Network Security

Far too often, news of data breaches is accompanied by details of the failures in network security that allowed a hacker access to confidential data. Many of these failure are avoidable with adequate precautions such as a spam email filter and mechanism for controlling access to the Internet.

Almost as many breaches in network security can be attributed to poor employee training. Password sharing, unauthorized downloads and poor online security practices can result in hackers gaining easy access to a network and extracting confidential data at will.

It has been well chronicled that hackers will bypass organizations with strong network security and turn their attention to fish that are easier to catch. Make sure your organization does not get caught in the net – implement appropriate web filters and educate your employees on the importance of network security.

RIG Exploit Kit Now Includes Windows Double Kill Exploit Code

The RIG exploit kit, used on compromised and malicious websites to silently download malware, has been upgraded with a new exploit. Windows Double Kill exploit code has been added to exploit the CVE-2018-8174 vulnerability – a remote code execution vulnerability that was addressed by Microsoft on May 2018 Patch Tuesday.

To protect against exploitation of this vulnerability, Windows users should ensure they have applied the latest round of patches, although many businesses have been slow to update their Windows devices, leaving them vulnerable to attack.

The vulnerability is in the VBScript engine and how it handles objects in the memory. If the vulnerability is exploited, attackers would gain the same level of privileges as the current user, could reallocate memory, gain read/write access, and potentially remotely execute code on a vulnerable device. The vulnerability has been named ‘Double Kill’ and affects all Windows versions.

The Windows Double Kill vulnerability was being actively exploited in the wild when Microsoft released the update on Patch Tuesday. Initially, exploitation of the vulnerability was achieved through phishing campaigns using RTF documents containing a malicious OLE object. If activated, an HTML page was downloaded and rendered through an Internet Explorer library and the VBScript flaw was exploited to download a malicious payload. The attack could also be conducted via a malicious website. In the case of the latter, it does not matter what browser the user has set as default – on unpatched systems the IE exploit could still work.

The Windows Double Kill exploit code was posted online this week and it didn’t take long for it to be incorporated into the RIG exploit kit. End users could be directed to the RIG exploit kit through phishing campaigns, malvertising, web redirects, or potentially could visit malicious sites through general web browsing. In addition to the Windows Double Kill exploit, the RIG exploit kit contains many other exploits for a wide range of vulnerabilities. Any individual that lands on a URL with the kit installed could be vulnerable even if the latest Windows patch has already been applied.

The threat from email-based attacks is also likely to grow. The Double Kill exploit code has also been incorporated into the ThreadKit exploit builder, which is used to create malicious Office documents for use in phishing attacks.

Protecting systems against these types of attacks requires prompt patching, although many organizations are slow to apply updates out of fear of compatibility problems, which could cause performance issues. Consequently, prior to applying patches they need to be fully tested and that can take time. During that time, organizations will be vulnerable to attack.

A web filter – such as WebTitan – provides an additional level of protection while patches are assessed for compatibility. WebTitan provides protection against exploit kits and malware downloads by preventing end users from visiting known malicious sites, either through general web browsing, redirects, or via hyperlinks contacted in phishing emails.

Magnitude Exploit Kit Changes Payload and EITest Operations Disrupted

There have been significant developments relating to exploit kits in the past few days. The threat actors behind the Magnitude exploit kit have now changed their malicious payload, and the EITest malware distribution network that directed traffic to exploit kits has finally been sinkholed.

Magnitude Exploit Kit Switches to GandCrab Ransomware Delivery

Exploit kit activity is at a fraction of the level of 2015 and 2016, and in 2017 there was a 62% reduction in the development of exploit kits according to research from Recorded Future.

However, exploit kit activity has not fallen to zero and the malicious code is still widely used to deliver malware and ransomware underscoring the continued need for technologies to block these attacks such as web filtering solutions and the continued need to keep on top of patching.

Exploit kits often leverage vulnerabilities in Java and Adobe Flash, although more recently it has been Microsoft vulnerabilities that have been exploited due to the fall in Java vulnerabilities and the phasing out of Adobe Flash.

One exploit kit that is still being used in extensive attacks, albeit attacks that are highly geographically targeted, is the Magnitude exploit kit.

For the past seven months, the Magnitude exploit kit has been delivering the Magniber ransomware payload almost exclusively in South Korea. However, there has been a notable change in the past few days with it also being used to distribute GandCrab ransomware, with the latter not restricted geographically and capable of infecting English language Windows devices.

While early variants of GandCrab ransomware were cracked and free recovery of files was possible, there is no known decryptor for the current version of GandCrab ransomware being distributed via Magnitude. While Adobe Flash and Microsoft exploits were commonly used, Magnitude is now using a fileless technique to load the ransomware. This technique makes it much harder to detect.

According to Malwarebytes, “The payload is encoded (using VBScript.Encode/JScript.Encode) and embedded in a scriplet that is later decoded in memory and executed.” Once run, the payload is injected into explorer.exe, files are encrypted, and the infected device is rebooted.

EITest Malware Distribution Network Disrupted

There has been some major good news on the exploit kit front this week with the announcement that the EITest malware distribution network has finally been sinkholed. EITest has been active since at least 2011 and has been used to distribute all manner of malware over the years.

EITest was a major distribution network responsible for countless Kronos, Ramnit, DarkCloud and Gootkit infections, although more recently was used to deliver ransomware variants such as CryptXXX and Cerber and send users to sites running social engineering and tech support scams.

Prior to being sinkholed, EITest was redirecting as many as 2 million users a day to a network of more than 52,000 compromised websites that had been loaded with exploit kit code and social engineering scams. Most of the compromised sites were WordPress sites based in the USA, China, and Ukraine.

The threat actors behind EITest were selling traffic to other actors in blocks of between 50,000 and 70,000 visitors at a cost of $20 per thousand.

Over a 20-day period since EITest was sinkholed, more than 44 million users were directed to the sinkhole rather than malicious websites.

Now all redirects to malicious websites have stopped. The compromised websites remain active, but rather than redirecting users to malicious domains they are directing traffic to benign domains controlled by abuse.ch and brilliantit.com.

New Traffic Distribution System Helps Threat Actors Conduct Web-Based Malware Attacks

Web-based malware attacks via exploit kits were commonplace in 2016, although in 2017 this mode of attack fell out of favor with cybercriminals, who concentrated on spam email to deliver their malicious payloads. Exploit kit activity is now at a fraction of the level of 2016, although 2017 did see an increase in activity using the Rig and Terror exploit kits.

Now, a recent discovery by Proofpoint could see exploit kit activity start to increase once again. A new traffic distribution system is being offered on darknet marketplaces that helps cybercriminals direct users to sites hosting exploit kits and conduct web-based malware attacks.

Traffic distribution systems – also known as TDS – buy and sell web traffic and are used to direct web users from one website to another. When a user clicks on a link that is part of a TDS system, they are directed to a website without their knowledge – a website that could host an exploit kit and trigger a malware download.

The new TDS – known as BlackTDS – requires threat actors to direct traffic to the service, which then filters that traffic and directs individuals to exploit kits based on their profile data. The service maximizes the probability of the exploit kit being able to download malware onto their device. The service can also be used to determine which malware will be downloaded, based on the profile of the user.

Threat actors that sign up to use the service can inexpensively select the exploit kits and malware they want installed with all aspects of the malware distribution service handled by the developers of BlackTDS. The developers also claim their cloud-based TDS includes fresh HTTPS domains that have not been blacklisted and that it is difficult for their cloudTDS to be detected by security researchers and sandboxes.

