Spam News

Our spam news section provides up to date news on the latest threats that are likely to hit the inboxes of your employees. Cybercriminals are constantly changing tactics with new spam email campaigns, different social engineering techniques and new methods of installing malware and ransomware. By keeping up to date on the latest spam news, organizations can take timely action to mitigate risk.

In that regard, a spam filtering solution is essential. All it takes is for one employee to click on a malicious link or open an infected email attachment for an entire network to be compromised. A spam filter will check all incoming email messages and search for common spam signatures in addition to checking senders’ email accounts against blacklists of known spammers. Email attachments will be checked for virus signatures and hyperlinks compared to blacklists of known malicious domains.

Armed with the latest spam news, information security teams can send email alerts to their employees warning of pertinent threats that they need to be aware of.

This section also includes news on industry-specific attacks, in particular those that are being used to target the healthcare, education, financial services, legal and hospitality sectors.

Office 365 Phishing Emails Masquerade as Non-Delivery Notifications

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.

If the password is entered, a JavaScript function sends both the email address and password to the scammer. The user will then be redirected to the genuine outlook.office365.com website where they will be presented with a real Office 365 login box.

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 – postmaster@us.ibm.com – 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 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.

Irish Phishing Study Shows Millennials’ Confidence in Security Awareness is Misplaced

According to a recent Irish phishing study, as many as 185,000 office workers in the country have fallen victim to phishing scams.

Phishing is a method used by cybercriminals to obtain sensitive information such as login credentials, financial information, and other sensitive data. While phishing can take place over the phone, via messaging platforms or by text message, email is most commonly used.

Messages are sent in bulk in the hope that some individuals will respond, or campaigns can be much more targeted. The latter is referred to as spear phishing. With spear phishing attacks, cybercriminals often research their victims and tailor messages to maximize the probability of them eliciting a response.

A successful phishing attack on employees can see them disclose their email credentials which allows their accounts to be accessed. Then the attackers can search emails accounts for sensitive information or use the accounts to conduct further phishing attacks on other employees. When financial information is disclosed, business bank accounts can be emptied.

Businesses can suffer major financial losses as a result of employees responding to phishing emails, the reputation of the business can be damaged, customers can be lost, and there is also a risk of major regulatory fines.

Irish Phishing Study Findings

The Irish phishing study was conducted on 500 Irish office workers by the survey consultancy firm Censuswide. Respondents to the Irish phishing study were asked questions about phishing, whether they had fallen for a phishing scam in the past, and how they rated their ability to identify phishing attacks.

In line with findings from surveys conducted in other countries, 14% of respondents said they had been a victim of a phishing attack. There were also marked differences between different age groups.  Censuswide analyzed three age groups: Millennials, Gen X, and baby boomers. The latter two age groups were fairly resistant to phishing attempts. Gen X were the most phishing-savvy, with just 6% of respondents in the age group admitting to having been fooled by phishing emails in the past, closely followed by the baby boomer generation on 7%. However, 17% of millennials admitted having fallen for a phishing scam – The generation that should, in theory, be the most tech-savvy.

Interestingly, millennials were also the most confident in their ability to recognize phishing attempts. 14% of millennials said they would not be certain that they could detect fraud, compared to 17% of Gen X, and 26% of baby boomers.

It is easy to be confident about one’s ability to spot standard phishing attempts, but phishing attacks are becoming much more sophisticated and very realistic. Complacency can be very dangerous.

Phishing Protection for Businesses

The results of the Irish phishing study make it clear that businesses need to do more to protect themselves from phishing attacks. Naturally, an advanced spam filtering solution is required to ensure that employees do not have their phishing email identification skills put to the test constantly. SpamTitan, for instance, blocks more than 99.9% of spam and phishing emails, thus reducing reliance on employees’ ability to identify scam emails.

The Irish phishing study also highlights the importance of providing security awareness training to employees. The study revealed 44% of the over 54 age group had opened an attachment or clicked on a link in an email from an unknown sender, as had 34% of millennials and 26% of the Gen X age group. Alarmingly, one in five respondents said that their employer had not provided any security awareness training whatsoever.

Employees need to learn how to identify scams, so security awareness training must be provided. Since cybercriminals’ tactics are constantly evolving, training needs to be continuous. Annual or biannual training sessions should be provided, along with shorter refresher training sessions. Businesses should also consider conducting phishing email simulations to test resilience to phishing attacks and highlight weak links.

To be effective, anti-phishing training needs to be provided to all employees and requires buy-in from all departments. Unless that happens, it will be difficult to develop a culture of security awareness.

Office 365 Spam Filtering Controls Failed to Prevent Costly Malware Infection

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.

You can find out more about how SpamTitan improves protection for Office 365 in this article – Protecting Office 365 from Attack.

Sextortion Scams Now Combine Threat of Exposure with Multiple Malware Infections

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.

Warning About Uptick in Holiday Season Gift Card Scams

The search for Christmas gifts can be a difficult process. All too often that search proves to be unfruitful and consumers opt to buy gift cards instead. At least with a gift card you can be sure that your friends and family members will be able to buy a gift that they want; however, beware of holiday season gift card scams. Many threat actors are using gift cards as the lure to fool end users into installing malware or parting with sensitive information.

Holiday Season Sees Marked Increase Gift Card Phishing Scams

Holiday season gift card scams are commonplace, and this year is no exception. Many gift card-themed scams were detected over Thanksgiving weekend that offered free or cheap gift cards to lure online shoppers into parting with their credit card details.

Everyone loves a bargain and the offer of something for nothing may be too hard to resist. Many people fall for these scams which is why threat actors switch to gift card scams around this time of year.

Consumers can be convinced to part with credit card details, but businesses too are at risk. Many of these campaigns are conducted to gain access to login credentials or are used to install malware. If an end user responds to such a scam while at work, it is their employer that will likely pay the price.

This year has seen many businesses targeted with gift card scams. Figures from Proofpoint suggest that out of the organizations that have been targeted with email fraud attacks, almost 16% had experienced a gif card-themed attack: Up from 11% in Q2, 2018.

This year has also seen an increase in business email compromise (BEC) style tactics, with emails appearing to have been sent from within a company. The emails claim to have been sent from the CEO (or another executive) requesting accounts and administration staff purchase gift cards for clients or ask for gift cards be purchased to be used for charitable donations.

To reduce the risk from gift card scams and other holiday-themed phishing emails, businesses need to ensure they have powerful spam filtering technology in place to block the emails at source and prevent them from being delivered to inboxes.

Advanced Anti-Phishing protection for Office 365

Many businesses use Office 365, but even Microsoft’s anti-phishing protections see many phishing emails slip through the net, especially at businesses that have not paid extra for advanced phishing protection. Even with the advanced anti-phishing controls, emails still make it past Microsoft’s filters.

To block these malicious messages, an advanced third-party spam filter is required. SpamTitan has been developed to work seamlessly with Office 365 to improved protection against malware, phishing emails, and more sophisticated phishing attacks.

SpamTitan blocks more than 99.9% of spam email, while dual anti-virus engines block 100% of known malware. What really sets SpamTitan in a different class is the level of protection it offers against new threats. A combination of Bayesian analysis, greylisting, machine learning, and heuristics help to identify zero-day attacks, which often slip past Office 365 defenses.

If you want to improve protection from email-based attacks and reduce the volume of spam and malicious messages that are being delivered to Office 365 inboxes, give TitanHQ a call today and book a product demonstration to see SpamTitan in action. You can sign up for a free trial of SpamTitan to test the solution in your own environment and see for yourself the difference it makes.

Phishing Attacks on Retailers and Food Industry Install Remote Access Trojans

There has been an increase in phishing attacks on retailers, supermarket chains, and restaurants in recent weeks. The aim of the phishing attacks is to deliver remote access Trojans and remote manipulator software to gain persistent access to computers and, ultimately, obtain banking credentials and sensitive customer data on POS systems.

Several new campaigns have been detected in recent weeks targeting retail and food sector companies, both of which are well into the busiest time of the year. With employees working hard, it is likely that less care will be taken opening emails which gives cybercriminals an opportunity.

PUB Files Used in Phishing Attacks on Retailers

Over the past few weeks, security researchers have noted an uptick in phishing attacks on retailers, with one threat group switching to using.pub files to install malware. Many phishing attacks use Word documents containing malicious macros. The use of macros with .pub files is relatively uncommon. The change to this new attachment type may fool employees, as they will be less likely to associate these files with cyberattacks.

Social engineering techniques are used to fool end users into opening the files, with the .pub files masquerading as invoices. Many emails have been intercepted that appear to have been sent from within a company, which helps to make the files appear genuine.

If opened, the .pub files, via malicious macros, run Microsoft Installer (MSI) files that deliver a remote access Trojan. Since these installers will most likely be familiar to end users, they may not realize the installers are malicious. Further, the MSI files are time delayed so they do not run immediately when the .pub files are opened, increasing the probability that the RAT downloads will go unnoticed.

The TA505 threat group is using this tactic to install the FlawedAmmy remote access Trojan and other malicious payloads such as Remote Manipulator System (RMS) clients.

The phishing emails used to deliver these malicious files are targeted and tailored to a specific business to increase the likelihood of success. These targeted spear phishing attacks are now becoming the norm, as threat actors move away from the spray and pray tactics of old.

Cape Cod Community College Phishing Attack Results in Theft of More Than $800,000

Phishing attacks on retailers have increased, but other industries are also at risk. Educational institutions are also prime targets, as has been highlighted by a recent phishing attack on Cape Cod Community College.

The Cape Cod Community College phishing attack involved sophisticated messages that delivered malware capable of evading the college’s anti-virus software. The malware was used to obtain the banking credentials of the college, and once those credentials had been obtained, the hackers proceeded to make fraudulent transfers and empty bank accounts. Transfers totaling $807,130 were made, and so far, the college and its bank have only been able to recover $278,887.

