The main aim of our spam advice section is to keep you up to date with the latest news on new email spam campaigns, email-based threats and anti-spam solutions that can be deployed to block those threats.
Email spam is more than a nuisance. Even if the number of spam emails received by employees is relatively low, it can be a major drain on productivity, especially for organizations with hundreds or thousands of employees. This section includes articles offering advice on how to reclaim those lost hours by reducing the number of messages that are delivered to your employees’ inboxes.
However, far worse than the lost hours are the malware and ransomware threats that arrive via spam email. Email is now the number one attack vector used by cybercriminals to deliver malware and ransomware. Cybercriminals are now using increasingly sophisticated methods to bypass security solutions. Today’s spam emails use advanced social engineering techniques to fool end users into revealing login credentials and other sensitive information, and installing malicious software on their computers.
Considerable advances have also been made to malware and ransomware. Self-replicating worms are being used to infiltrate entire networks before ransomware attacks occur, maximizing the damage caused and the ransom payments that can be generated. The cost to industry is considerable. Last year ransomware attacks resulted in $1 billion in losses by businesses, with 2017 expected to see those losses rise to a staggering $4 billion. Blocking spam email messages from being delivered is therefore an essential element of any cybersecurity strategy.
Good spam advice can help organizations take action promptly to reduce the risk of email-based attacks. You will find a range of articles in this section on the latest spam email campaigns, data breaches that started with a phishing email and advice on mitigating the risk of phishing and business email compromise scams.
Current users of the SpamTitan email security solution and SMBs and MSPs that are considering implementing SpamTitan or offering it to their clients are invited to join a webinar in which TitanHQ will explains the exciting new features that have recently been incorporated into the anti-phishing and anti-spam solution.
SpamTitan has recently received a major update that has seen the incorporation of DMARC email authentication to better protect users from email impersonation attacks and the addition of a new Bitdefender-powered sandbox. The sandbox allows users to safely assess email attachments for malicious actions, to better protect them against zero-day malware and other malicious software delivered via email.
The webinar will explain these and other features of SpamTitan in detail and the benefits they offer to customers, including how they better protect SMBs and SMEs from phishing, spear phishing, spoofing, ransomware, malware, and zero-day attacks.
The webinar will also explain why SpamTitan is the leading email security solution for managed service providers serving the SMB and SME market and how the solution can help to enhance security for their clients and can easily be slotted into their service stacks.
The webinar will be taking place on Thursday April 4, 2019 at 12pm, EST and will last approximately 30 minutes.
Spoofed email phishing scams can be hard for end users to identify. The scams involve sending a phishing email to a user and making the email appear as if it has been sent by a known individual. This could be a known contact such as a supplier, a work colleague, a friend or family member, or a well-known company.
These phishing campaigns abuse trust in the sender and they are highly effective. Many end users are warned never to click on links in emails or open email attachments in messages from unknown senders, but when the sender is known, many users feel that the email is safe.
One of the most effective spoofed email phishing scams involves impersonation of the CEO or a high-level executive such as the CFO. This type of scam is often referred to as a business email compromise scam or BEC attack. A message is sent to an employee in the accounts department requesting an urgent wire transfer be made along with the account details. The attacker may first start an email conversation with the target before the request is made. No employee wants to refuse a direct request from the CEO, so the requested action is often taken.
Over the past few months, sextortion scams have grown in popularity with cybercriminals. Sextortion scams are those which threaten to oust the victim unless a payment is made. This could be disclosing the user’s internet browsing habits (dating sites, adult sites) to a spouse, work colleagues, and family members. There were many of these scams launched following the hacking of the Ashley Madison website when details of users of the site were dumped online.
Several sextortion scams have been detected in the past few months which claim that the sender (a hacker) has gained access to the user’s computer and installed malware that provided access to the webcam, microphone, and internet browsing history. The email message informs the recipient that they have been recorded while viewing adult websites and a video of them has been spliced with the content they were viewing at the time. The attacker threatens to send the video to every one of the user’s contacts on email and social media accounts.
Two recent sextortion campaigns have been detected that spoof the users own email address, so the email appears to have been sent from their own email account. This tactic backs up the claim that the attacker has full control of the user’s device and access to their email contacts. The reality is the email header has just been spoofed. Additionally, the user’s password is included in the message, which has been obtained from a past data breach. The password may not be current, but it may be recognized.
A check of the bitcoin wallet address included in the emails for the blackmail payment shows these scam emails have been highly effective and several victims have paid up to avoid being outed. One campaign netted the attacker $100,000 in one week, another saw payments made totaling $250,000.
These spoofed email phishing scams are not difficult to block, yet many businesses are vulnerable to these types of attacks. Security awareness training for employees is a must. If employees are not taught how to check for spoofed email phishing scams, they are unlikely to recognize threats for what they are. Even so, it is difficult for an average employee to identify every possible phishing attempt, as phishing email simulations show.
What is needed is an advanced spam filtering solution that can detect spoofed email phishing attacks and block the malicious emails at source to prevent messages from being delivered to inboxes. SpamTitan Cloud, for instance, blocks more than 99.9% of spam and phishing emails to keep businesses protected.
If you want to keep your business protected and prevent these all to common spoofed email phishing attacks, give the TitanHQ team a call. A member of the team will be happy to talk about the product, the best set up for your organization, and can arrange to give you a full product demonstration and set you up for a free trial.
A new Ursnif Trojan campaign has been detected that uses a new variant of the malware which uses fileless techniques to avoid detection. In addition to the banking Trojan, GandCrab ransomware is also downloaded.
Increase in Banking Trojan and Ransomware Combination Attacks
Ransomware attacks can cause considerable disruption to businesses, although a good backup strategy can allow businesses to recover quickly in the event of a successful attack without having to pay the ransom demand.
However, there has been a significant increase in phishing attacks that deliver not one but two malware variants – ransomware to extort money from companies but also an information stealer to obtain sensitive information such as login and banking credentials. Malware variants used in these attacks also have the capability to download other malware variants and gather system data and process information for use in further attacks.
These phishing campaigns allow hackers to maximize the profitability of attacks and make the attack profitable even if the business does not pay the ransom.
There have been several examples of these attacks in recent months. Earlier in January, warnings were issued about the combination of Ryuk ransomware with the Trickbot and Emotet Trojans – Two malware variants that are used in wire fraud attacks. Ryuk ransomware has been extensively used in attacks on U.S. healthcare providers. The combination with the banking Trojans makes the attacks far more damaging.
Now another campaign has been detected using different malware variants – The Ursnif Trojan and the latest version of GandCrab ransomware.
What Does the Ursnif Trojan Do?
The Ursnif Trojan is one of the most active banking Trojans currently in use. The main functions of the malware is to steal system information and bank account credentials from browsers. The latest variants of the Ursnif Trojan have also been used to deploy other malware variants such as GandCrab ransomware.
According to security researchers at Carbon Black, who identified the latest campaign, the Ursnif Trojan now uses fileless execution mechanisms to make detection more difficult. Instead of downloading and writing files to the hard drive – which can be detected – a PowerShell script downloads a payload and executes it in the memory. That payload then downloads a further file and injects it into the PowerShell process, ultimately resulting in the downloading of the ransomware.
When code is loaded in the memory, it often does not survive a reboot, although the latest variant of Ursnif has persistence. This is achieved by storing an encoded PowerShell command inside a registry key and subsequently launching the command via the Windows Management Instrumentation Command-line (WMIC).
Once information has been collected from an infected system, it is packaged inside a CAB file and sent back to the attackers C2 via encrypted HTTPS. This makes data exfiltration difficult to detect.
The Ursnif Trojan campaign uses email as the attack vector with infection occurring via a Word document attachment that contains a VBA macro. If the attachment is opened and macros are enabled (automatically or manually), the infection process will be triggered.
How Businesses can Protect Against Attacks
Due to the difficulty detecting the malware attack once it has started, the best way to protect against this attack is by improving anti-phishing defenses. It is important to prevent the malicious emails from being delivered to inboxes and to ensure that employees are trained how to identify the messages if they make it past email defenses. The former can be achieved with a powerful spam filtering solution such as SpamTitan.
Along with security awareness training for employees to condition them not to open emails from unknown senders or open attachments and enable macros, businesses can mount an effective defense against the attack.
SMB cybersecurity protections do not need to be advanced as those of large enterprises, but improvements need to be made to ensure smaller businesses are protected. The risk of a cyberattack is not theoretical. While large businesses are having their defenses regularly tested, small to medium sized businesses are also being attacked. And alarmingly often.
Large businesses may store much higher volumes of valuable data, but they also tend to invest heavily in the latest cybersecurity technologies and have dedicated teams to oversee security. Cyberattacks are therefore much harder to pull off. SMBs are much easier targets. Cyberattacks may be less profitable, but they are easier and require less effort.
SMB Cyberattacks are Increasing
A 2017 SCORE study confirmed the extent to which hackers are attacking SMBs. Its study of macro-based malware showed there had been at least 113,000 attacks on SMBs in 2017 and 43% of those attacks were on SMBs. SMBs suffered at least 54,000 ransomware attacks in 2017 and online banking attacks were highly prevalent in the SMB sector.
The 2018 State of Cybersecurity in Small and Medium Size Businesses study, conducted by the Ponemon Institute, painted an even bleaker picture for SMBs. The study suggests SMBs face the same cybersecurity risks as larger businesses and are being attacked almost as often. In its study, 67% of SMB respondents reported having experienced a cyberattack in the past 12 months and 58 had suffered a data breach. Alarmingly, almost half of respondents (47%) said they had little or no understanding about how SMB cyberattacks could be prevented.
The study revealed 60% of successful cyberattacks were the result of employee negligence, hackers were behind 37% of breaches, and for 32% of cyberattacks the cause could not be established.
The high number of successful cyberattacks makes it clear that SMB cybersecurity needs to be improved. Unfortunately, many SMBs simply don’t have the budget to pay for expensive cybersecurity solutions and a lack of skilled staff is also an issue. So, given these restraints, where should SMBs start?
Where to Start with SMB Cybersecurity
Improving SMB cybersecurity does not necessarily mean hiring skilled cybersecurity staff and spending heavily on state-of-the-art cybersecurity solutions. The best place to start is by ensuring basic cybersecurity best practices are adopted. Highly sophisticated cyberattacks are becoming more common, but many successful attacks are the result of basic cybersecurity failures.
These include the failure to implement password policies that enforce the use of strong passwords, not changing all default passwords, or not using a unique password for each account. Implementing 2-factor authentication is a quick way to improve security, as is the setting of rate limiting to lock accounts after a set number of failed login attempts.
Many successful cyberattacks start with a phishing email. An advanced spam filtering solution is therefore essential. This will ensure virtually all malicious messages are blocked and are not delivered to end users. A web filter also offers protection against phishing by preventing employees from visiting phishing websites. It will also block web-based attacks and malware downloads. Both of these SMB cybersecurity solutions can be implemented at a low cost. It costs just a few dollars per year, per employee, to implement SpamTitan and WebTitan.
A little training goes a long way. Employees should be provided with cybersecurity training and should be taught how to identify email and web-based threats. There are plenty of free and low-cost resources for SMBs to help them train their employees. US-CERT is a good place to start.
Good backup policies are an essential part of SMB cybersecurity. In the event of a cyberattack or ransomware attack, this will prevent catastrophic data loss. A good strategy to adopt is the 3-2-1 approach. Three copies of backups, on two different types of media, with one copy stored securely off-site. Also make sure backups are tested to ensure file recovery is possible.
Once the basics have been covered, it is important to conduct a security audit to discover just how secure your network and systems are. Many managed service providers can assist with security audits and assessments if you do not have sufficiently skilled staff to perform an audit inhouse.
Improvements to SMB cybersecurity will carry a cost but bear in mind that an ounce of security is worth a pound of protection and investment in cybersecurity will prove to be much less expensive than having to deal with a successful cyberattack.
Barely a day goes by without an announcement being made about an email account compromise, especially in the healthcare industry, but how does business email get hacked? What are the main ways that email account access is gained by unauthorized individuals?
Four Ways Business Email Gets Hacked
There four main ways that business email gets hacked, although fortunately there are simple steps that can be taken to improve email security and reduce the risk of an email account compromise at your business.
The easiest way for a hacker to access business email accounts is to ask the account holder for their password. This method is incredibly simple, costs next to nothing, and is very effective. Phishing, like fishing, uses a lure to achieve its aim. An attacker only needs to craft an email with a plausible reason for divulging a password.
The attack could be as simple as spoofing an email from the IT department that requests the user change his or her password for security reasons. A link is supplied in the email that directs the user to a site where they have to enter their password and a replacement. Office 365 phishing scams are now common. A user is directed to a spoofed website where they are presented with a standard Office 365 login box, which they need to enter to open a shared file for example.
The lures are diverse, although there is usually a valid reason for providing login credentials, urgency, and often a threat – The failure to take action will result in harm or loss.
Brute Force Attacks
An alternative method of hacking business email accounts is for the attacker to attempt to guess a user’s password. This is a much more long-winded approach that can require thousands of attempts before the password is guessed. This technique is automated and made easier by poor password choices and the failure to change default passwords. Passwords obtained in previous breaches can be used, which will catch out people who use the same passwords for multiple platforms. Information about a person can also be found on social media – A partner’s name, child’s name, pet name, or dates of birth – Information that is commonly used to create passwords.
A man-in-the-middle attack involves an attacker intercepting information such as a password when it is sent between two parties. Information can be intercepted in unencrypted emails or when a user logs into a web-based platform via their browser. Man-in-the-middle attacks are common on unsecured public Wi-Fi networks and evil twin Wi-Fi hotspots – Hotspots that mimic a genuine hotspot provider, such as a coffee shop or hotel. Any information transmitted via that hotspot can be easily intercepted.
Writing Down Passwords
Many businesses have implemented password polices that require the use of strong and difficult to remember passwords. As a result, some employees write their passwords down on post-it notes, tape a password to their computer, or keep a note under their keyboard where any visitor to an office could discover it.
How to Stop Business Email Getting Hacked
These methods of hacking business email accounts are easy and inexpensive to block through low-cost cybersecurity solutions, policies and procedures, and staff training.
For businesses, the most important control to implement to protect against phishing is an advanced spam filter. A spam filter inspects all incoming emails for common spam signatures and malicious links and blocks messages before they are delivered to end users. Some spam filters also inspect outgoing email, which helps to prevent a breached email account from being used for further phishing attacks on contacts.
Even the best spam filters will not block every single phishing email so security awareness training for staff is essential. Regular training sessions should be provided – at least twice annually – and these should be augmented with more regular reminders about security and newsletters about the latest threats. Phishing simulations are useful for testing the effectiveness of training and to condition employees how to respond to email threats.
Brute force attacks are best prevented with good password policies that prevent weak passwords from being set. To prevent employees from writing passwords down, consider paying for a password manager or allowing the use of long passphrases, which are easy to remember but difficult to guess. Ensure two-factor authentication is enabled and rate limiting is applied to block login attempts after a set number of failed password guesses.
Man-in-the-middle attacks can be prevented in a number of ways. Remote workers should be provided with a VPN to access work networks and email. Some web filters, WebTitan for instance, can be used to protect remote workers online and prevent man-in-the-middle attacks and can also to prevent users from visiting malicious websites, such as those used for phishing.
If you want to improve email security, TitanHQ can help. Contact the team today for information on spam filters to block phishing attacks and to find out more about the benefits of web filtering.
How Does Business Email Get Hacked FAQ
Will a spam filter block ransomware attacks?
A spam filter is effective at identifying and blocking malicious files sent by email. SpamTitan uses dual antivirus engines that detect all known malware and ransomware and sandboxing to subject email attachments to in-depth analysis to identify new malware and ransomware variants. However, ransomware can be deployed in many different ways, not just via email, so other cybersecurity measures will also be required.
How can I justify the cost of an additional spam filter for Office 365?
Consider the cost of mitigating a successful malware or phishing attack, data theft/loss, notifying customers, and the harm caused to your company’s reputation. The cost of an additional spam filter is several orders of magnitude lower. Take advantage of a free trial of a new solution to find out what additional threats are blocked to help determine if the cost is justified.
Can I block 100% of all spam and phishing emails?
It is possible to block 100% of spam and phishing emails but doing so may see an unacceptable number of genuine emails blocked. The best spam filters block in excess of 99.9% of spam emails and allow spam tolerance thresholds to be set lower for higher risk departments such as finance to almost reach 100% without blocking genuine emails.
Why is sandboxing important in a spam filter?
Spam filters scan for malicious email attachments using one or more antivirus engines. This ensures 100% of known malware is blocked. However, new malware variants are constantly being released and signature-based mechanisms do not identify these new threats. Sandboxing sees email attachments that pass initial checks sent for deep analysis to identify the malicious actions of unknown malware.
Why do I need a web filter if I have a spam filter?
Phishing emails usually have an email and web component. A spam filter will block the majority of phishing emails but should be combined with a web filter for greater protection. A web filter provides time-of-click protection to prevent users from visiting known malicious websites. A web filter protects also protects against phishing and malware downloads through general web browsing.
campaign is to obtain users’ Office 365 passwords.
The phishing campaign was detected by ISC Handler Xavier Mertens and the campaign appears to still be active.
The phishing emails closely resemble legitimate Office 365 non-delivery notifications and include Office 365 branding. As is the case with official non-delivery notifications, the user is alerted that messages have not been delivered and told that action is required.
The Office 365 phishing emails claim that “Microsoft found Several Undelivered Messages” and attributes the non-delivery to “Server Congestion.” The emails ask the sender to retype the recipient’s email address and send the message again, although conveniently they include a Send Again button.
If users click the Send Again button, they will be directed to a website that closely resembles the official Office 365 website and includes a login box that has been auto-populated with the user’s email address.