Using spam campaigns and malvertising, threat actors can direct traffic to BlackTDS with all aspects of drive-by downloads handled by the developers. Campaigns being run using BlackTDS have been directing users to the RIG-v, Sundown, and Blackhole exploit kits which are used to download a wide range of keyloggers, ransomware, and other malware variants.

The provision of this malicious service makes it cheap and easy for threat actors to take advantage of web-based malware distribution rather than relying on spam email to spread malicious software. It also makes it clear that exploit kits are still a threat and that web-based malware attacks are likely to become more of a problem over the coming months.

To find out more about how you can protect your business from exploit kits and web-based malware attacks, contact the TitanHQ team today and ask about WebTitan.

New TitanHQ Partnership Sees Firm Join HTG Peer Groups as Gold Vendor

New TitanHQ Partnership Sees Firm Join HTG Peer Groups as Gold Vendor

Today has seen the announcement of a new partnership between TitanHQ – the leading provider of email and web filtering solutions for MSPs – and the international consulting, coaching, and peer group organization HTG. The announcement was made at the Q1 HTG Peer Groups meeting at the Pointe Hilton Squaw Peak Resort, Phoenix, Arizona.

The partnership sees TitanHQ’s web filtering solution – WebTitan; its cloud-based anti-spam service – SpamTitan; and its email archiving solution – ArcTitan made immediately available to the HTG community.

TitanHQ has developed innovative cybersecurity solutions specifically for managed service providers to help them provide even greater protection to their clients from the ever-increasing volume of email and Internet-based threats. The multiple award-winning solutions have now been adopted by more than 7,500 businesses and 1,500 MSPs, helping to protect them from malware, ransomware, viruses, phishing, botnets, and other cyber threats.

HTG is a leading peer group association that was recently acquired by the global technology giant ConnectWise. HTG helps businesses plan and execute strategies to drive forward growth and increase profits. Its consultants and facilitators share wisdom, provide accountability, and build meaningful relationships with businesses to help them succeed in today’s highly competitive marketplace.

The new partnership will see TitanHQ join HTG Peer Groups as a Gold vendor, making the firm’s MSP-friendly cybersecurity solutions immediately available to the HTG community.

“We’re delighted to welcome TitanHQ on board for 2018. As soon as the initial discussion started we knew they would make a great match for our community, as web security is a key area for our members in 2018,” said HTG Peer Groups founder, Arlin Sorensen.

HTG Peer Groups Founder Arlin Sorensen (Left); TitanHQ CEO Conor Madden (Right)

“WebTitan web filter was built by MSP’s for MSP’s and this exciting relationship with HTG Peer Groups is a continuation of that process. It allows us to listen to the opportunities and difficulties faced by MSP senior executives while also allowing us to share how we became a successful web security vendor. Our goal is to successfully engage with HTG members to build strong and long-lasting relationships,” said TitanHQ CEO, Conor Madden.

Web security is a hot topic within the managed service provider community. MSPs are being called upon to improve web security for their clients and protect against a barrage of phishing, malware, and ransomware attacks. They are also called upon to mitigate malware and ransomware attacks when they are experienced by their clients, which can be time-consuming and costly. By implementing WebTitan, TitanHQ’s award-winning web filtering solution, MSPs can substantially reduce support and engineering costs.

WebTitan serves as a barrier between end users and the Internet, blocking attempts by users to visit malicious websites where malware and ransomware is silently downloaded. WebTitan is also a powerful content filtering solution that can be used to enforce organizations’ acceptable Internet usage policies.

The web filtering solution and TitanHQ’s anti-spam solution SpamTitan have been developed specifically with MSPs in mind. The solutions can be applied and configured in under 30 minutes without the need for additional hardware purchases, software downloads, or site visits.  The solutions have a low management overhead which means MSPs can protect their clients from email and web-based threats, reduce the hands-on time they need to spend on their clients and provide greater value while improving their bottom lines.
 

Skygofree Malware – One of the Most Dangerous Android Malware Threats Ever Seen

According to Kaspersky Lab, one of the most dangerous threats to mobile users is Skygofree malware – A recently discovered Android malware threat that has been described as the most powerful Android malware variant ever seen.

Skygofree malware has only recently been detected, but it is the product of some serious development. Kaspersky Lab believes it has been in development for more than three years. The result is a particularly nasty threat that all users of Android devices should take care to avoid. Once it is installed on a device, it has access to a considerable amount of data. It also has some rather impressive capabilities, being capable of 48 different commands.

Among its arsenal is the ability to take control of the camera and snap pictures and take videos without the knowledge of the user. It has access to geolocation data so is capable of tracking your every move. Where you go, as well as where you have been.

Skygofree malware will steal call records and discover who you have spoken to and when and will read your text messages. The malware can also record conversations and background noise, both for telephone calls and when the user enters a specific location – based on geolocation data – that has been set by the attacker.

Whenever you are in range of a WiFi network that is controlled by the attacker, the device will automatically connect, even if WiFi is turned off. It also has access to all information in the phone’s memory, can check your calendar to tell what you have planned, and intercept WiFi traffic.

You also cannot privately communicate using WhatsApp with Skygofree malware installed. It abuses the Android Accessibility Service and can view your messages. Skype conversations are similarly not secure. As if that was not enough, the malware also serves as a keylogger, recording all data entered on the device.

With such an extensive range of functions, this powerful new malware variant is clearly not the work of an amateur. It is believed to be the product of an Italian intercept and surveillance company called Negg, that is known to work with law enforcement agencies.

Kaspersky Lab researcher Alexey Firsh said, “Given the artefacts we discovered in the malware code and our analysis of the infrastructure, we have a high level of confidence that the developer behind the Skygofree implants is an Italian IT company that offers surveillance solutions, rather like HackingTeam.”

Skygofree malware is spread via malicious websites that closely resemble those of mobile carriers. Several mobile carriers including Vodaphone have been spoofed.

Protecting against malware threats such as this is difficult. The best defense is to be extremely careful browsing the internet. However, with malicious adverts able to redirect users to malicious sites, careful browsing is no guarantee of safety.

How to Protect Your WiFi Network and Block Malicious Websites

WebTitan for WiFi offers protection from malware when users connect to your WiFi network. WebTitan for WiFi is a powerful web filtering solution that can be used to restrict access to a predefined list of websites or configured to prevent users from visiting categories of websites known to carry a high risk of containing malware. Blacklists are also used to ensure known phishing and malware-laced websites, including those used to spread Android malware, cannot be accessed via your WiFi network.

To find out more about WebTitan for WiFi, and web filtering solutions for your wired networks, contact the TitanHQ today.

A Quarter of Ransomware Attacks in 2017 Targeted Businesses

Kaspersky Lab has named ransomware as one of the key threats of 2017, and one that continues to plague businesses the world over. Ransomware attacks in 2017 are down year on year, but ransomware attacks on businesses are up.

Ransomware attacks in 2016 were bad, but this year there have been three major attacks that have gone global – WannaCry in May, NotPetya in June, and most recently, the Bad Rabbit attacks in October. Many of the ransomware attacks in 2017 have been far more sophisticated than in 2015 and 2016, while attackers are now using a wider variety of tactics to install the malicious code.

At the start of 2016, ransomware was primarily being installed using exploit kits, before attackers switched to spam email as the main method of delivery. Spam email remains one of the most common ways for ransomware to be installed, although each of the above three attacks used exploits for unpatched vulnerabilities.

