The statistic that cybercriminals have been unleashing 18 million phishing emails laced with malware on a daily basis into cyberspace during the pandemic is mind boggling and one that executives should pay attention to when prioritizing resources for user education. Math was never my strongest subject, but the math of 18 million malicious emails targeted at all of us on a daily basis is a LOT.

A new study rolled out by Google, in collaboration with researchers at Stanford University, studied over a billion malicious emails and targets that Google had identified and blocked over a period of five months, to get more intelligence about who was being targeted and how the campaigns were targeting users. The study found that users in the U.S. were targeted more than any others in the world, followed by the United Kingdom and Japan.

The study found that the most effective phishing scams were fast and short lived, lasting one to three days. They found that over 100 million malicious emails were launched in these short time frames. In addition, they found that if a user’s email address or personal information had been previously compromised, they were five times more likely to be targeted by a phishing scheme. The study also concluded that users aged 55 to 64 were 1.64 times more likely to be targeted by cybercriminals than 18-24 year olds.

The statistic is astounding, but the results of the analysis are very informative for businesses. The take away is that the number of phishing schemes continue to rise, user education continues to be essential in protecting company data against these schemes, and education is particularly important depending on users’ age.

Binary Check Ad Blocker Security News

Those of us who are not health care workers, essential workers or the highest-priority cohort in our state to receive the COVID-19 vaccine are patiently awaiting our turn. We are anxious to receive the vaccine for our personal safety and health, while monitoring complaints about vaccine rollouts in different states.

As we have reported before, criminals and fraudsters prey on unsuspecting victims who have been anxious (understandably so) about many different issues that have arisen since the beginning of the pandemic, including their jobs, the infection rate of COVID-19, the prevalence of COVID-19 in their community, obtaining relief through funds from the state or federal government, and unemployment payments.

The pandemic has been used by fraudsters and scammers to attempt to obtain personal information or money from victims. These scams have included phishing schemes, telephone schemes and the introduction of malware and ransomware into networks and systems to obtain personal information or money under false pretenses.

With the development and rollout of COVID-19 vaccines, the fraudsters and scammers continue to prey on the uncertainty and anxiety of individuals in figuring out how and when they will be vaccinated. Each state has its own rollout plan, and these plans frequently change depending on the number of allocated vaccines and how they will be distributed and administered. Unfortunately, whenever there is confusion in communication, fraudsters and scammers are at their best.

It has been widely reported that there has been an increase in attempted fraud by criminals around COVID-19 vaccinations. These schemes include emails and telephone calls to individuals providing them with information about how they can get vaccinated in advance of their scheduled time. Fake websites are set up for appointments where the criminals request individuals to input their personal information, including their name, date of birth, address and Social Security number, in order to secure a vaccination time slot.

In addition, there are some reports about a black market springing up around COVID-19 vaccinations and that scammers are luring victims to pay for vaccinations with the promise that, if they pay, they can jump the line to receive it. Unfortunately, it is very tempting, and many people are falling for it.

It has become such a problem that the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has provided a warning and guidance to consumers about these widespread scams and how to protect oneself from them. The most basic tip is not to provide your personal, financial or health information to anyone who texts, calls or emails you regarding a COVID-19 vaccination. The FTC confirms in its warning that no legitimate healthcare site, provider or other entity that is distributing and administering vaccines will ask for this information in order for you to sign up for a vaccination when it is your turn.

As we have reported before, be very vigilant about requests to click on any links or attachments or to provide any personal information in the context of COVID-19, including around the vaccine or getting vaccinated. For more information, visit the FTC’s guidance here.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Massachusetts is warning small businesses that received loans through the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) of a dramatic increase in reports of business email-compromise schemes related to the program. Scammers are using information about PPP recipients posted by the Small Business Administration (SBA) to impersonate PPP lenders requesting additional information about PPP loan applications or loan forgiveness.