All too often, fraudulent transfers are not detected quickly enough to recover any funds. Once the transfers have cleared the attacker-controlled bank accounts are emptied, after which the probability of recovering funds falls to near zero.

Defense in Depth the Key to Phishing Protection

Email is the primary vector used to phish for sensitive information and deliver malware to businesses. Regardless of whether businesses use local email systems or cloud-based email services such as Office 365, advanced spam filtering controls are required to block threats. For instance, SpamTitan blocks more than 99.9% of spam email and 100% of known malware. SpamTitan also uses heuristics, machine learning, and Bayesian analysis to identify previously unseen threats – One of the areas of weakness of Office 365’s anti-phishing defenses.

Network segmentation is also essential. Critical services must be separated to ensure that the installation of malware or ransomware on one device will not allow the attackers to gain access to the entire network. This is especially important for retailers and other businesses with POS systems. Network segmentation will help to keep POS systems and the financial data of customers secure.

Advanced endpoint protection solutions offer far greater protection than standard antivirus solutions and are less reliant on malware signatures. Standard AV solutions will only block known malware. With standard AV solutions, new malware variants can easily slip through the net.

End user security awareness training should be mandatory for all employees and training needs to be a continuous process. A once a year training session is no longer sufficient. Regular training throughout the year is required to ensure employees are made aware of the latest threats and tactics being used to gain access to login credentials and install malware.

For further information on improving email security to improve protection against phishing attacks, contact the TitanHQ team today.

Flash Player Vulnerability Being Actively Exploited via Spear Phishing Campaign

Adobe has issued an unscheduled update to correct flaws in Adobe Flash Player, including a zero-day vulnerability that is currently being exploited in the wild by an APT threat group on targets in Russia. One target was a Russian healthcare facility that provides medical and cosmetic surgery services to high level civil servants of the Russian Federation.

The zero-day flaw is a use-after-free vulnerability – CVE-2018-15982 – which allows arbitrary code execution and privilege execution in Flash Player. A malicious Flash object runs malicious code on a victim’s computer which gives command line access to the system.

The vulnerability was discovered by security researchers at Gigamon ATR who reported the flaw to Adobe on November 29. Researchers at Qihoo 360 identified a spear phishing campaign that is being used to deliver a malicious document and associated files that exploit the flaw. The document used in the campaign was a forged employee questionnaire.

The emails included a .rar compressed file attachment which contained a Word document, the vulnerability, and the payload. If the .rar file is unpacked and the document opened, the user is presented with a warning that the document may be harmful to the computer. If the content is enabled, a malicious command is executed which extracts and runs the payload – A Windows executable file named backup.exe that is disguised as an NVIDIA Control Panel application. Backup.exe serves as a backdoor into a system. The malicious payload collects system information which is sent back to the attackers via HTTP POST. The payload also downloads and executes shell code on the infected device.

Qihoo 360 researchers have named the campaign Operation Poison Needles due to the identified target being a healthcare clinic. While the attack appears to be politically motivated and highly targeted, now that details of the vulnerability have been released it is likely that other threat groups will use exploits for the vulnerability in more widespread attacks.

It is therefore important for businesses that have Flash Player installed on some of their devices to update to the latest version of the software as soon as possible. That said, uninstalling Flash Player, if it is not required, is a better option given the number of vulnerabilities that are discovered in the software each month.

The vulnerability is present in Flash Player 31.0.0.153 and all earlier versions. Adobe has corrected the flaw together with a DLL hijacking vulnerability in version 32.0.0.101.

TrickBot Malware Updated with POS Data Stealing Capabilities

A new module has been added to TrickBot malware that adds point-of-sale (POS) data collection capabilities.

TrickBot is a modular malware that is being actively developed. In early November, TrickBot was updated with a password stealing module, but the latest update has made it even more dangerous, especially for hotels, retail outlets, and restaurants: Businesses that process large volumes of card payments.

The new module was identified by security researchers at Trend Micro who note that, at present, the module is not being used to record POS data such as credit/debit card numbers. Currently, the new TrickBot malware module is only collecting data about whether an infected device is part of a network that supports POS services and the types of POS systems in use. The researchers have not yet determined how the POS information will be used, but it is highly likely that the module is being used for reconnaissance. Once targets with networks supporting POS systems have been identified, they will likely be subjected to further intrusions.

The new module, named psfin32, is similar to a previous network domain harvesting module, but has been developed specifically to identify POS-related terms from domain controllers and basic accounts. The module achieves this by using LDAP queries to Active Directory Services which search for a dnsHostName that contains strings such as ‘pos’, ‘retail’, ‘store’, ‘micros’, ‘cash’, ‘reg’, ‘aloha’, ‘lane’, ‘boh’, and ‘term.’

The timing of the update, so close to the holiday period, suggests the threat actors are planning to take advantage of the increase in holiday trade and are gathering as much information as possible before the module is used to harvest POS data.

The recent updates to TrickBot malware have been accompanied by a malicious spam email campaign (identified by Brad Duncan) which is targeting businesses in the United States. The malspam campaign uses Word documents containing malicious macros that download the TrickBot binary.

Protecting against TrickBot and other information stealing malware requires a defense-in-depth approach to cybersecurity. The main attack vector used by the threat actors behind TrickBot is spam email, so it is essential for an advanced anti-spam solution to be deployed to prevent malicious messages from being delivered to end users’ inboxes. End user training is also essential to ensure employees are made aware of the danger of opening emails from unknown senders, launching suspicious email attachments, and clicking hyperlinks in those messages.

Antivirus solutions and endpoint security controls should also be deployed to identify and quarantine potentially malicious files in case malware makes it past perimeter defenses.

Beware of this California Wildfire Scam

A California wildfire scam is circulating that requests donations to help the victims of the recent wildfires. The emails appear to come from the CEO of a company and are directed at its employees in the accounts and finance department.

It should come as no surprise that cybercriminals are taking advantage of yet another natural disaster and are attempting to con people into giving donations. Scammers often take advantage of natural disasters to pull on the heart strings and defraud businesses. Similar scams were conducted in the wake of the recent hurricanes that hit the United States and caused widespread damage.

The California wildfire scam, identified by Agari, is a form of business email compromise (BEC) attack. The emails appear to have been sent by the CEO of a company, with his/her email address used to send messages to company employees. This is often achieved by spoofing the email address although in some cases the CEO’s email account has been compromised and is used to send the messages.

The California wildfire scam contains one major red flag. Instead of asking for a monetary donation, the scammers request money in the form of Google play gift cards. The messages request the redemption codes be sent back to the CEO by return.

The emails are sent to employees in the accounts and finance departments and the emails request that the money be sent in 4 x $500 denomination gift cards. If these are sent back to the CEO, he/she will then forward them on to company clients that have been affected by the California wildfires.

The reason Google play gift cards are requested is because they can easily be exchanged on darknet forums for other currencies. The gift cards are virtually impossible to trace back to the scammer.

The messages are full of grammatical errors and spelling mistakes. Even so, it is another sign that the messages are not genuine. However, scams such as this are sent because they work. Many people have been fooled by similar scams in the past.

Protecting against scams such as this requires a combination of technical controls, end user training, and company policies. An advanced spam filtering solution should be used – SpamTitan for instance – to prevent messages such as these from reaching inboxes. SpamTitan checks all incoming emails for spam signatures and uses advanced techniques such as heuristics, machine learning, and Bayesian analysis to identify advanced and never-before-seen phishing attacks.

End user training is essential for all employees, especially those with access to corporate bank accounts. Those individuals are often targeted by scammers. Policies should be introduced that require all requests for changes to bank accounts, atypical payment requests, and wire transfers above a certain threshold to be confirmed by phone or in person before they are authorized.

A combination of these measures will help to protect businesses from BEC attacks and other email scams.

Stealthy Cannon Trojan Being Distributed Through Lion Air Spear Phishing Campaign

A previously unseen malware variant, dubbed the Cannon Trojan, is being used in targeted attacks on government agencies in the United States and Europe. The new malware threat has been strongly linked to a threat group known under many names – APT28, Fancy Bear, Sofacy, Sednet, Strontium – that has links to the Russian government.

The Cannon Trojan is being used to gather information on potential targets, collecting system information and taking screenshots that are sent back to APT28. The Cannon Trojan is also a downloader capable of installing further malware variants onto a compromised system.

The new malware threat is stealthy and uses a variety of tricks to avoid detection and hide communications with its C2. Rather than communicating over HTTP/HTTPS, like other malware variants used by APT28, the Cannon Trojan communicates via email over SMTPs and POP3S.

Once installed, an email is sent over SMTPS through port 465 and a further two email addresses are obtained through which the malware communicates with its C2 using the POP3S protocol to receive instructions and send back data. While the use of email for communicating with a C2 is not unknown, it is relatively rare. One advantage offered by this method of communication is it is more difficult to identify and block that HTTP/HTTPS.

The Cannon Trojan, like the Zebrocy Trojan which is also being used by APT28, is being distributed via spear phishing emails. Two email templates have been intercepted by Palo Alto Networks’ Unit 42 team, one of which takes advantage of interest in the Lion Air plane crash in Indonesia.

The Lion Air spear phishing campaign appears to provide information on the victims of the crash, which the email claims are detailed in an attached Word document titled Crash List (Lion Air Boeing 737).docx. The user must Enable Content to view the contents of the document. It is claimed that the document was created in an earlier version of Word and content must be enabled for the file to be displayed. Opening the email and enabling content would trigger the macro to run, which would then silently download the Cannon Trojan.

Rather than the macro running and downloading the payload straightaway, as an anti-analysis mechanism, the attackers use the Windows AutoClose tool to delay completion of the macro routine until the document is closed. Only then is the Trojan downloaded. Any sandbox that analyzes the document and exits before closing the document would be unlikely to identify it as malicious. Further, the macro will only run if a connection with the C2 is established. Even if the document is opened and content is enabled, the macro will not run without its C2 channel open.

