Spam Software

Spam software is a network security 101 basic protection that should be in place at every organization. Spam software filters out productivity-draining spam messages and prevents phishing emails and other email-based threats from being delivered to employees’ inboxes.

Research conducted by the intelligence software and anti-phishing training company PhishMe shows that 91% of cyberattacks start with a phishing email. Phishing emails aim to get the recipient to divulge sensitive information such as bank account information or login credentials. However, over the course of the past 12 months, cybercriminals have increasing used spam email to distribute ransomware. In Q3, 2016, PhishMe reported that 97% of phishing emails were being used to deliver ransomware or ransomware downloaders. Spam email is now the number one vector used to deliver malware and ransomware.

Spam email campaigns are also becoming more sophisticated and it is becoming much harder to distinguish spam from genuine emails. Many of the latest campaigns contain no spelling mistakes, are grammatically correct and use imagery from well-known brands with smart, professional layouts.

Cybercriminals are also using social engineering techniques to fool end users into clicking malicious links and opening infected email attachments. Without spam software to quarantine those emails, they will be delivered to inboxes and employees are likely to be fooled into taking the requested actions.

Fortunately, advanced spam solutions can now filter out more than 99% of spam emails, with SpamTitan preventing more than 99.9% of spam emails from being delivered. This category contains up to date information on spam software, new threats that are now blocked and advice for organizations on improving defenses against email threats.

Reyptson Ransomware Spreads Itself by Emailing Itself to Contacts

Reyptson ransomware is a new threat that has been discovered in the past few days. The new ransomware variant is currently being used in attacks in Spain, with detected activity rising considerably in the days since its discovery.

There is no free decryptor for Reyptson ransomware at this stage. The ransomware variant encrypts a wide range of file types, including MS Office files and images using AES-128 encryption. Encrypted files will have the file extension .Reyptson appended to the file.

Infection will require files to be recovered from backups or the ransom demand must be paid if no backup exists and victims do not want permanent file loss. Users are told they must pay a ransom of €200 to unlock the encryption, although the payment will increase to €500 after 72 hours.

New cryptoransomware variants are being released on an almost daily basis with the majority spread via spam email. What makes this variant unique is its ability to spread itself following infection. Reyptson is capable of conducting its own email campaigns and spreading itself to a victim’s contacts.

The spam email campaigns are conducted via the Thunderbird email client. Reyptson ransomware searches for contacts and creates new spam email messages and sends them to all contacts using the victim’s credentials.

The emails claim to be invoices and include a link for the recipient to download the invoice. Clicking the link will download a compressed .rar file which contains an executable file that appears to be a PDF file. If that executable file is opened; the user will be infected with the ransomware and the process will repeat. According to an analysis by MalwareHunterTeam, the emails have the subject line Folcan S.L. Facturación.

Recently, global ransomware campaigns have been conducted using exploits stolen from the NSA. Those exploits take advantage of vulnerabilities in software that have not been addressed. Even though patches have been released to correct those vulnerabilities, many companies have yet to update their operating systems. A free scanner called Eternal Blues has been developed that has revealed more than 50,000 computers around the world are still vulnerable and have not been patched.

Patching promptly has always been important, but now even more so. Delaying the updating of software can see organizations infected and the damage can be considerable. In the case of NotPetya, computers are rendered useless and even payment of a ransom cannot undo the damage.

However, spam email remains the most common vector for spreading ransomware. Preventing Reyptson ransomware attacks and other cryptoransomware variants requires an advanced spam filter. A spam filter such as SpamTitan can block these messages and prevent them from being delivered to end users. If the spam emails are not delivered, they cannot be opened by end users.

Prompt patching, user awareness training, spam and web filtering can help organizations reduce the risk of attack. However, it is also essential to ensure multiple backups of data are made to ensure recovery in case of infection. Organizations should adopt the 3-2-1 approach to backups. Ensure there are three copies of data, on 2 different media with one copy stored off site.

One backup copy can be stored locally – on a removable device that is unplugged when backups are completed or are not being used. One copy should be stored in the cloud and one on a backup drive/tape that is stored in a secure location off site that can be used in the event of a disaster.

Ovidiy Stealer: A New Password Stealing Malware Priced to Maximize Sales

The Ovidiy Stealer is a password stealing malware that will record login credentials and transmit the information to the attacker’s C2 server. As with many other password stealers, information is recorded as it is entered into websites such as banking sites, web-based email accounts, social media accounts and other online accounts.