In July 2020, the SBA published information about PPP loan recipients, which included business names and addresses for loans greater than $150,000. In December 2020, the SBA released the exact loan amounts for more than 600,000 small businesses and nonprofit organizations that received at least $150,000 in loans. The published data also included the names of entities receiving less than $150,000, which represent about 87 percent of the total number of loans in the program, as well as the name of the lender and distribution date for each loan.

Scammers are using this publicly-available information to send phishing emails to PPP loan recipients, impersonating the recipients’ PPP lenders to request sensitive information, such as email addresses and passwords, Social Security numbers, and financial information. This information could be used to gain access to a business’s computer network to compromise confidential information or for identity theft.

Recipients of PPP loans should carefully review the headers of emails that appear to come from their PPP lenders to ensure that the domain of the sender’s email address matches the domain of other emails received from the lender. They also should use common sense to question whether the lender is likely to be contacting the recipient at that particular time (e.g., in response to an application or loan forgiveness), or whether the timing appears to be unconnected to other communications with the lender. Recipients should not respond to, or click any links, in any suspicious emails; recipients may want to call their lenders if they believe the content or timing of an email is suspicious.

Suspected criminal activity may be reported to the Department of Justice’s National Center for Disaster Fraud at https://www.justice.gov/disaster-fraud.

2020 will go down as one of the most stressful in my career as a cybersecurity professional. I have been working in this area of law full time since 2003. So that says a lot.

On top of the stress of the spread of the coronavirus, this has been a particularly stressful year assisting clients with security incidents, ransomware extortions, data security in migrating from on premises to work from home, and keeping employees educated and vigilant. Indeed, it has been difficult and exhausting. And I’m just the lawyer.

Your IT professionals have been through HELL this year. They are working beyond capacity, with limited resources, trying to keep organizations safe from highly sophisticated hackers and nation states, including Russia and China. They are doing their very best to find the right tools to keep the bad guys out of networks and systems, at the same time trying to get their users not to click on links, attachments or phishing emails. They are getting attacked from within and without. It is a war for them every day.

Give them some love. A thank you goes a long way. Our IT professionals are losing sleep every night, working long hours, keeping our data safe, and dealing with attacks that you can’t even begin to fathom.

They battle for us in the background, on the front line, and never get any credit for how important their job is to our ability to do our job.

So this holiday season, take a little time and reach out to your IT professionals and say “Thank you.” They deserve a ton of credit and LOVE from all of us.

Although it is logical that cyber-attacks have risen during the pandemic, and there is anecdotal evidence that it is occurring, including our own experience, an interesting new report was recently released by Allianz, which provides cyber-liability insurance products.

According to the report, “While the COVID-19 outbreak cannot be said to be a direct cause of cyber-related claims, exposures have been rising during the pandemic, particularly with regards to ransomware and business email compromise incidents, given the increase in remote working and the likelihood that security safeguards may not be as robust in the home office.”

The report analyzes the cause of loss by value of claims and the number of claims, finding 1,736 claims worth $770 million from 2015-2020. The analysis shows that external manipulation of computer systems (i.e., DDOS or phishing/malware/ransomware) is the most expensive, “but the analysis also shows that more mundane technical failures, IT glitches or human error incidents are the most frequent generator of claims.”

The report also states that “Whether it results from an external cyber-attack, human error or a technical failure, business interruption is the main cost driver behind cyber claims. It accounts for around 60% of the value of all claims analyzed with the costs associated with dealing with data breaches ranking second.”

The number one threat cited in the report is “Laxer Security Post COVID-19 Heightens Cyber Risk.” Since the migration to working from home, the report states that “malware and ransomware incidents have already increased by more than a third, at the same time as a 50%+ increase in phishing, scams, and fraud, according to international police body, INTERPOL.”

The report further reinforces the need for companies to address the increased risk that accompanies a remote workforce, employee education and engagement, and providing employees with tools to protect themselves and their employer’s data. As the report aptly states: “Employers and employees must work together to raise awareness and increase cyber resilience in the home office set up.”