While the Office 365 phishing emails and the website look legitimate, there are signs that all is not what it seems. The emails are well written and the sender’s email – firstname.lastname@example.org – looks official but there is irregular capitalization of the warning message: Something that would not occur on an official Microsoft notification.
The clearest sign that this is a phishing scam is the domain to which users are directed if they click on the Send Again button. It is not an official Microsoft domain (agilones.com).
While the error in the email may be overlooked, users should notice the domain, although some users may proceed and enter passwords as the login box is identical to the login on the official Microsoft site.
The campaign shows just how important it is to carefully check every message before taking any action and to always check the domain before disclosing any sensitive information.
Scammers use Office 365 phishing emails because so many businesses have signed up to use Office 365. Mass email spam campaigns therefore have a high probability of reaching an Outlook inbox. That said, it is easy to target office 365 users. A business that is using Office 365 broadcasts it through their public DNS MX records.
Businesses can improve their resilience to phishing attacks through mandatory security awareness training for all employees. Employees should be told to always check messages carefully and should be taught how to identify phishing emails.
Businesses should also ensure they have an advanced spam filtering solution in place. While Microsoft does offer anti-phishing protection for Office 365 through its Advanced Threat Protection (APT) offering, businesses should consider using a third-party spam filtering solution with Office 365.
SpamTitan provides superior protection against phishing and zero-day attacks, an area where APT struggles.
In this post we offer four simple steps to take to improve Office 365 security and make it harder for hackers and phishers to gain access to users’ accounts.
Hackers are Targeting Office 365 Accounts
It should come as no surprise to hear that hackers are targeting Office 365 accounts. Any software package that has 155 million global users is going to be a target for hackers, and with the number of users growing by an astonishing 3 million a month, Office 365 accounts are likely to be attacked even more frequently.
One study this year has confirmed that to be the case. There has been a 13% increase in attempts to hack into Office 365 email accounts this year, and many of those attacks succeed. You should therefore take steps to improve Office 365 security.
Hackers themselves are paying for Office 365 and are probing its security protections to find vulnerabilities that can be exploited. They also test their phishing emails on real office 365 accounts to find out which ones bypass Microsoft’s anti-phishing protections.
When emails have been developed that bypass Microsoft’s anti-phishing protections, mass email campaigns are launched on Office 365 users. Businesses using Office 365 can easily be found and targeted because it is made clear that they use Office 365 through public DNS MX records.
So how can you improve office 365 security and make it harder for hackers? If you take the four steps below, you will be able to greatly improve Office 365 security and thwart more attacks.
Enforce the Use of Strong Passwords
Hackers often conduct brute force attacks on Office 365 email accounts so you need to develop a strong password policy and prevent users from setting passwords that are easy to brute force. You should not allow dictionary words or any commonly used weak passwords, that otherwise meet your password policy requirements – Password1! for instance.
The minimum length for a password should be 8 characters but consider increasing that minimum. A password of between 12 and 15 characters is recommended. Make sure you do not set a too restrictive maximum number of characters to encourage the use of longer passphrases. Passphrases are harder to crack than 8-digit passwords and easier for users to remember. To make it even easier for your users, consider using a password manager.
Implement Multi-Factor Authentication
Even with strong passwords, some users’ passwords may be guessed, or users may respond to phishing emails and disclose their password to a scammer. An additional login control is therefore required to prevent compromised passwords from being used to access Office 365 accounts.
Multi-factor authentication is not infallible, but it will help you improve Office 365 security. With MFA, in addition to a password, another method of authentication is required such as a token or a code sent to a mobile phone. If a password is obtained by a hacker, and an attempt is made to login from a new location or device, further authentication will be required to access the account.
Enable Mailbox Auditing in Office 365
Mailbox auditing in Office 365 is not turned on by default so it needs to be enabled. You can set various parameters for logging activity including successful login attempts and various mailbox activities. This can help you identify whether a mailbox has been compromised. You can also logs failed login attempts to help you identify when you are being attacked.
Improve Office 365 Security with a Third-Party Spam Filter
As previously mentioned, hackers can test their phishing emails to find out if they bypass Office 365 anti-phishing controls and your organization can be identified as using Office 365. To improve Office 365 security and reduce the number of phishing emails that are delivered to end users’ inboxes, consider implementing a third-party spam filter rather than relying on Microsoft’s anti-phishing controls. Dedicated email security vendors, such as TitanHQ, offer more effective and more flexible anti-spam and anti-phishing solutions than Microsoft Advanced Threat Protection at a lower cost.
A U.S. school system had Office 365 spam filtering controls in place and other cybersecurity solutions installed, but still experienced a costly 6-week malware infection. In this post we explore what went wrong and how you can improve security in your organization.
Multi-Layered Defenses Breached
If you want to mount a solid defense and prevent hackers from gaining access to your networks and data, multi-layered cybersecurity defenses are required, but for one Georgia school district that was not enough. On paper, their defenses looked sound. Office 365 spam filtering controls had been applied to protect the email system, the school district had a firewall appliance protecting the network, and a web filter had been installed to control what users could do online. Endpoint security had also been installed.
The school district was also updating its desktops to Windows 10 and its servers to Windows Server 2012 or later. Everything looked nice and secure.
However, the transportation department delayed the upgrades. The department was still sharing files on a local Windows 2003 server and some of the desktops were still running Windows XP, even though support for the OS had long since ended. The outdated software and lack of patching was exploited by the attackers.
How Was the Malware Installed?
The investigation has not yet determined exactly how the attack was initiated, but it is believed that it all started with an email. As a result of the actions of an end user, a chain of events was triggered that resulted in a 6-week struggle to mitigate the attack, the cost of which – in terms of time and resources – was considerable.
The attack is believed to have started on a Windows XP machine with SMBv1 enabled. That device had drives mapped to the Windows 2003 server. The malware that was installed was the Emotet Trojan, which used the EternalBlue exploit to spread across the network to other vulnerable devices. The attackers were able to gain control of those devices and installed cryptocurrency mining malware.
The cryptocurrency mining slowed the devices to such an extent that they were virtually unusable, causing many to continually crash and reboot. The network also slowed to a snail’s pace due to the streams of malicious traffic. While the upgraded Windows 10 machines were not affected initially, the attackers subsequently downloaded keyloggers onto the compromised devices and obtained the credentials of an IT support technician who had domain administration rights. The attackers then used those privileges to disable Windows Defender updates on desktops, servers, and domain controllers.
Over the course of a week, further Trojan modules were downloaded by creating scheduled tasks using the credentials of the IT support worker. A spam module was used to send malicious messages throughout the school district and several email accounts were compromised as a result and had malware downloaded. Other devices were infected through network shares. The TrickBot banking Trojan was downloaded and was used to attack the systems used by the finance department, although that Trojan was detected and blocked.
Remediation Took 6 Weeks
Remediating the attack was complicated. First the IT department disabled SMBv1 on all devices as it was not known what devices were vulnerable. Via a Windows Group Policy, the IT team then blocked the creation of scheduled tasks. Every device on the network had Windows Defender updates downloaded manually, and via autoruns for Windows, all processes and files run by the Trojan were deleted. The whole process of identifying, containing, and disabling the malware took 6 weeks.
The attack was made possible through an attack on a single user, although it was the continued use of unsupported operating systems and software that made the malware attack so severe.
The attack shows why it is crucial to ensure that IT best practices are followed and why patching is so important. For that to happen, the IT department needs to have a complete inventory of all devices and needs to make sure that each one is updated.
While Microsoft released a patch to correct the flaw in SMBv1 that was exploited through EternalBlue, the vulnerable Windows XP devices were not updated, even though Microsoft had released an update for the unsupported operating system in the spring of 2017.
Additional Protection is Required for Office 365 Inboxes
The attack also shows how the actions of a single user can have grave repercussions. By blocking malicious emails at source, attacks such as this will be much harder to pull off. While Office 365 spam filtering controls block many email-based threats, even with Microsoft’s Advanced Threat Protection many emails slip through and are delivered to inboxes.
Hackers can also see whether Office 365 is being used as it is broadcast through DNS MX records, which allows them to target Office 365 users and launch attacks.
Due to the additional cost of APT, the lack of flexibility, and the volume of malicious emails that are still delivered to inboxes, many businesses have chosen to implement a more powerful spam filtering solution on top of Office 365.
One such solution that has been developed to work seamlessly with Office 365 to improve protection against email threats is SpamTitan.
Sextortion scams have proven popular with cybercriminals this year. A well written email and an email list are all that is required. The latter can easily be purchased for next to nothing via darknet marketplaces and hacking forums. Next to no technical skill is required to run sextortion scams and as scammers’ Bitcoin wallets show, they are effective.
Many sextortion scams use the tried and tested technique of threatening to expose a user’s online activities (pornography habits, dating/adultery site usage) to all their contacts and friends/family unless a payment is made. Some of the recent sextortion scams have added credibility by claiming to have users’ passwords. However, new sextortion scams have been detected in the past few days that are using a different tactic to get users to pay up.
The email template used in this scam is similar to other recent sextortion scams. The scammers claim to have a video of the victim viewing adult content. The footage was recorded through the victim’s webcam and has been spliced with screenshots of the content that was being viewed at the time.
In the new campaign the email contains the user’s email account in the body of the email, a password (Most likely an old password compromised in a previous breach), and a hyperlink that the victim is encouraged to click to download the video that has been created and see exactly what will soon be distributed via email and social media networks.
Clicking the link in the video will trigger the downloading of a zip file. The compressed file contains a document including the text of the email along with the supposed video file. That video file is actually an information stealer – The Azorult Trojan.
This form of the scam is even more likely to work than past campaigns. Many individuals who receive a sextortion scam email will see it for what it really is: A mass email containing an empty threat. However, the inclusion of a link to download a video is likely to see many individuals download the file to find out if the threat is real.
If the zip file is opened and the Azorult Trojan executed, it will silently collect information from the user’s computer – Similar information to what the attacker claims to have already obtained: Cookies from websites the user has visited, chat histories, files stored on the computer, and login information entered through browsers such as email account and bank credentials.
However, it doesn’t end there. The Azorult Trojan will also download a secondary payload: GandCrab ransomware. Once information has been collected, the user will have their personal files encrypted: Documents, spreadsheets, digital photos, databases, music, videos, and more. Recovery will depend on those files having been backed up and not also encrypted by the ransomware. Aside from permanent file loss, the only other alternative will be to pay a sizeable ransom for the key to decrypt the files.
If the email was sent to a business email account, or a personal email account that was accessed at work, files on the victim’s work computer will be encrypted. Since a record of the original email will have been extracted on the device, the reason why the malware was installed will be made clear to the IT department.
The key to not being scammed is to ignore any threats sent via email and never click links in the emails nor open email attachments.
Businesses can counter the threat by using cybersecurity solutions such as spam filters and web filters. The former prevents the emails from being delivered while the latter blocks access to sites that host malware.
Office 365 has many benefits, so it is no surprise that it is proving so popular with businesses, but one common complaint is the number of spam and malicious emails that sneak past Microsoft’s defenses. If you have a problem with spam and phishing emails still being delivered to your end users, there is an easy solution to improve the Office 365 spam filter and block more threats.
Office 365 Email Protection
More than 155 million commercial users are now on Office 365 and that figure is growing at a rate of around 3 million users per month. Unfortunately, the popularity of Office 365 has made it a target for hackers, who are testing their campaigns in their own Office 365 environments to make sure their malspam messages are delivered. Businesses using Office 365 are being sought out and attacked.
Microsoft has been proactively taking steps to improve the Office 365 spam filter to make it more effective at blocking spam and phishing attempts. Office 365 phishing protections have been improved and more malicious emails are now being blocked; however, even with the recent anti-phish enhancements, many businesses still have to deal with an unacceptable volume of spam, phishing emails are still reaching inboxes, and malware is sneaking past Office 365 protections.
Office 365 Spam Protection
Office 365 provides a reasonable level of protection from spam. You can expect Microsoft to block around 99% of all spam emails. While that figure is good, the 1% that are not blocked can amount to a sizeable number of emails. Around 4.5 billion email messages are sent each day and around 46% of those messages are spam. Each inbox may only receive a handful of spam messages but each message that has to be opened, checked, and dealt with by employees is a drain on productivity.
Office 365 Phishing Protection
Spam is a nuisance, but it does not typically pose a threat to businesses. Malspam on the other hand certainly does. Malspam is the name given to spam email that is used for malicious purposes, such as scam and phishing emails and when spam messages are used to distribute malware. This is an area where default Microsoft Office email protection falls short of requirements for many businesses.
Businesses using Office 365 as a hosted email solution are likely to have their email filtered using Exchange Online Protection (EOP). EOP is included in an Office 365 subscription and it does a reasonable job of blocking spam, phishing emails, and malware. Given the number of email-based attacks that are now being conducted by cybercriminals, and the high costs of dealing with those attacks, being ‘reasonably’ well protected from malspam is simply not good enough.
Many businesses have found that EOP blocks basic phishing attacks but comes up short at blocking more advanced email threats such as spear phishing and advanced persistent threats. EOP is best at blocking large scale phishing campaigns where attackers use huge email lists and ‘spray and pray’ tactics. These tried and tested techniques are becoming less effective thanks to improvements in spam filtering.
The relatively poor return on these scams has seen many threat actors invest more time in their campaigns and develop new methods of attack. There is a growing trend for more targeted attacks using more sophisticated phishing methods. EOP is not very effective at blocking these types of phishing attacks. One study conducted by Avanan showed 25% of phishing emails were delivered to inboxes and were not blocked by EOP. These targeted attacks are also being conducted on SMBs, not just on large enterprises.
To improve the Office 365 spam filter, you can upgrade to Advanced Threat Protection (APT), the second level of protection for Office 365 offered by Microsoft. The level of protection is much better with this paid service, although APT is still not effective at blocking zero-day threats and falls short of the level of protection provided by most third-party anti-spam and anti-phishing solutions for Office 365. A SE Labs study conducted in the summer of 2017 found that even with the additional level of protection, which is only available in the Office 365 E5 license tier, protection only ranked in the low-middle of the market.
Office 365 Malware Protection
An Osterman Research study showed EOP eliminates 100% of known malware threats but is not nearly as effective at identifying zero-day threats. New malware variants are now being released at a rate of around 350,000 a day, according to AV-TEST.
These new malware threats are a serious risk. If they are not detected as malicious and are delivered to inboxes, malicious attachments can be opened by employees. You can train your workforce to be more security aware, but it is unreasonable to expect every employee to be able to identify every malicious message and act appropriately. Mistakes are inevitable. Those mistakes can be extremely costly. According to the 2019 Ponemon Institute/IBM Security Cost of a Data Breach Study, the global average cost of a data breach is $4.88 million and $8.19 million in the United States!
The number of cases of hackers exploiting vulnerabilities in Office 365 and the volume of direct attacks on Office 365 users have seen an increasing number of businesses turning to third-party email protection solutions for Office 365. These solutions are layered on top of EOP and greatly improve Office 365 spam filter capabilities.
There is another reason why it is wise to choose a third-party solution to improve Office 365 email protection rather than opting for Microsoft’s APT. It is important to have layered defenses to protect against cyberattacks, and while layers can be added through the same company, it pays not to put all your eggs in one basket. When businesses have their email on-premises, they typically have many layers to their defenses, and they do not all come from the same solution provider. If a threat is not detected by one solution provider, there is more chance of it being detected by another solution provider than another solution from the same company. The same thinking should be applied to your cloud-hosted Office 365 environment.
An Easy Way to Improve the Office 365 Spam Filter
Businesses that want to further improve the Office 365 spam filter (and those looking for an Office 365 Advanced Threat Protection alternative) need to consider implementing a third-party anti-spam solution.
Fortunately, there is a solution that will not only improve Office 365 spam filtering, it is quick and easy to implement, requires no software downloads, and no hardware purchases are necessary. In fact, it can be implemented, configured, and be up and running in a few minutes.
SpamTitan is a powerful cloud-based email security solution that has been developed to provide superior protection against spam, phishing, malware, zero-day attacks, and data loss via email.
In contrast to the Office 365 spam filter, SpamTitan uses predictive techniques such as Bayesian analysis, machine learning, and heuristics to block zero-day attacks, advanced persistent threats, new malware variants, and new spear phishing methods.
SpamTitan searches email headers, analyzes domains, and scans email content to identify phishing threats. Embedded hyperlinks, including shortened URLs, are scanned in real time and subjected to multiple URL reputation checks, while dual antivirus engines scan and block 100% of known malware. SpamTitan also includes sandboxing, where potentially malicious files and programs can be subjected to in-depth analysis in safety. In the sandbox, files are analyzed for malicious actions and C2 server callbacks.
SpamTitan also incorporates data loss prevention tools for emails and attachments, which are not available with EOP. Users can create tags for keywords and data elements such as Social Security numbers to protect against theft by insiders. SpamTitan also serves as a backup for your mail server to ensure business continuity.
With SpamTitan you get a greater level of protection against spam and malicious emails, a higher spam catch rate (over 99.9%), greater granularity, improved control over outbound email, and better business continuity protections.
If you have transitioned to Office 365 yet are still having problems with spam, phishing, and other malicious emails, or if you are an MSP that wants to offer your clients enhanced Office 365 email security, contact the TitanHQ team today.
The TitanHQ team will be happy to schedule a personalized product demonstration and help you put SpamTitan through the paces in your own environment in a no-obligation free trial.
FAQs on Improving the Office 365 Spam Filter
How does SpamTitan differ from the Office 365 spam filter?
SpamTitan has many advanced features not included in Office 365 and provides a defense in depth approach against malware, phishing and other email threats. SpamTitan include predictive techniques such as Bayesian analysis, heuristics, and machine learning to block new threats, dual AV engines and sandboxing to block malware threats, data leak prevention measures, dedicated RBLs as standard, and allows customized policies to be created for users, domains, domain groups, and the overall system, along with many more features to improve protection for Office 365 environments.
