and never reach end users inboxes.

For further information on SpamTitan and how the solution can keep your organization’s inboxes free from phishing threats, give the TitanHQ team a call today.

Office 365 Phishing Scam Bypasses Multi-Factor Authentication

A novel phishing scam has been identified that gains access to information on Office 365 accounts without obtaining usernames and passwords. The campaign also manages to bypass multi-factor authentication controls that has been set up to prevent stolen credentials from being used to remotely access email accounts from unfamiliar locations or devices.

The campaign takes advantage of the OAuth2 framework and the OpenID Connect protocol that are used to authenticate Office 365 users. The phishing emails include a malicious SharePoint link that is used to fool email recipients into granting an application permissions that allow it to access user data without a username and password.

The phishing emails are typical of several other campaigns that abuse SharePoint. They advise the recipient that a file has been shared with them and they are required to click a link to view the file. In this case, the file being shared appears to be a pdf document. The document includes the text “q1.bonus” which suggests that the user is being offered additional money. This scam would be particularly effective if the sender name has been spoofed to appear as if the email has been sent internally by the HR department or a manager.

Clicking the link in the email directs the user to a genuine Microsoft Online URL where they will be presented with the familiar Microsoft login prompt. Since the domain starts with login.microsoftonline.com the user may believe that they are on a genuine Microsoft site (they are) and that it is safe to enter their login credentials (it is not). The reason why it is not safe can be seen in the rest of the URL, but for many users it will not be clear that this is a scam.

Entering in the username and password does not provide the credentials to the attacker. It will authenticate the user and also a rogue application.

By entering in a username and password, the user will be authenticating with Microsoft and will obtain an access token from the Microsoft Identity Platform. OAuth2 authenticates the user and OIDC delegates the authorization to the rogue application, which means that the application will be granted access to user data without ever being provided with credentials. In this case, the authentication data is sent to a domain hosted in Bulgaria.

The user is required to enter their login credentials again and the rogue app is given the same permissions as a legitimate app. The app could then be used to access files stored in the Office 365 account and would also be able to access the user’s contact list, which would allow the attacker to conduct further attacks on the organization and the user’s business contacts.

The phishing campaign was identified by researchers at Cofense who warn access only needs to be granted once. Access tokens have an expiration date, but this method of attack allows the attackers to refresh tokens, so that potentially gives the attackers access to documents and files in the Office 365 account indefinitely.

With multi-factor authentication enabled, businesses may feel that they are immune to phishing attacks. Multi-factor authentication is important and can prevent stolen credentials from being used to access Office 365 and other accounts, but MFA is not infallible as this campaign shows.

This campaign highlights how important it is to have an email security solution that uses predictive technology to identify new phishing scams that have not been seen before and do not include malicious attachments. Phishing attacks such as this are likely to bypass Office 365 antispam protections and be delivered to inboxes, and the unusual nature of this campaign may fool users into unwittingly allowing hackers to access their Office 365 accounts.

For further information on how you can secure your Office 365 accounts and block sophisticated phishing attacks, give us a call today to find out how SpamTitan can improve your email defenses.

Cybercriminals Take Advantage of Popularity of Zoom to Phish for Microsoft Credentials

Zoom has proven to be hugely popular during the COVID-19 pandemic. The teleconferencing platform has allowed businesses to keep in touch with their employees during lockdown and many consumers are using the platform to keep in touch with friends and family. The popularity of the platform has not been missed by cybercriminals who are now using a range of Zoom-themed lures to trick people into downloading malware.

Any software solution that has been widely adopted is an attractive target for cybercriminals. The large number of users of the platform mean there is a high likelihood of a Zoom phishing email reaching someone who has previously used the solution. In December, there were around 10 million Zoom users worldwide and by March 2020 that number had increased to more than 200 million.

According to research from Check Point, more than 2,449 domains have been registered in the past three weeks that contain the word Zoom, 320 (13%) of which were identified as suspicious and 32 (1.5%) were confirmed as malicious. Many of these domains are likely to be used in Zoom phishing scams.

The Zoom phishing emails mimic genuine notification messages from Zoom and contain hyperlinks that the user is asked to click. The lures mostly consist of fake meeting reminders and notifications about missed scheduled meetings. The hyperlinks used in the emails often include the word Zoom to make it appear that the user is being directed to a genuine Zoom website.

In April, a Zoom phishing campaign was identified that used fake meeting reminders to alert users that they are required to take part in a Zoom meeting with their HR department regarding the termination of their employment. The link supplied in the email directs the user to a spoofed Zoom website on an attacker-controlled domain where their credentials are harvested.

Another Zoom phishing campaign has been identified that uses the subject line “Zoom Account” with the emails welcoming the user to the Zoom platform. The emails include a link that the user is asked to click to login to activate their account. Doing so will result in Zoom credentials being stolen.

One of the most recent campaigns warns the recipient they have missed a meeting and must login to their account to obtain the recording. In this case, Zoom is spoofed but the attackers seek Microsoft credentials, which can be used to obtain a wealth of sensitive data. With those credentials the attackers can take full control of Office 365 email accounts, which are used to conduct further phishing attacks on the organization.

Zoom is not the only teleconferencing platform being spoofed to steal credentials and distribute malware. Campaigns have also been identified recently that spoof WebEx, Microsoft Teams, Google Meet, and other platforms.

Protecting against these Zoom phishing scams requires a combination of an advanced antispam solution such as SpamTitan and end user education to train employees how to recognize phishing emails.

Common Phishing Lures Currently Attracting Clicks

A new report has been released that sheds light on the most common phishing lures that are currently in use that are providing effective against employees. KnowBe4 has revealed that in the first quarter of 2020, the most common phishing lure was a notification advising the recipient that they need to immediately perform a password check. This lure accounted for 45% of all reported phishing emails in the quarter. The lure is simple yet effective. A hyperlink is included in the email that directs the user to a spoofed webpage where they are required to enter their password for Office 365.

The COVID-19 crisis has provided phishers with new opportunities to steal passwords and distribute malware. At TitanHQ, we have seen a huge variety of COVID-19 themed phishing emails, many of which spoof authorities on COVID-19 such as the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The emails claim to offer important information on the coronavirus and updates on cases. SpamTitan has been blocking increasing levels of these coronavirus emails over the past few weeks so it is no surprise to see a COVID-19 phishing lure in second place, which had the subject line: CDC Health Alert Network: Coronavirus Outbreak Cases.

Other common COVID-19 themed phishing emails include messages about rescheduled meetings due to the coronavirus, COVID-19 tax refunds, information from the IT department about working from home, and offers of confidential information about COVID-19. The report indicates there was a 600% increase in COVID-19 phishing lures in Q1, 2020.

COVID-19 had been embraced by cybercriminals and used in phishing campaigns because the emails commonly attract a click. People are naturally worried about the pandemic and crave information that they can use to protect themselves and their families. The campaigns prey on fears about the coronavirus and use urgency to get recipients to click without questioning the legitimacy of the email.

SpamTitan and WebTitan users are well protected against these phishing threats. Early in the year, just a handful of malicious COVID-19 phishing websites were being used for phishing and malware distribution. Now, SpamTitan and WebTitan are blocking tens of thousands of COVID-19 themed websites that are being used to spread malware and steal sensitive information.

SpamTitan incorporates dual antivirus engines to block known malware threats and sandboxing provides protection against malware variants that have yet to be identified. Suspicious email attachments that have not been detected as malicious by the antivirus engines are sent to the sandbox for in depth analysis. SpamTitan also incorporates SPF and DMARC to block email impersonation attacks, and a host of measures are used to assess the legitimacy of emails and embedded hyperlinks.

The key to good cybersecurity is to implement several layers of security. In addition to an advanced spam filtering solution such as SpamTitan you should consider implementing a DNS-based web filtering solution such as WebTitan to block the web-based component of phishing attacks. WebTitan provides comprehensive internet filtering to ensure that office-based employees and remote workers cannot navigate to websites used for phishing and malware distribution.

If you want to make sure that your workers, their devices, and your network are protected against malware, ransomware, and phishing attacks, give us a call today. SpamTitan and WebTitan can be implemented and configured in a matter of minutes and providing protection against email and web-based threats.

PerSwaysion Spear Phishing Attacks Conducted to Obtain Office 365 Credentials of Executives

A new phishing campaign has been identified that uses the Microsoft Sway file sharing service as part of a three-stage attack with the goal of obtaining the Office 365 credentials of high-level executives.

Group IB researchers identified the campaign and named it PerSwaysion, although versions of the attack have been identified that have used OneNote and SharePoint. The campaign is highly targeted and has been conducted on high-level executives at more than 150 companies. The individuals behind the campaign are believed to operate out of Nigeria and South Africa, with the earliest traces of the attacks indicating the campaign has been running since around the middle of last year.

The PerSwaysion attack starts with a spear phishing email sent to an executive in the targeted organization. The phishing emails include a PDF file attachment with no malicious code embedded. The PDF file just includes a link that the user is required to click to view the content of the file. The link directs the user to file on a Microsoft Sway page, which also requires them to click a link to view the content. Microsoft Sway allows the previewing of the document and displays the content without the user having to open the document. The document states the name of the sender – a known contact – and that individual’s email address with the message that a file has been shared for review along with a hyperlink with the text ‘Read Now’. Clicking the link directs the user to a phishing page with an Office 365 Single Sign-on login prompt.