The techniques used by the attackers to obfuscate the macro and hide communications make this threat difficult to detect. The key to preventing infection is blocking the threat at source and preventing it from reaching inboxes. The provision of end user training to help employees identify threats such as emails with attachments from unknown senders is also important.

Enhance Protection Against Zero-Day Malware and Spear Phishing

TitanHQ has developed a powerful anti-phishing and anti-spam solution that is effective at blocking advanced persistent threats and zero-day malware, which does not rely on signature-based detection methods. While dual anti-virus engines offer protection against 100% of known malware, unlike many other spam filtering solutions, SpamTitan uses a variant of predictive techniques to identify previously unseen threats and spear phishing attacks.

Greylisting is used to identify domains used for spamming that have yet to be blacklisted. All incoming emails are subjected to Bayesian analysis, and heuristics are used to identify new threats.

To further protect against phishing attacks, URIBL and SURBL protocols are used to scan embedded hyperlinks. SpamTitan also scans outbound mail to prevent abuse and identify attempted data theft.

For further information on SpamTitan, to book a product demonstration, or to sign up for a free trial of the full product, contact the TitanHQ team today.

Thanksgiving Themed Spam Emails Used to Spread Emotet Malware

There has been an increase in malspam campaigns spreading Emotet malware in recent weeks, with several new campaigns launched that spoof financial institutions – the modus operandi of the threat group behind the campaigns.

The Emotet malware campaigns use Word documents containing malicious macros. If macros are enabled, the Emotet malware payload is downloaded. The Word documents are either sent as email attachments or the spam emails contain hyperlinks which direct users to a website where the Word document is downloaded.

Various social engineering tricks have been used in these campaigns. One new tactic that was identified by Cofense is the wrapping of malicious hyperlinks in Proofpoint’s (PFPT) TAP URL Defense wrapping service to make the email appear benign.

According to Cofense, the campaign delivers Emotet malware, although Emotet in turn downloads a secondary payload. In past campaigns, Emotet has been delivered along with ransomware. First, Emotet steals credentials, then the ransomware is used to extort money from victims. In the latest campaign, the secondary malware is the banking Trojan named IcedID.

A further campaign has been detected that uses Thanksgiving themed spam emails. The messages appear to be Thanksgiving greetings for employees, and similarly contain a malicious hyperlink or document. The messages claim the document is a Thanksgiving card or greeting. Many of the emails have been personalized to aid the deception and include the user’s name. In this campaign, while the document downloaded appears to be a Word file, it is actually an XML file.

Emotet malware has been updated recently. In addition to stealing credentials, a new module has been added that harvests emails from an infected user. The previous 6 months’ emails – which include subjects, senders, and message content – are stolen. This new module is believed to have been added to improve the effectiveness of future phishing campaigns, for corporate espionage, and data theft.

The recent increase in Emotet malware campaigns, and the highly varied tactics used by the threat actors behind these campaigns, highlight the importance of adopting a defense in depth strategy to block phishing emails. Organizations should not rely on one cybersecurity solution to provide protection against email attacks.

Phishing campaigns target a weak link in security defenses: Employees. It is therefore important to ensure that all employees with corporate email accounts are taught how to recognize phishing threats. Training needs to be ongoing and should cover the latest tactics used by cybercriminals to spread malware and steal credentials. Employees are the last line of defense. Through security awareness training, the defensive line can be significantly strengthened.

As a frontline defense, all businesses and organizations should deploy an advanced spam filtering solution. While Office 365 email includes a basic level of protection against phishing attacks, a powerful third-party anti-phishing and spam filtering solution is required to provide protection against more sophisticated email attacks.

SpamTitan is an advanced email filtering solution that uses predictive techniques to provide superior protection against phishing attacks, zero-day attacks, and new malware variants that bypass signature-based defenses.

In addition to scanning message content, headers, attachments, and hyperlinks for spam and malware signatures, SpamTitan uses heuristics, machine learning, and Bayesian analysis to identify emerging threats. Greylisting is used to identify and block large scale spam campaigns, such as those typically conducted by the threat actors spreading banking Trojans and Emotet malware.

How SpamTitan Spam Filtering Works

How SpamTitan Protects Businesses from Email Threats

A web filter – such as WebTitan – adds an additional layer of protection against web-based attacks by preventing end users from visiting malicious websites where malware is downloaded. A web filter assesses all attempts to access web content, checks sites against blacklists, assesses the domain, scans web content, and blocks access to sites that violate its policies.

For further information on how you can improve your defenses against web-based and email-based attacks and block malware, ransomware, botnets, viruses, phishing, and spear phishing attacks, contact TitanHQ today.

New Dharma Ransomware Variant Detected

A new Dharma ransomware variant has been developed that is currently evading detection by the majority of antivirus engines. According to Heimdal Security, the latest Dharma ransomware variant captured by its researchers was only detected as malware by one of the 53 AV engines on VirusTotal.

Dharma ransomware (also known as CrySiS) first appeared in 2006 and is still being developed. This year, several new Dharma ransomware variants have been released, each using new file extensions for encrypted files (.bip, .xxxxx, .like, java, .arrow, .gamma, .arena, .betta, and .tron to name but a few). In the past two months alone four new Dharma ransomware variants have been detected.

The threat actors behind Dharma ransomware have claimed many victims in recent months. Successful attacks have been reported recently by Altus Baytown Hospital in Texas, the Arran brewery in Scotland, and the port of San Diego.

While free decryptors for Dharma ransomware have been developed, the constant evolution of this ransomware threat rapidly renders these decryptors obsolete.  Infection with the latest variants of the ransomware threat only give victims three options: pay a sizeable ransom to recover files, restore files from backups, or face permanent file loss.

The latter is not an option given the extent of files that are encrypted. Restoring files from backups is not always possible as Dharma ransomware can also encrypt backup files and can delete shadow copies. Payment of a ransom is not advised as there is no guarantee that files can or will be decrypted.

Protecting against ransomware attacks requires a combination of policies, procedures, and cybersecurity solutions. Dharma ransomware attacks are mostly conducted via two attack vectors: The exploitation of Remote Desktop protocol (RDP) and via email malspam campaigns.

The latest Dharma ransomware variant attacks involve an executable file being dropped by a .NET file and HTA file. Infections occur via RDP-enabled endpoints using brute force attempts to guess passwords. Once the password is obtained, the malicious payload is deployed.

While it is not exactly clear how the Arran brewery attack occurred, a phishing attack is suspected. Phishing emails had been received just before file encryption. “We cannot be 100 percent sure that this was the vector that infection occurred through, but the timing seems to be more than coincidental,” said Arran Brewery’s managing director Gerald Michaluk.

To protect against RDP attacks, RDP should be disabled unless it is absolutely necessary. If RDP is required, access should only be possible through a VPN and strong passwords should be set. Rate limiting on login attempts should be configured to block login attempts after a set number of failures.

Naturally, good backup policies are essential. They will ensure that file recovery is possible without payment of a ransom. Multiple copies of backups should be made with one copy stored securely off site.

To protect against email-based attacks, an advanced spam filter is required. Spam filters that rely on AV engines may not detect the latest ransomware variants. Advanced analyses of incoming messages are essential.

SpamTitan can improve protection for businesses through combination of two AV engines and predictive techniques to block new types of malware whose signatures have not yet been uploaded to AV engines.

For further information on SpamTitan and protecting your email gateway from ransomware attacks and other threats, speak to TitanHQ’s security experts today.

What are the Top Phishing Lures of 2018?

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.

Rank Phishing Subject/Theme Number of Reported Emails
1 Attached Invoice 4,796
2 Payment Notification 2,267
3 New Message in Mailbox 2,088
4 Online Order (Attachment) 679
5 Fax Message 629
6 Secure Message (MS Office Macro) 408
7 Online Order (Hyperlink) 399
8 Confidential Scanned document (Attachment) 330
9 Conversational Wire transfer (BEC Scam) 278
10 Bill Copy 251

 

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:

Rank Subject
1 You have a new encrypted message
2 IT: Syncing Error – Returned incoming messages
3 HR: Contact information
4 FedEx: Sorry we missed you.
5 Microsoft: Multiple log in attempts
6 IT: IMPORTANT – NEW SERVER BACKUP
7 Wells Fargo: Irregular Activities Detected on Your Credit Card
8 LinkedIn: Your account is at risk!
9 Microsoft/Office 365: [Reminder]: your secured message
10 Coinbase: Your cryptocurrency wallet: Two-factor settings changed

 

The most commonly clicked phishing lures in Q3 were:

Rank Subject % of Emails Clicked
1 Password Check Required Immediately 34%
2 You Have a New Voicemail 13%
3 Your order is on the way 11%
4 Change of Password Required Immediately 9%
5 De-activation of [[email]] in Process 8%
6 UPS Label Delivery 1ZBE312TNY00015011 6%
7 Revised Vacation & Sick Time Policy 6%
8 You’ve received a Document for Signature 5%
9 Spam Notification: 1 New Messages 4%
10 [ACTION REQUIRED] – Potential Acceptable Use Violation 4%

 

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.

New Office 365 Threat Uses Windows Components to Install Banking Trojans

A new Office 365 threat has been detected that stealthily installs malware by hiding communications and downloads by abusing legitimate Windows components.

New Office 365 Threat Uses Legitimate Windows Files to Hide Malicious Activity

The attack starts with malspam containing a malicious link embedded in an email. Various themes could be used to entice users into clicking the link, although one recent campaign masquerades as emails from the national postal service in Brazil.

The emails claim the postal service attempted to deliver a package, but the delivery failed as there was no one in. The tracking code for the package is included in the email and the user is requested to click the link in the email to receive the tracking information.