How does sandboxing work?
SpamTitan incorporates a powerful, next-generation sandbox solution. Suspicious messages that pass initial checks are sent to the sandbox for in-depth analysis to identify any malicious actions such as C2 callbacks. If these checks are passed, the message is delivered, if malicious activity is detected, the message will be quarantined or deleted, depending on the policy set by the administrator. Sandboxing is essential for blocking zero-day malware threats.
Why is it necessary to scan outbound emails?
If spam or malicious emails are sent from your mailboxes, you are likely to have your IP added to a spam blacklist and your emails may not be delivered. Outbound scanning can quickly detect a compromised inbox or rogue employee and block outbound emails before any harm is caused. Rules can be set to prevent certain attachments from being sent and data elements can be tagged to protect against data leaks.
How does SpamTitan protect against email spoofing attacks?
SpamTitan supports DKIM signing and incorporates the DMARC (Domain-based Message Authentication, Reporting and Conformance) email-validation system, which has been designed to detect and block email spoofing attacks. A DNS TXT record is used to create an overall policy governing SPF and DKIM, allowing you to accept messages, quarantine them, or reject them if they fail the DMARC check.
How much does SpamTitan Cost and are there any discounts?
The cost of SpamTitan varies depending on the number of mailboxes you want to protect and the length of the contract, with sizable discounts offered to organizations that commit to a 2- or 3-year term. The easiest way to find out how much SpamTitan is likely to cost is to use our cost calculator.
Phishing is the number one security threat faced by businesses. In this post we explore why phishing is such as serious threat and the top phishing lures that are proving to be the most effective at getting employees to open malicious attachments and click on hyperlinks and visit phishing websites.
Phishing is the Biggest Security Threat Faced by Businesses
Phishing is a tried and tested social engineering technique that is favored by cybercriminals for one very simple reason. It is very effective. Phishing emails can be used to fool end users into installing malware or disclosing their login credentials. It is an easy way for hackers to gain a foothold in a network to conduct further cyberattacks on a business.
Phishing works because it targets the weakest link in security defenses: End users. If an email is delivered to an inbox, there is a relatively high probability that the email will be opened. Messages include a variety of cunning ploys to fool end users into taking a specific action such as opening a malicious email attachment or clicking on an embedded hyperlink.
Listed below are the top phishing lures of 2018 – The messages that have proven to be the most effective at getting end users to divulge sensitive information or install malware.
Top Phishing Lures of 2018
Determining the top phishing lures is not straightforward. Many organizations are required to publicly disclose data breaches to comply with industry regulations, but details of the phishing lures that have fooled employees are not usually made public.
Instead, the best way to determine the top phishing lures is to use data from security awareness training companies. These companies have developed platforms that businesses can use to run phishing simulation exercises. To obtain reliable data on the most effective phishing lures it is necessary to analyze huge volumes of data. Since these phishing simulation platforms are used to send millions of dummy phishing emails to employees and track responses, they are useful for determining the most effective phishing lures.
In the past few weeks, two security awareness training companies have published reports detailing the top phishing lures of 2018: Cofense and KnowBe4.
Top Phishing Lures on the Cofense Platform
Cofense has created two lists of the top phishing lures of 2018. One is based on the Cofense Intelligence platform which collects data on real phishing attacks and the second list is compiled from responses to phishing simulations.
Both lists are dominated by phishing attacks involving fake invoices. Seven out of the ten most effective phishing campaigns of 2018 mentioned invoice in the subject line. The other three were also finance related: Payment remittance, statement and payment. This stands to reason. The finance department is the primary target in phishing attacks on businesses.
The list of the top phishing lures from phishing simulations were also dominated by fake invoices, which outnumbered the second most clicked phishing lure by 2 to 1.
Number of Reported Emails
New Message in Mailbox
Online Order (Attachment)
Secure Message (MS Office Macro)
Online Order (Hyperlink)
Confidential Scanned document (Attachment)
Conversational Wire transfer (BEC Scam)
Top Phishing Lures on the KnowBe4 Platform
KnowBe4 has released two lists of the top phishing lures of Q3, 2018, which were compiled from responses to simulated phishing emails and real-world phishing attempted on businesses that were reported to IT security departments.
The most common real-world phishing attacks in Q3 were:
You have a new encrypted message
IT: Syncing Error – Returned incoming messages
HR: Contact information
FedEx: Sorry we missed you.
Microsoft: Multiple log in attempts
IT: IMPORTANT – NEW SERVER BACKUP
Wells Fargo: Irregular Activities Detected on Your Credit Card
LinkedIn: Your account is at risk!
Microsoft/Office 365: [Reminder]: your secured message
Coinbase: Your cryptocurrency wallet: Two-factor settings changed
The most commonly clicked phishing lures in Q3 were:
% of Emails Clicked
Password Check Required Immediately
You Have a New Voicemail
Your order is on the way
Change of Password Required Immediately
De-activation of [[email]] in Process
UPS Label Delivery 1ZBE312TNY00015011
Revised Vacation & Sick Time Policy
You’ve received a Document for Signature
Spam Notification: 1 New Messages
[ACTION REQUIRED] – Potential Acceptable Use Violation
The Importance of Blocking Phishing Attacks at their Source
If login credentials to email accounts, Office 365, Dropbox, and other cloud services are obtained by cybercriminals, the accounts can be plundered. Sensitive information can be stolen and Office 365/email accounts can be used for further phishing attacks on other employees. If malware is installed, cybercriminals can gain full control of infected devices. The cost of mitigating these attacks is considerable and a successful phishing attack can seriously damage a company’s reputation.
Due to the harm that can be caused by phishing, it is essential for businesses of all sizes to train staff how to identify phishing threats and implement a system that allows suspicious emails to be reported to security teams quickly. Resilience to phishing attacks can be greatly improved with an effective training program and phishing email simulations. It is also essential to deploy an effective email security solution that blocks threats and ensures they are not delivered to inboxes.
SpamTitan is a highly effective, easy to implement email filtering solution that blocks more than 99.9% of spam and phishing emails and 100% of known malware through dual anti-virus engines (Bitdefender and ClamAV). With SpamTitan protecting inboxes, businesses are less reliant on their employees’ ability to identify phishing threats.
SpamTitan subjects each incoming email to a barrage of checks to determine if a message is genuine and should be delivered or is potentially malicious and should be blocked. SpamTitan also performs checks on outbound emails to ensure that in the event that an email account is compromised, it cannot be used to end spam and phishing emails internally and to clients and contacts, thus helping to protect the reputation of the business.
Improve Office 365 Email Security with SpamTitan
There are more than 135 million subscribers to Office 365, and such high numbers make Office 365 a big target for cybercriminals. One of the main ways that Office 365 credentials are obtained is through phishing. Emails are crafted to bypass Office 365 defenses and hyperlinks are used to direct end users to fake Office 365 login pages where credentials are harvested.
Businesses that have adopted Office 365 are likely to still see a significant number of malicious emails delivered to inboxes. To enhance Office 365 security, a third-party email filtering control is required. If SpamTitan is installed on top of Office 365, a higher percentage of phishing emails and other email threats can be blocked at source.
To find out more about SpamTitan, including details of pricing and to register for a free trial, contact the TitanHQ team today. During the free trial you will discover just how much better SpamTitan is at blocking phishing attacks than standard Office 365 anti-spam controls.
Financial institutions, healthcare organizations and universities have seen an increase in cyberattack in recent months, but there has also been an increase in phishing attacks on publishers and literary scouting agencies.
Any business that stores sensitive information that can be monetized is at risk of cyberattacks, and publishers and literary scouting agencies are no exception. Like any employer, scouting agencies and publishers store sensitive information such as bank account numbers, credit card details, Social Security numbers, contract information, and W-2 Tax forms, all of which carry a high value on the black market. The companies also regularly make wire transfers and are therefore targets for BEC scammers.
However, in a somewhat new development, there have been several reports of phishing attacks on publishers and literary scouting agencies that attempt to gain access to unpublished manuscripts and typescripts. These are naturally extremely valuable. If an advance copy of an eagerly awaited book can be obtained before it is published, there will be no shortage of fans willing to pay top dollar for a copy. Theft of manuscripts can result in extortion attempts with ransoms demanded to prevent their publication online.
2018 has seen a significant increase in phishing attacks on publishers and literary scouting agencies. Currently, campaigns are being conducted by scammers that appear to have a good understanding of the industry. Highly realistic and plausible emails are being to publishing houses and agencies which use the correct industry terminology, which suggests they are the work of an industry insider.
One current campaign is spoofing the email account of Catherine Eccles, owner of the international literary scouting agency Eccles Fisher. Emails are being sent using Catherine Eccles’ name, and include her signature and contact information. The messages come from what appears to be her genuine email account, although the email address has been spoofed and replies are directed to an alternative account controlled by the scammer. The messages attempt to get other literary agencies to send manuscripts via email or disclose their website passwords.
An increase in phishing attacks on publishers on both sides of the Atlantic have been reported, with the threat already having prompted Penguin Random House North America to send out warnings to employees to alert them to the threat. According to a recent report in The Bookseller, several publishers have been targeted with similar phishing schemes, including Penguin Random House UK and Pan Macmillan.
Protecting against phishing attacks requires a combination of technical solutions, policies and procedures, and employee training.
Publishers and scouting agencies should deploy software solutions that can block phishing attacks and prevent malicious emails from being delivered to their employees’ inboxes.
SpamTitan is a powerful anti-phishing tool that blocks 99.97% of spam emails and 100% of known malware. DMARC email-validation is incorporated to detect email spoofing and prevent malicious emails from reaching employees’ inboxes.
End user training is also essential to raise awareness of the risks of phishing. All staff should be trained how to recognize phishing emails and other email threats to ensure they do not fall for these email scams.
If you run a publishing house or literary scouting agency and are interested in improving your cyber defenses, contact the TitanHQ team today for further information on cybersecurity solutions that can improve your security posture against phishing and other email and web-based threats.
Office 365 phishing attacks are commonplace, highly convincing, and Office 365 spam filtering controls are easily being bypassed by cybercriminals to ensure messages reach inboxes. Further, phishing forms are being hosted on webpages that are secured with valid Microsoft SLL certificates to convince users the websites are genuine.
Office 365 Phishing Attacks Can Be Difficult to Identify
In the event of a phishing email making it past perimeter defenses and arriving in an inbox, there are several tell-tale signs that the email is not genuine.
There are often spelling mistakes, incorrect grammar, and the messages are sent from questionable senders or domains. To improve the response rate, cybercriminals are now spending much more time carefully crafting their phishing emails and they are often virtually indistinguishable from genuine communications from the brand they are spoofing. In terms of formatting, they are carbon copies of genuine emails complete with the branding, contact information, sender details, and logos of the company being spoofed. The subject is perfectly believable and the content well written. The actions the user is requested to take are perfectly plausible.
Hyperlinks are contained in emails that direct users to a website where they are required to enter their login credentials. At this stage of the phishing attack there are usually further signs that all is not as it seems. A warning may flash up that the website may not be genuine, the website may start with HTTP rather than the secure HTTPS, or the SSL certificate may not be owned by the company that the website is spoofing.
Even these tell-tale signs are not always there, as has been shown is several recent Office 365 phishing attacks, which have the phishing forms hosted on webpages that have valid Microsoft SSL certificates or SSL certificates that have been issued to other cloud service providers such as CloudFlare, DocuSign, or Google.
Microsoft Azure Blog Storage Phishing Scam
One recent phishing scam uses Azure blob storage to obtain a valid SSL certificate for the phishing form. Blob storage can be used for storing a variety of unstructured data. While it is possible to use HTTP and HTTPS, the phishing campaign uses the latter, which will show a signed SSL certificate from Microsoft.
In this campaign, end users are sent an email with a button that must be clicked to view the content of a cloud-hosted document. In this case, the document appears to be from a Denver law firm. Clicking the button directs the user to an HTML page hosted on Azure blog storage that requires Office 365 credentials to be entered to view the document. Since the document is hosted on Azure blob storage, a Microsoft service, it has a valid SSL certificate that was issued to Microsoft adding legitimacy to the scam.
Entering login credentials into the form will send them to the attackers. The user will then be directed to another webpage, most likely unaware that they have been phished.
CloudFlare IPFS Gateway Abused
A similar campaign has been detected that abuses the CloudFlare IPFS gateway. Users can access content on the IPFS distributed file system through a web browser. When connecting to this gateway through a web browser, the HTML page will be secured with a CloudFlare SSL certificate. In this case, the login requires information to be entered including username, password, and recovery email address and phone number – which will be forwarded to the attacker, while the user will be directed to a PDF file unaware that their credentials have been stolen.
Office 365 Phishing Protections are Insufficient
Office 365 users are being targeted by cybercriminals as they know Office 365 phishing controls can be easily bypassed. Even with Microsoft’s Advanced Threat Protection for Office 365, phishing emails are still delivered. A 2017 study by SE Labs showed even with this additional anti-phishing control, Office 365 anti-phishing measures were only rated in the low-middle of the market for protection. With only the basic Exchange Online Protection, the protection was worse still.
Whether you run an SMB or a large enterprise, you are likely to receive high volumes of spam and phishing emails and many messages will be delivered to end users’ inboxes. Since the emails can be virtually impossible for end users to identify as malicious, it is probable that all but the most experienced, well trained, security conscious workers will be fooled. What is therefore needed is an advanced third-party spam filtering solution that will work alongside Office 365 spam filtering controls to provide far greater protection.
How to Make Office 365 More Secure
While Office 365 will block spam emails and phishing emails (Osterman Research showed it blocks 100% of known malware), it has been shown to lack performance against advanced phishing threats such as spear phishing.
Office 365 does not have the same level of predictive technology as dedicated on-premises and cloud-based email security gateways which are much better at detecting zero-day attacks, new malware, and advanced spear phishing campaigns.
To greatly improve protection what is needed is a dedicated third-party spam filtering solution for Office 365 such as SpamTitan. SpamTitan focuses on defense in depth, and provides superior protection against advanced phishing attacks, new malware, and sophisticated email attacks to ensure malicious messages are blocked or quarantined rather than being delivered to end users’ inboxes. Some of the additional protections provided by SpamTitan against Office 365 phishing attacks are detailed in the image below:
A spam email campaign is being conducted targeting corporate email accounts to distribute Loki Bot malware. Loki Bot malware is an information stealer capable of obtaining passwords stored in browsers, obtaining email account passwords, FTP client logins, cryptocurrency wallet passwords, and passwords used for messaging apps.
In addition to stealing saved passwords, Loki Bot malware has keylogging capabilities and is potentially capable of downloading and running executable files. All information captured by the malware is transferred to the attacker’s C2 server.
Kaspersky Lab researchers identified an increase in email spam activity targeting corporate email accounts, with the campaign discovered to be used to spread Loki Bot malware. The malware was delivered hidden in a malicious email attachment.
The intercepted emails included an ICO file attachment. ICO files are copies of optical discs, which are usually mounted in a virtual CD/DVD drive to open. While specialist software can be used to open these files, most modern operating systems have the ability to access the contents of the files without the need for any additional software.
In this case, the ICO file contains Loki Bot malware and double clicking on the file will result in installation of the malware on operating systems that support the files (Vista and later).
It is relatively rare for ICO files to be used to deliver malware, although not unheard of. The unfamiliarity with ICO files for malware delivery may see end users attempt to open the files.
The campaign included a wide range of lures including fake purchase orders, speculative enquiries from companies containing product lists, fake invoices, bank transfer details, payment requests, credit notifications, and payment confirmations. Well-known companies such as Merrill Lynch, Bank of America, and DHL were spoofed in some of the emails.
A separate and unrelated spam email campaign has been identified that is using IQY files to deliver a new form of malware known as Marap. Marap malware is a downloader capable of downloading a variety of different payloads and additional modules.
Upon installation, the malware fingerprints the system and gathers information such as username, domain name, IP address, hostname, language, country, Windows version, details of Microsoft .ost files, and any anti-virus solutions detected on the infected computer. What happens next depends on the system on which it is installed. If the system is of particular interest, it is earmarked for a more extensive compromise.
Four separate campaigns involving millions of messages were detected by researchers at Proofpoint. One campaign included an IQY file as an attachment, one included an IQY file within a zip file and a third used an embedded IQY file in a PDF file. The fourth used a Microsoft Word document containing a malicious macro. The campaigns appear to be targeting financial institutions.
IQY files are used by Excel to download web content directly into spreadsheets. They have been used in several spam email campaigns in recent weeks to install a variety of different malware variants. The file type is proving popular with cybercriminals because many anti-spam solutions fail to recognize the files as malicious.
Since the majority of end users would not have any need to open ICO or IQY files, these file types should be added to the list of blocked file types in email spam filters to prevent them from being delivered to end users’ inboxes.
While the majority of phishing attempts are conducted via email, there has been a significant rise in the use of other communications platforms such messaging services, with WhatsApp phishing scams now increasing in popularity amongst phishers.
WhatsApp phishing attacks are common for two main reasons. First is the sheer number of people that are on the platform. In January 2018, the number of monthly users of WhatsApp worldwide reached 1.5 billion, up from 1 billion users six months previously. Secondly, is the lack of anti-phishing measures to prevent malicious messages from being delivered.
Many businesses have implemented spam filtering solutions such as SpamTitan, while personal users are benefiting by significant improvements to spam filtering on webmail services such as Gmail. Spam filtering solutions are highly effective at identifying phishing emails and other malicious messages and send them to the spam folder rather than delivering them to inboxes.
Messaging services often lack spam filtering controls. Therefore, malicious messages have a much greater chance of being delivered. Various tactics are used to entice recipients to click the links in the messages, usually an offer of a free gift, an exceptionally good special offer on a product – the new iPhone for instance – or a money off voucher or gift card is offered.