The initial PDF file, Microsoft Sway page, and the login prompt on the phishing page are all branded with Microsoft Office 365 logos, and it is easy to see how many victims would be fooled into disclosing their credentials.

Once credentials have been obtained, they are used the same day to access the Office 365 account, email data is copied from the account, and it is then used to send further spear phishing emails to individuals in the victim’s contact list. The sent emails are then deleted from the victim’s sent folder to ensure the attack is not detected by the victim.

The emails include the sender’s name in the subject line, and since they have come from the account of a known contact, they are more likely to be opened. The lure used is simple yet effective, asking the recipient to open and review the shared document.

Many of the attacks have been conducted on individuals at companies in the financial services sector, although law firms and real estate companies have also been attacked. The majority of attacks have been conducted in the United States and Canada, United Kingdom, Netherlands, Germany, Singapore, and Hong Kong.

It is possible that the attackers continue to access the compromised emails accounts to steal sensitive data. Since the campaign targets high level executives, the email accounts are likely to contain valuable intellectual property. They could also be used for BEC scams to trick employees into making fraudulent wire transfers.

Spike in Skype and Zoom Phishing Attacks Targeting Remote Employees

The lockdown imposed due to COVID-19 has forced employees to abandon the office and work from home, with contact maintained using communications solutions such as Skype, Slack, and Zoom. Unsurprisingly the huge increase in use of these platforms has created an opportunity for cybercriminals, who are using fake notifications from these and other communication and teleconferencing platforms as lures in phishing campaigns on remote workers.

Several campaigns have been identified that take advantage of the popularity of these platforms. One campaign has recently been identified that uses Skype branding advising users that they have pending notifications. The emails are personalized and include the Skype username and have a review button for users to click to review their notifications. These emails very closely resemble the genuine emails sent to users by Skype. The emails also appear, at first glance, to have been sent from a genuine address.

The link supplied in the email directs the recipient to a hxxps website that has Skype in the domain name. Since the connection between the browser and the website is encrypted, it will display the green padlock to show that the connection is secure, as is the case on the genuine Skype domain. The webpage includes Skype branding and the logo of the company being targeted and states that the webpage has been set up for authorized use by employees of the company. The username of the victim is automatically added to the login page, so all that is required is for a password to be entered.

This campaign was identified by Cofense, which received multiple reports from business users about the emails, which bypassed Microsoft Exchange Online Protection (EOP) and were delivered to Office 365 inboxes.

A Zoom campaign has also been identified that uses similar tactics. Zoom is one of the most popular lockdown teleconferencing apps and has been recommended by many businesses for use by employees to maintain contact during the lockdown. The platform has also proven popular with consumers and now has more than 300 million users.

In this campaign, Zoom meeting notifications are sent to targets. As is common with phishing campaigns, the attackers generate fear and urgency to get the targets to respond quickly without scrutinizing the messages. This campaign advises the recipients to login to a meeting with their HR department regarding their job termination. Clicking the link will similarly direct users to a fake login page where they are required to enter their credentials. The landing page is a virtual carbon copy of the official Zoom login page, although the only parts of the page that work are the username and password fields. This campaign was identified by Abnormal Security, which reports that around 50,000 of these messages were delivered to Office 365 accounts and bypassed EOP.

The phishing emails are credible, the webpages that users are directed to look genuine, and many people will be fooled by the emails. Security awareness training will help to condition employees to question emails such as these, but given the number of messages that are bypassing Microsoft’s EOP, businesses should also consider adding an additional layer of email security to their Office 365 accounts.

This is an area where TitanHQ can help. SpamTitan Cloud does not replace EOP for Office 365, it allows businesses to add an extra layer of protection on top to provide extra protection from zero-day attacks. SpamTitan Cloud blocks spam, phishing, and malware laced emails that would otherwise be delivered to Office 365 inboxes.

SpamTitan Cloud is quick and easy to implement and can protect your Office 365 accounts in a matter of minutes. Since the solution is available on a free trial, you will be able to evaluate the difference it makes and see how many malicious messages it blocks before committing to a purchase.

For further information on improving your phishing defenses, give the TitanHQ team a call today.

Phishing Campaign Piggybacks on Popularity of Dating Apps During Lockdown to Install Remote Access Trojan

Higher education institutions in the United States are being targeted in a phishing campaign that distributes a remote access trojan called Hupigon, a RAT that was first identified in 2010.

The Hupigon RAT has previously been used by advanced persistent threat groups (APT) from China, although this campaign is not believed to have been conducted by APT groups, instead the Hupigon RAT has been repurposed by cybercriminals. While several industries have been targeted in the campaign, almost half of attacks have been on colleges and universities.

The Hupigon RAT allows the operators to download other malware variants, steal passwords, and gain access to the microphone and webcam. Infection could see the attackers take full control of an infected device.

The campaign uses online dating lures to get users to install the Trojan. The emails show two dating profiles of supposed users of the platform, and the recipient is asked to select the one they find the most attractive. When the user makes their choice, they are directed to a website where an executable file is downloaded, which installs the Hupigon RAT.

The choice of lure for the campaign is no doubt influenced by the huge rise in popularity of dating apps during the COVID-19 pandemic. While there are not many actual dates taking place due to lockdown and social distancing measures now in place around the globe, the lockdowns have seen many people with a lot of time on their hands. That, coupled with social isolation for many singles, has actually led to an uptick in the use of online dating apps, with many users of the apps turning to Zoom and FaceTime to have virtual dates. Several popular dating apps have reported an increase in use during the COVID-19 pandemic. For example, Tinder reports use has increased, with the platform having its busiest ever day, with more than 3 billion profiles swiped in a single day.

As we have already seen with COVID-19 lures in phishing attacks, which account for the majority of lures during the pandemic, when there is interest in a particular event or news story, cybercriminals will take advantage. With the popularity of dating apps soaring, we can expect to see an increase in the number of online dating -themed lures.

The advice for higher education institutions and businesses is to ensure that an advanced spam filtering solution is in place to block the malicious messages and ensure they do not reach end users’ inboxes. It is also important to ensure that security awareness training continues to be provided to staff, students, and remote employees to teach them how to recognize the signs of phishing and other email threats.

TitanHQ can help with the former. If you want to better protect staff, students, and employees and keep inboxes free of threats, give the TitanHQ team a call today. After signing up, you can be protecting your inboxes in a matter of minutes.

Healthcare Providers Continue to be Targeted with COVID-19 Phishing Emails

Healthcare providers are being targeted by cybercriminals using COVID-19 themed phishing emails, with the campaigns showing no sign of letting up. The volume of attacks has prompted the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) to issue a further warning to healthcare providers urging them to take steps to protect their networks and block the attacks.

The first major COVID-19 themed phishing attacks targeting healthcare providers started to be detected by around March 18, 2020. The attacks have grown over the following weeks and the lures have diversified.

Campaigns have been conducted targeting at-home healthcare employees who are providing telehealth services to patients, and there has been an increase in business email compromise scams. The latter see vendors impersonated and requests sent for early or out-of-band payments due to difficulties that are being experienced due to COVID-19.

The phishing attacks are being conducted to obtain login credentials and to spread malware, both of which are used to gain a foothold in healthcare networks to allow follow-on system exploitation, persistence, and the exfiltration of sensitive data.

The malware being distributed in these campaigns is highly varied and includes information stealers such as Lokibot, backdoors, and Trojans such as Trickbot. Microsoft has recently reported that Trickbot accounts for the majority of COVID-19 phishing emails targeting Office 365 users, with a campaign last week involving hundreds of different, unique macro-laced documents. In addition to being a dangerous malware variant in its own right, Trickbot also downloads other malicious payloads, including RYUK ransomware.

A diverse range of malware is delivered by a similarly diverse range of email attachments and malicious scripts. Microsoft Word documents containing malicious macros are commonly used, as are 7-zip compressed files, Microsoft executables, and JavaScript and Visual Basic scripts. The emails are being sent from a combination of domestic and international IP addresses.

While the number of COVID-19 themed phishing emails has been increasing, the overall volume of phishing emails has not increased by a major amount. What is happening is threat actors are changing their lures and are now using COVID-19 lures as they are more likely to be opened.

The campaigns can be highly convincing. The lures and requests are plausible, many of the emails are well written, and authorities on COVID-19 such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the HHS’ Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, and the World Health Organization have been spoofed. Oftentimes the emails are sent from a known individual and trusted contact, which makes it more likely that the email attachment will be opened.

The advice offered from the FBI is to follow cybersecurity best practices such as never opening unsolicited email attachments, regardless of who appears to have sent the email. Ensuring software is kept up to date and patches are applied promptly is also important, as is turning off automatic email attachment downloads. The FBI has also recommended filtering out certain types of attachments through email security software, something that is easy to do with SpamTitan.

The FBI has stressed the importance of not opening email attachments, even if antivirus software says that the file is clean. As the Trickbot campaign shows, new variants of malicious documents and scripts are being created at an incredible rate, and signature-based detection methods cannot keep up. This is another area where SpamTitan can help. In addition to using dual antivirus engines to identify known malware variants faster, SpamTitan includes sandboxing to identify and block zero-day malware threats that have yet to have their signatures added to antivirus software virus definitions lists.