In this case, clicking the link will trigger a popup asking the user to confirm the download of a zip file, which it is alleged contains the tracking information. If the zip file is extracted, the user is required to click on a LNK file to receive the information. The LNK file runs cmd.exe, which executes a Windows Management Instrumentation (WMI) file: wmic.exe. This legitimate Windows file will be used to communicate with the attacker’s C2 server and will create a copy of another Windows file – certutil.exe in the %temp% folder with the name certis.exe. A script then runs which instructs the certis.exe file to connect to a different C2 server to download malicious files.

The aim of this attack is to use legitimate Windows files to download the malicious payload: A banking Trojan. The use of legitimate Windows files for communication and downloading files helps the attackers bypass security controls and install the malicious payload undetected.

These Windows files have the capability to download other files for legitimate purposes, so it is hard for security teams to identify malicious activity. This campaign targets users in Brazil, but this Office 365 threat should be a concern for all users as other threat actors have also adopted this tactic to install malware.

Due to the difficultly distinguishing between legitimate and malicious wmic.exe and certutil.exe activity, blocking an office 365 threat such as this is easiest at the initial point of attack: Preventing the malicious email from being delivered to an inbox and providing security awareness training to employees to help them identify this Office 365 threat. The latter is essential for all businesses. Employees can be turned into a strong last line of defense through security awareness training. The former can be achieved with a spam filtering solution such as SpamTitan. SpamTitan will prevent the last line of defense from being tested.

How to Block this Office 365 Threat with SpamTitan and Improve Email Security

Microsoft uses several techniques to identify malspam and prevent malicious messages from reaching users’ inboxes; however, while efforts have been made to improve the effectiveness of the spam filtering controls of Office 365, many malicious messages are still delivered.

To improve Office 365 security, a third-party spam filtering solution should be used. SpamTitan has been developed to allow easy integration into Office 365 and provides superior protection against a wide range of email threats.

SpamTitan uses a variety of methods to prevent malspam from being delivered to end users’ inboxes, including predictive techniques to identify threats that are misidentified by Office 365 security controls. These techniques ensure industry-leading catch rates in excess of 99.9% and prevent malicious emails from reaching inboxes.

How SpamTitan Spam Filtering Works

How SpamTitan Protects Businesses from Email Threats

Security Solutions for MSPs to Block Office 365 Threats

Many MSPs resell Office 365 licenses to their customers. Office 365 allows MSPs to capture new business, but the margins are small. By offering additional services to enhance Office 365 security, MSPs can make their Office 365 offering more desirable to businesses while improving the profitability of Office 365.

TitanHQ has been developing innovative email and web security solutions for more than 25 years. Those solutions have been developed from the ground up with MSPs for MSPs. Three solutions are ideal for use with Office 365 for compliance ad to improve security – SpamTitan email filtering, WebTitan web filtering, and ArcTitan email archiving.

By incorporating these solutions into Office 365 packages, MSPs can provide clients with much greater value as well as significantly boosting the profitability of offering Office 365.

To find out more about each of these solutions, speak to TitanHQ. The MSP team will be happy to explain how the products work, how they can be implemented, and how they can boost margins on Office 365.

Cyberattacks on Universities Rise as Hackers Search for Valuable Research Data

Hackers have been going back to school and entering higher education. Quite literally in fact, although not through conventional channels. Entry is gained through cyberattacks on universities, which have increased over the course of the past 12 months, according to figures recently released by Kaspersky Lab.

Cyberattacks on Universities on the Rise

Credit cards information can be sold for a few bucks, but universities have much more valuable information. As research organizations they have valuable proprietary data. The results of research studies are particularly valuable. It may not be possible to sell data as quickly as credit cards and Social Security numbers, but there are certainly buyers willing to pay top dollar for valuable research. Nation state sponsored hacking groups are targeting universities and independent hacking groups are getting in on the act and conducting cyberattacks on universities.

There are many potential attack vectors that can be used to gain access to university systems. Software vulnerabilities that have yet to be patched can be exploited, misconfigured cloud services such as unsecured S3 buckets can be accessed, and brute force attempts can be conducted to guess passwords. However, phishing attacks on universities are commonplace.

Phishing is often associated with scams to obtain credit card information or login credentials to Office 365 accounts, with businesses and healthcare organizations often targeted. Universities are also in the firing line and are being attacked.

The reason phishing is so popular is because it is often the easiest way to gain access to networks, or at least gain a foothold for further attacks. Universities are naturally careful about guarding their research and security controls are usually deployed accordingly. Phishing allows those controls to be bypassed relatively easily.

A successful phishing attack on a student may not prove to be particularly profitable, at least initially. However, once access to their email account is gained, it can be used for further phishing attacks on lecturers for example.

Spear phishing attacks on lecturers and research associates offer a more direct route. They are likely to have higher privileges and access to valuable research data. Their accounts are also likely to contain other interesting and useful information that can be used in a wide range of secondary attacks.

Email-based attacks can involve malicious attachments that deliver information stealing malware such as keyloggers, although many of the recent attacks have used links to fake university login pages. The login pages are exact copies of the genuine login pages used by universities, the only difference being the URL on which the page is located.

More than 1,000 Phishing Attacks on Universities Detected in a Year

According to Kaspersky Lab, more than 1,000 phishing attacks on universities have been detected in the past 12 months and 131 universities have been targeted. Those universities are spread across 16 countries, although 83/131 universities were in the United States.

Preventing phishing attacks on universities, staff, and students requires a multi layered approach. Technical controls must be implemented to reduce risk, such as an advanced spam filter to block the vast majority of phishing emails and stop them being delivered to end users. A web filtering solution is important for blocking access to phishing websites and web pages hosting malware. Multi-factor authentication is also essential to ensure that if account information is compromised or passwords are guessed, an additional form of authentication is required to access accounts.

As a last line of defense, staff and students should be made aware of the risk from phishing. Training should be made available to all students and cybersecurity awareness training for researchers, lecturers, and other staff should be mandatory.

Iceland Police Spoofed in Sophisticated Phishing Scam

Police in Iceland have said a highly sophisticated phishing attack is the largest ever cyberattack the country has ever experienced. The campaign saw thousands of messages sent that attempted to get Icelanders to install a remote access tool that would give the attackers full access to their computers.

The software used in this campaign is a legitimate remote access tool called Remcos. Remcos is used to allow remote access to a computer, often for the purpose of providing IT support, for surveillance, or as an anti-theft tool for laptop computers. However, while it was developed for legitimate use, because it gives the administrator full control over the computer once installed, it has significant potential to be used for malicious purposes. Unsurprisingly, Remcos has been used by cybercriminals in several malware campaigns in the past, often conducted via spear phishing campaigns. One notable attack involved the spoofing of the Turkish Revenue Administration, Turkey’s equivalent of the IRS, to get the RAT installed to provide access to victim’s computers.

The use of Remcos for malicious purposes violates the terms and conditions of use. If discovered, the developer can block the customer’s license to prevent use of the software. However, during the time that Remcos is present on a system, considerable harm can be caused – sabotage, theft of sensitive information, installation of malicious software, and file encryption with ransomware to name but a few.

As was the case in Turkey, the phishing campaign in Iceland attempted to fool end users into installing the program through deception. In this case, the emails claimed to have come from the Icelandic Police. The emails used fear to get recipients of the message to click a link in the email and download the remote access tool.

The emails informed the recipients that they were required to visit the police for questioning. Urgency was added by informing the recipient of the message that an arrest warrant would be issued if they failed to respond. Clicking the link in the email directed the user to what appeared to be the correct website of the Icelandic police. The website was a carbon copy of the legitimate website and required the visitor to enter their Social Security number along with an authentication code sent in the email to find out more information about the police case.

In Iceland, Social Security numbers are often required on websites to access official services, so the request would not appear unusual. On official websites, Social Security numbers are checked against a database and are rejected if they are not genuine. In this case, the attacker was also able to check the validity of the SSN, which means access to a database had been gained, most likely an old database that had been previously leaked or the attacker may have had legitimate access and misused the database.

After entering the information, a password protected archive was downloaded which allegedly contained documents with details of the case. The webpage provided the password to unlock the password protected archive, which contained a .scr file disguised as a Word document.

In this case, the RAT was augmented with a VBS script to ensure it ran on startup. The RAT had keylogging and password stealing capabilities and was used to steal banking credentials. After gaining access to banking credentials, the information was sent back to command and control servers in Germany and the Netherlands.

While the campaign looked entirely legitimate, a common trick was used to fool recipients of the email, which number in the thousands. The domain used in the attack closely resembled the official police website, logreglan.is but contained a lower case i instead of the second l – logregian.is.  A casual glance at the sender of the email or the domain name in the address bar would unlikely reveal the domain was not genuine. Further, the link in the email replaced the lower case i with a capital I, which is almost impossible to distinguish from a lower-case L.

The Icelandic police responded quickly to the attack and the malicious domain was taken down the following day. It is unknown how may people fell for the scam.

New Sextortion Scam: Emails Appear to Have Been Sent from User’s Email Account

A new sextortion scam has been detected that attempts to fool the recipient of the message into believing their email account has been compromised and that their computer is under full control of the attacker.

The scammers spoof the user’s email address so that it appears that the message has been sent from the user’s email account – The sender and the recipient names are identical.

A quick and easy check that can be performed to determine whether the sender name displayed is the actual account that has been used to send the email is to click forward. When this is done, the display name is shown, but so too is the actual email address that the message has been sent from. In this case, that check fails making it seem that the user’s email account has actually been compromised.

The messages used in this campaign attempt to extort money by suggesting the hacker has gained access to the user’s computer by means of a computer virus. It is claimed that the virus gives the attacker the ability to monitor the user’s internet activities in real time and use the computer’s webcam to record the user.