Those exploits had been leaked online by the hacking group Shadow Brokers, all of which had been developed and used by the NSA. While not severe as WannaCry, NotPetya and BadRabbit, exploits were also used by AES-NI and Uiwix ransomware variants. Threat actors are also using remote desktop protocol to gain access to systems to install ransomware, while the use of exploit kits is once again on the rise.

There has been a noticeable change in targets since 2015 when ransomware started to be favored by cybercriminals. Consumers were the main targets, although cybercriminals soon realized there was more to be made from attacking businesses. In 2016, 22.6% of ransomware attacks were on business users. The Kaspersky Lab report shows that ransomware attacks on businesses are becoming far more common, accounting for 26.2% of all attacks in 2017.

Out of the businesses that experienced a ransomware attack in 2017, 65% said they lost access to a significant amount of data, and in some cases, all of their data. Some businesses have prepared for the worst and have developed ransomware response plans and now have multiple copies of backups, with at least one copy on an unnetworked device. In the event of an attack, data can be recovered.

Others have not been so fortunate and have been left with no alternative other than to pay the ransom demand. As we saw with NotPetya, and many other ransomware and pseudo-ransomware variants, it is not always possible to recover data. The Kaspersky Lab report shows that one in six businesses that paid the ransom demand were unable to recover their data, creating massive business disruption and also potentially privacy and compliance fines. Keys to unlock the encryption were not provided or simply did not work.

There is some good news in the report. Ransomware attacks in 2017 affected 950,000 unique users, which is a considerable reduction from last year when 1.5 million users suffered a ransomware attack. This has been attributed not to a reduction in attacks, but better detection.

Kaspersky reports that the explosion in ransomware families in 2016 did not continue at the same level in 2017. Last year, 62 new families of ransomware were discovered. While there is still a month left of the year, to date, the number of new ransomware families in 2017 has fallen to 38.

While this appears to be good news, it is not an indication that the threat from ransomware is reducing. Kaspersky Lab notes that while the creation of new ransomware families halved in 2017, in 2016 there were 54,000 modifications made to existing ransomware variants, but this year there have been 96,000 modifications detected – Almost double the number of modifications last year. Rather than develop new ransomware families, cybercriminals are tweaking existing ransomware variants.

Kaspersky Lab, McAfee, and a host of security experts predict ransomware attacks will continue to plague businesses in 2018. As long as the attacks remain profitable they will continue, although Kaspersky Lab notes that 2018 is likely to see efforts switch to cryptocurrency miners, which can prove more profitable than ransomware in the long run. Even so, ransomware attacks are likely to continue for the foreseeable future.

To prevent the attacks, businesses need to implement a host of defenses to block and detect ransomware. Anti spam software can be deployed to prevent email-based attacks, web filters can be used to block access to websites hosting exploit kits and prevent drive -by downloads, and endpoint protection systems and network monitoring can detect changes made by ransomware and alert businesses to ransomware attacks in progress.  Along with good backup policies and end user training, the threat from ransomware can be reduced to an acceptable level and the majority of attacks can be blocked.

LockCrypt Ransomware Distributed Using Brute Force RDP Attacks

A malware threat called LockCrypt ransomware is being used in widespread attacks on businesses in the United States, United Kingdom, and South Africa. While ransomware is commonly spread via spam email, this campaign spreads the file-encrypting malware via remote desktop protocol brute force attacks.

The LockCrypt ransomware attacks were first detected in June this year, but over the past few months the number of attacks has increased significantly, with October seeing the highest number of attacks so far this year.

LockCrypt ransomware is a relatively new malware variant, having first been seen in June 2017. Once infected, users will be unable to access their files. This ransomware variant uses RSA-2048 and AES-256 cryptopgraphy, which makes it virtually impossible to recover files without paying the ransom demand if a viable backup does not exist. To make recovery more difficult, LockCrypt ransomware also deletes Windows Shadow Volume copies. Encrypted files are given the .lock extension.

The ransom payment for this campaign is considerable – typically between 0.5 and 1 Bitcoin per encrypted server. That’s between $3,963 and $7,925 per compromised server; however, since the same login credentials are often used for RDP access on multiple servers, once one password is correctly guessed, it can be used to access multiple servers and deploy LockCrypt ransomware.  One of the Bitcoin addresses used by the attackers shows one company paid a ransom of $19,000 to recover files on three of its servers.

Once access to a server is gained, ransomware is deployed; however, the attackers are manually interacting with compromised servers. AlientVault security researcher, Chris Doman, reported that for one company, in addition to deploying ransomware, the attackers “manually killed business critical processes for maximum damage.” All non-core processes on an infected server are killed.

The attacks do not appear to be targeted, instead they are randomly conducted on business servers. Businesses that are most likely to have ransomware installed are those that have failed to use complex passwords for RDP access. While it may be tempting to set an easy-to-remember password, this plays into the hands of attackers.

Other security controls such as two-factor authentication can reduce the risk from this type of attack, as can rate limiting to prevent the number of failed attempts a user can make before their IP address is temporarily – or permanently – blocked.

An additional control that system administrators can apply is to white-list certain IP addresses to restrict RDP access to authorized individuals. If that is not practical, disallowing RDP connections over the Internet from abroad can help to prevent these attacks.

While implementing controls to prevent RDP brute force attacks is vital, most ransomware variants are spread via spam email, and to a lesser extent via exploit kits and drive-by downloads. Comprehensive security defenses must therefore be deployed to reduce the risk of ransomware attacks.

These should include an advanced spam filtering solution to prevent malicious emails from being delivered, web filters to block malicious websites and drive-by downloads, end user training to raise awareness of the threat from ransomware and other forms of malware, and network monitoring technology to identify unusual server and endpoint activity.

Network activity monitoring will not prevent ransomware attacks, but it will help IT teams respond quickly and halt the spread of ransomware to other vulnerable servers and end points.

Magniber Ransomware Spread by Magnitude Exploit Kit

The Magnitude exploit kit is being used to deliver a new malware variant – Magniber ransomware. While the Magnitude EK has been used in attacks throughout the Asia Pacific region, the latest attacks are solely taking place in South Korea.

Ransomware and malware attacks in Europe and the Americas are primarily conducted via spam email. Exploit kits having fallen out of favor with cybercriminals over the past year. However, that is not the case in the Asia Pacific region, where exploit kit attacks are still common.

An exploit kit is a website toolkit that scans visitors’ browsers for exploitable vulnerabilities. When a vulnerability is identified, it is exploited to download malware onto the user’s system. The download occurs silently and in the case of a ransomware attack, the user is only likely to discover the attack when their files have been encrypted.

Magniber ransomware takes its name from the Magnitude EK and Cerber ransomware, the ransomware variant that it has replaced. At present, Magniber ransomware is solely targeting users in South Korea. If the operating system is not in Korean, the ransomware will not execute. While it is not unusual for ransomware campaigns to involve some targeting, it is rare for attacks to be targeted on a specific country.

Up until recently, the Magnitude exploit kit was being used to download Cerber ransomware. FireEye reports that those attacks were concentrated in the Asia Pacific region. 53% of attacks occurred in South Korea, followed by the USA (12%), Hong Kong (10%), Taiwan (10%), Japan (9%), and Malaysia (5%). Small numbers of attacks also occurred in Singapore and the Philippines. At the end of September, Magnitude EK activity fell to zero, but on October 15, the payload was updated and attacks were solely conducted in South Korea.

To avoid analysis, Magniber ransomware checks whether it is running in a virtual environment. A check is also performed to identify the system language. If the system language is Korean, data is encrypted with AES128 and encrypted files are given the .ihsdj extension. After encryption, the ransomware deletes itself. If the system language is not Korean, the ransomware exists.