Binary Check Ad Blocker Security News

We spend a lot of time reporting on ransomware because we are seeing more incidents than ever before, and our readers comment that keeping them up to date on ransomware tactics is helpful. The ransomware gangs, strains and vectors are constantly changing, so it is very challenging for companies to keep up with their latest tactics.

The Coveware Quarterly Report is one resource that is very helpful in understanding the newest methods and successes of ransomware attackers, and Coveware’s Third Quarter Report was recently released.

The Report confirms what we are seeing in the field, and confirms how the landscape is changing. The big news is that the Maze group has allegedly dispersed, with some members joining others. Maze wreaked havoc last year, when it started exfiltrating data from victims before it dropped the ransomware and then threatened to publish the data if the company didn’t pay.

The Report is a must read, but here are some highlights (depressing as they are):

  • There is no guarantee that if you pay the ransom to delete data that they will actually delete it or that they will not come after you again. (They are criminals, after all). In Q3, exfiltration of data before the introduction of ransomware doubled, and half of all ransomware attacks included exfiltration of data. These are not promising statistics.
  • Although Maze is allegedly out of business, others have copied its tactics forexfiltrating data, including AKO, Ranzy, Netwalker, Mespinoza, Conti, Sekhmet, and Egregor. Egregor is believed to have inherited Maze. Sodinokibi has re-extorted victims after they have paid the ransom.
  • Some gangs provide fake proof that they have your data to get you to pay.
  • There is no guarantee that the exfiltrated data will not be sold to other groups.
  • Ransom demands are increasing.
  • The biggest ransomware threats in Q3 were Sodinokibi, Maze, Netwalker, Phobos, and DoppelPaymer.
  • Wasted, Nephilim and Avvadon made it into the top 10 list of market share of ransomware variants.
  • More than 50 percent of all attacks are successful through attacks on Remote Desktop Protocols (RDP). Coveware sees this method of attack as the most cost-effective way to compromise organizations and stresses the importance of properly securing RDP connections.
  • Almost 30 percent of attacks see the ransomware distributed via phishing emails, which have steadily increased since late 2019.
  • The average ransom payment in Q3 was $233,817, up 31 percent from Q2 2020.
  • The median ransom payment in Q3 was $110,532 up 2 percent from Q2 2020.
  • Ransomware is a disproportionate problem for small and medium-sized businesses—those with a median of 168 employees—which is up 68 percent from Q2 2020.
  • Most victims of ransomware have less than $50 million dollars in annual revenue.
  • Professional service firms, especially small ones such as law firms and accounting firms, are especially vulnerable.
  • The average number of downtime days of victimized businesses is 19 days.

These statistics are ones to pay close attention to and use when determining risk management priorities. It is clear from the Report that addressing RDP and employee education as top priorities makes sense. According to the Report, one possible reason for the increase in the use of RDP is “that the influx of remote and work-from-home setups using RDP and other remote technologies allowed threat actors to leverage attack vectors that previously didn’t exist.”

As coronavirus cases increase again throughout the U.S., remote working appears to be the norm, so ransomware attackers are using, and will continue to use, the shift from the office to the home to attack victims.

Criminals are apparently not taking any time off during this pandemic, and in fact by all accounts have increased their attacks, particularly targeting entities whose attention is diverted to dealing with the fallout of the Covid-19 crisis. In particular, educational institutions across the country have faced a recent onslaught of ransomware attacks, often crippling an already vulnerable infrastructure just as classes were set to resume. Check Point Research recently published a report advising that cyber-attacks targeting academic institutions increased 30 percent between July and August (with upwards of 600 attacks per week). Although the research does not reveal why the surge occurred, it is likely not a coincidence that Covid-19 has compelled schools to utilize and vastly expand the use of new and unfamiliar technologies that allow remote learning, which in turn may have opened up new opportunities for cybercriminals to attack. In addition, although financial resources were spent on acquiring new technologies, the same expenditures were not necessarily invested in associated security. Often times cyber-attacks start with a phishing-email, that once opened allows cybercriminals to gain access to an organization’s infrastructure over time. As attention has been diverted to dealing with emergency Covid-19 issues, organizations have less resources focused on cyber-attacks. Accordingly, as the Covid-19 emergency persists, educational institutions must be sure not lose focus on monitoring cyber-attacks. Failing to expend the additional resources on cybersecurity prevention and monitoring, could very likely cost the school significantly more in the long run.