The good news is that even if infected, the Ovidiy Stealer will not record information entered via Internet Explorer or Safari. The malware is also not persistent. If the computer is rebooted, the malware will stop running.

The bad news is, if you use Chrome or Opera, your confidential information is likely to be compromised. Other browsers known to be supported include Orbitum, Torch, Amigo and Kometa. However, since the malware is being constantly updated it is likely other browsers will be supported soon.

Ovidiy Stealer is a new malware, first detected only a month ago. It is primarily being used in attacks in Russian-speaking regions, although it is possible that multi-language versions will be developed and attacks will spread to other regions.

Researchers at Proofpoint – who first detected the password stealing malware – believe email is the primary attack vector, with the malware packaged in an executable file sent as an attachment. Proofpoint also suggests that rather than email attachments, links to download pages are also being used. Samples have been detected bundled with LiteBitcoin installers and the malware is also being distributed through file-sharing websites, in particular via Keygen software cracking programs.

New password stealers are constantly being released, but what sets the Ovidiy Stealer aside and makes it particularly dangerous is it is being sold online at a particularly low price. Just $13 (450-750 Rubles) will get one build bundled into an executable ready for delivery via a spam email campaign. Due to the low price there are likely to be many malicious actors conducting campaigns to spread the malware, hence the variety of attack vectors.

Would be attackers willing to part with $13 are able to view the number of infections via a web control panel complete with login. Via the control panel they can manage their account, see the number of infections, build more stubs and view the logs generated by the malware.

Protecting against malware such as Ovidiy Stealer requires caution as it takes time before new malware are detected by AV solutions. Some AV solutions are already detecting the malware, but not all. As always, when receiving an email from an unknown sender, do not open attachments or click on hyperlinks.

Organizations can greatly reduce risk from this password-stealer and other malware spread via spam email by implementing an advanced spam filtering solution such as SpamTitan to prevent malicious emails from reaching end users’ inboxes. SpamTitan uses dual AV engines to maximize detections and blocks over 99.9% of spam email.

IRS Launches Campaign to Raise Awareness of Phishing Attacks on Tax Professionals

Phishing attacks on tax professionals are soaring. Tax professionals across the United States have been extensively targeted by cybercriminals this tax season who fool them into disclosing sensitive information such as login credentials and tax information.

The IRS has received 177 reports from tax professionals that have fallen for the scams this year and have disclosed sensitive information, although the victim count is likely to be much higher since not all phishing attacks are reported. Currently, the IRS is receiving between three and five new reports of successful phishing scams each week.

Many of the victims have reported large data losses as a result of the phishing scams. Tax information is used by cybercriminals to file fraudulent tax returns in the victims’ names. The data can also be used for identity theft.

The IRS says tax professionals are being extensively targeted by highly organized criminal gangs in the United States, as well as international crime rings.  The IRS points out that the criminals conducting phishing attacks on tax professionals “are well funded, knowledgeable and creative.”

Targets are researched and information is often included in the emails that is relevant to the recipient. The name and address of the target are often used in the emails and the requests are highly credible. Emails may request data or provide a hyperlink for the recipient to click. Clicking the link results in malware being downloaded that gives the attacker access to the computer. Keyloggers are often downloaded that record and transmit passwords.

The Anti Phishing Working Group tracked 1.2 million unique phishing attacks last year, representing a 65% rise from 2015. Those scams often involve millions of emails. Currently, APWG is tracking an average of 92,564 unique phishing attacks each month.

Phishing attacks on tax professionals can be highly sophisticated, but in the majority of cases it is possible to block attacks by employing basic security measures. Unfortunately, many organizations overlook these steps.

The IRS is working closely with the tax industry and state tax agencies as the ‘Security Summit’. The Security Summit has recently launched a new campaign to help tackle the problem of phishing by raising awareness of the threat via a new “Don’t Take the Bait” campaign.

Over the next 10 weeks, the Security Summit will send weekly emails to raise awareness of the different types of phishing scams and other threats. The Security Summit has kicked off the campaign with spear phishing, which will be followed by education efforts to raise awareness of CEO fraud/BEC scams, ransomware attacks, remote account takeovers, EFIN thefts and business identity theft.

Blocking phishing attacks on tax professionals requires layered defenses, one of the most important being the use of software solutions to prevent phishing emails from being delivered to end users’ inboxes. SpamTitan blocks more than 99.9% of email spam and keeps inboxes free from malicious messages. If emails are not delivered, employees will not be tested.