Training is important to teach healthcare employees cybersecurity best practices to help them identify phishing emails, but it is also important to ensure that your technical controls are capable of blocking these threats. For more information on the latter, give the TitanHQ team a call today.

Study Reveals Extent of University Cyberattacks

Data obtained by the UK think tank Parliament Street has revealed the extent to which universities are being targeted by cybercriminals and the sheer number of spam and malicious emails that are sent to the inboxes of university staff and students.

Data on malicious and spam email volume was obtained by Parliament Street through a Freedom of Information request. The analysis of data from UK universities showed they are having to block millions of spam emails, hundreds of thousands of phishing emails, and tens of thousands of malware-laced emails every year.

Warwick University’s figures show that more than 7.6 million spam emails were sent to the email accounts of staff and students in the final quarter of 2019 alone, which included 404,000 phishing emails and more than 10,000 emails containing malware.

It was a similar story at Bristol University, which received more than 7 million spam emails over the same period, 76,300 of which contained malware. Data from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine revealed more than 6.3 million spam emails were received in 2019, which included almost 99,000 phishing emails and more than 73,500 malware attacks. 12,773,735 spam and malicious emails were received in total for 2018 and 2019.

Data from Lancaster University revealed more than 57 million emails were rejected for reasons such as spam, malware, or phishing, with 1 million emails marked as suspected spam. The figures from Imperial College London were also high, with almost 40 million emails blocked in 2019.

Like attacks on companies, cyberattacks on universities are often conducted for financial gain. These attacks attempt to deliver malware and obtain credentials to gain access to university networks to steal data to sell on the black market. Universities store huge amounts of sensitive student data, which is extremely valuable to hackers as it can be used for identity theft and other types of fraud. Attacks are also conducted to deliver ransomware to extort money from universities.

Universities typically have high bandwidth to support tens of thousands of students and staff. Attacks are conducted to hijack devices and add them to botnets to conduct a range of cyberattacks on other targets. Email accounts are being hijacked and used to conduct spear phishing attacks on other targets.

Nation state sponsored advanced persistent threat (APT) groups are targeting universities to gain access to intellectual property and research data. Universities conduct cutting edge research and that information is extremely valuable to companies who can use the research data to develop products to gain a significant competitive advantage.

Universities are seen as relatively soft targets compared to organizations of a similar size. Cybersecurity defenses tend to be far less advanced, and the sprawling networks and number of devices used by staff and students make defending networks difficult.

With the number of cyberattacks on universities growing, leaders of higher education institutions need to take steps to improve cybersecurity and prevent the attacks from succeeding.

The majority of threats are delivered via email, so advanced email security defenses are essential, and that is an area where TitanHQ can help.

Independent test show SpamTitan blocks in excess of 99.97% of spam email, helping to keep inboxes free of junk email. SpamTitan incorporates dual anti-virus engines to block known threats, machine learning to identify new types of phishing attacks, and sandboxing to detect and block zero-day malware and ransomware threats. When email attachments pass initial tests, suspicious attachments are sent to the sandbox for in depth analysis to identify command and control center callbacks and other malicious actions. SpamTitan also incorporates SPF and DMARC controls to block email impersonation attacks, data loss prevention controls for outbound messages and controls to detect potential email account compromises.

If you want to improve cybersecurity defenses, start with upgrading your email security defenses with SpamTitan. You may be surprised to discover the little investment is required to significantly improve your email security defenses. For more information, call the TitanHQ team today.

Email Security and Home Working During the COVID-19 Crisis

In this post we explore email security and home working and offer advice to help businesses ensure their workers, devices, and networks are protected.

The 2019 Novel Coronavirus pandemic has forced many workers to self-isolate at home and an increasing number of employees want to work from home to reduce risk of contracting COVID-19. Businesses are under pressure to allow their workers to stay at home and use either company-issued or personal devices to access their networks and work remotely.

Cybercriminals are constantly changing their tactics, techniques, and procedures and they have jumped at the opportunity provided by the Novel Coronavirus. People are scared and rightly so. COVID-19 has a high mortality rate and the virus is spreading like wildfire. People want information about cases in their local area, advice on how to protect themselves, and information about possible cures. Cybercriminals have obliged and are conducting phishing campaigns that claim to offer all that information. Many campaigns have now been detected from many different threat groups that attempt to obtain login credentials and spread malware. Since early January when the first major campaigns were detected, the volume of coronavirus and COVID-19 emails has increased significantly.

Campaigns are being conducted impersonating authorities on the Novel Coronavirus and COVID-19, such as the World Health Organization (WHO), the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and other government agencies. COVID-19-themed emails are being sent to remote workers that spoof HR departments warning about cases that have been detected within the organization. Health insurers are being spoofed in campaigns that include invoices for coverage for COVID-19.

Since January, more than 16,000 Coronavirus and COVID-19-themed domains have been registered which are being used to host phishing kits and distribute malware. Researchers at CheckPoint Software report that those domains are 50% more likely to be malicious than other domains registered in the same period.

Email security and home working will naturally be a major concern for IT teams given the sheer number of home workers due to the Coronavirus pandemic and the volume of attacks that are now being conducted targeting home workers. With so many devices now connecting to networks remotely, if cybercriminals do obtain credentials, it will be much harder for IT teams to identify threat actors connecting remotely. Fortunately, there are steps that can be taken to improve email security and home working need not majorly increase risk.

You should make sure that your employees can only connect to your network and cloud-based services through a VPN. Enterprise VPNs can be configured to force all traffic through the VPN to reduce the potential for error. Make sure that the VPN is configured to start automatically when the device is powered up.

It is crucial that all remote workers are protected by a robust and effective email security solution. It is not possible to stop cybercriminals targeting remote workers, but it is possible to stop phishing and malware threats from reaching inboxes.

To protect your employees against phishing attacks and malware, an advanced email security solution is essential. If you use Office 365 for email, do not rely on Office 365 email security. You will need greater protection than Exchange Online Protection provides to protect against phishing, spear phishing, and zero-day threats.

SpamTitan has multiple detection mechanisms to identify and block the full range of email threats. SpamTitan incorporates SPF and DMARC to provide protection against email impersonation attacks, machine learning algorithms and predictive technology to protect against zero-day attacks, advanced phishing protection from whaling and spear phishing attacks by scanning inbound email in real-time, dual antivirus engines to block malware threats, and sandboxing for in depth analysis of suspicious attachments. SpamTitan also includes 6 specialist RBLs, supports whitelisting, blacklisting, and greylisting, and incorporates multiple threat intelligence feeds.

There is an increased risk of insider threats with remote workers. To provide protection and to prevent accidental policy violations, SpamTitan incorporates a data loss prevention filter to stop credit card numbers, Social Security numbers, and other data types from being sent via email.

No email security solution will be able to block 100% of email threats, 100% of the time. It is therefore important to provide regular cybersecurity training to employees to make them aware of phishing threats, train them how to identify a phishing email or social engineering scam, and to condition remote employees how to respond should a threat be received. Phishing simulation exercises are also useful to find out which employees require additional training and to identify possible gaps in training programs. IT security basic training refreshers should also be provided to ensure employees know what can and cannot be done with work devices.

Multifactor authentication must be implemented on all applications and email accounts to provide protection in the event of an account compromise. If credentials are stolen and used from a previously unknown location or an unfamiliar device, a second authentication factor must be provided before access is granted. You should also disable macros on all user devices, unless a specific user needs to use macros for work.

To find out more about how you can improve email security for remote workers, give the TitanHQ team a call today. You can arrange a demonstration to see SpamTitan in action and you can also sign up for a free trial to put SpamTitan to the test in your own environment.

TrickBot Trojan Now Includes Module for Brute Force RDP Attacks

The TrickBot Trojan is a sophisticated banking Trojan that was first identified in 2016. While the malware was initially just an information stealer concerned with stealing online banking credentials, the malware has evolved considerably over the past four years and several modules have been added that provide a host of additional malicious capabilities.

The TrickBot Trojan’s information stealing capabilities have been significantly enhanced. In addition to banking credentials, it will steal system and network information, email credentials, tax data, and intellectual property. TrickBot is capable of moving laterally and silently infecting other computers on the network using legitimate Windows utilities and the EternalRomance exploit for the SMBv1 vulnerability. The malware can add a backdoor for persistent access. TrickBot also serves as a malware downloader and will download other malicious payloads, including Ryuk ransomware.

The Trojan is frequently updated and new variants are regularly released. The Command and Control infrastructure is also constantly changing. According to an analysis by Bitdefender, more than 100 new IPs are added to its C&C infrastructure each month with each having a lifespan of around 16 days. The malware and its infrastructure are highly sophisticated, and while steps have been taken to dismantle the operation, the attackers are managing to stay one step ahead.

TrickBot is primarily distributed by spam email through the Emotet botnet. Infection with Emotet sees TrickBot downloaded, and infection with TrickBot sees a computer added to the Emotet botnet. Once all useful information has been obtained from an infected system, the baton is passed over to the Ryuk ransomware operators with a reverse shell opened giving the Ryuk ransomware operators access to the system.