The messages contain a link that directs the recipient to the phishing website. The link usually contains a preview of the website, so even if a shortlink is used for the URL, the recipient can see some information about the site. A logo may be displayed along with the page title. That makes it much more likely that the link will be clicked.
Further, the message often comes from a known individual – A person in the user’s WhatsApp contact list. When a known individual vouches for the site, the probability of the link being clicked is much greater.
To add further legitimacy to the WhatsApp phishing scams, the websites often contact fake comments from social media sites confirming that a gift card has been won or a reward has been received. Some of those comments are positive, and some are neutral, as you would expect from a real prize draw where not everyone is a winner.
The websites used in WhatsApp phishing scams often use HTTPS, which show a green tick next to the URL to show that the site is ‘secure.’ Even though the green tick is no guarantee of the legitimacy of a site, many people believe the green tick means the site is genuine.
Gift cards are often given out for taking part in legitimate surveys, so the offer of either a gift card or entry into a free draw is not out of the ordinary. In return, the visitor to the site is required to answer some standard questions and provide information that would allow them to be contacted – their name, address, phone number, and email address for instance.
The information gathered through these sites is then used for further phishing attempts via email, telephone, or snail mail which aim to obtain even more personal information. After completing the questions, the website may claim that the user has one, which requires entry of bank account information or credit card details… in order for prize money to be paid or for confirmation of age.
These WhatsApp phishing scams often have another component which helps to spread the messages much more efficiently to other potential victims. Before any individual can claim their free prize or even submit their details for a prize draw, they must first agree to share the offer with some of their WhatsApp contacts.
If you receive an unsolicited link from a contact that offers a free gift or money-off voucher, there is a high chance it may not be genuine and is a WhatsApp phishing scam. If an offer seems too good to be true, it most likely is.
Hotels, restaurants, and telecommunications companies are being targeted with a new spam email campaign that delivers a new form of malware called AdvisorsBot. AdvisorsBot is a malware downloader which, like many malware variants, is being distributed vis spam emails containing Microsoft Word attachments with malicious macros.
Opening an infected email attachment and enabling macros on the document will see Advisorsbot installed. Advisorsbot’s primary role is to perform fingerprinting on an infected device. Information will be gathered on the infected device is then communicated to the threat actors’ command and control servers and further instructions are provided to the malware based on the information gathered on the system. The malware records system information, details of programs installed on the device, Office account details, and other information. It is also able to take screenshots on an infected device.
AdvisorsBot malware is so named because the early samples of the malware that were first identified in May 2018 contacted command and control servers that contained the word advisors.
The spam email campaign is primarily being conducted on targets in the United States, although infections have been detected globally. Several thousands of devices have been infected with the malware since May, according to the security researchers at Proofpoint who discovered the new malware threat. The threat actors believed to be behind the attacks are a APT group known as TA555.
Various email lures are being used in this malware campaign to get the recipients to open the infected attachment and enable macros. The emails sent to hotels appear to be from individuals who have been charged twice for their stay. The campaign on restaurants uses emails which claim that the sender has suffered food poisoning after eating in a particular establishment, while the attacks on telecommunications companies use email attachments that appear to be resumes from job applicants.
AdvisorsBot is written in C, but a second form of the malware has also been detected that is written in .NET and PowerShell. The second variant has been given the name PoshAdvisor. PoshAdvisor is executed via a malicious macro which runs a PowerShell command that downloads a PowerShell script which executes shellcode that runs the malware in the memory without writing it to the disk.
These malware threats are still under development and are typical of many recent malware threats which have a wide range of capabilities and the versatility to be used for many different types of attack such as information stealing, ransomware delivery, and cryptocurrency mining. The malicious actions performed are determined based on the system on which the malware has been installed. If that system is ideally suited for mining cryptocurrency, the relevant code will be installed. If the business is of particular interest, it will be earmarked for a more extensive compromise.
The best form of defense against this campaign is the use of an advanced spam filtering solution to prevent the emails from being delivered and security awareness training for employees to condition them how to respond when such a threat arrives in their inbox.
The past year has seen a steady increase in the number of reported email account compromises, with the healthcare industry one of the main targets for hackers.
Some of those breaches have seen the protected health information of thousands of patients compromised, with the largest phishing attack in 2018 – The phishing attack on Boys Town National Research Hospital – seeing more than 105,000 patients’ healthcare information exposed. Due to reporting requirements under HIPAA, healthcare phishing attacks are highly visible, although email account compromises are occurring across all industry sectors and the problem is getting worse.
284% Increase in Email Account Compromises in a Year
The increase in successful phishing attacks has been tracked by Beazley, a provider of specialist insurance services. The company’s research shows the number of reported phishing attacks increased every quarter since Q1, 2017 when there were 45 reported breaches that involved email accounts being compromised. In Q2, 2018, there were 184 email account compromises reported. Between Q1, 2017 and Q1, 2018, the number of reported data breaches involving compromised email accounts increased by 284%.
Why are email account compromises increasing? What do hackers gain from accessing email accounts rather than say, gaining access to networks which store vast amounts of data?
It can take a significant amount of time and effort to identify a vulnerability such a missed patch, an exposed S3 bucket, or an unsecured medical device, and exploit it.
By comparison, gaining access to an email account is relatively easy. Once access is gained, accessing further email accounts becomes easier still. If a hacker can gain access to an email account with the right level of administrative privileges, it may be possible for the entire mail system of an organization to be accessed.
If a hacker can gain access to a single email account, the messages in the account can be studied to gain valuable information about a company, its employees, and vendors. The hackers can identify further targets within an organization for spear phishing campaigns – termed Business Email Compromise (BEC) attacks – and attacks on contractors and suppliers.
Once One Account is Breached, Others Will Follow
If an executive’s email account is compromised, it can be used to send requests for wire transfers to the accounts department, HR can be emailed requesting W2-Forms that contain all the information necessary for filing fake tax returns and for identity theft. Requests can be sent via email to redirect employees’ paychecks and phishing emails can be sent to other employees directing them to websites where they have to divulge their email credentials.
Figures from the FBI show just how lucrative these Business Email Compromise (BEC) phishing attacks can be. Since October 2013, more than $12.5 billion has been lost to BEC attacks, up from $5.3 billion in December 2016.
Once access to the email system is gained, it is much easier to craft highly convincing spear phishing emails. Past email conversations can be studied, and an individual’s style of writing emails can be copied to avoid raising any red flags.
Email Account Compromises Are Costly to Resolve
Beazley also notes that email account compromises are some of the costliest breaches to resolve, requiring many hours of painstaking work to manually checking each email in a compromised account for PII and PHI. One example provided involved a programmatic search of compromised email accounts to identify PHI, yet that search uncovered 350,000 documents that required a manual check. The cost of checking those documents alone was $800,000.
Beazley also notes that when investigating breaches, the breached entity often discovers that only half of the compromised email accounts have been identified. The data breaches are usually much more extensive than was initially thought.
Unfortunately, once access to a single email account is gained, it is much harder to prevent further email compromises as technological controls are not so effective at identifying emails sent from within a company. However, it is relatively easy to block the initial phishing attempt.
How to Prevent Email Account Compromises
Many companies fail to implement basic controls to block phishing attacks. Even when a phishing-related breach is experienced, companies often remain susceptible to further breaches. The Ponemon Institute/IBM Security Cost of a Data Breach study showed there is a 27.9% probability of a company experiencing a further breach in the 24 months following a data breach.
To prevent phishing attacks, companies need to:
Deploy an advanced spam filtering solution that blocks the vast majority of malicious messages
Provide ongoing security awareness training to all staff and teach employees how to identify phishing emails
Conduct regular phishing simulation exercises to reinforce training and condition employees to be more security aware
Implement two-factor authentication to prevent attempts to access email accounts remotely
Implement a web filter as an additional control to block the accessing of phishing websites
Use strong, unique passwords or passphrases to make brute force and dictionary attacks harder
Limit or prevent third party applications from connecting to Office 365 accounts, which makes it harder for PowerShell to be used to access email accounts for reconnaissance.
A major Children’s Mercy Hospital phishing attack has highlighted the importance of implementing effective spam filtering controls and the need to provide security awareness training to end users.
Phishing is a method of fraudulently obtaining sensitive information through deception. While attacks can occur over the telephone, via social media sites, or through text messages and chat platforms, the most common attack vector is email.
Convincing emails are sent to end users urging them to open an email attachment or to click on a malicious link. Attachments are used to install malware, either directly through malware attached to the email, or more commonly, using macros or other malicious code in documents which download scripts that in turn download the malicious payload.
In the case of embedded hyperlinks in emails, they typically direct an end user to a website that asks them to login. The website could ask for their email credentials, appear to be a Google login box, Dropbox login page, or other file sharing platform. Disclosing login credentials on that webpage sends the information to the attackers. These login pages are convincing. They look exactly like the sites that they are spoofing.
That was the case with the Children’s Mercy Hospital phishing attack. The Kansas City, MO, hospital received several phishing emails which directed employees to fake login pages on criminally-controlled websites.
The phishing attack occurred on or shortly before December 2, 2017. On Dec 2, Children’s Mercy’s security team identified authorized access to two employees’ email accounts. Access to the accounts was blocked the same day and the passwords were reset. Two weeks later, on December 15 and Dec 16, two further email accounts were accessed by unauthorized individuals. Again, unauthorized access was detected and blocked the same day. A fifth email account was accessed on January 3, 2018 with access blocked the following day.
The prompt action in response to the Children’s Mercy phishing attack limited the potential for those email accounts to be abused. When criminals gain access to email accounts they often use them to send further phishing emails. Since those emails come from a legitimate email account, the recipients of the messages sent from that account are more likely to open the emails as they come from a trusted source. That is why business email compromise scams are so effective – because employees trust the sender of the email and take action as requested in the belief that they are genuine communications.
In the case of the Children’s Mercy phishing attack, the criminals acted quickly. Following a forensic investigation into the attacks, Children’s Mercy discovered on January 19, 2018, that even though access to the accounts was promptly blocked, the attackers had successfully downloaded the mailboxes of four of the five employees. The messages contained a wide range of protected health information (PHI) of 63,049 patients.
The PHI included information such as name, gender, age, height, weight, BMI score, procedure dates, admission dates, discharge dates, diagnosis and procedure codes, diagnoses, health conditions, treatment information, contact details, and demographic information.
While Social Security numbers, insurance information, and financial data were not obtained – information most typically required to commit fraud – such detailed information on patients could be used in impersonation attacks on the patients. It would be quite easy for the attackers to pretend they were from the hospital and convince patients to provide their insurance information for example, which could then be used for medical identity fraud.
Due to the scale of the attack and number of emails in the compromised accounts, it has taken a considerable time to identify the individuals affected. The Kansas City Star reports that some patients are only just being notified.
In response, the hospital implemented 2-factor authentication and other technical controls to prevent further attacks.
2-factor authentication is an important security measure that provides protection after a phishing attack has occurred. If login credentials are supplied, but the location or the device used to access the account is unfamiliar, an additional method of authentication is required before access to the account is granted – a code sent to a mobile phone for example.
Two of the most effective security controls to prevent credential theft via phishing are spam filters and security awareness training.
An advanced spam filter is an essential security measure to block phishing attacks. The changing tactics of cybercriminals means no spam filtering solution will be able to block every single phishing email, although SpamTitan, a highly effective spam filtering solution with advanced anti-phishing protections, blocks more than 99.97% of spam and malicious emails to ensure they do not arrive in end users’ inboxes.
Security awareness training helps to prevent employees from clicking on the small percentage of messages that get past perimeter defenses. Employees need to be trained to give them the skills to identify phishing attempts and report them to their security teams. An ongoing training program, with phishing simulation exercises, will help to condition employees to recognize threats and respond appropriately. Over time, phishing email detection skills will improve considerably.
An effective training program can limit the number of employees that respond to phishing attacks, either preventing the attackers from gaining access to email accounts or severely limiting the number of employees who respond and disclose their credentials.
The Children’s Mercy phishing attack is one of many such attacks on healthcare organizations and businesses, and as those attacks increase and more data is obtained by criminals, implementing advanced phishing protections has never been more important.
For further information on email security controls that can prevent phishing attacks, contact the TitanHQ team today and enquire about SpamTitan.
A new spam campaign has been identified that uses Excel Web Query files to deliver malware. In this case, the .iqy files are used to launch PowerShell scripts that give the attackers root access to a device. .iqy files are not usually blocked by spam filters, making the technique effective at silently delivering malware.
The spam emails are being delivered via the Necurs botnet. Three spam campaigns have been detected by Barkly that use these attachments, although further campaigns are almost certain to be launched.
Excel Web Query files obtain data from an external source and load it to Excel. In this case, the external data is a formula which is executed in Excel. The formula is used to run PowerShell scripts which, in at least one campaign, downloads a Remote Access Trojan (RAT) called FlawedAmmyy Admin – a tweaked legitimate remote administration tool that gives the attacker full control of a computer, allowing any number of malicious programs to be installed.
The emails masquerade as purchase orders, unpaid invoices, and scanned documents – Common themes used in spam emails to deliver malware. These spam email campaigns often use Word documents with malicious macros. Macros are usually disabled by default. Through security awareness training, end users have been conditioned not to enable macros on documents from unknown senders, thus preventing malware downloads.
Since most end users will not be used to receiving .iqy files, these attachments should arouse suspicion. Microsoft has also built in warnings to prevent these files from being run by end users. If an end user attempts to open one of these files it will trigger a warning alerting the user that the file may not be safe as it enables an external connection. The end user would be required to click enable before the connection is made and data is pulled into Excel. A second warning would then be displayed, again requiring authorization. Only if both warnings are ignored will the script be allowed to run that downloads the malicious payload.
There are two steps you can take to protect your endpoints and networks from these types of attacks. The first is to configure your email spam filter to quarantine any emails containing .iqy attachments. SpamTitan allows certain attachment types to be blocked such as executable files and iqy files. You can set the policy to quarantine, reject, or delete the emails. Since these types of files are not usually sent via email, rejecting the messages or deleting them is the safest option.
You should also cover the use of these files in your security awareness training sessions and should consider sending an email alert to end users warning them about the threat.
Further information on steps you can take to prevent malware infections spread via email can be found in our anti-spam tips page. You can find out more about the capabilities of SpamTitan by calling the sales team:
World Cup 2018 phishing scams can be expected over the coming weeks. There has already been a spike in World Cup related phishing emails and many malicious World Cup-themed domains have been registered.
World Cup 2018 Phishing Scams Detected!
The World Cup may be two weeks away, but interest in the soccer extravaganza is already reaching fever pitch. The World Cup is watched by billions of people around the world, and there are expected to be around 5 million soccer fans expected to travel to Russia to see the matches live between June 14 to July 15. With such interest in the sporting event it should be no surprise that cybercriminals are poised to take advantage.
Kaspersky Lab has already detected several World Cup 2018 phishing scams, with many of the early scams using emails to direct soccer fans to malicious websites offering the opportunity to buy tickets for the games.
Fake Tickets and Fake Touts
With tickets for the big matches scarce and demand outstripping supply, many fans are turning to touts to secure tickets to the big matches. Steps have been taken by FIFA to make it harder for ticket touts to operate, such as only allowing one ticket for a game to be purchased by any football fan. That individual is also named on the ticket. However, it is still possible for individuals to purchase tickets for guests and touts are taking advantage. The price for guest tickets is extortionate – up to ten times face value – and that price will likely rise as the event draws closer.
Such high prices mean the opportunity of snapping up a cheaper ticket may seem too good to miss. However, there are plenty of scammers who have registered websites and are posing as touts and third parties that have spare tickets.
Purchasing a ticket through any site other than the official FIFA is a tremendous risk. The only guarantee is that the price paid will be substantially higher, but there are no guarantees that a ticket will be sent after payment is made. Even if a ticket is purchased from an unofficial seller, it may turn out to be a fake. Worse, paying with a credit or debit card could see bank accounts emptied.
Kaspersky Lab detected large numbers of malicious domains set up and loaded with phishing pages to take advantage of the rush to buy tickets ahead of the tournament. The websites are often clones of the official site.To add credibility, domains have been purchased that include the words worldcup2018 and variations along that theme. Cheap SSL certifications have also been purchased, so the fact that a website starts with HTTPS is no guarantee that a site is legitimate. Tickets should only be purchased through the official FIFA website.
Why pay a high price for a ticket when there is a chance of obtaining one for free? Many competition-themed World Cup 2018 phishing emails have been detected. These emails are sent out in the millions offering soccer fans the change to win a free ticket to a match. To be in with a chance, the email recipient is required to register their contact details. Those details are subsequently used for further phishing and spamming campaigns. Stage two of the scam, where the ‘lucky’ registrant is told they have one tickets, involves opening an email attachment, which installs malware.
Notifications from FIFA and Prizes from FIFA World Cup 2018 Partners
Be wary of any communications from FIFA or any company claiming to be an official World Cup Partner. Kaspersky Lab has detected several emails that appear, at face value, to have been sent by FIFA or its World Cup 2018 partners. These emails usually request the recipient to update their account for security reasons.
Visa is one brand in particular that is being spoofed in World Cup 2018 phishing emails for obvious reasons. Fake security alerts from Visa require credit card credentials to be entered on spoofed websites. If any security alert is received, visit the official website by typing in the official domain into the browser. Do not click the links contained in the emails.
Cheap Travel Accommodation Scams
Airline tickets to cities staging World Cup matches may be difficult to find, and with more than 5 million fans expected in Russia for the World Cup, accommodation will be scarce. Scammers take advantage of the scarcity of flights and accommodation and the high prices being charged and offer cheap deals, usually via spam email. A host of malicious websites have been set up mimicking official travel companies and accommodation providers to fool the unwary into disclosing their credit card details. Retail brands are also being spoofed, with offers sent via email for cut price replica shirts and various other World Cup apparel.