At present, the Magnitude Exploit Kit has been loaded with a single exploit for CVE-2016-0189 – A memory corruption vulnerability in Internet Explorer. A patch for the vulnerability was released last year. FireEye believes the ransomware is still under development and its capabilities will be enhanced and finetuned.

To prevent attacks, it is important to ensure systems are fully patched. Businesses should make sure all network nodes are updated and are fully patched. A web filtering solution should also be used as an additional protection against this and other exploit kit attacks.

Cost of Cybercrime Increased 23% in 12 Months

The cost of cybercrime is 23% higher than last year, according to a new study conducted by the Ponemon Institute on behalf of Accenture. The average annual cost of cybercrime is now $11.7 million per organization, having increased from $9.5 million last year.

The Ponemon Institute conducted the 2017 Cost of Cybercrime study on 2,182 security and IT professionals at 254 organizations. Respondents were asked about the number of security breaches they experienced in the past 12 months, the severity of those incidents, and the cost of mitigation.

The average number of security breaches experienced by each organization was 130 per year, which is more than twice the number of incidents that were being experienced 5 years ago and 27.4% more than this time last year.

The costs of cybercrime were split into four areas: Disruption to businesses processes, data loss, loss of revenue, and damage to equipment. Respondents were asked to rate each based on their cost. While the losses from disruption to the business were not insignificant, they were the least costly. The biggest cost was information loss.

The costliest security incidents to resolve were malware attacks, which cost an average of $2.4 million to resolve, although the attacks were considerably more expensive to resolve in the United States where the average losses were $3.82 million per incident. In second place was web-based attacks, costing an average of $2 million globally and $3.4 million in the United States.

However, in terms of the amount of disruption caused, insider incidents topped the list, taking an average of 50 days to mitigate. Ransomware attacks took an average of 23 days to resolve.

The cost of cybercrime report indicates organizations in the financial services have the highest annual costs, spending an average of $18.28 million per organization. In second place was the energy sector with an average annual cost of $17.20 million.

Organizations in the United States had the biggest annual security breach resolution costs, spending an average of $21 million each per year. Bottom of the list was Australia with average annual costs of $5 million. Organizations in the United Kingdom were spending an average of $8.7 million per year.

As we saw with the NotPetya attacks, the cost of a cyberattack can be considerably higher. Both Maersk and FedEx reported their losses from the attacks could well rise to $300 million.

The most valuable security tools were seen as threat intelligence solutions, which gather data from cyberattacks around the world and allow businesses to prioritize threats. These solutions saved businesses an average of $2.8 million per year.

Malvertising Phishing Attacks Soar, Underscoring Need for a Web Filter

Email may be the primary vector used in phishing attacks, but the second quarter of 2017 has seen a massive increase in malvertising phishing attacks.

Malvertising is the term given to malicious adverts, which are often displayed on high-traffic websites via third party advertising networks. These adverts are used to direct web visitors to malicious websites, oftentimes sites containing exploit kits that probe for vulnerabilities and silently download ransomware and other malware.

These malware attacks increased between 2015 and 2016, with the total number of malvertising attacks rising by 136%. Demonstrating how quickly the threat landscape changes, between Q1 and Q2, 2017 there was a noticeable decline in malicious advert-related exploit kit and malware attacks. Exploit kit redirects fell by 24% and malware-related adverts fell by almost 43%, according to a recent study released by RiskIQ.

However, the study shows there was a massive increase in malvertising phishing attacks with cybercriminals changing their tactics. Phishing-related adds increased by 131% in Q2, 2017, but between 2015 and 2016, malvertising phishing attacks increased by a staggering 1,978%.

The websites that these adverts direct users to often promise a free gift in exchange for taking part in a survey. Genuine market research firms tend not to offer large incentives for taking part in surveys, or when they do offer an incentive, participants are entered into a draw where they stand a chance of winning a prize. When gifts are offered, to all participants it is a warning sign that all may not be as it seems. That said, many people still fall for the scams.

The aim of the surveys is to obtain sensitive information such as bank account information, Social Security numbers, usernames, passwords and personal information. The information can be used for a wide range of nefarious purposes. It is not only personal information that is sought. Cybercriminals are keen to gain access to corporate email accounts for the data they contain and to use them to send phishing emails.

When phishing attacks occur through corporate email accounts it can seriously tarnish a company’s reputation and may result in litigation if insufficient controls have been implemented to prevent such attacks from occurring.

Businesses can protect against malicious adverts and websites by implementing a web filter. A web filter can be configured to block third party adverts as well as the malicious websites that users are directed to, thus minimizing the risk of web-based malware and phishing attacks.

Many businesses are now choosing to filter the website content that their employees access purely for security reasons, although there are many other benefits to be gained from content filtering. Web filters can help employers curb cyberslacking, control bandwidth usage, and reduce legal liability.

With the cost of DNS-based content filtering low and potentially high losses from the failure to control Internet access, it is no surprise that so many businesses are now choosing to regulate what employees can do online at work.

To find out more about the full range of benefits of web filtering and to take advantage of a free trial of WebTitan, the leading web filtering solution for businesses, contact the TitanHQ today.

The High Cost of a Ransomware Attack

Why should businesses invest heavily in technology to detect ransomware attacks when a ransom payment may only be between $500 and $1,000? While that is what cybercriminals are charging as a ransom, the cost of a ransomware attack is far higher than any ransom payment. In fact, the ransom is often one of the lowest costs of a ransomware attack that businesses must cover.

The ransom payment may seem relatively small, although the latest ransomware variants are capable of spreading laterally, infecting multiple computers, servers and encrypting network shares. The ransom payment is multiplied by the number of devices that have been infected.

The Cost of a Ransomware Attack Can Run to Millions of Dollars

When businesses suffer ransomware attacks, the attackers often set their ransoms based on the perceived ability of the organization to pay. In 2016, Hollywood Presbyterian Medical Center was forced to pay a ransom of $19,000 to unlock its infection. When the San Francisco Muni was infected, hackers demanded $50,000 for the keys to unlock its payment system. In June 2017, South Korean web host Nayana agreed to pay $1 million for the keys to unlock the encryption of its 53 Linux servers and 3,400 customer websites.

These ransom payments are high, but the ransom is only one cost of a ransowmare attack. The biggest cost of a ransomware attack is often the disruption to business services while files are taken out of action. Systems can be taken out of action for several days, bringing revenue generating activities to an abrupt stop. One Providence law firm experienced downtime of three months following a ransomware attack, even though the $25,000 ransom was paid. Lawyers were stopped from working, causing a loss in billings of an estimated $700,000.

In heavily regulated industries, notifications must be sent to all individuals whose information has been encrypted, and credit monitoring and identity theft services often need to be provided. When hundreds of thousands of users’ data is encrypted, the cost of printing and mailing notifications and paying for credit monitoring services is substantial.

Once an attack has been resolved, networks need to be analyzed to determine whether any other malware has been installed or backdoors created. Cybersecurity experts usually need to be brought in to conduct forensic analyses. Then ransomware defenses need to be improved and new security systems purchased. The total cost of a ransomware attack can extend to hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars.

Ransomware is Here to Stay

As long as ransomware attacks are profitable, the threat will not go away. The use of ransomware-as-a-service allows ransomware developers to concentrate on creating even more sophisticated ransomware variants and stay one step ahead of security researchers and antivirus companies.