A recent analysis of a variant captured by Bitdefender on January 30, 2020 has shown another method of distribution has been added to its arsenal. The Trojan now has a module for bruteforcing RDP. The brute force RDP attacks are mainly being conducted on organizations in the financial services, education, and telecom industries and are currently targeted on organizations in the United States and Hong Kong at this stage, although it is likely that the attacks will spread geographically over the coming weeks. The attacks are being conducted to steal intellectual property and financial information.

Since the TrickBot Trojan is modular, it can be constantly updated with new features and the evolution of the malware so far, and its success, means it will continue to be a threat for some time to come. Fortunately, it is possible to prevent infections by practicing good cyber hygiene.

Spam is still the primary method of delivery for both the Emotet Trojan and TrickBot so an advanced spam filter is essential. Since new variants are constantly being released, signature-based detection methods alone are insufficient. SpamTitan incorporates a Bitdefender-powered sandbox to analyze suspicious email attachments for malicious activity. This ensures the malicious activity of never-before-seen malware variants is identified and the emails are quarantined before they can cause any harm.

If you don’t need RDP, ensure it is disabled. If you do, ensure access is restricted and strong passwords are set. Use rate limiting to block login attempts after a set number of failures and ensure multifactor authentication is implemented to stop stolen credentials from being used.

For further information on SpamTitan Email Security and to find out how you can improve your defenses against email and web-based attacks, contact the TitanHQ team today.

Phishing Attack Ends in Ryuk Ransomware Infection for City of Durham, NC


The City of Durham and the County of Durham in North Carolina have experienced a ransomware attack that has crippled both. The attack ‘started’ on March 6 in the late evening, which is common for ransomware attacks. Most take place in the evening and over the weekend, when there is less chance of the file encryption being detected.

Two separate attacks occurred simultaneously. Fast action by the IT department helped to contain the attack, but not in time to prevent approximately 80 servers from being infected. Those servers were encrypted and need to be rebuilt and approximately 1,000 computers had to be re-imaged.

There are many ways that cybercriminals gain access to business networks to deploy malware, but email is the most common attack vector. Most cyberattacks start with a phishing email and this attack was no different.

Ryuk ransomware was used to encrypt files on the network in order to extort money from the city and country. A ransom demand is issued which, depending on the extent of encryption, can range from several thousand dollars to several million. This phase of the attack is the most visible and causes the most disruption, but the attack actually started much earlier.

Ruyk ransomware is delivered by the TrickBot Trojan, an information stealer turned malware downloader. One installed on a networked device, the TrickBot Trojan performs reconnaissance, moves laterally, and installs itself on other computers on the network. Once all useful information has been found and exfiltrated, a reverse shell is opened and access to the system is given the ransomware operators. They will then move laterally and download their ransomware payload onto as many devices as possible on the network.

TrickBot downloaded by Emotet malware, a notorious botnet and Emotet is delivered via email. The Emotet campaigns used a combination of Office documents with malicious macros that download the malware payload and hyperlinks to websites where malware is downloaded. TrickBot may also be delivered directly through spam email. This Trio of malware variants can do a considerable amount of damage. Even if the ransom is not paid, losses can be considerable. The Trojans can steal a substantial amount of sensitive information including email credentials, banking credentials, tax information, and intellectual property.

In this case, seven computers appear to have been compromised in the first phase of the attack as a result of employees responding to phishing emails.

The key to blocking attacks such as this is to have layered defenses in place that are capable of blocking the initial attack. That means an advanced spam filtering solution is required to block the initial phishing emails and end users must receive regular security awareness training to help them identify any malicious emails that arrive in their inboxes. Multifactor authentication is needed to prevent stolen credentials from being used to access email accounts and endpoint security solutions are required to detect malware if it is downloaded.

To find out more about protecting your systems from phishing and malware attacks, and how a small per user cost per month can prevent a hugely expensive cyberattack, give the TitanHQ team a call today.

Beware of COVID-19 Phishing Emails

Several new COVID-19 phishing email campaigns have been detected over the past few days that are exploiting fear about the novel coronavirus pandemic to deliver computer viruses and steal sensitive information.

People are naturally worried about getting infected with the real virus especially with the high fatality rate, so emails related to COVID-19 are likely to be opened.

Some of the phishing emails that have been intercepted are easy to identify as malicious. They are poorly written with spelling mistakes and grammatical errors, but some campaigns have been expertly crafted and are highly convincing and are likely to catch out many people.

The first COVID-19 phishing campaigns were detected in January and the number has steadily grown over the past few weeks. Many different threat groups are now using COVID-19 phishing lures to fool the unwary into disclosing credentials, visiting malicious links, or downloading malware.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has issued a warning after several phishing campaigns were detected that impersonated WHO. The emails claimed to provide essential information about cases in the local area along with advice on how to avoid infection. One of the most recently detected campaigns claimed to provide “Coronavirus Updates” with the emails containing a ZIP file attachment that appeared to be a PDF file – MYHEALTH.PDF. However, the file was actually an executable file – MYHEALTH.exe. If the file was opened, it triggered the download of GULoader, which in turn downloads Formbook malware from Google Drive. Another similar campaign included a Word attachment that downloaded the TrickBot Trojan, which is being used to deliver Ryuk ransomware as a secondary payload.

The Centers for Disease Control and prevention is also being impersonated. One campaign claims the novel coronavirus had become an airborne threat and warns of new cases in the local area. The emails appear to have been sent from a legitimate CDC email account – CDC-Covid19[@]cdc.gov. The emails include an attachment titled “Safety Precautions” which appears to be an Excel spreadsheet, but it actually a .exe executable file. Double clicking on the file attachment triggers the download of a banking Trojan.

Email and text-based phishing campaigns are targeting UK taxpayers and impersonate HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC). The emails include a legitimate HMRC logo and advise the recipients about a new COVID-19 tax refund program. According the emails, the refund program was set up in cooperation with National Insurance and National Health Services and allows taxpayers to claim back tax to help deal with the coronavirus pandemic. In order to receive the refund, the user is told they must supply their name, address, mother’s maiden name and their bank card number.

In the past few days, a web-based malware distribution campaign has been identified. Several websites are now displaying world maps and dashboards that allow people to track the spread of the virus and find out about the location of new cases. People are naturally concerned about cases in their local area, and the website maps are attracting a lot of visitors.

Shai Alfasi, a security researcher at Reason Labs, discovered several websites using fake versions of maps and dashboards. The websites prompt users to download an application that allows them to track infections in real-time. The application is an executable file that delivers the AZORult information stealer.

With COVID-19 infections increasing and showing no sign of slowing, COVID-19 phishing campaigns are likely to continue. Organizations should raise awareness of the threat of COVID-19 phishing attacks with their employees and ensure appropriate technical solutions are implemented to block web and email-based attacks. TitanHQ can help with the latter and can provide advanced email and web security solutions to block these attacks. If you have not yet implemented a web filter or email security solution to protect your Office 365 accounts, now is a good time to start. Contact TitanHQ today for further information.

US Infrastructure of Necurs Botnet Seized

Microsoft has announced it has taken control of the U.S. infrastructure of the Necurs botnet and has taken steps to prevent the botnet operators from registering new domains and the rebuilding the Necurs infrastructure.

The Scale of the Necurs Botnet

The Necurs botnet first appeared in 2012 and has grown into one of the largest spam and malware distribution networks. The botnet consists of around 9 million devices that have been infected with Necurs malware. Each device within the botnet is under the control of the cybercrime group behind the botnet.

The Necurs botnet is used to commit a wide range of cybercrimes by the operators of the botnet as well as other cybercriminal groups who rent out parts of the botnet as a service. The Necurs botnet was used for malware and ransomware distribution, cryptocurrency mining, and attacks on other computers to steal credentials and confidential data. The Necurs botnet also has a distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) module capable of performing massive DDoS attacks, although this function is yet to be used.

The main use of the botnet is spamming. The botnet has been used to send vast quantities of spam email, including emails pushing fake pharmaceutical products, pump and dump stock scams, and Russian dating scams. To give an example of the scale of the spamming, over a 58-day period of observation, Microsoft found that a single Necurs malware-infected computer had sent out 3.8 million spam emails to 40.6 million email accounts. That is just one infected device out of 9 million! In 2017, the botnet was being used to spread Dridex and Locky ransomware at a rate of around 5 million emails an hour and between 2016 and 2019 the botnet was responsible for 90% of email-based malware attacks.

The Takedown of Necurs Infrastructure

Microsoft has tracked the criminal activity of the Necurs botnet operators for 8 years. The gang is believed to be Evil Corp, the Russian cybercriminal group behind the Dridex banking Trojan. Evil Corp has been named the most harmful cybercrime group in the world.

The takedown of the Necurs botnet involved a coordinated effort by Microsoft and partners in 35 countries. Microsoft obtained an order from the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York on March 5, 2020 to seize the U.S. domains used by the botnet operators. These domains were used to issue commands to the 9 million infected computers.

Simply seizing the domains would not be sufficient to take down the botnet, as the botnet’s command and controls servers could be rapidly rebuilt. Domains used by the threat actors are often taken down, so new domains are constantly registered weeks or months in advance.