Even with software solutions in place it is important for all employees to be aware of the threat from phishing. Security training should be provided to teach employees how to recognize the tell-tale signs of phishing emails and organizations should try to develop a culture of security awareness.

IRS Commissioner John Koskinen said “Doing nothing or making a minimal effort is no longer an option. Anyone who handles taxpayer information has a legal responsibility to protect it.”

The IRS recommends several measures to reduce risk:

  • Educate all employees on the risk from spear phishing and phishing in general
  • Ensure strong passwords are used
  • Always question emails – Never take them at face value
  • Never click a link without first checking the destination URL – Hover the mouse arrow over a masked link to find the true URL
  • Use two-factor authentication for all email requests to send sensitive data – Confirm with the sender via the telephone
  • Use security software to block phishing emails and malware and ensure the software is updated automatically
  • Use the security settings in tax preparation software
  • Report suspicious emails to the IRS

Trump Hotels Confirms 14 Locations Affected by Sabre Hospitality Solutions Data Breach

Trump Hotels has announced that guests at some of its hotels have been impacted by the Sabre Hospitality Solutions data breach and have had their credit/debit card details stolen. Sabre Hospitality Solutions provides the hotel reservation system used at certain Trump Hotels, and it was this system that was compromised not the systems used at Trump Hotels. Sabre’s system is used by more than 32,000 hotels and lodging establishments around the world.

Attackers gained access to the Sabre SynXis Central Reservations system (CRS) which is used by hotels and travel agencies to make hotel bookings. Sabre discovered the breach on June 5, 2017, with the attacker understood to have obtained account credentials that enabled access to the CRS and the payment card data processed through the system.

The data breach affected 13 Trump Hotels (Central Park, Chicago, Doonbeg, Doral, Las Vegas, Panama, Soho, Toronto, Turnberry, Vancouver, Waikiki, DC, Rio de Janeiro) and the Albemarle Estate. Each hotel was affected at a different time and for a different duration, with the first instance occurring on August 10, 2016. The last data access was on March 9, 2017. The hotel reservation system was compromised at most of the affected hotels for a few days up to three weeks in November 2016, with the exception of Trump Las Vegas, Trump Panama, and Trump DC, which saw systems compromised for around four months.

When the Sabre Hospitality Solutions data breach was detected, the company contracted cybersecurity firm Mandiant to conduct a forensic analysis to determine how the breach occurred, which hotels were affected and to ensure that access to its systems was blocked. Sabre reports that after March 9, 2017, no further unauthorized access to its system has occurred.

During the time that access to data was possible, the attackers were able to obtain the names of card holders, card numbers, expiration dates and in some cases, CVV codes. Other information potentially accessed includes guests’ names, addresses, phone numbers and potentially other information, although not Social Security numbers or driver’s licenses.

The Sabre Hospitality Solutions data breach affected many organizations, with Google recently announcing that some of its employees have had information exposed. In the case of Google, it was a travel agency – Carlson Wagonlit Travel (CWT) – that was affected. CWT was one of the companies used by Google to book hotels for its staff.

The hospitality industry has been hit with numerous POS system breaches over the past few years. The industry is an attractive target for cybercriminals. Most hotel bookings are made with credit and debit cards, cybersecurity protections are often poor and once access is gained to the systems it can be months before a data breach is detected.

A variety of attack vectors are used, although login credentials are commonly stolen in phishing attacks. Phishing emails are sent to company employees and social engineering tricks are used to convince those employees to disclose their login credentials or open malicious email attachments that install malware.

Email security solutions that prevent spam emails from being delivered to end users’ inboxes offer protection against phishing attacks. As an additional precaution, security awareness training should be provided to all hotel employees who have access to corporate email accounts.

With SpamTitan installed, hotel chains are well protected from phishing attacks. SpamTitan blocks more than 99.9% of spam emails, adding an important layer of protection for hotels to prevent data breaches.

NotPetya Ransomware Attacks Spread to 65 Countries

NotPetya ransomware attacks have spread globally, with the latest figures from Microsoft suggesting there are now more than 12,500 reported victims spread across 65 countries. The attacks first started to be reported on Tuesday morning with companies in the Ukraine hit particularly hard.

At first it appeared that the attacks involved Petya ransomware, although it has since been confirmed that this is a new ransomware variant. The ransomware has already attracted a variety of names such as GoldenEye, SortaPetya, ExPetr, and NotPetya. We shall use the latter.

Security researchers believe the NotPetya ransomware attacks started in Ukraine. The first attacks occurred the day before a national holiday – a common time to launch an attack. IT staff were unlikely to be working, so the probability of the attacks being halted before the ransomware was allowed to run would be increased.