Anonymous payment methods make it hard for law enforcement to discover the identities of ransomware developers, and since those individuals are usually based overseas, even if they are identified, bringing them to justice is problematic.

Ransomware developers are constantly changing tactics and are developing new methods of attack. The coming months and years are likely to see major changes to how ransomware is used, and the systems that are attacked.

Ransomware attacks mostly target Windows systems, although new variants have already been developed to encrypt Mac and Linux files. Security experts predict there will also be an increase in ransomware variants targeting Macs as Apple’s market share increases, while website attacks are becoming more common. When a website is attacked, all site files, pages, and images are encrypted to prevent access. For an e-commerce business, the attacks can be devastating.

Ransomware attacks on mobile devices are now commonplace, with screen-lockers and file-encryptors used. Screen locking ransomware prevents users from accessing any apps or functions rendering the device unusable. File encrypting variants encrypt all data stored on the device. These ransomware variants are most commonly packaged with apps sold in unofficial app stores. Risk can be substantially reduced by only downloading files from official app stores and ensuring all apps are kept up to date.

Given the increase in attacks and the massive increase in new ransomware variants, businesses must improve their defenses, block the common attack vectors, backup all data, and constantly monitor for indicators of compromise.

Tips for Preventing a Ransomware Attack

  • Ensure users only have access to data and network drives necessary for them to perform their jobs.
  • Backup devices should be disconnected when backups have been performed.
  • Keep operating systems, software applications, and plugins up to date and fully patched.
  • Block access to websites known to host exploit kits using a web filter such as WebTitan.
  • Implement a spam filtering solution to prevent malicious emails from reaching inboxes.
  • Provide regular, ongoing training to all staff on the risks of ransomware and phishing.
  • Segment your network and restrict administrator rights.

To ensure a swift recovery from a ransomware attack, make sure you:

  • Create multiple backups of all files, websites, and systems.
  • Create three backups on two different media and store one copy offsite.
  • Develop a ransomware response plan that can be implemented immediately when an attack is suspected.

Equifax Data Breach: 143 Million Consumers Affected

A massive Equifax data breach was announced yesterday, which ranks as one of the largest data breaches of 2017. Approximately 143 million consumers have been impacted and had their sensitive data exposed and potentially stolen.

A data breach at any company can cause considerable fallout, although this incident is particularly bad news for a credit reporting agency. Equifax aggregates and stores vast quantities of highly sensitive consumer data that are used by financial firms to make decisions about the creditworthiness of consumers. The data breach is sure to damage trust in the company.

Ironically, Equifax offers credit monitoring and identity theft protection services to companies that experience data breaches to help them protect breach victims. Naturally, all Americans affected by the Equifax data breach will be offered those services free of charge. In fact, Equifax has gone further by agreeing to offer those services free of charge to all U.S. consumers for a period of one year, even if they were not directed affected by the breach.

Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, Richard F. Smith, said “This is clearly a disappointing event for our company, and one that strikes at the heart of who we are and what we do. I apologize to consumers and our business customers for the concern and frustration this causes.”

The Equifax data breach may not be the largest data breach of 2017, but the nature of the datya exposed make it one of the most serious. Highly sensitive data were exposed, including personal information, Social Security numbers, birthdates, driver’s license numbers, and 209,000 consumers had their credit card numbers exposed.

These are the exact types of information used by cybercriminals to commit identity theft and fraud. Dispute documents were also stored on the compromised system. Those documents contained a range of personal information of 182,000 consumers. The bulk of the data related to U.S citizens, although some consumers in Canada and the United Kingdom have also been affected by the Equifax data breach.

The hacker(s) responsible for the attack had access to Equifax’s systems for a considerable period of time before the breach was discovered. Access was first gained to systems in mid-May and continued until July 29, 2017 when the breach was discovered.

According to a statement released by Equifax yesterday, hackers gained access to its systems by exploiting a website vulnerability. While sensitive data were exposed and potentially stolen, Equifax reports that its core databases that are used for credit referencing purposes, were not compromised at any point.

The data breach is still being investigated and a third-party cybersecurity firm has been hired to assist with the investigation. Smith said, “I’ve told our entire team that our goal can’t be simply to fix the problem and move on. Confronting cybersecurity risks is a daily fight. While we’ve made significant investments in data security, we recognize we must do more. And we will.”

Breach notification letters are being sent to some, but not all, breach victims. Only the 391,000 individuals whose credit card numbers or dispute documents were exposed will receive notifications by mail. All other individuals will have to check an online tool to find out if their information was exposed in the breach.

Neptune Exploit Kit Turns Computers into Cryptocurrency Miners

The Neptune Exploit kit is being used to turn computers into cryptocurrency miners, with traffic directed to the exploit kit using a hiking-themed malvertising campaign.

Exploit kit activity has fallen this year, although these web-based attacks still pose a significant threat. Exploit kits are web-based toolkits that probe browsers and plugins for vulnerabilities that can be exploited to download malware. Simply visiting a website hosting an exploit kit is all it takes for malware to be silently downloaded.

Protecting against exploit kit attacks requires browsers, plugins and extensions to be kept 100% up to date. However, even updated browsers can be vulnerable. Exploit kits can also include exploits for zero-day vulnerabilities that have not yet been patched.

Acceptable usage policies can help organizations to prevent exploit kit attacks, although website visitors are often redirected to malicious sites from legitimate websites. One of the main ways this happens is the use of malvetisements. Many high traffic websites include advertising blocks that display third-party adverts. The advertising networks serve adverts which are displayed on member sites, with the site owners earning money from ad impressions and click throughs.

While the advertising networks have measures in place to vet advertisers, oftentimes cybercriminals succeed in submitting malicious adverts. Those adverts are then pushed out and displayed on legitimate websites. Clicking one of those malicious adverts will see the user directed to a webpage hosting the exploit kit.

Exploit kits are used to download Trojans, ransomware and other malicious code, although the Neptune exploit kit is being used to download cryptocurrency miners. Infection will see computers’ processing power used to mine the Monero cryptocurrency. Infection will result in the infected computer’s resources being hogged, slowing down the performance of the machine.

The latest Neptune exploit kit campaign uses hiking club-related adverts to drive traffic to landing pages hosting the Neptune exploit kit, which in turn uses HTML and Flash exploits to download malware. These adverts closely mimic genuine domains. FireEye reports that one such campaign mimics the genuine website highspirittreks[.]com using the domain highspirittreks[.]club. Other campaigns offer a service to convert Youtube videos to MP3 files. The imageryused in the adverts is professional and the malvertising campaigns are likely to fool many web surfers.

The exploits used in the latest campaign are all old, therefore, protecting against attacks simply requires plugins and browsers to be updated. The main exploits take advantage of flaws in Internet Explorer – CVE-2016-0189, CVE-2015-2419, CVE-2014-6332 – and Adobe Flash – CVE-2015-8651, CVE-2015-7645.

Having a computer turned into a cryptocurrency miner may not be the worst attack scenario, although exploit kits can rapidly switch their payload. Other exploit kits are being used to deliver far more damaging malware, which will be downloaded silently without the user’s knowledge. Consequently, organizations should take precautions.

In addition to prompt patching and updating of software, organizations can improve their defences against exploit kits by implementing a web filtering solution such as WebTitan.

WebTitan can be configured to block all known malicious sites where drive-by downloads take place and can prevent malvertisements from directing end users to webpages hosting these malicious toolkits.

To find out more about WebTitan and how it can improve your organization’s security posture, contact the TitanHQ team today.