The key to long-term disruption of the botnet was cracking the algorithm used by the threat actors to generate new domains. Microsoft analyzed the algorithm and calculated more than 6 million domains that would be used by the threat actors over the next 25 months. Steps have been taken to prevent those domains from being registered and becoming part of the Necurs infrastructure.

The 9 million devices around the world are still infected with Necurs malware. Microsoft and its partners have identified the infected devices and are working with ISPs and CERT teams around the world to rid those devices of the malware.

Phishing Attack Results in $2.6 Million Loss for Puerto Rico Government

Just a few days after new figures from the FBI confirmed business email compromise scams were the biggest cause of losses to cybercrime, news broke of a massive cyberattack on a Puerto Rico government agency. Cybercriminals had gained access to the email account of an employee, understood to work in the Puerto Rico Employee Retirement System.

The compromised email account was used to send requests to other government agencies requesting changes be made to standard bank accounts for remittance payments. Since the email account used was trusted, the changes to bank accounts were made. Scheduled payments were then made as normal and millions of dollars of remittance payments were wired to attacker-controlled bank accounts.

The Puerto Rico Industrial Development Company, a state-owned corporation that drives economic development of the country, was one of the worst hit. Emails were received requesting changes to bank accounts and two payments were made. The first payment of $63,000 was made in December and another payment of $2.6 million in January. Other departments were also targeted, including the Tourism Company. The latter made a payment of $1.5 million. In total, the scammers attempted to steal around $4.73 million.

The business email compromise scam was uncovered when those payments were not received by the correct recipients. Prompt action was then taken to block the transfers and some of the payments were frozen, but the government has not been able to recover around $2.6 million of the stolen funds.

A full investigation has been launched to determine how the attackers gained access to the email account to pull off the scam. While the method used has not been confirmed, BEC attacks usually start with a spear phishing email.

A phishing email is sent to a person of interest requesting urgent action be taken to address a problem. A link is supplied in the email that directs the user to a website that requests their email account credentials. The account can then be accessed by the attacker. Attackers often set up mail forwarders to receive a copy of every email sent to and from the account. This enables them to learn about the company and typical payments and construct highly convincing scam emails.

Once access to a corporate email account is gained, the BEC scam is much harder to identify and block. The best defense is to ensure that the initial phishing emails are not delivered, and that is an area where TitanHQ can help.

Phishing Most Common Method of Attack and BEC Scams Result in Highest Losses

A new report from the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) has revealed the extent to which phishing is used to attack businesses and the huge losses that have resulted from another form for email attack – business email compromise (BEC) scams.

In 2019, IC3 received 467,361 complaints about cybercrime and there were reported losses in excess of $3.5 billion, up from $2.7 billion in 2018. The true losses and number of attacks will be far higher, as not all crimes and losses are reported. Phishing, vishing, smishing, and pharming attacks were the most prevalent crime types with 114,702 complaints submitted to IC3 in 2019. Those attacks resulted in losses of more than $57 million.

Source: IC3

There were 23,775 complaints about BEC attacks and losses to those attacks were more than $1.776 billion. On average, BEC attacks result in losses of around $75,000 and the attacks accounted for 50.75% of all losses to cybercrime in 2019.

Business email compromise attacks involve the impersonation of a known individual or company and a fake invoice and fraudulent wire transfer request. Alternatively, changes to vendor’s bank account details or requested or changes to direct deposit accounts for payroll. These email impersonation attacks involve spoofing an email account or compromising an account, with the latter usually achieved with phishing emails.

Email is also used to deliver ransomware – 2,0417 incidents and $8,965,847 in losses – and malware and viruses – 2,373 incidents and $2,009,119 in losses.

The Importance of a Layered Approach to Email Security

As the IC3 2019 cost of cybercrime report shows, the most common attack vector is email, so how can business owners protect against email-based attacks?

Businesses can either purchase cybersecurity solutions directly or engage a managed service provider to look after cybersecurity. If the decision is taken to manage cybersecurity in-house, it is essential to adopt a defense in depth strategy and implement multiple layers of protection. Should one cybersecurity solution fail to block a threat, other layers will prevent the attack from succeeding.

Many businesses have adopted Office 365 and use it for email. Microsoft includes a basic level of email protection for Office 365 as standard – Exchange Online Protection (EOP). EOP serves as the first layer of protection against phishing attacks, malware, and spam, but EOP alone is not enough to block sophisticated phishing attacks, BEC attacks, and zero-day malware threats. An additional layer of protection is required.

Advanced Protection Against Phishing and Business Email Compromise Attacks

TitanHQ has developed an advanced anti-spam solution – SpamTitan – that provides an additional layer of protection against email threats.

To protect against known malware threats, dual anti-virus engines are used. However, new malware variants are constantly being released. Before AV engines can block these new threats, the threat must be identified and the malware signature is then added to the AV engine’s virus definitions. Until that happens, threats will not be identified as malicious and will be delivered to inboxes.

To improve protection against zero-day threats, TitanHQ uses sandboxing. When a suspicious or unknown email attachment is received, it is sent to the sandbox where it is subjected to in-depth analysis to identify command and control center callbacks and potentially malicious actions.

Office 365 accounts are targeted by cybercriminals and their new phishing campaigns are tested against Office 365 protections to make sure the emails are delivered. One previous study showed 25% of phishing emails are delivered to Office 365 inboxes.

To ensure phishing threats are detected that would otherwise not be blocked by EOP, SpamTitan uses a range of advanced detection techniques. They include multiple real-time blackhole lists and threat intelligence feeds, multi-layered message analysis, SURBL’s, Bayesian analysis, greylisting, and more. Protection against email impersonation attacks and spoofing is provided through Sender Policy Framework and DMARC, and all outbound emails are scanned to identify potential email account compromises.

SpamTitan is a full-service email security solution that protects your business, your employees, and your clients from email-based attacks. With SpamTitan, you can adopt a layered approach to email security at a very low cost per user.

If you want to make sure that your business is protected from costly email-based attacks, give the TitanHQ team a call.

Emotet Phishing Campaigns Continue and New Wi-Fi Infection Method Identified

Emotet is the biggest malware threat faced by businesses and activity has increased considerably in recent weeks after a lull in December. Several new campaigns are now being identified each week, most of which are target businesses. One of the most recent campaigns uses a tried and tested technique to install the |Emotet Trojan. Malicious Word documents masquerading as invoices, estimates, renewals, and bank details.

The campaign mostly targets organizations in the United States and United Kingdom, although attacks have also been detected in India, Spain, and the Philippines. Approximately 90% of emails in this campaign target the financial services, with around 8% of attacks on companies in the food and drink industry.

The malicious Word documents are either attached to emails or hyperlinks are included in the emails that direct the user to a compromised website where the Word document is downloaded. The websites used are frequently changed and new Emotet variants are frequently released to prevent detection. Email security solutions that rely on AV engines to detect malware are unlikely to detect these zero-day threats as malicious.

Since Emotet is a massive botnet, emails spreading the Emotet Trojan come from many different sources. Email security solutions that rely on real-time blacklists are unlikely to detect these sources as malicious.

Emotet is primarily distributed via email from infected devices, but recently another distribution method has been identified. Emotet also spreads via Wi-Fi networks. This method has been used for almost two years, but it has only just been detected by security researchers at Binary Defense.

When Emotet is installed, a worm.exe binary is dropped that runs automatically. It attempts to connect to nearly Wi-Fi networks and brute forces weak passwords. Once connected to a Wi-Fi network, a search is conducted for non-hidden shares on the network. An attempt is made to enumerate all users connected to the Wi-Fi network, devices are brute forced, and the Emotet binary is dropped.

How to Block Emotet

The constantly changing tactics of the Emotet gang make detection difficult and no single solution will provide protection against all forms of attack. What is needed is a defense in depth approach and layered defenses.

The primary defense against a predominantly email-based threat such as Emotet is an advanced spam filtering solution. Many businesses have use Office 365 and rely on the protection provided by Exchange Online Protection (EOP), which is included as standard with Office 365 licenses. However, EOP alone will not provide enough protection against Emotet. EOP will block all known malware threats, but it struggles to identify zero-day attacks. To block zero-day attacks, more advanced detection methods are required.

SpamTitan has been developed to work seamlessly with EOP to protect Office 365 email from zero-day threats. SpamTitan uses a variety of techniques to identify Emotet, including dual antivirus engines to block known Emotet variants and sandboxing to block zero-day attacks. Suspicious or unknown attachments are sent to the sandbox where they are subjected to in depth analysis to identify command and control server call backs and other malicious actions. SpamTitan also scans outgoing emails to identify attempts to spread Emotet from an already-infected machine. SpamTitan also incorporates DMARC to identify email impersonation and domain spoofing, which are commonly used in emails spreading Emotet.

To provide protection against the web-based element of attacks, including Emotet emails that use malicious hyperlinks rather than email attachments, another layer needs to be added to cybersecurity defenses – a DNS filtering solution such as WebTitan.

WebTitan uses real-time URL threat detection powered by 650 million end users. The real-time database includes more than 3 million malicious URLs and IP addresses and each day around 100,000 new malicious URLs are detected and blocked. WebTitan also includes real-time categorization and detection of malicious domains, full-path URLs, and IPs, with up to the minute updates performed to block new malicious sources. As soon as a URL is identified as being used to distribute Emotet (or other malware) it is blocked by WebTitan. WebTitan also conducts link & content analysis, static, heuristic, & behavior anomaly analysis, and features in-house and 3rd party tools and feeds to keep users protected from web-based threats.