The NotPetya ransomware attacks have been discovered to have occurred via a variety of vectors. Ukraine was hit particularly hard, which suggested a country-specific attack vector. Some security researchers have suggested the first attacks occurred via a Ukrainian accounting package called M.E. Doc, with the attackers managing to compromise a software update. M.E.Doc hinted that this may be the case initially, but later denied they were the cause of the attack. If it is true that a software update was involved, it would not be the first time M.E.Doc was attacked. A similar ransomware attack occurred via M.E.Doc software updates in May.

However, that is only one potential attack vector used in the NotPetya ransomware attacks. It has been confirmed that the attackers are also using two NSA exploits that were released by Shadow Brokers in April. As was the case with the WannaCry ransomware attacks, the EternalBlue exploit is being used. The latest attacks are also using another exploit released at the same time called EternalRomance.

In contrast to the WannaCry ransomware attacks last month, the exploits used in the NotPetya ransomware attacks only scan for vulnerable devices on local networks, not via the Internet.

Both exploits will not work if computers have already been patched with MS17-010 released by Microsoft in March. Following the WannaCry attacks, Microsoft also issued a patch for older, unsupported Windows versions to prevent further ransomware attacks.

However, patching would not necessarily have prevented infection. In contrast to WannaCry, NotPetya ransomware attacks have been reported by companies that have patched their computers. Security researchers have confirmed that all it takes for infection to occur is for one computer to have been missed when applying the patches. That allows the attackers to attack that machine, and also any other machines connected to the local network, even if the patch has been applied.

The attacks also appear to be occurring via phishing emails containing malicious Microsoft Office documents.  As has been the case with many other ransomware attacks, the failure to implement spam defenses can result in infection. The use of an advanced spam filter such as SpamTitan offers excellent protection against email-based ransomware attacks, preventing those emails from reaching end users’ inboxes.

Upon infection, the ransomware waits one hour before executing and forcing a reboot. When the computer restarts, the ransom note appears. The ransom demand is for $300 per infected machine. In contrast to the majority of ransomware variants, NotPetya does not encrypt files. Instead it replaces the Master File Table (MFT). Since the MFT shows the computer where files are located on the hard drive, without it files cannot be found. Files are not encrypted, but they still cannot be accessed.

Preventing ransomware attacks such as this requires regular patching to address vulnerabilities and anti-spam solutions to prevent malicious emails from being delivered.

Fortunately, NotPetya ransomware attacks can be blocked. Cybereason security researcher Amit Serber has found a way to vaccinate computers against this specific ransomware variant. He suggests IT teams “Create a file called perfc in the C:\Windows folder and make it read only.” This method has been confirmed as effective by other security researchers, although it will not work if infection has already occurred.

Unfortunately, recovery following an attack may not be possible if infected computers cannot be restored from backups. Kaspersky Lab reports there is a flaw in the ransomware saying, “We have analyzed the high level code of the encryption routine and we have figured out that after disk encryption, the threat actor could not decrypt victims’ disks.” Further, the email account used by the attacker to verify ransom payments has been shut down by a German email provider.

Corporate Phishing Emails Increased by 400% in Q2, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Phishing Attacks Likely to Follow Hotels.com Breach

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Phishing Attacks on Healthcare Organizations Can Result in HIPAA Fines

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Beware of WannaCry Phishing Emails

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

DocuSign Phishing Emails Sent to Account Holders Following Data Breach

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jaff Ransomware: A New Variant from the Distributors of Locky

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fatboy Ransomware – A New RaaS That Sets Ransoms by Location

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

IC3 Issues Warning About Business Email Compromise Scams

The Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) has issued a new alert to businesses warning of the risk of business email compromise scams.

The businesses most at risk are those that deal with international suppliers as well as those that frequently perform wire transfers. However, businesses that only issue checks instead of sending wire transfers are also at risk of this type of cyberattack.

In contrast to phishing scams where the attacker makes emails appear as if they have come from within the company by spoofing an email address, business email compromise scams require a corporate email account to be accessed by the attackers.

Once access to an email account is gained, the attacker crafts an email and sends it to an individual responsible for making wire transfers, issuing other payments, or an individual that has access to employees PII/W-2 forms and requests a bank transfer or sensitive data.

The attackers often copy the format of emails previously sent to the billing/accounts department. This information can easily be gained from the compromised email account. They are also able to easily identify the person within the company who should be sent the request.