Binary Check Ad Blocker Security News

You probably heard about the recent hack of Twitter accounts that took place on July 15, 2020. The hackers took over several prominent Twitter accounts, which resulted in a scam that netted over $118,000 in bitcoin for the hackers. One of the most startling things about the cyberattack was that it was led by a 17-year-old along with his accomplices. The hackers took over the accounts of well-known individuals including Barack Obama, Kim Kardashian West, Kanye West, Bill Gates, Elon Musk and many others, and tweeted a “double your bitcoin scam” from these Twitter accounts directing people to send bitcoin to fraudulent accounts.

The New York Department of Financial Services (NYDFS) issued a detailed report last week regarding this hack into the social media giant. The report found that “the Twitter Hack happened in three phases: (1) social engineering attacks to gain access to Twitter’s network; (2) taking over accounts with desirable usernames (or “handles”) and selling access to them; and (3) taking over dozens of high-profile Twitter accounts and trying to trick people into sending the Hackers bitcoin. All this happened in roughly 24 hours.”

How did the hackers do it? According to the report, the first phase of the attack started with the hackers stealing credentials of Twitter employees the old-fashioned way by using social engineering. The hackers posed as Twitter IT employees and contacted several Twitter employees claiming there was a problem with Twitter’s Virtual Private Network (VPN). The report stated that the “hackers claimed they were responding to a reported problem the employee was having with Twitter’s Virtual Private Network (VPN). Since switching to remote working, VPN problems were common at Twitter. The Hackers then tried to direct the employee to a phishing website that looked identical to the legitimate Twitter VPN website and was hosted by a similarly named domain. As the employee entered their credentials into the phishing website, the Hackers would simultaneously enter the information into the real Twitter website. This false log-in generated an MFA [multi-factor authentication] notification requesting that the employees authenticate themselves, which some of the employees did.”

The hackers then went surfing within the Twitter system looking for employees with access to internal tools to take over accounts. This led to the second phase of the attack: taking over and selling access to original gangster (OG) Twitter accounts. According to the report, an OG Twitter account refers to accounts  designated by a single word, letter, or number and adopted by Twitter’s early users. The hackers discussed taking over and selling the OG accounts in various online chat messages. On July 15, the hackers “ hijacked multiple OG Twitter accounts and tweeted screenshots of one of the internal tools from some of the accounts to the accounts’ respective followers.

The final phase of the hack involved  taking over various cryptocurrency company accounts and directing users to a link to a scam bitcoin address. According to a tweet sent out by Twitter on July 16, approximately 130 accounts of high-profile verified users (those Twitter accounts that you see with the blue check mark) were taken over by the hackers with tweets asking people to send bitcoin, with the promise that the high-profile user would double the amount to be given to a charity. The bitcoin address was fraudulent, the tweets were not sent by the actual users, and the hackers were able to collect more than $118,000 in bitcoin.

The NYDFS began its investigation because the cryptocurrency companies are regulated entities. According to the report, the department instructed the cryptocurrency companies to block the hackers’ bitcoin addresses if they hadn’t already done so. This move prevented over a million dollars’ worth of fraudulent bitcoin transfers.

We write all the time about the critical importance of cybersecurity practices and protocols such as multifactor authentication, employee training regarding phishing, and using secure passwords. The general consensus appears to be that the Twitter hack was not a sophisticated one, but that the hackers knew what they were after and knew how to accomplish their goal. The NYDFS report stated that “the Twitter Hack is a cautionary tale about the extraordinary damage that can be caused even by unsophisticated cybercriminals. The Hackers’ success was due in large part to weaknesses in Twitter’s internal cybersecurity protocols.”