Other essential steps to take to tackle the threat from Emotet include:

  • Disable macros across the organization
  • Ensure operating systems are kept up to date and vulnerabilities are promptly patched.
  • Set strong passwords to thwart brute force attacks
  • Ensure endpoint protection solutions are deployed on all devices
  • Provide security awareness training to employees
  • Conduct phishing simulation exercises to identify employees that require further training

New PayPal Phishing Scam Seeks Extensive Amount of Personal Information

A new PayPal phishing scam has been identified that attempts to obtain an extensive amount of personal information from victims under the guise of a PayPal security alert.

The emails appear to have been sent from PayPal’s Notifications Center and warn users that their account has been temporarily blocked due to an attempt to log into their account from a previously unknown browser or device.

The emails include a hyperlink that users are asked to click to log in to PayPal to verify their identity. A button is included in the email which users are requested to click to “Secure and update my account now !”. The hyperlink is a shortened bit.ly address, that directs the victim to a spoofed PayPal page on an attacker-controlled domain via a redirect mechanism.

If the link is clicked, the user is presented with a spoofed PayPal login. After entering PayPal account credentials, the victim is told to enter a range of sensitive information to verify their identity as part of a PayPal Security check. The information must be entered to unlock the account, with the list of steps detailed on the page along with the progress that has been made toward unlocking the account.

First of all, the attackers request the user’s full name, billing address, and phone number. Then they are required to confirm their credit/debit card details in full. The next page requests the user’s date of birth, social security number, ATM or Debit Card PIN number, and finally the user is required to upload a proof of identity document, which must be either a scan of a credit card, passport, driver’s license, or a government-issued photo ID.

This PayPal phishing scam seeks an extensive amount of information, which should serve as a warning that all is not what it seems, especially the request to enter highly sensitive information such as a Social Security number and PIN.

There are also warning signs in the email that the request is not what it seems. The email is not sent from a domain associated with PayPal, the message starts with “Good Morning Customer” rather than the account holder’s name, and the notice included at the bottom of the email telling the user to mark whitelist the sender if the email was delivered to the spam folder is poorly written. However, the email has been written to encourage the recipient to act quickly to avoid financial loss. As with other PayPal phishing scams, many users are likely to be fooled into disclosing at least some of their personal information.

Consumers need to always exercise caution and should never respond immediately to any email that warns of a security breach, instead they should stop and think before acting and carefully check the sender of the email and should read the email very carefully. To check whether there is a genuine issue with the account, the PayPal website should be visited by typing in the correct URL into the address bar of the browser. URLs in emails should never be used.

Tax Season Phishing Scams and Malspam Campaigns Start in Earnest

Tax season is now underway and business email compromise scammers have stepped up their efforts to obtain W-2 forms for tax fraud. These attacks often start with spear phishing emails targeting the CEO and the executive board. Once email credentials have been obtained, the accounts are then accessed, and emails are sent internally to payroll and the HR department requesting the W-2 forms of employees who have worked in the previous tax year.

Scammers targets businesses as there is much greater potential for profit than attacks on individual taxpayers, although consumers also need to be wary of IRS-related phishing scams. This time of year sees an increase in IRS phishing scams. Scammers impersonate the IRS and send emails informing taxpayers about a tax refund that is due and demands are sent for outstanding tax, with threats of dire consequences if prompt action is not taken to address issues.

Advances in email security have meant cybercriminals have had to get creative as it is harder to sneak phishing emails past email defenses. Phishing scams are now commonly initiated via text message, post, and over the telephone. There has already been one campaign identified where consumers are being targeted using robocalls warning that Social Security numbers have been suspended after suspicious activity was detected.

While many of these scams seek personal information, others are conducted to spread malware. One threat group that started its tax-related scams early this year is the Emotet gang. A campaign is currently being conducted that uses emails containing fake signed W-9 forms.

Signed W-9 forms are requested by companies from their contractors if they have been paid in excess of $600 during the tax year. Many companies will have requested signed W-9 forms from their contractors to confirm addresses and tax identification numbers, so they will be expecting copies of these forms in their inboxes.

The Emotet emails are short and to the point, saying “Thank you for your help. Pleased see attached file.” The emails include a Word document attachment named W-9.doc. When the document is opened, the Office 365 logo is displayed along with text stating the document was created in OpenOffice and requires the user to enable editing and enable content. Doing so triggers the silent download of the Emotet Trojan.

This is just one of the tax-related messages being used by the Emotet gang. There are likely to be many more variants sent over the next few weeks. Other cybercriminals gangs will similarly be conducting their own tax-themed phishing campaigns to spread different malware variants and ransomware.

Businesses, tax preparers, and consumers need to be on high alert during tax season for phishing scams and emails spreading malware.

Now is a good time for businesses to review their cybersecurity defenses and enhance protection against phishing and malware attacks. If you use Office 365 and rely on the anti-phishing protections built into Office 365 (EOP), you should consider enhancing your anti-phishing and anti-malware protection with a third-party spam filter – One that has superior malspam detection capabilities.

This is an area where TitanHQ can help. SpamTitan uses a variety of advanced techniques to detect and block phishing threats and zero-day malware, including a sandbox where unknown and suspicious email attachments are subject to in-depth analysis. Give the TitanHQ team a call to find out more about SpamTitan, improving office 365 malware and phishing protection, and to arrange a product demonstration and free trial of SpamTitan.

In the meantime, take steps to alert your workforce about tax-season phishing scams and prepare them in case a phishing email arrives in their inbox. An email alert sent to your employees about the threat of tax-season scams could prevent a costly phishing attack or malware infection.

Novel Coronavirus Phishing Scam Uses Scare Tactics to Spread Emotet Trojan

A novel coronavirus phishing campaign has been detected that uses scare tactics to trick users into infecting their computer with malware.

The World Health Organization has now declared the 2019 novel coronavirus outbreak a global emergency. The number of cases has increased 10-fold in the past week with almost 9,100 cases confirmed in China and 130 elsewhere around the world.

A worldwide health crisis such as this has naturally seen huge coverage in the press, so it is no surprise that cybercriminals are capitalizing on the concern and are using it as a lure in a malspam campaign to scare people into opening an email attachment and enabling the content.

A novel coronavirus phishing campaign has been detected that uses a fake report about the coronavirus to get email recipients to open a document that details steps that should be taken to prevent infection. Ironically, taking the actions detailed in the email will actually guarantee infection with a virus of a different type: Emotet.

The coronavirus phishing campaign was identified by IBM X-Force researchers. The campaign is targeted on users in in different Japanese prefectures and warning of an increase in the number of local confirmed coronavirus cases. The emails include a Word document attachment containing the notification along with preventative measures that need to be taken.

If the attachment is opened, users are told they must enable content to read the document. Enabling the content will start the infection process that will see the Emotet Trojan downloaded. Emotet is also a downloader of other malware variants. Other banking Trojans and ransomware may also be downloaded. Emotet can also send copies of itself to the victim’s contacts. Those messages may also be coronavirus related.

To add credibility, the Emotet gang makes the emails appear to have been sent by a disability welfare service provider in Japan. Some of the captured messages include the correct address in the footer.

More than 2,000 new infections have been confirmed in the past 24 hours in China and all of its provinces have now been impacted. Cases have now been reported in 18 other countries with Thailand and Japan the worst hit outside of China with 14 cases confirmed in each country. As the coronavirus spreads further and more cases are reported, it is likely that the Emotet gang will expand this campaign and start targeting different countries using emails in different languages. Kaspersky lab has also said that it has identified malspam campaigns with coronavirus themes that use a variety of email attachments to install malware.

Businesses can protect against Emotet, one of the most dangerous malware variants currently in use, by implementing a spam filtering solution such as SpamTitan that incorporates a sandbox where malicious documents can be analyzed in safety to check for malicious actions.

For further information on protecting your email system, contact TitanHQ today.

Cost of Spam in Academia Calculated by Researchers

It has been well documented how much time businesses waste dealing with spam and there is no denying the threat that malicious spam emails (malspam) pose, but it is not just a problem for big business. Spam in academia is also a major problem.

A recent study published in the journal, Scientometrics, explores the cost of spam in academia. The study was primarily focused on spam emails sent by new, non-peer reviewed journals that are attempting to gain a share of the market. These journals are adopting the same spam tactics often used by scammers to sell cheap watches, cut price medications, and for phishing and spreading malware.

Three researchers – Jaime A. Teixeira da Silva, Aceil Al-Khatib, and Panagiotis Tsigaria – attempted to quantify the amount of time that is being wasted dealing with those messages and the losses that result.

To assess the extent of the problem, the researchers used figures from several studies on spamming to obtain an average number of targeted spam emails that academics receive each day. They opted for a conservative figure of 4-5 messages, per academic, per day. Most of those messages take just a few seconds to open and read but that time mounts up. They assumed an average time of 5 seconds per message – less than half a minute per day. That equates to $100 per researcher, per year at an average hourly rate of $50. Using the United Nations estimate of the number of researchers in academia globally, the total global cost of spam in academia was estimated to be $1.1 billion a year.