Not all business email compromise scams are concerned with fraudulent bank transfers. IC3 warns that the same scam is also used to obtain the W-2 tax statements of employees, as has been seen on numerous occasions during this year’s tax season.

Phishing scams are often sent out randomly in the hope that some individuals click on malicious links or open infected email attachments. However, business email compromise scams involve considerable research on the company to select victims and to identify appropriate protocols used by the company to make transfer requests.

Business email compromise scams often start with phishing emails. Phishing is used to get end users to reveal their login credentials or other sensitive information that can be used to gain access to business networks and perform the scam. Malware can also be used for this purpose. Emails are sent with links to malicious websites or with infected email attachments. Opening the attachments or clicking on the links downloads malware capable of logging keystrokes or provides the attackers with a foothold in the network.

IC3 warns that business email compromise scams are a major threat for all businesses, regardless of their size. Just because your business is small, it doesn’t mean that you face a low risk of attack.

Between January 2015 and December 2016, IC3 notes there was a 2,370% increase in BEC scams. While funds are most commonly sent to bank accounts in China and Hong Kong, IC3 says transfers have been made to 103 countries in the past two years.

The losses reported by businesses are staggering. Between October 2013 and December 2016, more than $5 billion has been obtained by cybercriminals. United States businesses have lost $1,594,503,669 in more than 22,000 successful scams. The average loss is $71,528.

IC3 lists the five most common types of business email compromise scams as:

  1. Businesses receiving requests from frequently used suppliers requesting transfers be made to a new bank account.This is also known as a bogus invoice scam.
  2. An executive within the company (CFO or CTO for example) requests a transfer be made by a second employee in the company. This is also known as a business executive scam.
  3. A compromised email account is used to send a payment request/invoice to a vendor in the employees contact list.
  4. The attackers impersonate an attorney used by the firm and request the transfer of funds. These scams are common at the end of the week or end of the business day. They are also known as Friday afternoon scams.
  5. A request is sent from a compromised email account to a member of the HR department requesting information on employees such as W-2 Forms or PII. These scams are most common during tax season.

There are a number of strategies that can be adopted to prevent business email compromise attacks from being successful.

IC3 recommends:

  • Using a domain-based email account rather than a web-based account for business email accounts
  • Exercising caution about the information posted to social media accounts. This is where the attackers do much of their research
  • Implement a two-step verification process to validate all transfer requests
  • Use two-factor authentication for corporate email accounts
  • Never respond to an email using the reply option. Always use forward and type in the address manually
  • Register all domains that are similar to the main domain used by the company
  • Use intrusion detection systems and spam filters that quarantine or flag emails that have been sent with extensions similar to those used by the company – Blocking emails sent from xxx_company.com if the company uses xxx-company.com for example
  • Be wary of any request that seems out of the ordinary or requires a change to the bank account usually used for transfers

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

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

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

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

Employees Still Lack Security Awareness

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How to Improve Defenses Against Email Attacks

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

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

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

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

Healthcare Ransomware Attacks Accounted for 50% of All Security Incidents

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Web-Based Attacks Fall: Ransomware Attacks on Businesses Soar

There was some good news in the latest installment of the Symantec Internet Security Threat Report. Web-based attacks have fallen year on year, but ransomware attacks on businesses have sky rocketed. Sabotage and subversion attacks have also risen sharply in the past 12 months.

The Internet Security Threat Report shows that exploit kit and other web-based attacks fell by 30% in 2016, but over the same period, ransomware attacks on businesses increased by 36%.

Ransomware has proved popular with cybercriminals as attacks are easy to perform and money can be made quickly. If an attacker succeeds in encrypting business data, a ransom must be paid within a few days. In the United States, where the majority of ransomware attacks occur, 64% of businesses pay the ransom.

Web-based attacks on the other hand typically take longer and require considerably more technical skill. Cybercriminals must create and host a malicious site and direct end users to the site. Once malware has been downloaded, the attackers must move laterally within the network and find and exfiltrate sensitive data. The data must then be sold.

Ransomware attacks on businesses are far easier to conduct, especially using ransomware-as-a-service. All that is required is for criminals to pay to rent the ransomware, set their own terms, and distribute the malware via spam email. Many ransomware authors even provide kits with instructions on how to customize the ransomware and conduct campaigns. The appeal of ransomware is clear. It is quick, easy and profitable to conduct attacks.