The attacker claims that the virus was downloaded to the computer as a result of the user visiting an adult website and that while viewing internet pornography the webcam was active and recording. “Your tastes are so weird,” states the scammer in the email.

The scammer claims that they will synch the webcam footage with the content that the user was viewing and send a copy of the video to all the user’s partner, friends, and relatives. It is claimed that all the user’s accounts have been compromised. The message also includes an example of one of the user’s passwords.

While it is extremely unlikely that the password supplied in the email is valid for any of the user’s account, the message itself will still be chilling for some individuals and will be enough to get them to make the requested payment of $800 to have the footage deleted.

However, this is a sextortion scam where the attackers have no leverage as there is no virus and no webcam footage. However, it is clear that at least some recipients were not willing to take a chance.

According to security researcher SecGuru, who received a version of the email in Dutch and found a similar English language version, the Bitcoin account used by the scammer had received payments of 0.37997578 Bitcoin – $3,500 – in the first two days of the campaign.  Now 7 days after the first payment was made, the earnings have risen to 1.1203 Bitcoin – $6,418 – with 15 individuals having paid.

This scam will no doubt be familiar to viewers of Black Mirror, a recent episode of which covered a very similar sextortion scam.

This tactic is nothing new. Many similar scams have been conducted in the past and many more will be in the future. What makes this campaign more chilling is the apparent hijacking of the email account and the highly effective spoofing.

A similar sextortion scam was conducted in the summer which also had an interesting twist. It used an old password for the account that had been obtained from a data dump. In that case, the password was real, at least at some point in the past, which made the scam seem genuine.

Office 365 Phishing Attacks Are Abusing Cloud Service Providers’ SSL Certificates

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:

To find out more about making Office 365 more secure and how SpamTitan can benefit your company, contact TitanHQ. Our highly experienced sales consultants will be able to advise you on the full range of benefits of SpamTitan, the best deployment option, and can offer you a free trial to allow you to personally evaluate the solution before committing to a purchase.

Cybercrime Losses in Germany Estimated to be €43 Billion

With the largest economy, the United States is naturally a major target for cybercriminals. Various studies have been conducted on the cost of cybercrime in the United States, but little data is available on cybercrime losses in Germany – Europe’s largest economy.

The International Monetary Fund produces a list of countries with the largest economies. In 2017, Germany was ranked fourth behind the United States, China, and Japan. Its GDP of $3,68 trillion represents 4.61% of global GDP.

A recent study conducted by Germany’s federal association for Information Technology – BitKom – has placed a figure on the toll that cybercrime is taking on the German economy.

The study was conducted on security chiefs and managers at Germany’s top 503 companies in the manufacturing sector. Based on the findings of that survey, BitKom estimated cybercrime losses in Germany to be €43 billion ($50.2 billion). That represents 1.36% of the country’s GDP.

Extrapolate those cybercrime losses in Germany and it places the global cost of cybercrime at $1 trillion, substantially higher than the $600 billion figure estimate from cybersecurity firm McAfee and the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in February 2018. That study placed the global percentage of GDP lost to cybercrime at between 0.59% and 0.80%, with GDP losses to cybercrime across Europe estimated to be between 0.79 to 0.89% of GDP.

Small to Medium Sized Businesses Most at Risk

While cyberattacks on large enterprises have potential to be highly profitable for cybercriminals, those firms tend to have the resources available to invest heavily in cybersecurity. Attacks on large enterprises are therefore much more difficult and time consuming. It is far easier to target smaller companies with less robust cybersecurity defenses.

Small to medium sized businesses (SMBs) often lack the resources to invest heavily in cybersecurity, and consequently are far easier to attack. The BitKom study confirmed that these companies, which form the backbone of the economy in Germany, are particularly vulnerable to cyberattacks and have been extensively targeted by cybercriminals.

It is not only organized cybercriminal groups that are conducting these attacks. Security officials in Germany have long been concerned about attacks by well-resourced foreign spy agencies. Those agencies are using cyberattacks to gain access to the advanced manufacturing techniques developed by German firms that give them a competitive advantage. Germany is one of the world’s leading manufacturing nations, so it stands to reason that the German firms are an attractive target.

Cybercriminals are extorting money from German firms and selling stolen data on the black market and nation-state sponsored hackers are stealing proprietary data and technology to advance manufacturing in their own countries. According to the survey, one third of companies have had mobile phones stolen and sensitive digital data has been lost by a quarter of German firms. 11% of German firms report that their communications systems have been tapped.

Attacks are also being conducted to sabotage German firms. According to the study, almost one in five German firms (19%) have had their IT and production systems sabotaged through cyberattacks.

Businesses Must Improve Their Defenses Against Cyberattacks

“With its worldwide market leaders, German industry is particularly interesting for criminals,” said Achim Berg, head of BitKom. Companies, SMBs in particular, therefore need to take cybersecurity much more seriously and invest commensurately in cybersecurity solutions to prevent cybercriminals from gaining access to their systems and data.

According to Thomas Haldenweg, deputy president of the BfV domestic intelligence agency, “Illegal knowledge and technology transfer … is a mass phenomenon.”

Preventing cyberattacks is not straightforward. There is no single solution that can protect against all attacks. Only defense-in-depth will ensure that cybercriminals and nation-state sponsored hacking groups are prevented from gaining access to sensitive information.

Companies need to conduct regular, comprehensive organization-wide risk analyses to identify all threats to the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of their data and systems. All identified risks must then be addressed through a robust risk management process and layered defenses implemented to thwart attackers.

One of the main vectors for attack is email. Figures from Cofense suggest that 91% of all cyberattacks start with a malicious email. It stands to reason that improving email security should be a key priority for German firms. This is an area where TitanHQ can help.

TitanHQ is a provider of world-class cybersecurity solutions for SMBs and enterprises that block the most commonly used attack vectors. To find out more about how TitanHQ’s cybersecurity solutions can help to improve the security posture of your company and block email and web-based attacks, contact the TitanHQ sales team today.

Python-Based PyLocky Ransomware Distributed in Spam Email Campaigns in Europe

A new Python-based form of ransomware has been detected that masquerades as Locky, one of the most widely used ransomware variants in 2016. The new ransomware variant has been named PyLocky ransomware by security researchers at Trend Micro who have observed it being used in attacks in Europe, particularly France, throughout July and August.

The spam email campaigns were initially sent in relatively small batches, although over time the volume of emails distributing PyLocky ransomware has increased significantly.

Various social engineering tactics are being used by the attackers to get the ransomware installed, including fake invoices. The emails intercepted by Trend Micro have included an embedded hyperlink which directs users to a malicious webpage where a zip file is downloaded. The zip file contains PyLocky ransomware which has been compiled using the PyInstaller tool, which allows Python applications to be converted to standalone executable files.

If installed, PyLocky ransomware will encrypt approximately 150 different file types including Office documents, image files, sound files, video files, databases, game files, archives, and program files. Files stored on all logical drives will be encrypted and the original copies will be overwritten. A ransom note is then dropped on the desktop which has been copied from the note used by the threat actors behind Locky, although the two cryptoransomware threats are unrelated. Ransom notes are written in French, English, Korean, and Italian so it is probable that the attacks will become more widespread over the coming weeks.

While Python is not typically used to create ransomware, PyLocky is not the only Python-based ransomware variant to have been created. Pyl33t was used in several attacks in 2017, and CryPy emerged in 2016. What makes the latest ransomware variant stand out is its anti-machine learning capabilities, which help to prevent analysis using standard static analysis methods.

The ransomware abuses Windows Management Instrumentation (WMI) to determine the properties of the system on which it is installed. If the total visible memory of a system is 4GB or greater, the ransomware will execute immediately. If it is lower than 4GB, the ransomware will sleep for 11.5 days – an attempt to determine if it is in a sandbox environment.

Preventing attacks requires a variety of cybersecurity measures. An advanced spam filtering solution such as SpamTitan will help to prevent the spam emails being delivered to end users’ inboxes. A web filter, such as WebTitan, can be employed to control the websites that can be accessed by end users and block malicious file downloads. Security awareness training will help to ensure that end users recognize the threat for what it is. Advanced malware detection tools are required to identify the threat due to its anti-machine learning capabilities.

There is no free decryptor for PyLocky. Recovery without paying the ransom will depend on a viable backup copy existing, which has not also been encrypted in the attack.

ICO and IQY Files Used in Spam Campaigns Delivering Marap and Loki Bot Malware

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.

Spam Email Campaign Distributing Marap Malware Targets Financial Institutions

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.

WhatsApp Phishing: Attacks Soar as Criminals Take Advantage of Lack of Anti-Phishing Protections

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.

AdvisorsBot: A Versatile New Malware Threat Distributed Through Spam Email

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.

Sextortion Phishing Emails Proving Lucrative for Scammers

A new sextortion phishing threat has been detected that is proving to have the desired effect. Many recipients of the emails have paid up to avoid being exposed.

On the face of it, this sextortion phishing scam is as simple as it gets. A threat actor claims to have taken control of the target’s computer and recorded them via their webcam while they were visiting an adult website. A threat is made to publicly release the video of them viewing pornography unless a payment is made.

For some recipients of such an email, such a threat would be enough to get them opening their Bitcoin wallet and making the payment without a second’s hesitation. Most people would likely see the email for what it really is. A scam and an empty threat.

However, a second variant of the email is being used that is a lot more personalized and includes a snippet of information to add credibility to the scam. The message includes the user’s password as ‘confirmation’ that it is not an empty threat. The attacker also claims, through compromising the target’s computer, to have obtained all the victim’s contacts including contacts in their social media accounts.

While the threat actor claims to have control of the user’s computer, that is not the case. The password has been obtained from a previous data breach and a list has likely been purchased on the darknet.

For many of the email recipients, the password will be old and will have been changed long ago. That may be enough in some cases to see payment made. However, for those who are still using that password, the threat may seem very real.