India’s Central Board of Secondary Education Recommends School Web Filtering Technology

India’s Central Board of Secondary Education is urging all CBSE affiliated schools to take action to improve safety for students, including implementing school web filtering technology to keep students safe online.

The Internet is home to an extensive range of potentially harmful material that can have a major impact on young developing minds. Parents can take action to keep their children safe at home by using parental control filters. However, students must receive similar or greater levels of protection while at school.

School web filtering technology can prevent students from deliberately or accidentally viewing obscene material such as pornography, child pornography or images of child abuse and other categories of potentially harmful website content. CBSE has warned school boards that when students access this material it is “detrimental to themselves, their peers and the value system.” School web filtering technology should also be implemented to prevent students from engaging in illegal activities online via school IT devices.

CBSE affiliates schools have been advised to develop guidelines for safe Internet use and make this information available to students and display the rules prominently. However, without school web filtering technology, these policies would be easy to ignore. A technological solution ensures students wishing to engage in illegal activities online, or view harmful website content, will be prevented from doing so.

Prevention is only one aspect of Internet control. Schools should also set up a monitoring system to discover when individuals are attempting to bypass Internet usage policies. A web filtering solution should therefore have the capability to generate reports of attempted accessing of prohibited material to allow schools to take action. Schools have also been advised to sensitize parents about safety norms and even go as far as suggesting disciplinary action be taken when children are discovered to have attempted to access inappropriate material.

While many school systems around the world have implemented school web filtering technology, CBSE is advising affiliated schools in India to go one step further and restrict Internet content by age groups. Schools should set filtering controls by user groups and restrict access to age-inappropriate websites. Web filtering solutions such as WebTitan allows controls to be easily set for different user groups. The solution can be used to set separate filtering controls for staff and students of differing ages with ease.

Other Internet controls that have been suggested include the rapid blocking usernames/passwords when children leave school, using antivirus solutions to reduce the risk of malware infections, using firewalls to prevent cyberattacks and the theft of children’s sensitive information, and for staff to avoid posting images and videos of their students online.

School Web Filtering Technology from TitanHQ

The benefits of implementing school web filtering technology are clear, but choosing the most cost-effective controls can be a challenge. Appliance based web filters involve a significant initial cost, there is ongoing maintenance to consider, the need for on-site IT support in many cases, and as the number of Internet users increases, hardware upgrades may be necessary.

TitanHQ offers a more cost-effective and easy to manage solution – The 100% cloud-based web filter, WebTitan. WebTitan Cloud and WebTitan Cloud for WiFi make filtering the Internet a quick and easy process. To start filtering the Internet and protecting students from harmful web content, all that is required is to point your DNS to WebTitan. Once that simple change has been made you can be filtering the Internet in minutes.

Both solutions can be easily configured to block different categories of website content, such as pornography, file sharing websites, gambling and gaming websites and other undesirable website content. The solutions support blacklists, allowing phishing and malware-infected sites to be easily blocked along with all webpages identified by the Internet Watch Foundation as containing images of child abuse and child pornography.

These powerful web filtering solutions require no software updates or patching. All updates are handled by TitanHQ. Once acceptable Internet usage policies have been set via the intuitive web-based control panel, maintenance only requires occasional updates such as adding legitimate webpages to whitelists. Even blacklists are updated automatically.

WebTitan also supports remote learning. All students’ devices can be protected while connected to a school’s wired or wireless network. To extend protection beyond the school gates, a WebTitan On-The-Go (OTG) roaming agent can be installed on devices. This will ensure that the content filtering policy will apply no matter where that device connects to the Internet.

If you are keen to implement school web filtering technology for the first time or are unhappy with your current provider, contact the TitanHQ team today and register for your no-obligation Free Trial and see the benefits of WebTitan for yourself before making a decision about a purchase.

Cybercriminals Generate Ransomware Profits of $25 Million in 2 Years

A new study has shown that cybercriminals have generated ransomware profits in excess of $25 million over the past two years, clearly demonstrating why cryptoransomware attacks have soared. There is big money to be made in this form of cyber extortion. The bad news is that with so many organizations paying to recover their files, the ransomware attacks will continue and will likely increase.

Ransomware attacks are profitable because users are still failing to back up their data. Google’s figures suggest that even though the threat of data deletion or encryption is high, only 37% of computer users back up their data. That means if ransomware encrypts files, the only option to recover data is to pay the ransom demand.

Figures from the FBI estimated ransomware payments to have exceeded $1 billion in 2016; however, it is difficult to accurately calculate ransomware profits since the authors go to great lengths to hide their activities. Ransomware profits are difficult to track and companies are reluctant to announce attacks and whether payment has been made.

Two notable exceptions were the South Korean hosting company Nayana that was attacked and had 153 Linux servers and 3,400 customer websites encrypted. The firm paid 1.2 billion Won – approximately $1 million – for the keys to unlock the encryption. Recently, a Canadian company has reportedly paid a ransom of $425,000 to recover its files, although the identity of the firm is still unknown.

Now, a study conducted by Google, with assistance from Chainalysis, the University of California at San Diego, and New York University’s Tandon School of Engineering has shed some light on actual ransomware profits. The study involved an analysis using blockchains and Bitcoin wallets known to have been used to collect ransomware payments. The researchers also used reports from victims and monitored network traffic generated by victims of ransomware attacks to help track where payments were sent.

The study looked at the top 34 ransomware strains and determined more than $25 million has been collected in the past two years. 95% of payments were cashed out using the Bitcoin trading platform BTC-e.

Google has calculated Locky has earned $7.8 million in ransom payments over the past 24 months – 28% of the total payments made. Cerber is in second place with $6.9 million, followed by CryptoLocker on $2 million and CryptXXX and Sam Sam, both on $1.9 million. Spora ransomware may not have made it into the top five, although Google researchers warn that this is an up-and-coming ransomware variant and one to watch over the coming months.

In recent months Cerber ransomware has become the most widely used ransomware variant. The success of Cerber ransomware can be attributed to the skill of the developers in developing a ransomware variant that can evade detection and the affiliate model used to distribute the ransomware – Ransomware-as-a-Service (RaaS).

RaaS means any number of individuals can conduct ransomware campaigns. Kits are offered to anyone willing to conduct campaigns. Little technical skill is required. All that is required is a lack of moral fiber and the ability to send spam emails distributing the ransomware. Affiliates receive a percentage of the ransomware profits.

WannaCry ransomware certainly caused something of a storm when the worldwide attacks were conducted in May, and while there were more than 200,000 victims worldwide and some 300,000 computers affected, a flaw in the design meant the attacks could be halted and relatively few ransom payments were made. The ransomware profits from these attacks was calculated by Google to be around $100,000.

Ransomware profits from NotPetya were low, although making money was never the aim. NotPetya appeared to be ransomware, although it was actually a wiper. A ransomware demand was issued, but it was not possible to recover data on infected machines. Once this became clear, ransoms were not paid.

The success of Locky, Cerber and CryptXXX is due to the skill of the developers at evading detection. These ransomware variants are constantly evolving to stay one step ahead of security researchers. In the case of Cerber, the researchers discovered thousands of new binaries are being detected each month. There are 23,000 binaries for Cerber and around 6,000 for Locky. In total, the study involved an analysis of 301,588 binaries. The malware variants are capable of changing binaries automatically making detection difficult.

Ransomware attacks may still only make up a small percentage of the total number of malware-related incidents – less than 1% – but the threat is still severe and the attacks are likely to continue, if not increase. As long as it is profitable to develop ransomware and/or use existing ransomware variants, the attacks will continue.