The Symantec Internet Security Threat Report charts the rise in popularity of ransomware. Symantec detected 101 separate ransomware families in 2016. In 2014 and 2015 the count was just 30. Symantec’s ransomware detections increased from 340,665 in 2015 to 463,841 in 2016. Ransomware as a service has played a major role in the increase in attacks.

Ransom demands have also increased in the past year. In 2015, the average ransom demand was $294 per infected device. In 2016, the average ransomware demand had increased to $1,077.

Fortunately, good data backup policies will ensure businesses do not have to pay to unlock their data. Unfortunately, even if data can be recovered from backups, ransomware attacks on businesses are costly to resolve. Cybersecurity firms need to be hired to conduct analyses of networks to ensure all traces of ransomware (and other malware) have been removed. Those firms must also check to make sure no backdoors have been installed.

Ransomware attacks on businesses typically see computers locked for several days, causing considerable loss of revenue for companies. Customer breach notifications may also need to be issued. Ransomware attacks can cost tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars to resolve, even if no ransom is paid.

Since ransomware is primarily distributed via spam email, businesses need to ensure they have appropriate email defenses in place. An advanced spam filter with an anti-phishing component is essential, along with other endpoint protection systems.

Symantec’s figures show that spam email volume has remained constant year on year, with spam accounting for 53% of email volume in 2016.

In 2016, one in 2,596 emails involved a phishing component, down from one in 965 in 2014. Phishing attacks may be down, but malware attacks increased over the same period.

Malware-infected email attachments and malicious links to malware-infected websites accounted for one in every 131 emails in 2016, up from 1 in 220 in 2015 and 1 in 244 in 2014. In 2016, 357 million new malware variants were detected, up from 275 million in 2014.

The decline in web-based attacks is certainly good news, but it doesn’t mean the threat can be ignored. Last year there were 229,000 web-based attacks tracked by Symantec. While that is a considerable decrease from the previous year, web-based attacks still pose a significant threat to businesses.

Web-based attacks could also increase this year. The Symantec Internet Security Threat Report indicates 9% of websites have critical bugs that could be easily exploited by cybercriminals allowing them to hijack the websites. Worryingly, Symantec reports that 76% of websites contain bugs that could potentially be exploited.

The Symantec Internet Security Threat Report shows data breaches have remained fairly constant over the past two years. In 2014, widely reported to be ‘the year of the data breach’, Symantec recorded 1,523 data breaches. The following year that fell to 1,211 breaches. Last year, there was little change, with 1,209 breaches reported.

The halt in the rise in data breaches suggests organizations are getting better at protecting their networks and data. However, large data breaches are increasing. Last year there were 15 data breaches that involved the theft of more than 10 million records, up from 11 in 2014.

Protecting against data breaches and cyberattacks requires comprehensive, multi-layered security defenses. TitanHQ offers a range of cybersecurity solutions for SMEs to help them improve their security posture and protect against web-based and email-based security threats.

For more information on how you can improve your security posture, contact the TitanHQ team today.

Phishing Attacks on Schools Spike – Is Your School Doing Enough to Prevent Attacks?

In the United States, phishing attacks on schools and higher education institutions have soared in recent months, highlighting the need for improvements to be made to staff education programs and cybersecurity defenses.

Phishing refers to the practice of sending emails in an attempt to get the recipients to reveal sensitive information such as logins to email accounts, bank accounts, or other computer systems.  Typically, a link is included in the email which will direct the user to a website where information must be entered. The sites, as well as the emails, contain information to make the request look genuine.

Phishing is nothing new. It has been around since the 1980’s, but the extent to which sensitive information is stored electronically and the number of transactions that are now conducted online has made attacks much more profitable for cybercriminals. Consequently, attacks have increased. The quality of phishing emails has also improved immeasurably. Phishing emails are now becoming much harder to identify, especially by non-technical members of staff.

No organization is immune to attack, but attackers are no longer concentrating on financial institutions and healthcare organizations. The education sector is now being extensively targeted. Phishing attacks on schools are being conducted far more frequently, and all too often those attacks are succeeding.

Such is the scale of the problem that the IRS recently issued a warning following a massive rise in phishing attacks on schools. Campaigns were being conducted by attackers looking for W-2 Form data of school employees. That information was then used to submit fraudulent tax returns in school employees’ names.

Recent Phishing Attacks on Schools, Colleges, and Universities

Westminster College is one of the latest educational institutions to report that an employee has fallen for the W-2 Form phishing scam, although it numbers in dozens of schools, colleges and universities that have been attacked this year.