This is in reality a very simple scam that in many cases only works because despite the risk of failing to change passwords frequently, recycling old passwords, and reusing passwords on multiple sites, the practice is still commonplace.

It is not known how many emails have been sent by the scammers – most likely millions – but it only takes a handful of people to respond and make payment for the scheme to be profitable.

So far, at least 151 people have responded to the sextortion phishing scam and made a payment to one of 313 Bitcoin addresses known to be used by the scammers. So far, at least 30.08 BTC had been raised – Approximately $250,000 – from the scam as of July 26 and it has only been running for a few weeks. The researcher tracking the payments (SecGuru) pointed out that the attackers have made three times as much as the individuals behind the WannaCry ransomware attacks last year.

Even without the password, the sextortion phishing scam has proved effective. Payments have been made in both versions of the scam. The standard scam asks for a payment of a few hundred dollars, although the inclusion of a password sees the payment rise considerably. Some individuals have been told it will cost them $8,000 to prevent the release of the video. Some individuals have paid thousands to the scammers.

Given the widespread coverage of the scam, and its success rate, it is probable that many more similar schemes will be conducted. Variations along the same theme could direct recipients to a phishing website where they are enticed into disclosing their current password, to an exploit kit that downloads malware, or to another scam site.

Protecting against a scam such as this is easiest by using strong passwords, regularly changing them, and never reusing passwords on multiple sites. It is also worthwhile periodically checking to find out if their credentials have been exposed in a data breach on HaveIBeenPwned.com and immediately changing passwords if they have.

Anyone receiving a sextortion phishing email such as this should be aware that this is a scam. If the password included is currently being used, it is essential to change it immediately across all sites. And of course, set a strong, unique password for each account.

Why Are Email Account Compromises Soaring and How Can Email Accounts Be Protected?

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.

1.4 Million Patients Potentially Affected by UnityPoint Health Phishing Attack

In recent weeks, several large healthcare data breaches have been reported that have seen cybercriminals gain access to employees’ email accounts and sensitive data, although the recently disclosed UnityPoint Health phishing attack stands out due to the huge number of individuals that have been impacted and the extent of sensitive data exposed.

UnityPoint Health is one of the largest healthcare systems serving Iowa residents. The Des Moines-based healthcare provider recently discovered that its employees have been targeted in a phishing campaign that has seen several email accounts compromised. Those email accounts contained the sensitive information of approximately 1.4 million patients.

That not only makes this the largest phishing incident to have been suffered by a U.S. healthcare provider in 2018, it is also the largest healthcare data breach of 2018 and one of the most serious phishing attacks and data breaches ever reported.

The UnityPoint Health phishing attack has seen highly sensitive data compromised, including names, addresses, health insurance information, medical record numbers, diagnoses, treatment information, lab test results, medications, providers, dates of service, Social Security numbers, driver’s license numbers and, for a limited number of patients, their payment card information.

The phishing emails were sent to employees between March 14 and April 3, 2018, although the breach was not detected until May 31. As is common in phishing attacks on businesses, access to email accounts was gained through the impersonation of a senior executive.

A series of spoofed emails were sent to employees that appeared to have come from a trusted executive’s email account. Employees who opened the email were instructed to click a link that required them to enter their email login information. That information was captured by the attackers who were then able to gain access to the employees’ email accounts.

The UnityPoint Health phishing attack potentially gave the hackers access to all the information stored in the compromised email accounts – Information that could be used for identity theft and fraud. It is unclear whether mailboxes were downloaded, although UnityPoint Health said its forensic investigation suggests that the primary goal was to divert payroll payments and to use account access to fool accounts department staff into making fraudulent wire transfers. It is unclear if any of those attempts succeeded.

This is also not the only UnityPoint Health phishing attack to be reported this year. In March, UnityPoint Health announced that 16,400 patients had been affected by a separate phishing attack that saw multiple email accounts compromised.

The latest incident has prompted the healthcare provider to implement new technology to detect phishing and BEC attacks, multi-factor authentication has been implemented, and additional security awareness training has been provided to employees. Credit monitoring and identify theft monitoring services have been offered to patients whose driver’s license or Social Security number has been exposed, and all patients have been notified by mail.

As the Ponemon Institute’s 2018 Cost of a Data Breach Study showed, the cost of these million-record+ data breaches is considerable. The average cost of such a breach was estimated to be around $40 million.

Cryptojacking Attacks Replace Ransomware as Primary Threat

There has been a major increase in cryptojacking attacks in recent months. Many cybercriminal gangs now favoring this method of attack over ransomware and other forms of malware and are taking advantage of the high value of cryptocurrencies.

As with ransomware attacks, cybercriminals need to install malicious code on computers. Instead of encrypting files like ransomware, the code is used to mine for cryptocurrency. Mining cryptocurrencies involves a computers CPU being used to solve complex computational problems, which are necessary for verifying cryptocurrency transactions and adding to the blockchain. In exchange for verifying transactions, the miner is paid a small amount for the effort.

Devoting one computer to the task of cryptocurrency mining could generate a few dollars a day. Using multiple computers for the task can generate a substantial return. The more computers that are used, the more blocks can be added to the blockchain and the greater the profits. When a network of cryptocurrency mining slave computers can be amassed, the profits can be considerable. According to Kaspersky Lab, one cryptojacking gang that focusses on infecting enterprise servers and spreading the malicious code using NSA exploits, has generated around 9,000 Monero, which equates to $2 million.

Not all computers are suitable for mining cryptocurrency. One cybercriminal gang has got around this by developing malware that can decide whether to deploy a cryptocurrency miner or ransomware, with the decision based on the processing power of the computer. If its not suitable for use mining cryptocurrency, ransomware is deployed. This tactic helps maximize profits after compromising a device.

The use of cryptocurrency miners increased sharply last year as the value of cryptocurrencies started to soar. The price of those cryptocurrencies may have fallen, but cryptojacking attacks are still on the rise. The volume of new cryptojacking malware variants has also increased considerably over the past few months.  Figures from McAfee indicate the number of cryptojacking malware variants increased by a staggering 1,189% in the first three months of 2018 alone, rising from around 400,000 malware variants to more than 2.9 million.

Over the same time frame, there has been a fall in the number of ransomware attacks. In Q1, ransomware attacks fell by around 32%, indicating threat actors who previously used ransomware to make money have changed their tactics and are now using cryptocurrency miners.

Ransomware attacks falling by a third is certainly good news, although the threat from ransomware cannot be ignored. Steps must be taken to prevent the installation of the file encrypting code and good backup practices are essential to ensure files can be recovered in the event of an attack. Certain industries face a higher risk of ransomware attacks than others, such as the healthcare industry, where attacks are still rife.

Cryptojacking attacks are more widespread, although the education sector has proven to be a major target. Many mining operations have been discovered in the education sector, although it is unclear whether these mining operations are legitimate, computers are being used by students to mine cryptocurrency, or if educational institutions are being targeted.

One thing is clear. As the value of cryptocurrencies rose, the number of mining attacks increased. That suggests that should prices fall, cybercriminals will switch to other types of attacks, and there could be a resurgence in ransomware attacks.

It could be argued that the installation of cryptocurrency mining malware on a computer is far less of a problem than ransomware or other forms of malware. When the CPU is mining cryptocurrency, the user is likely to find their computer somewhat sluggish. This can result in a drop in productivity. Heavy processing can also cause computers to overheat and hardware damage can result.

Cryptojacking malware is usually installed by a downloader, which can remain on a computer. If the profits from mining cryptocurrency fall, new malware variants could easily be downloaded in its place. Cryptocurrency mining malware can also be bundled with other malware variants that steal sensitive information. Cryptojacking attacks are therefore a major threat.

Protecting against cryptojacking attacks involves the same security controls that are used to block other forms of malware. Cryptojacking malware can be installed by exploiting vulnerabilities so good patch management is essential. Spam and phishing emails are used to install malware downloaders, so an advanced spam filtering solution is a must. Web filters can prevent web-based mining attacks and malware downloads and offer an important extra layer of protection. It is also important not to neglect end users. Security awareness training can help to eradicate risky behaviors.

Additionally, security audits should be conducted, first to scan for the presence of cryptojacking malware, which includes searching for anomalies that could indicate the presence of the malware. Those audits should include servers, end points, POS systems, and all other systems. Any system connected to the network could potentially be used for mining cryptocurrency.

New Rakhni Ransomware Variant Decides Whether to Encrypt Files or Turn Device into a Cryptocurrency Miner

Rakhni ransomware, a malware variant first detected in 2013, has spawned many variants over the past three years and is still an active threat. Rakhni ransomware locks files on an infected device to prevent the user from accessing their data. A ransom demand is issued and if payment is made, the attackers will supply the keys to unlock the encryption. If the ransom is not paid the files will remain encrypted. In such cases, the only option for file recovery is to restore files from backups.

Now the developers of Rakhni ransomware have incorporated new functionality. Checks are performed on an infected device to determine whether it has sufficient processing power to be used as a cryptocurrency mining slave. If so, cryptocurrency mining malware will be downloaded. If not, ransomware will be deployed.

This new development should not come as a major surprise. The massive rise in the value of many cryptocurrencies has made mining cryptocurrencies far more profitable for cybercriminals than ransomware. When ransomware is installed, many victims choose not to pay and instead recover files from backups. Infection is no guarantee that a payment will be received. If a cryptocurrency miner can be installed, it gets straight to work generating money for the attackers. Ransomware attacks are still a major threat, although many cybercriminals have switched their operations to mining cryptocurrencies. In fact, cryptocurrency mining malware attacks are now much more common than ransomware attacks.

However, not all computers have sufficient CPU processing power to make cryptocurrency mining worthwhile, so the method used by the threat actors behind Rakhni ransomware helps them maximize their profits.