These World Cup 2018 phishing scams can usually be identified from the domain name, which needs to be checked carefully. These websites are often clones and are otherwise indistinguishable from the official websites.
Team and Match News and World Cup Gossip
As the World Cup gets underway, there are likely to be waves of spam emails sent with news about matches, team information, betting odds, and juicy gossip about teams and players. Every major sporting event sees a variety of lures sent via spam email to get users to click links and visit malicious websites. Hyperlinks often direct users to webpages containing fake login pages – Facebook and Google etc. – where credentials need to be entered before content is displayed.
How to Avoid Becoming a Victim of a World Cup 2018 Phishing Scam
These are just a few of the World Cup 2018 phishing scams that have been detected so far and a great deal more can be expected by the time the World Cup winner lifts the trophy on July 15.
Standard security best practices will help soccer fans avoid World Cup 2018 phishing scams. Make sure you:
Only buy tickets from the official FIFA website
Only book travel and accommodation from trusted vendors and review the vendors online before making a purchase
Never buy products or services advertised in spam email
Never opening attachments in World Cup-themed emails from unknown senders
Do not click hyperlinks in emails from unknown senders
Never click a hyperlink until you have checked the true domain and avoid clicking on shortened URLs
Ensure all software, including browsers and plugins, is patched and kept fully up to date
Ensure anti-virus software is installed and is kept up to date
Consider implementing a third-party spam filtering solution to prevent spam and malicious messages from being delivered – Something especially important for businesses to stop employees from being duped into installing malware on work computers.
Stay alert – If an offer seems to good to be true, it most likely is
According to data from the UK’s fraud tracking team, Action Fraud, there has been a massive rise in TSB phishing scams in the past few weeks. Customers of TSB have been duped into handing over their online banking credentials to scammers. Action Fraud is now receiving around 10 complaints a day from TSB customers who have fallen for phishing scams.
A Nightmare Scenario for TSB Customers
The problem that made the scams possible was the separation of the TSB banking system from Lloyds Bank, of which TSB was part until 2015. TSB moved over to a new core banking system provided by Banco Sabadell, the Spanish bank which took over TSB. That transition happened in April. Unfortunately for TSB and its customers, it did not go smoothly.
While migrating customer information to the new core banking system, many customers were locked out of their accounts and were unable to access their money. Some customers were presented with other customers’ bank accounts when they logged in online, and there have been cases of customers having money taken from their accounts without authorization, and transfers have been made to the wrong bank accounts. It is almost June, and the problems have still not been completely resolved.
Customers starting to experience problems over the weekend of 21/22 April and the problems were understandably covered extensively by the media with many customers taking to Social Media sites to vent their spleens over the chaos. For scammers, this was too good an opportunity to miss.
Action Fraud had received more than 320 reports of TSB phishing scams in the first three weeks in May. There were only 30 reports of such scams in the entire month of April. That’s an increase of 969%.
TSB Phishing Scams Soar
The situation was ideal for scammers. Many TSB customers could not access their accounts, so there was little chance of customers realizing they had been defrauded until it was too late.
TSB staff were overworked dealing with the IT problems and its helplines were overwhelmed with calls from customers unable to access their money. When customers realized they had been scammed they were unable to contact the bank quickly. There have been reports of customers seeing money taken from their accounts while they were logged in, yet they could not get through to customer support to stop transfers being made.
The TSB phishing scams used a combination of SMS messages, emails, and telephone calls to obtain customers banking credentials. As is typical in these types of scams, customers were sent links and were asked to use them to login to their accounts. The websites the bank’s customers visited looked exactly how they should. The only sign that the website was not genuine was the URL, otherwise the website was a carbon copy of the genuine TSB website.
Many victims of the scam had received an email or text messages, which was followed up with a voice call to obtain the 2-factor authentication code that would allow the scammers to gain access to the victim’s account. While the requests from the scammers may have seemed unusual or suspicious, this was an unusual situation for TSB customers.After that information was obtained, the scammers went to work and emptied bank accounts.
According to data from cybersecurity firm Wandera, TSB has now jumped to second spot in the list of the financial brands most commonly used in impersonation attacks. Prior to the IT problems, TSB wasn’t even in the top five.
With the bank’s IT issues ongoing, the TSB phishing scams are likely to continue at high levels for some time to come. The advice to TSB customers is to be extremely wary of any email, text message or call received from TSB bank. Scammers can spoof email addresses and phone numbers and can make text messages appear as if they have been sent by someone else.
Microsoft has released new figures that show there has been a sizeable increase in tech support scams over the past year. The number of victims that have reported these scams to Microsoft increased by 24% in 2017. The true increase could be much higher. Many victims fail to report the incidents.
According to Microsoft, in 2017 there were 153,000 reports submitted from customers in 183 countries who had been fooled by such a scam. While not all of the complainants admitted to losing money as a result, 15% said they paid for technical support. The average cost of support was between $200 and $400, although many individuals were scammed out of much more significant amounts. While victims may not willingly pay much more to fix the fictitious problem on their computers, if bank account details are provided to the scammers, accounts can easily be drained. One victim from the Netherlands claims a scammer emptied a bank account and stole €89,000.
The rise in complaints about tech support scams could, in part, be explained by more scammers pretending to be software engineers from Microsoft, prompting them to report the incidents to Microsoft when they realize they have been scammed.
However, the rise in tech support scams is backed up by figures released by the FBI. Its Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) received 86% more complaints in 2017 from victims of tech support scams. Around 11,000 complaints were received by IC3 about tech support scams last year and more than $15 million was lost to the scams.
It is easy to see why these scams are so attractive for would-be cybercriminals. In many cases, little effort is required to pull off the scam. All that is required in many cases is a telephone. Cold calling is still common, although many of the scams are now much more sophisticated and have a much higher success rate.
Email is also used. Some tech support scams involve warnings and use social engineering techniques to convince the recipient to call the helpline. Others involve malware, sent as an attachment or downloaded as a result of visiting a malicious website via a hyperlink supplied in the email.
Once installed, the malware displays fake warning messages that convince the user that they have been infected with malware that requires a call to the technical support department.
The use of popups on websites is common. These popups cannot be closed and remain on screen. Browser lockers are also common which serve the same purpose. To prompt the user to call the support helpline.
While many more experienced users would know how to close the browser – CTRL+ALT+DEL and shut down the browser via Windows Task Manager – less experienced users may panic and call the helpline number, especially when the popup claims to be from a well-known company such as Microsoft or even law enforcement.
The typical process used in these tech support scams is to establish contact by telephone, get the user to download software to remove a fictitious virus or malware that has previously been installed by the attackers. Remote administration tools are used that allows the scammer to access the computer. The user is convinced there is malware installed and told they must pay for support. Payment is made and the fictitious problem is fixed.
These techniques are nothing new, it is just that more cybercriminals have got in on the act and operations have been expanded due to the high success rate. Fortunately, there are simple steps to take that can prevent users from falling for these tech support scams.
To avoid becoming a victim of such a scam:
Never open any email attachments you receive from unknown senders
Do not visit hyperlinks in email messages from unknown senders
If contacted by phone, take a number and say you will call back. Then contact the service provider using verified contact information, not the details supplied over the telephone
If you are presented with a warning via a popup message or website claiming your device has been infected, stop and think before acting. Genuine warnings do not include telephone numbers and do not have spelling mistakes or questionable grammar
If you receive a warning about viruses online and want to perform a scan, download free antivirus software from a reputable firm from the official website (Malwarebytes, AVG, Avast for instance)
Before making any call, verify the phone number. Use a search engine to search for the number and see if it has been associated with scams in the past
ISPs and service providers rarely make unsolicited telephone calls to customers about viruses and technical issues and offer to fix the device
If you believe you are a victim of a tech support scam, report the incident to the service provider who was spoofed and notify appropriate authorities in your country of residence.
In the USA, that is the Federal Trade Commission or the FBI’s IC3; in the UK it is the National Fraud and Cyber Crime Reporting Center, the European Consumer Center in Ireland, or the equivalent organizations in other countries.
Providing security awareness training for employees helps to eradicate risky behaviors that could potentially lead to a network compromise. Training programs should cover all the major threats faced by your organization, including web-based attacks, phishing emails, malware, and social engineering scams via the telephone, text message, or social media channels.
All too often, businesses concentrate on securing the network perimeter with firewalls, deploying advanced anti-malware solutions, and implementing other technological controls such as spam filters and endpoint protection systems, yet they fail to provide effective security awareness training for employees. Even when security awareness training programs are developed, they are often once-a-year classroom-based training sessions that are forgotten quickly.
If you view security awareness training for employees as a once-a-year checkbox item that needs to be completed to ensure compliance with industry regulations, chances are your training will not have been effective.
The threat landscape is changing rapidly. Cybercriminals often change their tactics and develop new methods to attack organizations. If your security program does not incorporate these new methods of attack, and you do not provider refresher security awareness training for employees throughout the year, your employees will be more likely to fall for a scam or engage in actions that threaten the security of your data and the integrity of your network.
Many Businesses Fail to Provide Effective Security Awareness Training for Employees
One recent study has highlighted just own ineffective many security awareness training programs are. Positive Technologies ran a phishing and social engineering study on ten organizations to determine how effective their security awareness programs were and how susceptible employees are to some of the most common email-based scams.
These include emails with potentially malicious attachments, emails with hyperlinks to websites where the employee was required to enter their login credentials, and emails with attachments and links to a website. While none of the emails were malicious in nature, they mirrored real-world attack scenarios.
27% of employees responded to the emails with a link that required them to enter their login credentials, 15% responded to emails with links and attachments, and 7% responded to emails with attachments.
Even a business with 100 employees could see multiple email accounts compromised by a single phishing campaign or have to deal with multiple ransomware downloads. The cost of mitigating real world attacks is considerable. Take the recent City of Atlanta ransomware attack as an example. Resolving the attack has cost the city $2.7 million, according to Channel 2 Action News.
The study revealed a lack of security awareness across each organization. While employees were the biggest threat to network security, accounting for 31% of all individuals who responded to the emails, 25% were team supervisors who would have elevated privileges. 19% were accountants, administrative workers, or finance department employees, whose computers and login credentials would be considerably more valuable to attackers. Department managers accounted for 13% of the responders.
Even the IT department was not immune. While there may not have been a lack of security awareness, 9% of responders were in IT and 3% were in information security.
The study highlights just how important it is not only to provide security awareness training for employees, but to test the effectiveness of training and ensure training is continuous, not just a once a year session to ensure compliance.
Tips for Developing Effective Employee Security Awareness Training Programs
Employee security awareness training programs can reduce susceptibility to phishing attacks and other email and web-based threats. If you want to improve your security posture, consider the following when developing security awareness training for employees:
Create a benchmark against which the effectiveness of your training can be measured. Conduct phishing simulations and determine the overall level of susceptibility and which departments are most at risk
Offer a classroom-style training session once a year in which the importance of security awareness is explained and the threats that employees should be aware of are covered
Use computer-based training sessions throughout the year and ensure all employees complete the training session. Everyone with access to email or the network should receive general training, with job and department-specific training sessions provided to tackle specific threats
Training should be followed by further phishing and social engineering simulations to determine the effectiveness of training. A phishing simulation failure should be turned into a training opportunity. If employees continue to fail, re-evaluate the style of training provided
Use different training methods to help with knowledge retention
Keep security fresh in the mind with newsletters, posters, quizzes, and games
Implement a one-click reporting system that allows employees to report potentially suspicious emails to their security teams, who can quickly take action to remove all instances of the email from company inboxes
No matter how many cybersecurity solutions you have deployed or the maturity of your cybersecurity program, it is now essential for develop and effective security awareness program and to ensure all employees and board members are trained how to recognize email threats.
Threat actors are now using highly sophisticated tactics to install malware, ransomware, and obtain login credentials and email is the attack method of choice. Businesses are being targeted and it will only be a matter of time before a malicious email is delivered to an employee’s inbox. It is therefore essential that employees are trained how to recognize email threats and told how they should respond when a suspicious email arrives in their inbox.
The failure to provide security awareness training to staff amounts to negligence and will leave a gaping hole in your security defenses. To help get you on the right track, we have listed some key elements of an effective security awareness program.
Important Elements of an Effective Security Awareness Program
Get the C-Suite Involved
One of the most important starting points is to ensure the C-Suite is on board. With board involvement you are likely to be able to obtain larger budgets for your security training program and it should be easier to get your plan rolled out and followed by all departments in your organization.
In practice, getting executives to support a security awareness program can be difficult. One of the best tactics to adopt to maximize the chance of success is to clearly explain the importance of developing a security culture and to back this up with the financial benefits that come from having an effective security awareness program. Provide data on the extent that businesses are being attacked, the volume of phishing and malicious emails being sent, and the costs other businesses have had to cover mitigating email-based attacks.
The Ponemon Institute has conducted several major surveys and provides annual reports on the cost of cyberattacks and data breaches and is a good source for facts and figures. Security awareness training companies are also good sources of stats. Present information clearly and show the benefit of the program and what you require to ensure it is a success.
Get Involvement from Other Departments
The IT department should not be solely responsible for developing an effective security awareness training program. Other departments can provide assistance and may be able to offer additional materials. Try to get the marketing department on board, human resources, the compliance department, privacy officers. Individuals outside of the security team may have some valuable input not only in terms of content but also how to conduct the training to get the best results.
Develop a Continuous Security Awareness Program
A one-time classroom-based training session performed once a year may have once been sufficient, but with the rapidly changing threat landscape and the volume of phishing emails now being sent, an annual training session is no longer enough.
Training should be an ongoing process provided throughout the year, with up to date information included on current and emerging threats. Each employee is different, and while classroom-based training sessions work for some, they do not work for everyone. Develop a training program using a variety of training methods including annual classroom-based training sessions, regular computer-based training sessions, and use posters, games, newsletters, and email alerts to keep security issues fresh in the mind.
Use Incentives and Gamification
Recognize individuals who have completed training, alerted the organization to a new phishing threat, or have scored highly in security awareness training and tests. Try to create competition between departments by publishing details of departments that have performed particularly well and have the highest percentage of employees who have completed training, have reported the most phishing threats, scored the highest in tests, or have correctly identified the most phishing emails in a round of phishing simulations.
Security awareness training should ideally be enjoyable. If the training is fun, employees are more likely to want to take part and retain knowledge. Use gamification techniques and choose security awareness training providers that offer interesting and engaging content.
Test Employees Knowledge with Phishing Email Simulations
You can provide training, but unless you test your employees’ security awareness you will have no idea how effective your training program has been and if your employees have been paying attention.
Before you commence your training program it is important to have a baseline against which you can measure success. This can be achieved using security questionnaires and conducting phishing simulation exercises.
Conducting phishing simulation exercises using real world examples of phishing emails after training has been completed will highlight which employees are security titans and which need further training. A failed phishing simulation exercise can be turned into a training opportunity.
Comparing the before and after results will show the benefits of your program and could be used to help get more funding.
Train your staff regularly and test their understanding and in a relatively short space of time you can develop a highly effective human firewall that complements your technological cybersecurity defenses. If a malicious email makes it past your spam filter, you can be confident that your employees will have the skills to recognize the threat and alert your security team.
A city of Atlanta ransomware attack has been causing havoc for city officials and Atlanta residents alike. Computer systems have been taken out of action for several days, with city workers forced to work on pen and paper. Many government services have ground to a halt as a result of the attack.
The attack, like many that have been conducted on the healthcare industry, involved a variant of ransomware known as SamSam.
The criminal group behind the attack is well known for conducting attacks on major targets. SamSam ransomware campaigns have been conducted on large healthcare providers, major educational institutions, and government organizations.
Large targets are chosen and targeted as they have deep pockets and it is believed the massive disruption caused by the attacks will see the victims pay the ransom. Those ransom payments are considerable. Demands of $50,000 or more are the norm for this group. The City of Atlanta ransomware attack saw a ransom demand issued for 6 Bitcoin – Approximately $51,000. In exchange for that sum, the gang behind the attack has offered the keys to unlock the encryption.
SamSam ransomware attacks in 2018 include the cyberattack on the electronic health record system provider Allscripts. The Allscripts ransomware attack saw its systems crippled, with many of its online services taken out of action for several days preventing some healthcare organizations from accessing health records. The Colorado Department of Transportation was also attacked with SamSam ransomware.
SamSam ransomware was also used in an attack on Adams Memorial Hospital and Hancock Health Hospital in Indiana, although a different variant of the ransomware was used in those attacks.
A copy of the ransom note from the city of Atlanta ransomware attack was shared with the media which shows the same Bitcoin wallet was used as other major attacks, tying this attack to the same group.
SecureWorks, the cybersecurity firm called in to help the City of Atlanta recover from the attack, has been tracking the SamSam ransomware campaigns over the past few months and attributes the attacks to a cybercriminal group known as GOLD LOWELL, which has been using ransomware in attacks since 2015.
While many ransomware attacks occur via spam email with downloaders sent as attachments, the GOLD LOWELL group is known for leveraging vulnerabilities in software to install ransomware. The gang has exploited vulnerabilities in JBoss in past attacks on healthcare organizations and the education sector. Flaws in VPNs and remote desktop protocol are also exploited.
The ransomware is typically deployed after access to a network has been gained. SecureWorks tracked one campaign in late 2017 and early 2018 that netted the gang $350,000 in ransom payments. The earnings for the group have now been estimated to be in the region of $850,000.
Payment of the ransom is never wise, as this encourages further attacks, although many organizations have no choice. For some, it is not a case of not having backups. Backups of all data are made, but the time taken to restore files across multiple servers and end points is considerable. The disruption caused while that process takes place and the losses suffered as a result are often far higher than any ransom payment. A decision is therefore made to pay the ransom and recover from the attack more quickly. However, the GOLD LOWELL gang has been known to ask for additional payments when the ransom has been paid.