Phishing emails are not only concerned with obtaining tax information. Recently, a phishing attack on Denver Public Schools gave the attackers the information they needed to make a fraudulent bank transfer. More than $40,000 intended to pay staff wages was transferred to the criminal’s account.

This week, news emerged of a listing on a darknet noticeboard from a hacker who had gained access to school email accounts, teacher’s gradebooks, and the personal information of thousands of students. That individual was looking for advice on what to do with the data and access in order to make money.

Washington University School of Medicine was targeted in a phishing attack that saw the attackers gain access to patient health information. More than 80,000 patients potentially had their health information stolen as a result of that attack.

Last week, news emerged of an attempted phishing attack on Minnesota schools, with 335 state school districts and around 170 charter schools potentially attacked. In that case, the phishing attack was identified before any information was released. The attack involved an email that appeared to have been sent from the Education Commissioner. The attackers were trying to gain access to financial information.

How to Improve Defenses Against Phishing Attacks

Fortunately, there are a number of technological controls that can be implemented cheaply to reduce the risk of phishing attacks on schools being successful.

An advanced spam filtering solution with a powerful anti-phishing component is now essential. A spam filter looks for the common spam and phishing signatures and ensures suspect messages are quarantined and not delivered to end users.

It must be assumed that occasionally, even with a spam filter, phishing emails may occasionally be delivered. To prevent employees from visiting phishing websites and revealing their information, a web filtering solution can be used. Web filters can be configured to block end users from visiting websites that are known to be used for phishing. As an additional benefit, web filters can stop individuals from accessing websites known to contain malware or host illegal or undesirable material – pornography for instance.

Those solutions should be accompanied by training for all staff members on the risk from phishing and the common identifiers that can help staff spot a phishing email. Schools should also implement policies for reporting threats to the organization’s IT department. Fast reporting can limit the harm caused and prevent other staff members from responding.

IT departments should also have policies in place to ensure thwarted attacks are reported to law enforcement. Warnings should also be sent to other school districts following an attack to allow them to take action to protect themselves against similar attacks.

Any school or higher educational institution that fails to implement appropriate defenses against phishing attacks will be at a high risk of a phishing attack being successful. Not only do phishing attacks place employees at risk of fraud, they can prove incredibly costly for schools to mitigate. With budgets already tight, most schools can simply not afford to cover those costs.

If you would like further information on the range of cybersecurity protections that can be put in place to prevent phishing attacks on schools and other educational institutions, call TitanHQ today for an informal chat.

HIPAA Compliance and Phishing: Email Attacks Can Result in HIPAA Penalties

A phishing attack on a HIPAA-covered entity has resulted in a $400,000 penalty for non-compliance with HIPAA Rules. This is not the first time a phishing attack has attracted a penalty from OCR for non-compliance.

The failure to prevent phishing attacks does not necessarily warrant a HIPAA penalty, but failing to implement sufficient protections to prevent attacks could land HIPAA-covered entities in hot water.

HIPAA Compliance and Phishing

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office for Civil Rights is tasked with enforcing Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act Rules. While OCR conducts audits of covered entities to identify aspects of HIPAA Rules that are proving problematic for covered entities, to date, no financial penalties have been issued as a result of HIPAA violations discovered during compliance audits. The same is certainly not the case when it comes to investigations of data breaches.

OCR investigates each and every data breach that impacts more than 500 individuals. Those investigations often result in the discovery of violations of HIPAA Rules.  Any HIPAA-covered entity that experiences a phishing attack that results in the exposure of patients’ or health plan members’ protected health information could have historic HIPAA violations uncovered. A single phishing attack that is not thwarted could therefore end up in a considerable fine for non-compliance.

What HIPAA Rules cover phishing? While there is no specific mention of phishing in HIPAA, phishing is a threat to the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of ePHI and is covered under the administrative requirements of the HIPAA Security Rule. HIPAA-covered entities are required to provide ongoing, appropriate training to staff members. §164.308.(a).(5).(i) requires security awareness training to be provided, and while these are addressable requirements, they cannot be ignored.

These administrative requirements include the issuing of security reminders, protection from malicious software, password management and login monitoring. Employees should also be taught how to identify potential phishing emails and told about the correct response when such an email is received.

The HIPAA Security Rule also requires technical safeguards to be implemented to protect against threats to ePHI. Reasonable and appropriate security measures should be employed to protect ePHI. Since ePHI is often available through email accounts, a reasonable and appropriate security measure would be to employ a spam filtering solution with an anti-phishing component.