That figure is based on the lost time alone and does not factor in non-targeted spam emails – bulk unsolicited emails not specifically targeting researchers. Add in the time dealing with those messages and the global cost reaches $2.6 billion a year. To put the cost into perspective, $2.6 million is much more than the time researchers devote to peer review, which has been estimated at costing $1.9 billion a year. The figures do not include the considerable losses due to phishing, malware, and ransomware attacks. Factor in those costs and the losses would be several orders of magnitude higher.

Co-author of the study, Panagiotis Tsigaris, a professor of economics at Thompson Rivers University in Canada, explained that there is no silver bullet when it comes to dealing with spam and suggested several ways that the cost of spam in academia could be reduced.

Tsigaris suggests that penalties should be increased for publishing in predatory journals, and that academics should be educated about spam email and improvements should be made to email filtering technology.

Here at TitanHQ we are well aware of the problem of spam, both in terms of the productivity losses that spam causes, and harm caused by malicious spam emails.

To help prevent losses and downtime due to spam and email-based threats, TitanHQ has developed a powerful, easy -to-use, and cost-effective cloud-based spam filtering solution called SpamTitan. SpamTitan has been independently tested and shown to block in excess of 99.9% of spam email, 100% of known malware and ransomware threats, and thanks to a host of detection measures and sandboxing, SpamTitan is also effective at blocking zero-day (new) malware and ransomware threats.

To find out more about SpamTitan and how you can block more spam and ensure malicious emails do not reach your researchers’ inboxes, give the TitanHQ team a call today.

Emotet Botnet Springs Back to Life and Massive Phishing and Spamming Campaigns Resume

The Emotet botnet took a Christmas holiday but its now up and running again and the massive phishing and spamming campaigns have resumed. These campaigns, which involve millions of spam emails, use a variety of lures to trick people into opening an attachment and enabling content. The content in question includes a macro which runs a PowerShell command that downloads and executes the Emotet Trojan.

The Emotet Trojan is bad news. Emotet was once just a banking Trojan whose purpose was to steal online banking credentials. It still does that and much more besides. Emotet also steals credentials from installed applications and browsers. It is also self-propagating and will send copies of itself via email to the victim’s contacts. As if that was not bad enough, Emotet has another trick up its sleeve. It is also a downloader of other malware variants such as the TrickBot Trojan and Ryuk ransomware. These additional payloads allow data to be stolen and sold for profit and for files across the network to be encrypted and ransom demands issued. Emotet has also delivered cryptocurrency miners in the past and could deliver any number of other malware payloads.

The scale of the botnet is staggering. In the first quarter of 2019, Emotet was responsible for 6 out of 10 malicious payloads delivered via email. There are often breaks in activity, but even though the threat actors behind the botnet took almost half of 2019 off, Emotet still ranks as the top malware threat of the year.

Emotet sprung back to life on January 13, 2020 with targeted attacks on the pharmaceutical industry in North America, but it didn’t take long for the attacks to spread even further afield. Now more than 80 countries are being attacked and in addition to English, campaigns have been detected in Italian, Polish, German, Spanish, Japanese and Chinese.

The lures used to fool end users into opening email attachments are highly varied and often change. Tried and tested lures such as fake invoices, orders, statements, agreements, payment remittance notices, receipts, and delivery notifications are often used in attacks on businesses, which are the primary targets. Before the botnet shut down for a break in December, Greta Thunberg-themed emails were being used along with Christmas party invitations. A host no new lures can be expected in 2020.

The themes of the emails may change but the messages have one thing in common. They require an end user to take action. That is usually opening a document, spreadsheet or other file, but could be a click on a hyperlink in an email. Once that action is taken, Emotet will be silently downloaded.

There are two main ways of blocking attacks and both are necessary. The first is to ensure that the email system is secure, which means implementing an effective spam filter. Businesses that use Office 365 will have a modicum of protection through Exchange Online Protection (EOP), which is included with Office 365 subscriptions. However, businesses should not rely on EOP alone. Layered defenses are required.

SpamTitan is a powerful spam filter that will improve protection against malware threats such as Emotet. SpamTitan can be layered on top of Office 365 to provide greater protection and prevent the malware from being delivered to inboxes. Dual anti-virus engines are incorporated into the solution to detect known threats and SpamTitan includes a sandbox for identifying threats that signature-based detection mechanisms miss.

Many businesses deploy a variety of security solutions but fail to prepare their employees for an attack. If malicious emails make it past security solutions and are delivered to inboxes, all it takes is for one employee to fail to spot the threat and respond for Emotet to be installed (and potentially ransomware as well). It is therefore important to provide regular security awareness training to everyone in the company from the CEO down. If employees are not told how to identify malicious emails, they cannot be expected to spot threats and report the messages to the security team.

Fortunately, through a combination of email security solutions and security awareness training, the threat from Emotet can be neutralized. For more information on the former, give TitanHQ a call today.

Warnings Issued About Travelex Phishing Scams

Whenever there is a major event that attracts a lot of media attention cybercriminals will be poised to take advantage, so it is no surprise that warnings are being issued about Travelex phishing scams.

The Travelex ransomware attack that struck on New Year’s Eve involved a ransomware variant called Sodinokibi. The gang responsible is one of the most prolific threat groups using ransomware. The group’s attacks are highly targeted and seek to encrypt entire networks and the ransom demands reflect the scale of encryption. Travelex was initially issued with a demand for a payment of $3 million. That soon doubled to $6 million when payment was not made within the allocated timescale.

The fallout from the attack has been immense, which is unsurprising given that Travelex is the largest provider of currency exchange services worldwide. Many banks and retailers rely on Travelex to provide for their currency exchange services. Without access to those online services, currency exchange services came to a grinding halt. It has taken two weeks for Travelex to start bringing some of its services back online, but its website remains down and the disruption continues.

The attackers claimed to have stolen large quantities of customer data from Travelex. The attackers threatened to publish or sell the data if the ransom was not paid. This tactic is becoming increasingly common with ransomware gangs. In this case, the sodinokibi gang claimed to have gained access to Travelex systems 6 months previously and said they had stolen customer data including names, payment card information, and Social Security numbers and National Insurance numbers. The gang had also recently attacked the American IT company Artech Systems and had posted 337MB of data stolen in that attack, demonstrating to others that it was not an empty threat. Travelex maintained that no customer data had been stolen, but that has yet to be confirmed.

Warning Issued About Travelex Phishing Scams

Travelex customers should naturally err on the side of caution and monitor their accounts for signs of fraudulent use of their information but there are other risks from an attack such as this.

Travelex has issued a warning to its customers recommending they should be alert to the threat of phishing attacks via email and over the phone. Opportunistic scammers often take advantage of major events such as this and Travelex phishing scams are to be expected, as was the case following the TalkTalk data breach. These phishing scams are likely to be most effective on Travelex customers who have lost money as a result of the attack. Any offer of compensation or a refund is likely to attract a response.

For consumers, the advice is never to open email attachments or click on links in unsolicited emails. Businesses should also take steps to protect their networks from malware and phishing attacks.

Businesses should adopt a defense in depth strategy to protect against phishing scams and malware attacks. An advanced email security solution such as SpamTitan should be used to protect Office 365 accounts. SpamTitan improves protection against zero-day malware and phishing threats and blocks threats at the gateway.

A web filtering solution such as WebTitan should be used to block the web-based component of phishing and malspam campaigns and prevent end users from visiting malicious websites. End user training is also a must. It is important to teach employees how to identify phishing emails and malspam, and condition them how to respond when suspicious emails are received.

Ako Ransomware: A New Malware Threat Delivered via Spam Email

A new ransomware threat – Ako ransomware – has emerged which is targeting business networks and is being distributed via spam email. The ransomware is being offered to affiliates under the ransomware-as-a-service model and the aim of the attackers is clear. To maximize the probability of payment of the ransom by making recovery harder, and to steal data prior to encryption to ensure the attack is still profitable if the ransom is not paid. Having the data could also help convince the victims to pay up, as we have seen in recent attacks involving Maze and Sodinokibi ransomware, where threats are issued to publish stolen data if the ransom is not paid.

The developers of Ako ransomware appear to be going for large ransom payments, as they are not targeting individual workstations, rather the entire network. The ransomware scans local networks for other devices and will encrypt network shares. The ransomware deletes shadow copies and recent backups and disables Windows recovery to make recovery more difficult without paying the ransom.

Encrypted files are given a randomly generated file extension and retain the original file name. No ransom amount is stated in the ransom note. Victims are required to contact the attackers to find out how much they will need to pay for the keys to decrypt their files.

One of the intercepted emails being used to distribute the ransomware uses a password-protected zip file as an attachment. The email appears to be a business agreement which the recipient is asked to check. The password to open and extract the file is included in the message body. The zip file attachment – named agreement.zip – contains an executable file which will install Ako ransomware if it is run. The malicious file is called agreement.scr.

There is no free decryptor for Ako ransomware. Recovery without paying the ransom will depend on whether viable backups exist that have not also been encrypted. It is therefore important to make sure backups are regularly performed and at least one copy of the backup is stored on a non-networked device to prevent it also being encrypted by the ransomware. Backups should also be tested to make sure file recovery is possible.