The city of Atlanta ransomware attack commenced on Thursday March 22, and with the gang typically giving victims 7 days to make the payment. The city of Atlanta only has until today to make that decision before the keys to unlock the encryption are permanently deleted.
However, yesterday there were signs that certain systems had been restored and the ransomware had been eradicated. City employees were advised that they could turn their computers back on, although not all systems had been restored and disruptions are expected to continue.
As of today, no statement has been released about whether the ransom was paid or if files were recovered from backups.
How to Defend Against Ransomware Attacks
The city of Atlanta ransomware attack most likely involved the exploitation of a software vulnerability; however, most ransomware attacks occur as a result of employees opening malicious email attachments or visiting hyperlinks sent in spam emails.
Last year, 64% of all malicious emails involved ransomware. An advanced spam filter such as SpamTitan is therefore essential to prevent attacks. End users must also be trained how to recognize malicious emails and instructed never to open email attachments or click on links from unknown senders.
Software must be kept up to date with patches applied promptly. Vulnerability scans should be conducted, and any issues addressed promptly. All unused ports should be closed, RDP and SMBv1 disabled if not required, privileged access management solutions deployed, and sound backup strategies implemented.
Phishing attacks in healthcare are to be expected. Healthcare providers hold vast quantities of data on patients. Hospitals typically employ hundreds or thousands of members of staff, use many third-party vendors, and historically they have had relatively poor cybersecurity defenses compared to other industry sectors. That makes them an attractive target for phishers.
Phishing is a method of gaining access to sensitive information which typically involves a malicious actor sending an email to an employee in which they attempt to get that individual to reveal their login credentials. This is achieved using social engineering techniques to make the email recipient believe the email is a genuine. For instance, a security alert could inform the email recipient that an online account has been compromised and a password change is required. They are directed to a spoofed website where they are asked to login. The site is fake but looks genuine.
Credentials are entered and passed to the attacker who uses them to gain access to that individual’s account. Phishing can also involve malware. Emails attempt to convince the recipient to open a malware-infected attachment or download a malicious file from a compromised website.
Compliance with HIPAA Rules Helps to Prevent Phishing Attacks in Healthcare
HIPAA Rules require healthcare providers to implement administrative, technical, and physical safeguards to reduce the risk of cyberattacks and phishing. HIPAA only demands a minimum standard for data security be reached, although complying with HIPAA Rules can help to prevent phishing attacks in healthcare.
HIPAA is not technologically specific on the defenses that should be used to protect patient data. Healthcare providers can choose appropriate defenses based on the results of a risk analysis.
It is possible for healthcare organizations to be compliant with HIPAA Rules but still be vulnerable to phishing attacks. If healthcare providers are to block the majority of phishing attacks and truly secure patients’ data, they must go above and beyond the requirements of HIPAA.
HHS’ Office for Civil Rights Warns of Phishing Attacks in Healthcare
Recent phishing attacks in healthcare have prompted the HHS’ Office for Civil Rights to issue a warning about the risk from phishing.
Attacks are now highly sophisticated and can be hard to detect. The emails are often free from spelling mistakes, have near perfect grammar, include brand images and logos, and appear to have been sent from genuine domains. The reasons given for taking a specific course of action are perfectly plausible as is the need for urgent action.
OCR also highlights the rise in spear phishing attacks in healthcare. These attacks involve more targeted attempts to gain access to sensitive information and can be conducted on specific individuals or groups of individuals in an organization – The payroll or HR department for instance.
These attacks often see a CEO or superiors impersonated to add legitimacy to the attack. These attacks tend to require the opening of attachments or visiting links to download malware. Spear phishing emails are also used to request bank transfers or for sensitive information to be sent via email – W2-Forms of employees for instance. Many healthcare employees have been fooled by these scams.
Recent Phishing Attacks in Healthcare
Listed below are some of the recent examples of phishing attacks in healthcare. This is just a small selection of incidents that have resulted in healthcare records being exposed or stolen. The reality is that many data breaches start with a phishing email. Security awareness training company Cofense suggests that as many as 91% of data breaches have their root in a phishing campaign.
November 2017: 1,670 patients of Forrest General Hospital have their PHI exposed following a phishing attack on business associate HORNE.
October 2017: Henry Ford Health System discovers several email accounts were compromised as a result of employees responding to phishing emails. The PHI of 18,470 patients may have been stolen.
September 2017: Employees of UPMC Susquehanna responded to phishing emails with the attackers able to gain access to the PHI of 1,200 patients.
September 2017: A phishing attack on Wisconsin-based Network Health resulted in the PHI of approximately 51,000 patients being exposed.
August 2017: Chase Brexton Health Care in Maryland experienced a phishing attack that saw several email accounts compromised along with the PHI of 16,000 patients.
July 2017: The Medical College of Wisconsin experienced a phishing attack that allowed attackers to gain access to email accounts and the PHI of 9,500 patients.
July 2017: RiverMend Health employees responded to phishing emails and their accounts were accessed by the attackers. The PHI of 1,200 patients was potentially viewed or stolen.
June 2017: A phishing attack on Elderplan Inc., saw several email accounts compromised along with the PHI of 22,000 individuals.
June 2017: MJHS Home Care experienced a phishing attack that saw email access gained by an unauthorized individual. The compromised email accounts contained the PHI of 6,000 patients.
Staff Training and Anti-Phishing Technology
HIPAA does not specifically mention spam filters, but since phishing is used to target employees via email, spam filtering can be considered essential. By filtering out the majority of spam and malicious messages there is less potential for an employee to click on a malicious link or open a malware infected email attachment.
SpamTitan is a cloud-based anti-spam service that blocks more than 99.9% of spam emails from being delivered to inboxes and has a 0.03% false positive rate. Dual antivirus engines (Bitdefender/ClamAV) ensure malicious email attachments are blocked.
Healthcare employees are the last line of defense, so it is important for them to be able to recognize email threats and anti-phishing training is a requirement of HIPAA. In July 2017, OCR issued advice to healthcare organizations on anti-phishing training in its cybersecurity newsletter.
OCR also recommends using multi-factor authentication to ensure email accounts are not compromised when a password is guessed or stolen. Software and operating systems must be kept up to date and fully patched to prevent vulnerabilities from being exploited, and anti-virus and anti-malware solutions should be deployed to prevent infection. Regular backups can also prevent data loss in the event of a malware or ransomware infection.
Cybercriminal gangs operating in Nigeria have been discovered to be using phishing kits in a highly sophisticated phishing campaign that has seen millions of dollars obtained from big businesses.
The scammers are regularly fooling employees into revealing their email login credentials – The first stage of the complex scam. The ultimate goal of the attackers is to gain access to corporate bank accounts and convince accounts department employees to make sizeable transfers to their accounts.
According to research conducted by IBM, these scams have been highly successful. Fortune 500 companies are being targeted and losses have been estimated to be of the order of several million dollars.
These scams take time to pull off and considerable effort is required on the part of the scammers. However, the potential rewards are worth the effort. Bank transfers of tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars can be made and business email accounts can be plundered.
A Sophisticated Multi-Stage Phishing Scam
In order to pull off the scam, the attackers must first gain access to at least one corporate email account. Access is gained using phishing emails, with social engineering tactics used to convince employees to click on a malicious link. Those links direct the email recipients to malicious DocuSign login pages where credentials are harvested. These malicious pages have been created on multiple websites.
According to IBM, the gang behind this campaign has created more than 100 of these pages, many of which have been loaded onto genuine websites that have been compromised by the attackers.
Once access to one email account is gained, it is easy to obtain email addresses from the contact list to fool other employees. When an email account is accessed, the attackers search the account for messages involving accounts and payments. The attackers then send emails carrying on conversations between staff members, inserting themselves into conversations and continuing active discussions.
“The attackers typically took a week between the point they gained initial access to a user’s email account and the time they started setting up the infrastructure to prepare a credible ruse,” said IBM’s X-Force researchers. “During this time, they likely conducted extensive research on the target’s organizational structure, specifically focusing on the finance department’s processes and vendors.”
By setting up email rules and filters, it is possible to block genuine conversations between the employees that could uncover the scam. By doing this, all conversations take place between a specific individual and the attacker.
This method of attack allows the attackers to gain access to banking credentials and send highly convincing emails requesting transfers to their accounts. Targeted employees are unlikely to be unaware that they are not emailing a legitimate contact.
This is a manual, labor-intensive scam involving no malware. That has the advantage of allowing the attackers to evade anti-malware technologies.
How to Protect Against These Sophisticated Email Scams
While these scams are complex, they start with a simple phishing email to gain access to a corporate email account. Once access to an email account has been gained, stopping the scam becomes much harder. The easiest time to prevent such an attack is at the initial stage, by preventing the phishing emails from reaching the inboxes of employees and training employees how to identify phishing emails.
That requires an advanced spam filtering solution that can identify the common signatures of spam and scam emails. By setting aggressive filtering policies, the vast majority of spam emails will be captured and quarantined. With the SpamTitan cloud-based anti-spam service, that equates to more than 99.9% of all spam and malicious emails. SpamTitan also has a particularly low false positive rate – less than 0.03% – ensuring genuine emails are still delivered.
No spam solution can be 100% effective, so it is also important to prepare the workforce and train staff how to identify malicious emails. Security awareness and anti-phishing training allows organizations to create a ‘human firewall’ to complement technical solutions.
Spear phishing – highly targeted email attacks – are harder to block, but it is possible to implement solutions to prevent scams such as this from resulting in credentials being obtained. In this campaign, links are sent in emails. By implementing a web filtering solution, those links can be blocked. In tandem with a spam filter, organizations with a security aware workforce will be well protected from phishing attacks.
Further, the use of two-factor authentication is an important security measure to implement. This will prevent attackers from using an unknown device to access an email account.
For further information on web filters and spam filters, and the benefits of installing them at your organization, contact the TitanHQ team today and take the first step toward improving your defenses against sophisticated phishing scams.
A new malware campaign has been detected that uses Microsoft Word without macros. Opening a Word document sent via email will not generate the usual warnings that macros must be enabled.
Employees may have been warned to be wary of any emails containing attachments, and never to enable macros on documents received via email. However, the use of Microsoft Word without macros means that even opening email attachments can see malware downloaded, if patches have not been applied.
The multi-stage infection process uses the CVE-2017-11822 Word vulnerability to install an information stealer. CVE-2017-11822 was patched by Microsoft last year, although companies that have not patched their systems recently will be vulnerable to this attack.
CVE-2017-11822 is a vulnerability in Office Equation Editor. The bug has been present in Microsoft Office for the past 17 years. Last year, Microsoft rated the code execution vulnerability as important rather than critical, but many security professionals disagreed and claimed the vulnerability was very dangerous as the bug could be exploited to run arbitrary code and the vulnerability was present in all Office versions.
Microsoft Equation Editor is an application that allows the insertion and editing of complex equations in Office documents as OLE items. Last year, security researchers were able to exploit the vulnerability to run a sequence of commands, including the downloading of files from the Internet. This campaign similarly triggers the downloading of a document – a Rich Text File (RTF) via an OLE object embedded in the Word document.
The OLE object opens the RTF file which uses the vulnerability to run a MSHTA command line, which downloads and runs an HTA file containing a VBScript. The VBScript unpacks a PowerShell script, which in turn downloads and runs the information-stealing malware. The purpose of the malware is to steal passwords from web browsers, email accounts and FTP servers.
The email campaign has been developed to target businesses. So far, four email templates have been detected by SpiderLabs researchers, although more will almost certainly be used over the coming days and weeks.
The four emails intercepted by have the subject lines:
TNT Statement of Account
Request for Quotation (RFQ)
Telex Transfer Notification
Swift Copy for Balance Payment
While a patch was released last year to address the vulnerability, Microsoft has taken further steps this Patch Tuesday by removing some of the functionality of Microsoft Equation Editor to prevent CVE-2017-11882 from being exploited.
Businesses can mitigate this attack in three main ways:
Ensuring Office installations and operating systems are kept patched and 100% up to date
Training end users on cybersecurity best practices and the danger of opening Office documents from unknown individuals. Consider sending a warning about this campaign and the email subject lines being used
The exponential growth in the price of cryptocurrencies has been accompanied by similar growth in email campaigns spreading cryptocurrency mining malware. There has also been a big rise in new mining malware variants, with three new malware variants detected in the past week. Conservative estimates suggest one malware variant has already been installed on at least 15 million systems, although the true figure could well be closer to 30 million.
The data comes from the cybersecurity firm Palo Alto Networks, which performed an analysis of the URLs used in the campaign using Bitly telemetry. It is difficult to determine how many systems have been affected since Bitly is not the only URL shortening service being used in the campaign. AdFly is also in use, which suggests the number of infected systems could well be twice as high.
The malicious links for this campaign are being sent in spam email. Clicking the links will direct the user to a malicious website containing executable files that install the Monero mining application XMRig using VBS scripts. The popularity of Monero mining is due to the lower processor demands than cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin. Monero mining can take place on less powerful computers such as those typically at home. In addition to spam email campaigns, the malicious executable files are being loaded to popular file sharing websites
Cryptocurrency mining malware does not pose such a big threat to organizations as other forms of malware and ransomware, but there are implications for businesses. The malware does require a considerable amount of processing power, so there will be an impact on performance on infected machines. Infection will see applications slow considerably, and that will have an impact on productivity.
Campaigns are also being conducted that target businesses. The aim is to installing cryptocurrency mining malware on business servers. These attacks are not email-based, instead vulnerabilities are identified and exploited to install the malware, with Apache Struts (CVE-2017-5638) and DotNetNuke (CVE-2017-9822) vulnerabilities commonly exploited.
Preventing Infection with Cryptocurrency Mining Malware
Businesses can prevent cryptocurrency mining malware from being installed on their servers by ensuring all applications are patched and kept up to date. The patch to fix the Apache Struts vulnerability was released in September 2017, yet many businesses have not applied the patch. The DNN vulnerability has also been patched.
The risk of infections on employee and home computers requires antivirus and antimalware software and an advanced spam filter to prevent malicious messages from reaching inboxes. Businesses should also be training their staff how to recognize malicious emails. Training programs and phishing email simulations have been shown to help reduce susceptibility to email-based attacks by up to 95%.
The past few months have also seen a rise in cryptocurrency mining malware infections via unsecured WiFi networks, with cybercriminals performing man-in-the-middle attacks that hack the WiFi sessions of any user connected to one of the rogue WiFi access points. Unsecured public WiFi hotspots should be avoided, or VPNs used.
In this post we explain two of the most important strategies to adopt to block phishing and ransomware attacks.
Ensure Malicious Messages Do Not Reach Inboxes
Last year, Netwrix released a report based on a survey that showed 100% of government IT workers believed employees were the biggest threat to security. While those figures are the highest of many such surveys, the common theme throughout all of the research is employees are the most likely cause of a data breach.
One of the biggest areas of weakness is email-based attacks. Research conducted by the Friedrich Alexander University in Germany suggests half of users click links in emails from unknown senders. Those links often lead employees to phishing and malware-laced websites. With such high click rates, it is no surprise that so many IT workers believe employees are the weakest link in their security defenses.
Stopping employees from taking risky actions is difficult, so organizations must do all they can to ensure malicious emails are not delivered to inboxes. Only then, can IT workers be sure that employees will not click links or open dangerous email attachments.
TitanHQ is a leading provider of spam filtering solutions for enterprises. SpamTitan ensures the vast majority of spam and malicious emails are identified and quarantined and are not delivered to inboxes. SpamTitan has been independently tested and shown to block 99.97% of spam emails, ensuring end users are protected. But what can organizations do to protect their employees from the 0.03% of emails that are delivered to inboxes?
There is No Silver Bullet That Will Block Phishing and Ransomware Threats 100% of the Time
No business can no survive without email and unfortunately, no spam filtering solution can block 100% of all spam emails, 100% of the time. At least not without also blocking many genuine messages. Organizations cannot rely on a spam filter to block phishing and ransomware threats. It is just one important layer of security. Several other layers are required.
Anti-virus and anti-malware solutions are essential for detecting malicious software, but these signature-based security controls are proving less and less effective as years go by. For instance, the solutions are not particularly good at detecting fileless malware.
Most businesses further reduce risk by implementing endpoint protection systems that can detect anomalies and unnatural behavior on endpoints, indicative of an intrusion, malware activity, or ransomware scanning for files and making changes.
However, AV software and endpoint detection systems only detect phishing and ransomware attacks when they are occurring. If you want to block phishing and ransomware attacks, the most effective solution is a human firewall.
IT departments can blame employees for being the weakest link when it comes to security, but if employees are not trained and shown how to recognize malicious emails, they will remain the biggest security threat to an organization.
The Human Firewall – The Best Defense Against Phishing, Malware, and Ransomware Emails
A firewall is the first line of defense, and anti spam software will help to keep inboxes free from malicious messages. The rear guard is made up of your employees. To ensure you have a strong defensive backline, you must provide security awareness training. Many employees do not know that they are taking big risks that could compromise the network. It is up to organizations to ensure that those risks are explained.
Most malware and ransomware attacks involve at least some user interaction: The clicking of a link, the opening of a malicious document, or the enabling of a macro. Employees must be told this is how malware is installed and how access to email accounts and networks is gained. By training the workforce to be more security aware, employees can be turned into a formidable last line of defense.
Security Awareness Training Should Be Continuous
While it was once possible to provide annual security training and be reasonably confident that employees would be able to recognize malicious emails, that is no longer the case. Email-based cyberattacks are now far more sophisticated, and cybercriminals are investing considerably more time in developing highly convincing campaigns. Cybercriminals’ tactics are constantly changing. Training programs must reflect that.
To develop a strong human firewall, training should be ongoing. An annual classroom-based training session should be accompanied by regular CBT training sessions, provided in bite-sized chunks. Cybersecurity should be kept fresh in the mind with monthly email bulletins, as well as ad hoc alerts about new threats.