Given the frequency of attacks on healthcare providers, and the extent to which phishing is involved in cytberattacks – PhishMe reports 91% of cyberattacks start with a phishing email –  a spam filtering solution can be classed as an essential security control.

The risk from phishing should be highlighted during a risk analysis: A required element of the HIPAA Security Rule. A risk analysis should identify risks and vulnerabilities that could potentially result in ePHI being exposed or stolen. Those risks must then be addressed as part of a covered entity’s security management process.

HIPAA Penalties for Phishing Attacks

OCR has recently agreed to a settlement with Metro Community Provider Network (MCPN), a federally-qualified health center (FQHC) based in Denver, Colorado following a phishing attack that occurred in December 2011. The attack allowed the attacker to gain access to the organization’s email accounts after employees responded by providing their credentials. The ePHI of 3,200 individuals was contained in those email accounts.

The fine was not exactly for failing to prevent the attack, but for not doing enough to manage security risks. MCPN had failed to conduct a risk analysis prior to the attack taking place and had not implemented security measures sufficient to reduce risks and vulnerabilities to a reasonable and appropriate level. OCR settled with MCPN for $400,000.

In 2015, another covered entity ended up settling with OCR to resolve violations of HIPAA Rules following a phishing attack. University of Washington Medicine paid OCR $750,000 following the exposure of 90,000 individual’s ePHI. In that case, the phishing attack allowed attackers to install malware.  OCR Director at the time, Jocelyn Samuels, pointed out “An effective risk analysis is one that is comprehensive in scope and is conducted across the organization to sufficiently address the risks and vulnerabilities to patient data.” She also said, “All too often we see covered entities with a limited risk analysis that focuses on a specific system such as the electronic medical records or that fails to provide appropriate oversight and accountability for all parts of the enterprise.”

Covered entities are not expected to prevent all phishing attacks, but they must ensure the risk of phishing has been identified and measures put in place to prevent phishing attacks from resulting in the exposure of theft of ePHI. If not, a HIPAA fine may be issued.

Exploit Kit Activity has Declined, but Spamming Activity Has Increased

Figures from Trustwave show there has been a steady decline in exploit kit activity over the past year. Exploit kits were once one of the biggest cybersecurity threats. In late 2015 and early 2016 exploit kits were being extensively used to spread ransomware and malware. Now exploit kit activity has virtually dropped to nothing.

Exploit kits are toolkits that are loaded onto malicious or hijacked websites that probe for vulnerabilities in browsers and plugins such as Adobe Flash Player and Java. When a new zero-day vulnerability was discovered, it would rapidly be added to exploit kits and used to silently download ransomware and malware onto web visitors’ computers. Any individuals that had failed to keep their browsers and plugins up to date would be at risk of being infected. All that would be required was make them – or fool them- into visiting a malicious website.

Links were sent via spam email, malvertising was used to redirect web visitors and websites were hacked and hijacked.  However, the effort required to develop exploits for vulnerabilities and host exploit kits was considerable. The potential rewards made the effort more than worthwhile.

Exploit kits such as Angler, Magnitude and Neutrino no longer pose such a big threat. The actors behind the Angler exploit kit, which was used to spread Locky ransomware in early 2016, were arrested. Law enforcement agencies across the world have also targeted gangs running these exploit kits. Today, exploit kit activity has not stopped entirely, but it is nowhere near the level seen in the first half of 2016.

While this is certainly good news, it does not mean that the threat level has reduced. Ransomware and malware are still major threats, all that has happened is cybercriminals have changed tactics for distributing the malicious programs. Exploit kits are not dead and buried. There has just been a lull in activity. New exploit kits are undoubtedly being developed. For the time being, exploit kit activity remains at a low level.

Now, the biggest threat comes from malicious spam email messages. Locky and other ransomware variants are now almost exclusively spread via spam email messages. Cybercriminals are also developing more sophisticated methods to bypass security controls, trick end users into opening infected email attachments, and improve infection rates.

Much greater effort is now being put into developing convincing phishing and spear phishing emails, while spam emails are combined with a wide range of social engineering tricks to get end users to open infected email attachments. End users are more knowledgeable and know not to click on suspicious email attachments such as executable files; however, malicious Word documents are another matter. Office documents are now extensively used to fool end users into installing malware.

With cybercriminals now favoring spam and phishing emails to spread malware and ransomware, businesses need to ensure their spam defenses are up to scratch. Employees should continue to be trained on cybersecurity, the latest email threats should be communicated to staff and advanced spam filters should be deployed to prevent messages from being delivered to end users.