Kylie McRoberts, a senior strategist with Google’s Safe Browsing team, said “Ransomware is here to stay and we will have to deal with for a long time to come.”

More than 500,000 Systems Infected with Stantinko Malware

Stantinko malware may only have recently been detected, but it is far from a new malware variant. It has been in use for the past five years, yet has only recently been identified. During the past five years, Stantinko malware has spread to more than 500,000 devices and has been operating silently, adding infected systems to a large botnet, with the majority of infected machines in Russia and Ukraine.

The botnet has primarily been used to run a largescale adware operation. The malware installs the browser extensions Teddy Protection and The Safe Surfing, which appear to users to be legitimate apps that block malicious URLs. These apps are legitimate if downloaded via the Chrome Web Store, but they are not if they are installed by Stantinko. The Stantinko versions contain different code that is used for click fraud and ad injection.

ESET reports that additional plugins known to be installed by Stantinko malware include Brute-Force and Search Parser which are used for Joomla/WordPress brute force attacks and to anonlymously search for Joomla/WordPress sites. Remote Administrator is a fully functional back door and Facebook Bot can generate fake likes, create new accounts, or add friends on Facebook, virtually undetected.

While click fraud is the primary goal of the attackers, Stantinko malware can perform a wide range of functions. Since Stantinko includes a loader, enabling threat actors to send any code to an infected device via their C2 server and run the code.

ESET researchers say the malware uses Windows services to perform backdoor activities and brute force attacks on WordPress and Joomla websites. Once access is gained, the attackers sell on the login credentials to other cybercriminal groups, according to ESET. That’s not all. ESET says Stantinko malware could be used to perform any task on an infected host.

The malware and botnet have remained undetected for so long due to their ability to adapt to avoid being detected by anti-malware solutions. The malware also uses code encryption to avoid detection. Users would be unlikely to realize that anything untoward was happening on their machine. The tasks performed by the malware involve low CPU activity and do not slow an infected device considerably.

Infection is believed to occur through illegal file sharing, especially the downloading of pirated software. However, ESET notes that infection has occurred through fake torrent files that are actually executables.

Removal of the malware is not straightforward. The malware installs two Windows services, each of which is capable of reinstalling the other service if one is deleted. If for any reason that process fails, the attackers can reinstall those services via their C2 server.

The discovery of Stantinko malware highlights the danger of failing to prevent employees from accessing file sharing websites at work. The downloading of pirated material, even accessing torrents files, has potential to infect enterprise networks with malware. Even if anti-virus and anti-malware solutions have been deployed, there is no guarantee that malware will be detected.

Organizations can protect against these types of attacks by implementing a web filtering solution and blocking access to file sharing websites and torrents sites. If these sites cannot be accessed and pirated software downloads are blocked, infection can be prevented.

NotPetya Ransomware Believed to be Camouflaged Disk-Wiper

The NotPetya ransomware attacks on Tuesday this week initially looked like another WannaCry-style attack. They used similar NSA exploits to spread infections, ransoms were demanded and like WannaCry, the attacks rapidly spread around the globe. However, closer inspection of NotPetya ransomware has revealed that all may not be as it first appeared.

The purpose of ransomware is to lock files with powerful encryption to prevent files from being accessed. A ransom demand is then issued. Payment of the ransom will see the keys to unlock the decryption supplied. Organizations get their files back. The attackers get a big payday.

There have been many cases when ransomware has encrypted files, yet the attackers are not capable of supplying the keys. These attacks have tended to be conducted by amateurs or show the authors have been sloppy and failed to check that decryption is possible.

If attackers do not make good on their promise to supply valid keys to unlock the encryption, word will soon spread on social media and security websites that paying the ransom will not enable organizations to recover their files. That means the campaign will likely not be profitable.

Developing a new ransomware variant is not a quick and easy process. It does not make sense for a threat actor to go to all the trouble of developing ransomware, devising a sophisticated multi-vector campaign to spread the ransomware, but then forget about essential elements that make it possible to receive ransom payments.  That is, unless the aim of the campaign is not to make money.

In the case of the recent NotPetya ransomware attacks, the actors behind the campaign appear to have made some serious errors if making money was their aim.

First, the ransom demand was only $300 per infected machine, which is well below the current average payment demanded by ransomware gangs.

As for the errors, they were numerous. Petya ransomware, which NotPetya closely resembles, provides the victim with an installation ID. That ID is unique to the victim. It is used to determine who has paid the ransom. In the latest attacks, the IDs consisted entirely of random characters. As Kaspersky Lab explained, that means it is not possible for the attackers to identify the victims that pay up.

Successful ransomware campaigns use a different Bitcoin address for each victim, yet only one Bitcoin account was used by the attackers. The email address used by the attacker was hosted by Posteo. The German firm quickly shut down that account, meaning it was not possible to check who had paid. That would be a serious oversight by the attackers, who surely must have suspected that would occur.

NotPetya ransomware also does not encrypt files. Like Petya, it replaces and encrypts the Master File Table (MFT). However, NotPetya ransomware corrupts the MFT, wiping out the first 24 sector blocks. Petya ransomware did not do that, instead modifications were made that could be reversed. As a result, NotPetya causes permanent damage ensuring recovery is not possible.

These factors suggest that Petya was modified and turned into a wiper to cause permanent damage rather than make money. That would suggest this was a state-sponsored attack designed attack to cause major disruption. Due to the extent to which Ukraine was attacked, that country appears to be the main target. As for who was responsible for the attack… that has yet to be established. However, many people in Ukraine have strong suspicions.

Study Reveals Misplaced Confidence in Cyber Response Plans

Confidence in cyber response plans doesn’t appear to be lacking according to a new study conducted by Deloitte. However, that does not mean organizations are prepared for cyberattacks when they occur. The survey revealed that while confidence is high and IT professionals believe they are well prepared to deal with attacks, their cyber response plans may not be effective.

The only way to determine whether cyber response plans will function as planned is to conduct regular tests. If plans are not tested, organizations will not be able to determine with any degree of certainty, if their plans will be effective.

As the recent Ponemon Institute Cost of a Data Breach study confirmed, the ability to respond quickly to a data breach can reduce breach resolution costs considerably. For that to happen, a response plan must have been developed prior to the breach being experienced and that plan must be effective.

The Deloitte study revealed that 76% of business executives were confident that in the event of a cyberattack they would be able to respond quickly and implement their cyberattack response policies. Yet, the study also revealed that 82% of respondents had not tested their response plans in the past year. They had also not documented their plans with business stakeholders in the past year.

A lot can change in a year. New software solutions are implemented, configurations change as do personnel. Only regular testing will ensure that plans work and staff know their roles when an attack occurs.

Cyberattack simulations are a useful tool to determine how attack response plans will work in practice. As is often the case, plans look great on paper but often fail when put in place. Running simulations every 6 months will help to ensure that a fast and effective response to a cyberattack is possible. However, the survey showed that only 46% of respondents conduct simulations twice a year or more frequently.

A data breach can have dire consequences for a company. The study showed that many companies are most concerned about disruptions to business processes as a result of a cyberattack, although loss of trust and tarnishing of a brand should be of more concern. When a data breach is experienced, customers often choose to take their business elsewhere resulting in a considerable loss of revenue. A fast and efficient breach response can help restore faith in a brand and reduce the churn rate.

If you want to reduce the impact of a data breach and reduce costs, it is essential for cyber response plans to be developed and tested. With the volume of cyberattacks now occurring, it is highly probable that those plans will need to be implemented. By then it will be too late to determine whether they are effective. That could prove extremely costly.