Since Ako ransomware is being distributed via spam email, this gives businesses an opportunity to block an attack. An advanced spam filtering solution should be implemented that scans all inbound messages using a variety of detection mechanisms to identify malware and ransomware threats. A sandbox is an important feature as this will allow email attachments to be analyzed for malicious activity. This feature will improve detection rates of zero-day threats.

nd user training is important to ensure that employees do not open potentially malicious files. Training should condition employees never to open email attachments in unsolicited emails from unknown senders. As this campaign shows, any password protected file sent in an unsolicited email is a big red flag. This is a common way that ransomware and malware is delivered to avoid detection by antivirus solutions and spam filters.

Anti-spam solutions and antivirus software will not be able to detect the threat directly if malicious files are sent in password-protected archives, which can only be opened if the password is entered. Rules should therefore be set to quarantine password-protected files, which should only be released after they have been manually checked by an administrator. With SpamTitan, these rules are easy to set.

Ako ransomware is one of many new ransomware threats that have been released in recent months. High profile attacks on companies such as Travelex that see massive ransom demands issued, which in many cases are paid, show a huge payday is possible.

Ransomware developers will keep developing new threats for as long as attacks remain profitable, and there is not likely to be a shortage of affiliates willing to run spamming campaigns to get their slice of the ransom payments.

With the attacks increasing, it is essential for you to have strong defenses that can detect and block malware, ransomware, and phishing threats, and that is an area where TitanHQ can help.

To find out more about how you can improve your defenses against email and web-based threats, give the TitanHQ team a call today.

2-Year Phishing Attack Detected Targeting Canadian Bank Customers

Customers of Canadian banks have been targeted by cybercriminals in an extensive phishing campaign that has been ongoing for at least the past two years, according to Check Point Research which uncovered the campaign. As with many other financial phishing scams, the attackers spoof the website of a well-known bank and create a virtual carbon copy of the home page of the bank on a lookalike domain, which often only differs from the genuine domain name by a letter or two.

A link to the fraudulent site is then sent in a mass spamming campaign to email addresses on the specific country top level domain where the bank operates. The emails instruct users to visit the banks website and login, usually under the guise of a security alert. When the link in the email is clicked, the user is directed to the spoofed site and may not notice the domain name is not quite right. They then enter their login credentials which are captured by the scammers. The credentials are then used to make fraudulent wire transfers to accounts controlled by the attackers.

In this campaign, the emails include a PDF email attachment. PDF files tend to be trusted to a higher degree than Word documents and spreadsheets, which end users have usually been instructed to treat as suspicious. The PDF file includes a hyperlink, which the user is instructed to click. Since the hyperlink is in the document rather than the email body, it is less likely to be scanned by email security solutions and has a higher chance of being delivered.

The user is told that they are required to update their digital certificate to continue using the online banking service. The PDF file includes the bank logo and a security code, which the user is required to enter when logging in. The code is included in the PDF attachment rather than email body for security reasons. As with most phishing scams, there is urgency. The recipient is told that the code expires in 2 days and that they must register within that time frame to avoid being locked out of their account.

The landing pages on the websites are identical to those used by the banks as the attackers have simply taken a screen shot of the bank’s landing page. Text boxes have been added where the username, password, and token number must be entered. Users are then asked to confirm the details they entered while the attackers attempt to access their account in real-time and make a fraudulent transfer.

These tactics are nothing new. Scams such as this are commonplace. What is surprising is how long the campaign has been running undetected. The scammers have been able to operate undetected by registering many lookalike domains which are used for a short period of time. Hundreds of different domains have been registered and used in the scam. At least 14 leading banks in Canada have had their login pages spoofed including TD Canada Trust, Scotiabank, Royal Bank of Canada, and BMO Bank of Montreal.

All of the websites used in the scam have now been taken down, but it is all but guaranteed that other lookalike domains will be registered and further scams will be conducted.

Greta Thunberg Spam Emails Used to Spread Emotet Banking Trojan

A spamming campaign has been detected that is piggybacking on the popularity of Greta Thunberg and is using the climate change activist’s name to trick individuals into installing the Emotet Banking Trojan.

Emotet is one of the most active malware threats. Emotet was first detected in 2014 and was initially used to steal online banking credentials from Windows users by intercepting internet traffic. Over the years it has undergone several updates to add new functionality. It has had a malspam module added, which allows it to send copies of itself via email to a user’s contacts. Emotet also includes a malware downloader, allowing it to download a range of other malware variants such as other banking Trojans and ransomware.

The malware is used indiscriminately in attacks on individuals, businesses, and government agencies, with the latter two being the main targets. Emotet is primarily spread via spam email, and while exploits are not used to spread to other devices on the network – EternalBlue for instance – other malware variants downloaded by Emotet can. TrickBot for instance.

The Greta Thunberg spam campaign aims to get users to open a malicious Word attachment and enable content. If that happens, Emotet will be silently downloaded to the user’s device, sensitive banking information will be stolen, and further malware may be downloaded.

The campaign was active over the holiday period and used a variety of Christmas-themed lures to entice users into opening the email attachment. Some of the emails did not include an attachment and instead used a hyperlink to direct the user to a website where the malicious document could be downloaded.

One of the emails wished the recipient a Merry Christmas and urged them to consider the environment this Christmastime and join a demonstration in protest against the lack of action by governments to tackle the climate crisis. The email claimed details about the time and location of the protest were included in the Word document. The email also requested the recipient to send the email on to all their colleagues, friends, and relatives immediately to get their support as well. Several variations along that theme have been detected.

To increase the likelihood of the recipient enabling content, when opened the document displays a warning that appears to have been generated by Microsoft Office. The user is told that the document was created in OpenOffice and it is necessary to first enable editing first and then enable content. Doing the latter will enable macros which will start the infection process.

The emails are well written and have been crafted to get an emotional response, which increases the likelihood of the user taking the requested action. The emails have been sent in multiple languages in many different countries.

Whenever there is a major news event, popular sports tournament, or other event that attracts global interest, there will be cybercriminals taking advantage.  Regardless of the theme of any email, if it is unsolicited and asks you to click a link or open an email attachment, it is best to assume that it is malicious.

Businesses can protect their networks against threats such as these by implementing an advanced spam filtering solution such as SpamTitan. SpamTitan will identify threats such as phishing attacks and will prevent the messages from reaching inboxes. SpamTitan also includes dual anti-virus engines to detect known malware and machine learning techniques and sandboxing to identify and block zero-day malware.

For further information on how SpamTitan can protect your business from email threats such as this, contact TitanHQ today.

New PayPal Phishing Scam Uses Unusual Activity Alerts to Obtain Credentials

A new PayPal phishing scam has been detected that uses unusual activity alerts as a lure to get users to login to PayPal to secure their account. This is a common tactic that has been used to steal PayPal credentials before, but this campaign is different as the attackers are after much more than just account credentials.

This PayPal phishing campaign attempts a clean sweep – PayPal credentials, credit card details, email addresses and passwords, and security questions and answers.

The PayPal phishing scam is one of the most dangerous to date in terms of the financial harm that could be caused. PayPal accounts can be drained, credit cards maxed out, sensitive information can be stolen from email accounts, and email accounts can be then used for further phishing scams on the victim’s family members, friends, and contacts.

The PayPal phishing scam starts with a warning designed to get the recipient to take immediate action to secure their account. They are informed that their PayPal account has been accessed from a new browser or device. They are told PayPal’s security controls kicked in and as a result, the user is required to login to their account to confirm their identity and remove limitations that have been placed on the account.

The email points out that PayPal could not determine whether this was a legitimate attempt to access their account from a new browser or device, or a fraudulent attempt to gain access to their PayPal Account. Either way, action is required to confirm their identity. A link is included to allow them to do that.

If the link is clicked, the user will be directed to a fake PayPal website where they are required to login to restore their account. In this first stage, PayPal account credentials are obtained.  The user is then directed to a new page where they are asked to update their billing address. In addition to their address, they are also asked for their date of birth and telephone number.

The next page asks for their credit card number, security code, and expiry date, which it is claimed will mean they do not need to re-enter that information again when using PayPal. They are also then asked to confirm the details in a second step, which is an attempt to make sure no errors have been made entering credit card information.

The user is then taken to another page where they are asked for their email address and password to link it to their PayPal account. After all the information has been entered, they are told the process has been completed and their account has been secured and successfully restored.

All of these phishing pages have the feel of genuine PayPal web pages, complete with genuine PayPal logos and footers. The domains used for the scam are naturally fake but have some relevance to PayPal. The domains also have authentic SSL certificates and display the green padlock in the browser.

Naturally you should take any security warning you receive seriously, but do not take the warnings at face value. Google, PayPal, and other service providers often send security warnings to alert users to suspicious activity. This PayPal scam shows that those warnings may not always be genuine and that you should always exercise caution.

The golden rule? Never click links in emails. Always visit the service provider’s site by entering the correct information into your web browser to login, and always carefully check the domain before providing any credentials. This is important as there has been an increase in typosquatting attacks, where cybercriminals take advantage of careless typists who misspell domain names when entering them into the address bar of their browser.