The new Rakhni ransomware campaign was detected by researchers at Kaspersky Lab. The malware used is Delphi-based and is being distributed in phishing emails containing a Microsoft Word file attachment.

The user is advised to save the document and enable editing. The document contains a PDF file icon which, if clicked, launches a fake error message suggesting the DLL file required to open the PDF file has not been found. The user needs to click on the OK box to close the error message.

When the error box is closed, the malware performs a series of checks on the machine to identify the processes running on the device and assesses those processes to determine if it is running in a sandbox environment and the likelihood of it being able to run undetected. After these checks have been performed the system is assessed to determine its capabilities.

If the machine has more than two processors and does not have a Bitcoin folder in the AppData folder, a cryptocurrency miner will be installed. The cryptocurrency miner uses fake root certificates which show the program has been issued by Microsoft Corporation to help disguise the miner as a trusted application.

If a Bitcoin folder does exist, certain processes will be stopped, and Rakhni ransomware will be downloaded and run. If there is no Bitcoin folder and only one processor, the malware will use its worm component and twill attempt to spread to other devices on the network where the process starts over.

Advanced anti-virus software can provide protection against this attack, while spam filtering solutions can prevent the phishing emails from being delivered to end users. Businesses should also ensure that their employees are made aware of the risk of these types of attacks through security awareness training. Employees should be instructed never to open attachments in emails from unknown senders and taught the warning signs of a potential attack in progress. Naturally, good data backup practices are essential to ensure that if all other controls fail, files can be recovered without paying a ransom.

Children’s Mercy Hospital Phishing Attack Highlights Need for Effective Anti-Phishing Protections

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.

FBI 2017 Internet Crime Report: $1.4 Billion Lost to Business Email Compromise Scams

The FBI has published its 2017 Internet Crime Report, which details the main types of online crime reported to its Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3).

In 2017, businesses and consumers reported 301,580 incidents to IC3 and more than $1.4 billion was lost to cybercriminals. Of course, these are only reported losses. Many Internet crimes go unreported, so the true losses are likely to be substantially higher.

2017 saw more complaints of Internet crime than any other year since 2013 when the reports first started to be published.

Identity theft and corporate data breaches often make the headlines, although by far the biggest area of criminal activity are business email compromise (BEC) scams – or email account compromise (EAC) when the scams target individuals.

Business Email Compromise Scams – The Main Cause of Losses in 2017

More than three times as much money was lost to BEC and EAC scams than the next highest cause of losses: confidence fraud/romance scams. In 2017, the reported losses from BEC/EAC scams was $676,151,185.

Business email compromise and email account compromise scams involve the use of a compromised email account to convince individuals to make transfers of funds to accounts controlled by criminals or to send sensitive data via email.

BEC scams usually start with compromising the email account of the CEO, CFO or another board member – which is why this type of scam is also known as CEO fraud. Access to the executive’s email account is gained via brute force guessing of passwords or, most commonly, social engineering techniques and phishing scams.

Once access to the email account is gained, an email conversation is initiated with another member of the workforce, typically an individual responsible for making wire transfers. That individual is instructed to make a transfer to a new bank account – that of the attacker. Alternatively, the data of employees is requested – W2 Forms – or other sensitive company information.  These scams often involve large transfers of funds. In 2017 there were 15,690 such scams reported to IC3, making the average loss $43,094.

Phishing Extensively Used in Internet Crime

Phishing, vishing, smishing and pharming were grouped together. They ‘only’ resulted in losses of $29,703,421, although the losses from these crimes are difficult to calculate accurately. The losses associated with phishing are grouped in many other categories. BEC scams often start with a phishing attack and research from Cofense suggests 91% of corporate data breaches start with a phishing email.

The 2017 Internet Crime Report reveals the extent to which phishing is used in cyberattacks. There were 25,344 phishing incidents reported to IC3 in 2017 – the third highest category of Internet crime behind non-payment/non-delivery and personal data breaches. Many personal data breaches start with a phishing email.

Ransomware Attack Mitigation Proves Expensive

In addition to the threat of BEC attacks, the FBI’s 2017 Internet Crime Report warns of the threat from ransomware. Ransomware only resulted in reported losses of $2.3 million and attracted 1,783 complaints, although it is worthy of a mention due to the considerable disruption that attacks can cause. The reported losses – in terms of the ransoms paid – may be low, but actual losses are substantially higher. The ransomware attack on the City of Atlanta in April 2018 saw a ransom demand of $52,000 issued, although the actual cost of mitigating the attack was reported to be at least $2.7 million in April. However, in June 2018, city Information Management head Daphney Rackley indicated a further $9.5 million may be required over the coming year to cover the cost of mitigating the attack.

Tech Support Fraud Losses Increased by 90%

Another hot topic detailed in the 2017 Internet Crime Report is tech support fraud – This is a widespread scam where individuals are fooled into thinking they have a computer problem such as a virus or malware installed, when they do not. Calls are made warning of detected malware, and users are directed to malicious websites via phishing emails where pop-up warnings are displayed, or screen lockers are used.

These scams usually require the victim to pay the scammer to remove a fictitious infection and provide them with remote access to a computer. In addition to the scammers charge for removing the infection, sensitive data such as usernames, passwords, Social Security numbers, and bank account information are often stolen. 2017 saw a 90% increase in losses from tech support scams.

Protecting Against Internet Crime

One of the most important defenses for businesses to implement to protect against the leading cause of financial losses is an advanced spam filtering solution. Business email compromise scams often start with a phishing email and effective spam filtering will reduce the potential for email accounts to be compromised. Ransomware and malware are also primarily distributed via email. An advanced spam filter such as SpamTitan will block 100% of all known malware and prevent malicious messages from being delivered to inboxes.

Security awareness training is also essential. Malicious messages will make it past spam filtering solutions on occasion, so it is important for all end users to be prepared for malicious messages and taught security best practices. Training should be provided to every individual in the company with a corporate email account or access to an Internet facing computer, including board members.

A web filtering solution is also an important consideration. A web filter is an additional anti-malware control that can be used to prevent employees from visiting malicious websites – either via links in emails, redirects, or through general web browsing. A web filter, such as WebTitan, will block ransomware and malware downloads and prevent end users from accessing the types of phishing websites used to initiate BEC attacks.

These three cybersecurity measures should be part of all organizations’ cybersecurity defenses. They will help to prevent businesses from being included in next year’s FBI Internet Crime Report.

Fake WannaCry Ransomware Campaign Detected

UK users are being targeted with a fake WannaCry ransomware alert threatening file encryption if a ransom demand is not paid.

Fraudsters Claim WannaCry is Back!

In May last year, WannaCry ransomware attacks brought many companies to a standstill, with the UK’s National Health Service (NHS) a notable victim. Now, a little more than a year later, a new WannaCry ransomware campaign is being run, or so the sender of a batch of phishing emails claims.

Email recipients are told “WannaCry is back!” and are warned that their devices have been hacked and ransomware has been installed.

Email recipients are warned that the threat actors have perfected their ransomware and this time around antivirus software and firewalls will not prevent file encryption. Further, recovery will not be possible if the ransom is not paid.

Failure to pay, or any attempt to try to remove the ransomware without paying the ransom demand will result in permanent file deletion. Further, the ransomware can propagate and infect the local network, cloud data, and remote devices, regardless of operating system.

Email recipients are told that the ransomware has already been deployed and payment of a ransom of 0.1 Bitcoin – Around $650 – must be made to stop the attack. Email recipients are given just 24 hours to pay the ransom before data are permanently deleted.

The email is signed by WannaCry-Hack-Team, and so far, more than 300 copies of the message have been reported to the UK government’s National Fraud and Cyber Crime Reporting Centre, Action Fraud.

A Phishing Scam that Preys on WannaCry Fears

There are some signs that the email is not a genuine threat, and instead is just preying on fears about another WannaCry style attack.

Ransomware attackers encrypt data then ask for a ransom to unlock files. They do not send a warning saying they will encrypt data if a ransom is not paid. That tactic may be used by some DDoS attackers, but not by ransomware threat actors.

Email recipients are told that this version of WannaCry will work on “any version of Windows, iOS, Android, and Linux.” The original version of WannaCry took advantage of a vulnerability in Windows Server Message Block. WannaCry only affected vulnerable Windows devices that had not been patched. The ransomware was not a threat on other operating systems.

Phishing campaigns often include spelling mistakes in the subject line and message body and this email is no different. The subject line is – “Attantion WannaCry”.

This is simply a phishing campaign that attempts to extort money from the recipient. No ransomware has been installed and the attackers cannot encrypt any files.

If you receive such a message threatening file encryption unless you pay a ransom, report the message to Action Fraud (UK), US-CERT (phishing-report@us-cert.gov) in the United States, or the government Fraud and Cyber Crime agency in your country of residence and delete the email and do not pay any Bitcoin ransom.

Of course, not all ransomware threats are as benign as this and many attackers will be able to encrypt your data. To protect against real ransomware threats ensure you create multiple backups of your files, deploy a spam filtering solution, ensure your operating system and all software are kept up to date, and keep your anti-virus protection up to date.

Don’t Be Fooled by this Adidas Phishing Scam!

A new Adidas phishing scam has been detected that offers free shoes and money. The messages claim that Adidas is celebrating its 69th anniversary and is giving 2,500 lucky customers a free pair of Adidas sneakers and a free $50 a month subscription.

The scam is targeting users on mobile devices in specific locations. If the user clicks the link in the message and is determined not to be using a mobile device, they will be directed to a webpage that displays a 404 error. The scam will also only run if the user is in the United States, Pakistan, India, Norway, Sweden, Nigeria, Kenya, Macau, Belgium or the Netherlands.

Provided the user is on a mobile device and located in one of the targeted countries, a series of four questions will be asked. The responses to the questions are irrelevant as all users will be offered a “free” pair of sneakers after answering the four questions.