Research conducted by several security awareness training companies shows, training is very effective. PhishMe, Wombat Security Technologies, and Knowbe4 all suggest that with regular training it is possible to reduce susceptibility to email-based attacks by up to 95%.
Test the Effectiveness of Security Awareness Training with Phishing Simulations
You can backup all your data to ensure you can recover files in the event of a disaster, but if your backups are never tested you can never be sure file recovery is possible.
Similarly, providing security awareness training to employees will not guarantee you have created a strong human firewall. Your firewall must be tested. By sending phishing simulations to your workforce you can find out just how effective your training has been. You can identify weak links – employees that have not grasped the concept of phishing and email security and those individuals can be scheduled additional training. Phishing simulation exercises also help to reinforce training. When a test is failed, it can be turned into a learning opportunity, which helps to improve knowledge retention.
Implement technological solutions to block phishing and ransomware attacks and train your employees and test them on all manner of email-based attacks. When the real deal arrives in an inbox they will be prepared and deal with it appropriately. Fail to block emails or provide high quality training, and your company is likely to have to deal with a costly, and potentially disastrous, email-based attack.
Tax season is open season for cybercriminals and phishers, who increase their efforts to obtain personal information and Social Security numbers in the run up to – and during – tax season. Until April, we can expect many W2 phishing attacks. Make sure you are prepared and do not fall for a scam.
Anatomy of a W2 Phishing Attack
The most common method of stealing the information needed to file fraudulent tax returns is phishing. Phishing emails are sent in the millions to individuals in an effort to obtain their sensitive information. Individuals must be on high alert for malicious emails during tax season, but it is businesses that are most likely to be targeted.
Payroll employees have access to the W2 forms of the entire workforce. If a single worker can be convinced to email the data, the attacker can file thousands of fraudulent tax returns in the names of employees.
The way cybercriminals get payroll staff to part with sensitive data is by impersonating the CEO or CFO in what is referred to as a Business Email Compromise Scam – otherwise known as a BEC attack or CEO fraud.
The most successful attacks require access to the CEO or CFO’s email account to be gained. That means the CEO or CFO must first be targeted with a spear phishing email and lured into parting with his/her login credentials. Once access to the email account is gained, the impostor can craft an email and send it to a select group of individuals in the company: Payroll and accounts department employees.
The company is researched, individuals likely to have access to W2 forms are identified, and emails are sent. A request is made to attach the W2 forms of all employees who worked for the company in the past year, or for a specific group of employees. A series of emails may be sent, rather than asking for the information straight away.
Since the attacker has access to the CEO’s or CFO’s email account, they can delete sent emails and replies before they are seen by the account holder.
An alternative way of conducting BEC attacks is to spoof an email address. The CFO or CEO is identified from social media sites or LinkedIn, the email address is obtained or guessed based on the format used by the company, and the email is made to appear as if it has come from that email account. An alternative is for the attacker to purchase a similar domain to that used by the company, with two transposed letters for instance. Enough to fool an inattentive worker.
Oftentimes, W2 phishing attacks are not detected until days or weeks after the W2 forms have been sent, by which times IRS tax refund checks have been received and cashed.
How to Defend Against W2 Phishing Attacks
There are several methods that can be used to block W2 phishing attacks. A software or cloud-based anti-spam service should be used to block attacks that come from outside the company. Configured correctly, the spam filter should block spoofed emails and emails sent from similar domains to that used by the company. However, a spam filter will not block emails that come from the CFO or CEOs account.
Multi-factor authentication should be set up on all email accounts to help prevent the first phish that gives the attacker access to a C-suite email address. W2 phishing attacks using spoofed email addresses are much easier to identify and block.
It is therefore important to raise awareness of the threat of W2 phishing attacks with accounts and payroll staff, and anyone else with access to W2 forms. Training can greatly reduce susceptibility to W2 phishing attacks. Training should also be provided to the C-suite, not just employees.
The number of staff who have access to W2 forms should be restricted as far as is possible. Policies should also be introduced that require any request for W2 data to be verified. At a minimum, a request for the data should be checked by a supervisor. Ideally, the request should be confirmed face to face with the sender of the email, or with a quick phone call. The scammers rely on this check not taking place.
More than 60 apps have now been removed from Google Play Store that were laced with AdultSwine Malware – A malware variant that displays pornographic adverts on users’ devices. Many of the apps that contained the malware were aimed at children, including Drawing Lessons Lego Star Wars, Mcqueen Car Racing Game, and Spinner Toy for Slither. The apps had been downloaded by between 3.5 and 7 million users before they were identified and removed.
While the malicious apps have been removed, users who have already downloaded the infected apps onto their devices must uninstall the apps to remove the malware. Simply deleting the apps from the Play Store only prevents more users from being infected. Google has said that it will display warnings on Android phones that have the malicious apps installed to alert users to the malware infection. It will be up to users to then uninstall those apps to remove the AdultSwine malware infection.
Apps Infected with AdultSwine Malware
Addon GTA for Minecraft PE
Addon Pixelmon for MCPE
Addon Sponge Bob for MCPE
Dragon Shell for Super Slither
Drawing Lessons Angry Birds
Drawing Lessons Chibi
Drawing Lessons Lego Chima
Drawing Lessons Lego Ninjago
Drawing Lessons Lego Star Wars
Drawing Lessons Subway Surfers
Easy Draw Octonauts
Exploration Lite: Wintercraft
Exploration Pro WorldCraft
Fire Skin for Slither IO app
Five Nights Survival Craft
Flash Skin for Slither IO app
Flash Slither Skin IO
Girls Exploration Lite
Guide Clash IO
Guide Vikings Hunters
How to Draw Animal World of The Nut Job 2
How to Draw Batman Legends in Lego Style
How to Draw Coco and The Land of the Dead
How to Draw Dangerous Snakes and Lizards Species
How to Draw Real Monster Trucks and Cars
Invisible Skin for Slither IO app
Invisible Slither Skin IO
Jungle Survival Craft 1.0
Jurassic Survival Craft Game
Mcqueen Car Racing Game
Mine Craft Slither Skin IO
Pack of Super Skins for Slither
Paw Puppy Run Subway Surf
Pixel Survival – Zombie Apocalypse
Players Unknown Battle Ground
San Andreas City Craft
San Andreas Gangster Crime
Shin Hero Boy Adventure Game
Spinner Toy for Slither
Stickman Fighter 2018
Subway Banana Run Surf
Subway Bendy Ink Machine Game
Subway Run Surf
Temple Bandicoot Jungle Run
Temple Crash Jungle Bandicoot
Temple Runner Castle Rush
Virtual Family – Baby Craft
Zombie Island Craft Survival
Malicious Activities of AdultSwine Malware
AdultSwine malware, and the apps that infect users, were identified and analyzed by security researchers at CheckPoint. The researchers note that once downloaded onto a device, the malware sends information about the user to its command and control server and performs three malicious activities: Displaying advertisements, signing up users to premium services, and installing scareware to fool victims into paying for security software that is not necessary. Information is also stolen from the infected device which can potentially be used for a variety of malicious purposes.
The advertisements are displayed when users are playing games or browsing the Internet, with the adverts coming from legitimate ad networks and the AdultSwine library. The AdultSwine malware library includes extreme adverts containing hardcore pornographic images. Those images appear on screen without warning.
The scareware claims the victim’s device has been infected with a virus that requires the download of an anti-malware app from the Google Play Store, although the virus removal tool is a fake app. Users are told that their phone will be rendered unusable if the app is not downloaded, with a countdown timer used to add urgency.
Registering for premium services requires the user to supply further information, which is done through pop-up phishing adverts. The user is told they have won a prize, but that they must answer four questions to claim their prize. The information they supply is used to register for premium services.
Preventing Infection of Mobile Devices
Generally, users can reduce the risk of a malware infection by only downloading apps from official app stores, although this latest malware campaign has shown that even official stores can be compromised and have malicious apps uploaded.
Google does scan all apps for malware, but new forms of malware can be sneaked into Google Play Store on occasion. Google has announced that from the end of January it will be rolling out a new service called Google Play Protect that is capable of scanning previously downloaded apps to ensure they are still safe to use.
Google recommends only downloading apps for children that have been verified by Google as being ‘Designed for Families’. Those apps may contain adverts, but they have been vetted and strict rules apply covering the advertisements that can be displayed.
It is also important to install some form of anti-malware solution – from a reputable and well-known company – that will scan downloaded content and apps for malware.
Digimine malware is a new threat that was first identified from a campaign in South Korea; however, the attacks have now gone global.
Ransomware is still a popular tool that allows cybercriminals to earn a quick payout, but raised awareness of the threat means more companies are taking precautions. Ransomware defenses are being improved and frequent backups are made to ensure files can be recovered without paying the ransom. Not only is it now much harder to infect systems with ransomware, rapid detection means large-scale attacks on companies are prevented. It’s harder to get a big payday and the ability to restore files from backups mean fewer organizations are paying up.
The surge in popularity of cryptocurrency, and its meteoric rise in value, have presented cybercriminals with another lucrative opportunity. Rather than spread ransomware, they are developing and distributing cryptocurrency miners. By infecting a computer with a cryptocurrency miner, attackers do not need to rely on a victim paying a ransom.
Rather than locking devices and encrypting files, malware is installed that starts mining (creating) the cryptocurrency Monero, an alternative to Bitcoin. Mining cryptocurrency is the verification of cryptocurrency transactions for digital exchanges, which involves using computers to solve complex numeric problems. For verifying transactions, cryptocurrency miners are rewarded with coins, but cryptocurrency mining requires a great deal of processing power. To make it profitable, it must be performed on an industrial scale.
The processing power of hundreds of thousands of devices would make the operation highly profitable for cybercriminals, a fact that has certainly not been lost on the creators of Digimine malware.
Infection with Digimine malware will see the victim’s device slowed, as its processing power is being taken up mining Monero. However, that is not all. The campaign spreading this malware variant works via Facebook Messenger, and infection can see the victim’s contacts targeted, and could potentially result in the victim’s Facebook account being hijacked.
The Digimine malware campaign is being spread through the Desktop version of Facebook Messenger, via Google Chrome rather than the mobile app. Once a victim is infected, if their Facebook account is set to login automatically, the malware will send links to the victim’s contact list. Clicking those links will result in a download of the malware, the generation of more messages to contacts and more infections, building up an army of hijacked devices for mining Monero.
Infections were first identified in South Korea; however, they have now spread throughout east and south-east Asia, and beyond to Vietnam, Thailand, Philippines, Azerbaijan, Ukraine, and Venezuela, according to Trend Micro.
A similar campaign has also been detected by FortiGuard Labs. That campaign is being conducted by the actors behind the ransomware VenusLocker, who have similarly switched to Monero mining malware. That campaign also started in South Korea and is spreading rapidly. Rather than use Facebook Messenger, the VenusLocker gang is using phishing emails.
Phishing emails for this campaign contain infected email attachments that download the miner. One of the emails claims the victim’s credentials have been accidentally exposed in a data breach, with the attachment containing details of the attack and instructions to follow to mitigate risk.
These attacks appear to mark a new trend and as ransomware defenses continue to improve, it is likely that even more gangs will change tactics and switch to cryptocurrency mining.
In this article we explore the cost of HIPAA noncompliance for healthcare organizations, including the financial penalties and data breach costs, and one of the most important technologies to deploy to prevent healthcare data breaches.
The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA)
In the United States, healthcare organizations that transmit health information electronically are required to comply with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). HIPAA was introduced in 1996 with the primary aim of improving healthcare coverage for employees between jobs, although it has since been expanded to include many privacy and security provisions following the introduction of the HIPAA Privacy and Security Rules.
These rules require HIPAA-covered entities – health plans, healthcare providers, healthcare clearinghouses and business associates – to implement a range of safeguards to ensure the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of protected health information (PHI). Those safeguards include protections for stored PHI and PHI in transit.
HIPAA is not technology specific, if that were the case, the legislation would need to be frequently updated to include new protections and the removal of outdated technologies that are discovered not to be as secure as was initially thought. Instead, HIPAA leaves the actual technologies to the discretion of each covered entity.
In order to determine what technologies are required to keep PHI secure, covered entities must first conduct a risk analysis: A comprehensive, organization-wide analysis of all risks to the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of PHI. All risks identified must be managed and reduced to an appropriate and acceptable level.
The risk analysis is one of the most common areas where healthcare organizations fall afoul of HIPAA Rules. Healthcare organizations have been discovered not to have included all systems, hardware and software in the risk analysis, or fail to conduct the analysis on the entire organization. Vulnerabilities are missed and gaps remain in security controls. Those gaps allow hackers to take advantage and gain access to computers, servers, and databases.
When vulnerabilities are exploited, and a data breach occurs, HIPAA-covered entities must report the security breach to the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office for Civil Rights (OCR): The main enforcer of HIPAA Rules. OCR investigates data breaches to determine whether they could realistically have been prevented and if HIPAA Rules have been violated.
What is the Cost of HIPAA Noncompliance?
When healthcare organizations are discovered not to have complied with HIPAA Rules, financial penalties are often issued. Fines of up to $1.5 million per violation category (per year that the violation has been allowed to persist) can be issued by OCR. The cost of HIPAA noncompliance can therefore be severe. Multi-million-dollar fines can, and are, issued.
The cost of HIPAA noncompliance is far more than any financial penalty issued by OCR, or state attorneys general, who are also permitted to issue fines for noncompliance. HIPAA requires covered entities to notify individuals impacted by a data breach. The breach notification costs can be considerable if the breach has impacted hundreds of thousands of patients. Each patient will need to be notified by mail. If Social Security numbers or other highly sensitive information is exposed, identity theft protection services should be offered to all breach victims.
Forensic investigations must be conducted to determine how access to data was gained, and to establish whether all malware and backdoors have been removed. Security must then be enhanced to prevent similar breaches from occurring in the future.
A data breach often sees multiple lawsuits filed by the victims, who seek damages for the exposure of their information. Data breaches have a major negative impact on brand image and increase patient churn rate. Patients often switch providers after their sensitive information is stolen.
On average, a data breach of less than 50,000 records costs $4.5 million to resolve according to the Ponemon Institute and has an average organizational cost of $7.35 million.
The 78.8 million-record breach experienced by Anthem Inc. in 2015 is expected to have cost the insurer upwards of $200 million. That figure does not include lost brand value and reputation damage, and neither a HIPAA fine from OCR.
A summary of the cost of HIPAA noncompliance, including recent fines issued by attorneys general and OCR has been detailed in the infographic below.
The Importance of Protecting Email Accounts
There are many ways that unauthorized individuals can gain access to protected health information – via remote desktop applications, by exploiting vulnerabilities that have not been patched, accessing databases that have been left exposed on the Internet, or when devices containing unencrypted PHI are stolen. However, the biggest single threat to healthcare data comes from phishing.
Research from PhishMe indicates more than 90% of data breaches start with a phishing email, and a recent HIMSS Analytics survey confirmed that phishing is the biggest threat, with email ranked as the most likely source of a healthcare data breach.
Protecting email accounts is therefore an essential part of HIPAA compliance. OCR has already fined healthcare organizations for data breaches that have resulted from phishing emails.
Healthcare organizations should implement a solution that blocks malicious emails and scans for malware and ransomware. In addition to technology, employees must also be trained how to identify malicious emails and taught to be more security aware.
How TitanHQ Can Help with HIPAA Compliance
TitanHQ developed SpamTitan to keep inboxes secure and prevent email spam, phishing messages, and malware from being delivered to inboxes. SpamTitan blocks more than 99.9% of spam email, and dual anti-virus engines ensure emails with malicious attachments are identified and quarantined. With SpamTitan, your organization’s email accounts will be protected – an essential part of HIPAA compliance.
WebTitan compliments SpamTitan and offers an additional layer of protection. WebTitan is a web filtering solution that allows you to carefully control the websites that your employees visit. WebTitan will prevent employees from visiting malicious websites via emailed hyperlinks, general web browsing, malvertising or redirects, protecting your organization from web-based attacks, drive by downloads of ransomware and malware, and exploit kit attacks.
For more information on TitanHQ’s cybersecurity solutions for healthcare, contact the TitanHQ team today.
Black Friday deals and Cyber Monday discounts see consumers head online in droves looking for bargain Christmas presents, but each year many thousands of consumers are fooled by holiday season email scams. This year will be no different. Scammers are already hard at work developing new ruses to fool unwary online shoppers into parting with their credentials or installing malware.
In the rush to purchase at discounted rates, security awareness often goes out the window and cybercriminals are waiting to take advantage. Hidden among the countless emails sent by retailers to advise past customers of the latest special offers and deals are a great many holiday season email scams. To an untrained eye, these scam emails appear to be no different from those sent by legitimate retailers. Then there are the phishing websites that capture credentials and credit card numbers and websites hosting exploit kits that silently download malware. It is a dangerous time to be online.
Fortunately, if you take care, you can avoid holiday season email scams, phishing websites, and malware this holiday period. To help you stay safe, we have compiled some tips to avoid holiday season email scams, phishing websites and malware this festive period.
Tips to Keep You Safe This Holiday Season
In the run up to Christmas there will be scams aplenty. To stay safe online, consider the following:
Always carefully check the URL of websites before parting with your card details
Spoofed websites often look exactly like the genuine sites that they mimic. They use the same layouts, the same imagery, and the same branding as retail sites. The only thing different is the URL. Before entering your card details or parting with any sensitive information, double check the URL of the site and make sure you are not on a scam website.
Never allow retailers to store your card details for future purchases
It is a service that makes for quick purchases. Sure, it is a pain to have to enter your card details each time you want to make a purchase, but by taking an extra minute to enter your card details each time you will reduce the risk of your account being emptied by scammers. Cyberattacks on retailers are rife, and SQL injection attacks can give attackers access to retailer’s websites – and a treasure trove of stored card numbers.