Binary Check Ad Blocker Security News

Secureworks issues an annual Incident Response Report that is very helpful in obtaining information on what types of incidents are occurring in order to become more resistant to threats. The 2020 IR Report was recently issued, and it contained some conclusions that made sense, while others were surprising.

The Report, entitled Pandemic-Driven Change: The Effect of COVID-19 on Incident Response, recognized that the pandemic has changed the way business is done “with organizations shifting to home-office work styles literally overnight.” Although there was a general assumption that with the transition from work in the office to work from home security incidents would increase, the Secureworks team found that the threat level was unchanged. What changed was the increase in new vulnerabilities that threat attackers took advantage of during the pandemic. According to the Report, “Infrastructure transformed practically overnight for many organizations. A sudden switch to remote work, increased use of cloud services, and increased reliance on personal devices created a significantly expanded attack surface for many enterprises. Facing an urgent need for business continuity, most companies did not have time to put all the necessary protocols, processes, and controls in place.”

In shifting rapidly from the office to workers’ homes, IT professionals were unable to strategize and implement necessary security controls because organizations did not plan for a totally remote workforce. The Report found that companies experienced increased risk in the following areas:

  • Lack of Multi-Factor Authentication
  • Access to SaaS Applications
  • VPN Split Tunneling
  • Security Monitoring and Access Control Implications
  • Delays in Security Patching

Additional increased risks outlined in the Report included allowing remote workers to use their personal devices without implementing a Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) program, and heightened risk due to staffing changes.

These risk factors are not new, they have just become more pronounced during the pandemic. Threat actors used old tactics in a new environment to attack victims. According to the Report, “[A]dversaries simply pivoted their tactics to launch COVID19-themed campaigns, exploit the security gaps in remote work environments, and target organizations involved with pandemic research.” In addition, as we have reported before, attackers are using COVID-19 “as a phishing bait” as they understand that workers are looking for more information about COVID to protect themselves and their families and thus are not as vigilant because they are distracted and scared.

The Secureworks Report confirms that there are new vulnerabilities and old tricks to address during the pandemic with a fully-remote workforce

Binary Check Ad Blocker Security News

It has been widely reported that hackers are taking advantage of the pandemic to perpetrate scams and frauds. We have seen attacks against workers of companies through phishing emails that include an attachment or link offering information or access to specialized treatment for COVID-19 to lure people to click on them. Once they click on the link or attachment, the attacker infects the system with malware or ransomware. Cyber criminals know that people are concerned about the coronavirus and looking for more information to protect themselves and their family members, and they also are preying on the distraction of working from home.

It has become such a problem that the Department of Justice (DOJ) instructed the National Center for Disaster Fraud (NCDF) to gather coronavirus-related complaints from the public and assist with information sharing about scams. The NCDF has received more than 76,000 tips on COVID-19 related wrongdoing, and the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center has received more than 20,000 tips about suspicious websites and media postings. This doesn’t include the successful phishing campaigns using COVID-19-related information to trick people into clicking on malicious links or attachments.

The United States Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Louisiana issued a reminder this week for “members of the public to be vigilant against fraudsters who are using the COVID-19 pandemic to exploit American consumers and organizations…In particular, the department is warning the public about scams perpetrated through websites, social media, emails, robocalls, and other means that peddle fake COVID-19 vaccines, tests, treatments, and protective equipment, and also about criminals that fabricate businesses and steal identities in order to defraud federal relief programs and state unemployment programs.”

In addition, the notice states “Moving forward, the department also is concerned about, and will aim to deter and prevent, attempts by wrongdoers to prey upon potential victims by leveraging news about anticipated approval of a COVID-19 vaccine or about the potential enactment of new disaster relief bills that extend or expand upon CARES Act relief.”

The notice is a good reminder to each of us personally as well as employees of the continued threat and to need to remain vigilant to combat these scams. The DOJ “encourages the public to continue to report wrongdoing relating to the pandemic to the NCDF and to remain vigilant against bad actors looking to exploit this national emergency.”