New WannaCry Ransomware Variants Identified

The version of WannaCry ransomware used in Friday’s attacks has been blocked, although new WannaCry ransomware variants have been detected.

U.S Escapes WannaCry Relatively Unscathed

The total number of computers infected with WannaCry ransomware is now believed to be around 300,000, although the United States escaped relatively unscathed, according to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS).

While it is still unclear exactly how many U.S. organizations have been affected, fewer than 10 organizations have reported a WannaCry ransomware attack to DHS.

The ransomware attacks have now stopped, although organizations that have experienced an infection that has resulted in files being encrypted must recover those files from a backup, accept data loss, or pay the attackers for the decryption keys.

The attackers have so far made around $81,000 from their ransomware campaign, according to @actual_ransom. With a ransom payment of $300 per infected device, many payments have already been made; however, given the number of devices locked by the ransomware, most victims are not paying the attackers to unlock their files.

WannaCry ransomware encryptions were stopped when a security researcher (Malware Tech) from the UK discovered a kill switch while investigating the worm code. In an apparent effort to avoid running in a sandbox or virtual environment, a check was performed on a nonsense domain. If a connection to that domain was successful, the ransomware would exit. If connection to the unregistered domain failed, the ransomware would proceed and encrypt files. By registering that domain, Malware Tech stopped further encryptions.

WannaCry Victims Appear to Have Been Contacted by the Attackers

In an apparent effort to increase the profits from the campaign, the attackers have generated pop up messages on affected computers saying, “I have already sent decryption keys to many customers who had sent me the correct amounts of bitcoin, and I guarantee the decryptions for such honest customers.” While this message could indicate the attacker has access to infected computers, it is possible that the message was pre-programmed to appear.

Paying ransom demands only encourages attackers to conduct further attacks. Ransom payments can be used by the attackers to fund further ransomware campaigns. There is also no guarantee that the attackers will supply valid keys to unlock data, even if they say they will. The advice from the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) is never to pay a ransom unless it is absolutely necessary.

New WannaCry Ransomware Variants Detected

While the version of WannaCry ransomware used in Friday’s attacks has been stopped, that is not the only version of the ransomware being used. New WannaCry ransomware variants have been identified.

A second version was identified by researcher Matt Suiche. This version also included a kill switch, but used a different domain. Suiche registered that second domain and prevented 10,000 infected machines from having files encrypted.

A third version of Wannacry ransomware was also identified by Kaspersky Lab without the kill switch, although in that case, the ransomware component had been corrupted and infected computers would not have data encrypted.

The WannaCry attacks used the ETERNALBLUE exploit published by Shadow Brokers last month, which takes advantage of a vulnerability in Microsoft Server Message Block 1.0 (SMBv1). The threat from WannaCry may be temporarily over, although WannaCry is not the only threat that uses the ETERNALBLUE exploit and the DoublePulsar backdoor.

Researchers at Proofpoint have identified another threat that similarly uses the exploit to gain access to computers. In this case, the goal is not to encrypt files or even steal data. The attackers install Adylkuzz – a program that hogs computer resources and mines the cryptocurrency Monero.

How to Block the ETERNALBLUE Exploit

Other cybercriminals may also be using the ETERNALBLUE exploit and new WannaCry ransomware variants may be released without the kill switch. To block attacks, organizations should ensure that the MS17-010 patch is applied to plug the vulnerability. Older operating systems (Windows 8, Windows Server 2003, and Windows XP) can also be patched and protected against WannaCry ransomware attacks and other malware that use the ETERNALBLUE exploit. Any organization that has port 445 open should also ensure the port is closed, and if SMB must be used over the Internet, SMB should be used through an internal network via a VPN.

Researchers Discover Pre-Installed Keylogger on HP Laptops

Browsing the Internet can result in malware and spyware downloads, malicious software can arrive via spam email, but a fresh-out-of-the-box laptop computer should be totally malware free. But not always. A pre-installed keylogger on HP laptops has recently been identified by Swedish security firm Modzero.

Potentially unwanted programs can be found on many new devices. Some serve a purpose but pose a security threat. For instance, in 2014, Lenovo laptop computers were shipped with ‘malware’ already installed that made the devices vulnerable to man-in-the-middle attacks. The program was Superfish.

The pre-installed keylogger on HP laptops does not appear to be used for any malicious purposes, although there is considerable potential for the program to be abused. The spyware records all keystrokes on the laptops after a user logs in and stores that information in a local drive. In some situations, the keystrokes will be passed to an API on the laptop.

The keylogger was discovered in an audio driver package – Conexant HD Audio Driver Package 1.0.0.46 and earlier versions. The offending file is MicTray64.exe, located in the C:\windows\system32\ folder.

Each time a user logs in, the program is scheduled to run. The file monitors all keystrokes on the device in order to monitor for special keystrokes. The program was developed by, Conexant, the audio chip manufacturer. The program has been included on HP laptops since December 2015.

While the software itself does not exactly pose a threat, the way the program logs the keystrokes allows the recorded keystrokes to be easily accessed. The log file created by the software is stored in the public folder (C:\users\public\MicTray.log) and can therefore be accessed by anyone.

The file is overwritten each time a user logs in, but any keystrokes recorded during that session could be accessed by anyone with access to the device. Additionally, if the registry key with the filepath is missing or corrupted, the keystrokes will be passed to a local API called OutputDebugString API.

Malware installed on the device could potentially allow the log file to be copied, and along with it, all keystrokes from the session. It would also be possible for keystrokes to be obtained in real-time.

The inclusion of the keylogger on HP laptops was an error according to HP. It was used as a debugging tool and should have been removed in the final version of the product.

HP has responded to the discovery by releasing a patch to fix the issue, which is available from the HP website or via Microsoft Update. All owners of HP laptops purchased since December 2015 should download the patch to mitigate the issue.

Models found to contain the pre-installed spyware include the following 28 models of HP laptops:

  • HP EliteBook 820 G3 Notebook PC
  • HP EliteBook 828 G3 Notebook PC
  • HP EliteBook 840 G3 Notebook PC
  • HP EliteBook 848 G3 Notebook PC
  • HP EliteBook 850 G3 Notebook PC
  • HP ProBook 640 G2 Notebook PC
  • HP ProBook 650 G2 Notebook PC
  • HP ProBook 645 G2 Notebook PC
  • HP ProBook 655 G2 Notebook PC
  • HP ProBook 450 G3 Notebook PC
  • HP ProBook 430 G3 Notebook PC
  • HP ProBook 440 G3 Notebook PC
  • HP ProBook 446 G3 Notebook PC
  • HP ProBook 470 G3 Notebook PC
  • HP ProBook 455 G3 Notebook PC
  • HP EliteBook 725 G3 Notebook PC
  • HP EliteBook 745 G3 Notebook PC
  • HP EliteBook 755 G3 Notebook PC
  • HP EliteBook 1030 G1 Notebook PC
  • HP ZBook 15u G3 Mobile Workstation
  • HP Elite x2 1012 G1 Tablet
  • HP Elite x2 1012 G1 with Travel Keyboard
  • HP Elite x2 1012 G1 Advanced Keyboard
  • HP EliteBook Folio 1040 G3 Notebook PC
  • HP ZBook 17 G3 Mobile Workstation
  • HP ZBook 15 G3 Mobile Workstation
  • HP ZBook Studio G3 Mobile Workstation
  • HP EliteBook Folio G1 Notebook PC