Holiday season email scams are rife – Be extra vigilant during holiday season
While holiday season email scams used to be easy to detect, phishers and scammers have become a lot better at crafting highly convincing emails. It is now difficult to distinguish between a genuine offer and a scam email. Emails contain images and company branding, are free from spelling and grammatical errors, and the email requests are highly convincing. Be wary of unsolicited emails, never open email attachments from unknown senders, and check the destination URL of any links before clicking.
If a deal sounds too good to be true, it probably is
What better time than holiday season to discover you have won a PlayStation 4 or the latest iPhone in a prize draw. While it is possible that you may have won a prize, it is very unlikely if you haven’t actually entered a prize draw. Similarly, if you are offered a 50% discount on a purchase via email, there is a high chance it is a scam. Scammers take advantage of the fact that everyone loves a bargain, and never more so than during holiday season.
If you buy online, use your credit card
Avoid the holiday season crowds and buy presents online, but use your credit card for purchases rather than a debit card. If you have been fooled by a holiday season scam or your debit card details are stolen from a retailer, it is highly unlikely that you be able to recover stolen funds. With a credit card, you have better protections and getting a refund is much more likely.
Avoid HTTP sites
Websites secured by the SSL protocol are safer. If a website starts with HTTPS it means the connection between your browser and the website is encrypted. It makes it much harder for sensitive information to be intercepted. Never give out your credit card details on a website that does not start with HTTPS.
Beware of order and delivery confirmations
If you order online, you will no doubt want to check the status of your order and find out when your purchases will be delivered. If you recent an email with tracking information or a delivery confirmation, treat the email as potentially malicious. Always visit the delivery company’s website by entering in the URL into your browser, rather than clicking links sent via email. Fake delivery confirmations and parcel tracking links are common. The links can direct you to phishing websites and sites that download malware, while email attachments often contain malware and ransomware downloaders.
Holiday season is a busy, but take your time online
One of the main reason that holiday season email scams are successful is because people are in a rush and fail to take the time to read emails carefully and check attachments and links are genuine. Scammers take advantage of busy people. Check the destination URL of any email link before you click. Take time to think before you take any action online or respond to an email request.
Don’t use the same password on multiple websites
You may choose to buy all of your Christmas gifts on Amazon, but if you need to register on multiple sites, never reuse your password. Password reuse is one of the easiest ways that hackers can gain access to your social media networks and bank accounts. If there is a data breach at one retailer and your password is stolen, hackers will attempt to use that password on other websites.
Holiday season is a time for giving, but take care online and when responding to emails to make sure your hard-earned cash is not given to scammers.
All organizations should take steps to mitigate the risk of phishing, and one of those steps should be training employees how to spot a phishing email. Employees will frequently have their phishing email identification skills put to the test.
Since all it takes is for one employee to fall for a phishing scam to compromise a network, not only is it essential that all employees are trained how to spot a phishing email, their skills should assessed post-training, otherwise organizations will not know how effective the training has been.
How Common are Phishing Attacks?
Phishing is now the number one security threat faced by businesses in all sectors. Research conducted by the security awareness training company PhishMe suggests that more than 90% of cyberattacks start with a phishing or spear phishing email. While all industry sectors have to deal with the threat from phishing, the education and healthcare industries are particularly at risk. They are commonly targeted by scammers and spammers, and all too often those phishing attacks are successful.
The Intermedia 2017 Data Vulnerability Report showed just how common phishing attacks succeed. Workers were quizzed on security awareness training and successful phishing attacks at their organizations. 34% of high level execs admitted falling for a phishing scam, as did 25% of IT professionals – Individuals who should, in theory, be the best in an organization at identifying phishing scams. The same study revealed 30% of office workers do not receive regular security awareness training. 11% said they were given no training whatsoever and have not been taught how to spot a phishing email.
Overconfidence in Phishing Detection Capabilities Results in Data Breaches
Studies on data breaches and cybersecurity defenses often reveal that many organizations are confident in their phishing defenses. However, many of those companies still suffer data breaches and fall for phishing attacks. Overconfidence in phishing detection and prevention leaves many companies at risk. This was recently highlighted by a study conducted by H.R. Rao at the University of Texas at San Antonio. Rao explained that many people believe they are smarter than phishers and scammers, which plays into the scammers’ hands.
Training Should be Put to The Test
You can train employees how to spot a phishing email, but how can you tell how effective your training has been? If you do not conduct phishing simulation exercises, you cannot be sure that your training has been effective. There will always be some employees that require more training than others and employees that do not pay attention during training. You need to find these weak links. The best way to do that is with phishing simulation exercises.
Conduct dummy phishing exercises and see whether your employees are routinely putting their training into action. If an employee fails a phishing test, you can single them out to receive further training. Each failed simulation can be taken as a training opportunity. With practice, phishing email identification skills will improve.
How to Spot a Phishing Email
Most employees receive phishing emails on a daily basis. Some are easy to identify, others less so. Fortunately spam filters catch most of these emails, but not all of them. It is therefore essential to train employees how to spot a phishing email and to conduct regular training sessions. One training session a year is no longer sufficient. Scammers are constantly changing tactics. It is important to ensure employees are kept up to speed on the latest threats.
During your regular training sessions, show your employees how to spot a phishing email and what to do when they receive suspicious messages. In particular, warn them about the following tactics:
Spoofed Display Names
The 2017 Spear Phishing Report from GreatHorn indicates 91% of spear phishing attacks spoof display names. This tactic makes the recipient believe the email has been sent from a trusted colleague, friend, family member or company. This is one of the most important ways to spot a phishing email.
Mitigation: Train employees to hover their mouse arrow over the sender to display the true email address. Train employees to forward emails rather than reply. The true email address will be displayed.
Email Account Compromises
This year, business email compromise (BEC) scams have soared. These scams were extensively used to obtain W-2 Form tax information during tax season. This attack method involves the use of real email accounts – typically those of the CEO or senior executives – to send requests to employees to make bank transfers and send sensitive data.
Mitigation: Implement policies that require any email requests for sensitive information to be verified over the phone, and for all new bank transfer requests and account changes to be verified.
Hyperlinks to Phishing Websites
The Proofpoint Quarterly Threat Report for Q3 showed there was a 600% increase in the use of malicious URLs in phishing emails quarter over quarter, and a 2,200% increase from this time last year. These URLs usually direct users to sites where they are asked to login using their email credentials. Oftentimes they link to sites where malware is silently downloaded.
Mitigation: Train employees to hover their mouse arrow over the URL to display the true URL. Encourage employees to visit websites by entering the URL manually, rather than using embedded links.
Security Alerts and Other Urgent Situations
Scammers want email recipients to take action quickly. The faster the response the better. If employees stop and think about the request, or check the email carefully, there is a high chance the scam will be detected. Phishing emails often include some urgent request or immediate need for action. “Your account will be closed,” “You will lose your credit,” “Your parcel will not be delivered,” “Your computer is at risk,” Etc.
Mitigation: Train employees to stop and think. An email request may seem urgent and contain a threat, but this tactic is commonly used to get people to take quick action without engaging their brains.
Look for Spelling Mistakes and Grammatical Errors
Many phishing scams come from African countries, Eastern Europe and Russia – Places where English is not the main language. While phishing scams are becoming more sophisticated, and more care is taken crafting emails, spelling mistakes and poor grammar are still common and are a key indicator that emails are not genuine.
Mitigation: Train employees to look for spelling mistakes and grammatical errors. Companies check their emails carefully before sending them.
Why a Spam Filter is Now Essential
Training employees how to spot a phishing email should be included in your cybersecurity strategy, but training alone will not prevent all phishing-related data breaches. There may be a security culture at your organizations, and employees skilled phish detectors, but every employee can have an off day from time to time. It is therefore important to make sure as few phishing emails as possible reach employees’ inboxes, and for that to happen, you need an advanced spam filtering solution.
SpamTitan blocks more than 99.9% of spam email and includes dual anti-virus engines to ensure malicious messages are blocked. The low false positive rate also ensures genuine emails do not trigger the spam filter and are delivered.
If you want to improve your security defenses, train employees how to spot a phishing email and implement SpamTitan to stop phishing emails from reaching inboxes. With technological and human solutions you will be better protected.
Handy Infographic to Help Train Staff How to Spot a Phishing Email
We have compiled a useful infographic to highlight how important it is to train staff how to spot a phishing email and some of the common identifiers that an email is not genuine:
A serious MS Office remote code execution vulnerability has been patched by Microsoft – One that would allow malware to be installed remotely with no user interaction required. The flaw has been present in MS Office for the past 17 years.
The flaw, which was discovered by researchers at Embedi, is being tracked as CVE-2017-11882. The vulnerability is in the Microsoft Equation Editor, a part of MS Office that is used for inserting and editing equations – OLE objects – in documents: Specifically, the vulnerability is in the executable file EQNEDT32.exe.
The memory corruption vulnerability allows remote code execution on a targeted computer, and would allow an attacker to take full control of the system, if used with Windows Kernel privilege exploits. The flaw can be exploited on all Windows operating systems, including unpatched systems with the Windows 10 Creators Update.
Microsoft addressed the vulnerability in its November round of security updates. Any unpatched system is vulnerable to attack, so it is strongly advisable to apply the patch promptly. While the vulnerability could potentially have been exploited at any point in the past 17 years, attacks exploiting this MS Office remote code execution vulnerability are much more likely now that a patch has been released.
The flaw does not require the use of macros, only for the victim to open a specially crafted malicious Office document. Malicious documents designed to exploit the vulnerability would likely arrive via spam email, highlighting the importance of implementing a spam filtering solution such as SpamTitan to block the threat.
End users who are fooled into opening a malicious document can prevent infection by closing the document without enabling macros. In this case, malware would be installed simply by opening the document.
Microsoft has rated the vulnerability as important, rather than critical, although researchers at Embedi say this flaw is “extremely dangerous.” Embedi has developed a proof of concept attack that allowed them to successfully exploit the vulnerability. The researchers said, “By inserting several OLEs that exploited the described vulnerability, it was possible to execute an arbitrary sequence of commands (e.g. to download an arbitrary file from the Internet and execute it),”
EQNEDT32.exe is run outside of the Microsoft Office environment, so it is therefore not subject to Office and many Windows 10 protections. In addition to applying the patch, security researchers at Embedi recommend disabling EQNEDT32.EXE in the registry, as even with the patch applied, the executable still has a number of other vulnerabilities. Disabling the executable will not impact users since this is a feature of Office that is never needed by most users.
2017 has seen a major rise in malicious spam email volume. As the year has progressed, the volume of malicious messages sent each month has grown. A new report from Proofpoint shows malicious spam email volume rose by 85% in Q3, 2017.
A deeper dive into the content of those messages shows cybercriminals’ tactics have changed. In 2017, there has been a notable rise in the use of malicious URLs sent via email compared to malicious attachments containing malware. URL links to sites hosting malware have jumped by an astonishing 600% in Q3, which represents a 2,200% increase since this time last year. This level of malicious URLs has not been seen since 2014.
The links direct users to malicious websites that have been registered by cybercriminals, and legitimate sites that have been hijacked and loaded hacking toolkits. In many cases, simply clicking on the links is all that is required to infect the user’s computer with malware.
While there is a myriad of malware types now in use, the biggest threat category in Q3 was ransomware, which accounted for 64% of all email-based malware attacks. There are many ransomware variants in use, but the undisputed king in Q3 was Locky, accounting for 55% of total message volume and 86% of all ransomware attacks. There was also a rising trend in destructive ransomware – ransomware that encrypts files but does not include the option of letting victims’ recover their files.
The second biggest malware threat category was banking Trojans, which accounted for 24% of malicious spam email volume. Dridex has long been a major threat, although in Q3 it was a Trojan called The Trick that become the top banking Trojan threat. The Trick Trojan was used in 70% of all banking Trojan attacks.
Unsurprisingly, with such as substantial rise in malicious spam email volume, email fraud has also risen, up 12% quarter over quarter and up 32% from this time last year.
Cybercriminals are constantly changing tactics and frequently switch malware variants and attack methods, but for the time being at least, exploit kits are still not favored. Exploit kit attacks are at just 10% of the level of last year’s high, with spam email now the main method of malware delivery.
With malicious spam email volume having increased once again, and a plethora of new threats and highly damaging malware attacks posing a very real risk, it is essential that businesses double down on their defenses. The best way to defend against email threats is to improve spam defenses. An advanced spam filtering solution is essential for blocking email threats. The more malicious emails that are captured and prevented from being delivered, the lower the chance of end users clicking on malicious links and downloading malware.
SpamTitan blocks more than 99.9% of spam emails and is one of the most advanced and best spam filters for business use. SpamTitan helps keep inboxes free from malware threats. No single solution can block all email threats, so a spam filtering solution should be accompanied with endpoint security solutions, web filters to block malicious links from being visited, antimalware and antivirus solutions, and email authentication technology.
While it is easy to concentrate on technology to protect against email threats, it is important not to forget to train employees to be more security aware. Regular training sessions, cybersecurity newsletters and bulletins about the latest threats, and phishing simulation exercises can help employees improve their threat detection skills and raise cybersecurity awareness.
On Friday, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) computer emergency readiness team (US-CERT) issued a new warning about phishing attacks on energy companies and other critical infrastructure sectors.
Advanced persistent threat (APT) actors are conducting widespread attacks on organizations in the energy, aviation, nuclear, water, and critical manufacturing sectors. Those attacks, some of which have been successful, have been occurring with increasing frequency since at least May 2017. The group behind the attack has been called Dragonfly by AV firm Symantec, which reported on the attacks in September.
DHS believes the Dragonfly group is a nation-state sponsored hacking group whose intentions are espionage, open source reconnaissance and cyberattacks designed to disrupt energy systems.
These cyberattacks are not opportunistic like most phishing campaigns. They are targeted attacks on specific firms within the critical infrastructure sectors. While some firms have been attacked directly, in many cases the attacks occur through a ‘staging’ company that has previously been compromised. These staging companies are trusted vendors of the targeted organization. By conducting attacks through those companies, the probability of an attack on the target firm succeeding is increased.
DHS warns that the attackers are using several methods to install malware and obtain login credentials. The phishing attacks on energy companies have included spear phishing emails designed to get end users to reveal their login credentials and malicious attachments that install malware.
In the case of the former, emails direct users to malicious websites where they are required to enter in their credentials to confirm their identity and view content. While some websites have been created by the attackers, watering hole attacks are also occurring on legitimate websites that have been compromised with malicious code. DHS warns that approximately half of the attacks have occurred through sites used by trade publications and informational websites “related to process control, ICS, or critical infrastructure.”
Phishing emails containing malicious attachments are used to directly install malware or the files contain hyperlinks that direct the user to websites where a drive-by malware download occurs. The links are often shortened URLS creating using the bit.ly and tinyurl URL shortening services. The attackers are also using email attachments to leverage Windows functions such as Server Message Block (SMB) protocol to retrieve malicious files. A similar SMB technique is also used to harvest login credentials.
The malicious attachments are often PDF files which claim to be policy documents, invitations, or resumés. Some of the phishing attacks on energy companies have used a PDF file attachment with the name “AGREEMENT & Confidential.” In this case, the PDF file does not include any malicious code, only a hyperlink to a website where the user is prompted to download the malicious payload.
US-CERT has advised companies in the targeted sectors that the attacks are ongoing, and action should be taken to minimize risk. Those actions include implementing standard defenses to prevent web and email-based phishing attacks such as spam filtering solutions and web filters.
Since it is possible that systems may have already been breached, firms should be regularly checking for signs of an intrusion, such as event and application logs, file deletions, file changes, and the creation of new user accounts.
FormBook malware is being used in targeted attacks on the manufacturing and aerospace sectors according to researchers at FireEye, although attacks are not confined to these industries.
So far, the attacks appear to have been concentrated on organizations in the United States and South Korea, although it is highly likely that attacks will spread to other areas due to the low cost of this malware-as-a-service, the ease of using the malware, and its extensive functionality.
FormBook malware is being sold on underground forms and can be rented cheaply for as little as $29 a month. Executables can be generated using an online control panel, a process that requires next to no skill. This malware-as-a-service is therefore likely to be used by many cybercriminals.
FormBook malware is an information stealer that can log keystrokes, extract data from HTTP sessions and steal clipboard content. Via the connection to its C2 server, the malware can receive and run commands and can download files, including other malware variants. Malware variants discovered to have already been downloaded by FormBook include the NanoCore RAT.
FireEye researchers also point out that the malware can steal passwords and cookies, start and stop Windows processes, and force a reboot of an infected device.
FormBook malware is being spread via spam email campaigns using compressed file attachments (.zip, .rar), .iso and .ace files in South Korea, while the attacks in the United States have mostly involved .doc, .xls and .pdf files. Large scale spam campaigns have been conducted to spread the malware in both countries.
The U.S campaigns detected by FireEye used spam emails related to shipments sent via DHL and FedEx – a common choice for cybercriminals. The shipment labels, which the emails say must be printed in order to collect the packages, are in PDF form. Hidden in the document is a tny.im URL that directs victims to a staging server that downloads the malware. The campaigns using Office documents deliver the malware via malicious macros. The campaigns conducted in South Korea typically include the executables in the attachments.
While the manufacturing industry and aerospace/defense contractors are being targeted, attacks have been conducted on a wide range of industries, including education, services/consulting, energy and utility companies, and the financial services. All organizations, regardless of their sector, should be alert to this threat.
Organizations can protect against this new threat by adopting good cybersecurity best practices such as implementing a spam filtering solution to block malicious messages and stop files such as ISOs and ACE files from being delivered to end users. Organizations should also alert their employees to the threat of attack and provide training to help employees recognize this spam email campaign. Macros should also be disabled on all devices if they are not necessary for general work duties, and at the very least, should be set to be run manually.