In order to be able to claim the prize, users must share the offer with their contacts on WhatsApp. Regardless of whether the user does this, they will be directed to another webpage where they are asked further questions and are finally offered a “free” pair of sneakers worth $199.

There is another catch. In order to claim their free sneakers, the user must pay $1. The user is advised that they will also be charged $49.99 a month for the subscription at the end of the month if they do not cancel. The user is told they can cancel at any point.

On the payment screen the user is told that the payment will be processed by organizejobs.net. Proceeding with the payment will see the user charged $1, followed by the subscription cost of $49.99 in 7 days.

The campaign is being run on WhatsApp, although similar scams have been conducted via email and SMS messages. Several variations along the same theme have also been identified using different shoe manufacturers.

The link supplied in the WhatsApp message appears to be genuine, using the official domain for the country in which the user is located. While the domain looks correct, this is an example of a homoglyph attack. Instead of the domain adidas.de, the i is replaced with a vertical line – a homoglyph attack.

These types of scams are commonplace. Homoglyph scams take advantage of the ability to use non-ASCII characters in domain names. Similar scams use a technique called typosquatting – where domains closely matching real brand names are registered: Incorrect spellings for instance, such as “Addidas” instead of Adidas, or with an i replaced with a 1 or an L.

In this case, the attackers appear to be earning a commission for getting users to sign up, although disclosing debit and credit card details could easily see the information used to run up huge bills or drain bank accounts.

There are various warning signs indicating this is an Adidas phishing scam. Close scrutiny of the domain will reveal it is incorrect. The need to share the message to contacts is atypical, being notified of a charge after being told the shoes are free, the failure to ask the user to choose a pair of shoes or even select their size, and an odd domain name is used to process payment. However, even with these tell-tale signs that the offer is not genuine, this adidas phishing scam is likely to fool many people.

Be warned. If you receive any unsolicited WhatsApp message offering you free goods, assume it is a scam.

Ransomcloud Attack Encrypts Gmail and Office 365 Cloud Email Accounts

A new type of ransomware attack could be on the horizon. The attack method, termed ransomcloud, was developed by a white hat hacker to demonstrate just how easy it is to launch an attack that results in cloud-based emails being encrypted.

A successful attack will see the attacker gain full control of a cloud-based email account, allowing them to deploy a ransomware payload that encrypts all emails in the account. This method could also be used to gain full control of the account to use for spamming and other malicious purposes.

The attack works on all cloud-based email accounts that allow third party applications account access via OAuth, which includes Gmail and Office 365 accounts.

The ransomcloud attack starts with a phishing email. In this example, the message appears to have been sent by Microsoft offering the user the opportunity to sign up and use a new email spam filtering service called AntiSpamPro. The email includes the Microsoft logo and appears to be a new Microsoft service that provides the user with better spam protection.

In order to take advantage of this service, the user is required to click a hyperlink in the email to give authorization for the new service to be installed. Clicking the link will result in a popup window appearing that requires the user to authorize the app to access their email account.

Such a request is perfectly reasonable, as an app that offers protection against spam would naturally require access to the email account. Emails would need to be read in order for the app to determine whether the messages are genuine or spam. Clicking on ‘accept’ would give the attacker full control of the email account via an OAuth token. If access is granted, the user loses control of their email account.

In this example, ransomware is installed which encrypts the body text of all emails in the account. An email then appears in the inbox containing the ransom note. The user is required to pay a ransom to regain access to their emails.

Additionally, the attacker could claim the email account as their own and lock the user out, send phishing emails to all the user’s contacts, access sensitive information in emails, use email information to learn about the individual to use in future attacks such as spear phishing campaigns to gain access to their computer.

The ransomcloud attack method is astonishingly simple to pull off and could be adopted by cybercriminals as a new way of extorting money and gaining access to sensitive information.

New Spam Campaign Uses Malicious Excel Web Query Files to Deliver Malware

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:

  • USA: +1 5859735070
  • UK/EU: +44 (0)2476993640
  • Ireland: +353 91 545555
  • Mid East: +971 4 3886998

Beware of These World Cup 2018 Phishing Scams

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.

Competition Scams

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

TSB Phishing Scams Soar as Hackers Capitalize on Bank’s IT Misfortunes

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.

Beware of GDPR Phishing Scams

Several GDPR phishing scams have been detected in the past few days as scammers capitalize on the last-minute rush by companies to ensure compliance ahead of the May 25, 2018 GDPR deadline. Be wary about any GDPR related email requests – they may be a scam.

GDPR Provides Scammers with a New Opportunity

You will probably already be sick of receiving email requests from companies asking if they can continue sending you emails, but that is one of the requirements of GDPR. GDPR requires consent to be obtained to use – or continue to use – personal information. With previous privacy policies failing to comply with the new EU law, email requests are being sent to all individuals on mailing lists and those who have previously registered on websites to re-obtain consent.

All companies that have dealings with EU residents are required to comply with GDPR, regardless of their location. Emails are therefore being sent from companies far and wide. Consumers are receiving messages from companies that they may have forgotten they had dealings with in the past. If personal data is still on file, email requests are likely to be sent asking for permission to retain that information.

The masses of emails now being sent relating to GDPR has created an opportunity for scammers. GDPR phishing scams have been developed to fool users into revealing sensitive information under the guise of GDPR related requests. There have been many GDPR phishing scams identified in recent weeks. It is ironic that a regulation that aims to improve privacy protections for EU residents is being used to violate privacy.

Apple Spoofed in New Phishing Scam

Phishers often spoof large, familiar brands as there is a greater chance that the recipient of the message will have an account with that company. The most popular global brands – Netflix, PayPal, Apple, and Google are all commonly impersonated.

These impersonation scams can be highly convincing. A request is sent via email that seems perfectly reasonable, the emails appear to have been sent from the company, and the email address of the sender is spoofed to appear genuine. The emails contain branding and images which are familiar, and the messages can be almost indistinguishable from genuine communications.

The aim is to get users to click on an embedded hyperlink and visit the company’s website and login. There is usually an urgent call to action, such as a security alert, threat of account closure, or loss of services.

Apple is one such brand that has recently been impersonated in GDPR phishing scams. The aim of the attackers is to get Apple customers to login to a fake site and disclose their credentials. Once the credentials have been obtained, the scammers have access the user’s account, which includes financial information, credit card details, and other personal information.

Airbnb GDPR Phishing Scams Detected

Redscan has detected Airbnb GDPR phishing scams recently. Users of its home sharing platform are required to update their contact details due to GDPR law in order to continue to use the platform. The request is entirely reasonable given so many companies are sending similar emails.

The emails claim to be from Airbnb customer service, contain the correct images and branding, and direct users to a familiar looking website that differs only in the domain name. Users are asked to re-enter their contact information and payment card details.

Watch Out for GDPR Phishing Scams

These scams are just two of several. More can be expected over the coming days in the run up to the compliance deadline and beyond. To avoid falling for the scams, make sure you treat all GDPR-related requests as potentially suspicious.

The easiest way to avoid the scams is to visit the website of the brand by typing the correct address directly into the browser or using your usual bookmark. It should be clear when you login if you need to update your information because of GDPR.

2017 Saw 24% Increase in Tech Support Scams

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.

Active Shooter and Syrian Refugee Phishing Campaigns

Two new phishing campaigns have been detected in the past few days that have seen phishers sink to new lows. An active shooter phishing campaign has been detected that uses fear and urgency to steal credentials, while a Syrian refugee phishing campaign takes advantage of compassion to increase the probability of victims paying ransom demands.

Active Shooter Phishing Campaign

Mass shootings at U.S schools are on the rise, with the latest incident in Parkland, Florida placing teachers and other staff on high alert to the threat of campus shootings. A rapid response is essential when an active shooter alert is issued. Law enforcement must be notified quickly to apprehend the suspect and children and staff must be protected.

It is therefore no surprise that fake active shooter threats have been used in a phishing campaign. The emails are designed to get email recipients to click without thinking to receive further information on the threat and have been developed to cause fear and panic.

The active shooter phishing campaign was being used in a targeted attack on a Florida school – an area of the country where teachers are hypersensitive to the threat of shootings, given recent events in the state.

Three active shooter phishing email variants were reported to the anti-phishing and security awareness platform provider KnowBe4, all of which were used to direct recipients to a fake Microsoft login page where they were required to enter in their login credentials to view the alert. Doing so would give those credentials to the attacker.

The email subject lines used – although other variants could also be in use – were:

  • IT DESK: Security Alert Reported on Campus
  • IT DESK: Campus Emergency Scare
  • IT DESK: Security Concern on Campus Earlier

It is likely that similar campaigns will be conducted in the future. Regardless of the level of urgency, the same rules apply. Stop and think about any message before taking any action suggested in the email.

Syrian Refugee Phishing Campaign

Phishing campaigns often use crises, major world events, and news of sports tournaments to get users to click links or open email attachments. Any news that is current and attracting a lot of interest is more likely to result in users taking the desired action.

There have been several Syrian refugee phishing campaigns run in recent months that take advantage of compassion to infect users with malware and steal their credentials. Now researchers at MalwareHunterTeam have identified a ransomware campaign that is using the terrible situation in Syria to convince victims to pay the ransom – By indicating the ransom payments will go to a very good cause: Helping refugees.

Infection with what has been called RansSIRIA ransomware will see the victim presented with a ransom note that claims all ransom payments will be directed to the victims of the war in Syria. A link is also provided to a video showing the seriousness of the situation in Syria and links to a WorldVision document explaining the plight of children affected by the war.

While the document and images are genuine, the claim of the attackers is likely not. There is no indication that any of the ransom payments will be directed to the victims of the war. If infected, the advice is not to pay and to try to recover files by other means. If you want to do your bit to help the victims of the war, make a donation to a registered charity that is assisting in the region.

Study Highlights Lack of Effective Security Awareness Training for Employees

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