Cybersecurity Advice

Our news section dedicated to cybersecurity advice is regularly updated with news about the latest online threats and most recently-discovered security vulnerabilities – and advice on how to deal with them.

MSPs will particularly find our cybersecurity advice security of value, as it addresses many of the online security issues that clients may have heard about and developed concerns about their own cybersecurity defenses.

MSPs can reassure clients that the risk of systems and networks being infected by an online threat – or security vulnerabilities in their software being exploited by a hacker – can be nullified with a web filtering solution from TitanHQ.

2016: The Year of Ransomware

In all likelihood, 2016 will be forever remembered as The Year of Ransomware, in the same way that 2014 was the year of the healthcare data breach.

2016 Will be Remembered as The Year of Ransomware

Ransomware first appeared in the late 1980’s, although at the time, cybercriminals did not fully embrace it. Instead, they favored viruses, worms, and other forms of malware. That’s not to say that ransomware was not used, only that there were more lucrative ways for cybercriminals to make money.

That all started to change in 2015, when the popularity of cryptomalware was fully realized. By 2016, many actors had got in on the act and the number of ransomware variants started to soar, as did attacks on healthcare providers, educational institutions, government departments, businesses, and even law enforcement agencies. In 2016, it appeared that no one was immune to attack. Many organizations were simply not prepared to deal with the threat.

Early in the year it became clear that healthcare organizations were starting to be targeted for the first time. In February, one of the most notable ransomware attacks of the year occurred. Hollywood Presbyterian Medical Center in Hollywood, CA., was attacked and its computers were taken out of action for well over a week while the medical center grappled with the infection. The decision was taken to pay the ransom demand of $17,000 to obtain the key to decrypt its data.

Not long afterwards, MedStar Health suffered a massive infection involving many of the computers used by the hospital system. In that case, the $19,000 ransom was not paid. Instead, encrypted data were recovered from backups, although the disruption caused was considerable. 10 hospitals and more than 250 outpatient centers had their computers shut down as a result of the infection and many operations and appointments had to be cancelled.

In the first quarter of 2016 alone, the FBI reported that more than $206 million in ransom payments had been made by companies and organizations in the United States. To put that figure in perspective, just $24 million had been paid in the whole of 2015 – That represents a 771% increase in ransom payments and only three months had passed. The year of ransomware had barely even begun!

Biggest Ransomware Threats in 2016

TeslaCrypt was one of the biggest ransomware threats at the start of the year, although the emergence of Locky ransomware in February saw it become an even bigger threat. It soon became the ransomware variant of choice. Locky was used in attacks in 114 countries around the world last year, and cybercriminals continue to tweak it and release new variants. Locky has yet to be cracked by security researchers. Then came Cerber, CryptXXX, Petya (which was defeated in April), and Dogspectus for smartphones, to name just a few.

By the summer, The Guardian newspaper reported that 40% of UK businesses had been attacked with ransomware, although the majority of ransomware attacks were concentrated in the United States. By the autumn, more than 200 ransomware families had been discovered, each containing many variants.

Reports of attacks continued to flood in over the course of the year, with ransomware arguably the biggest cybersecurity threat seen in recent years.

2016 was certainly The Year of Ransomware, but 2017 doesn’t look like it will get any easier for security professionals. In fact, 2017 is likely to be even worse. Some experts have predicted that ransomware revenues will reach $5 billion in 2017.

You can find out more interesting – and horrifying – ransomware statistics by clicking the image below to view the TitanHQ ransomware infographic. The ransomware infographic also includes information on the protections that should be put in place to prevent ransomware attacks and the encryption of sensitive data.

 

The Year of Ransomware

Should Malware Protection at the ISP Level be Increased?

Consumers and businesses need to take steps to protect their computers from malware infections, but should there be more malware protection at the ISP level?

Businesses and personal computer users are being infected with malware at an alarming rate, yet those infections often go unnoticed. All too often malware is silently downloaded onto computers as a result of visiting a malicious website.

Websites containing exploit kits probe for vulnerabilities in browsers and plugins. If a vulnerability is discovered it is exploited and malware is downloaded. Malware can also easily be installed as a result of receiving a spam email – if a link is clicked that directs the email recipient to a malicious website or if an infected email attachment is opened.

Cybercriminals have got much better at silently installing malware. The techniques now being used see attackers install malware without triggering any alerts from anti-virus software. In the case of exploit kits, zero-day vulnerabilities are often exploited before anti-virus vendors have discovered the flaws.

While malware infections may not be detected by end users or system administrators, that does not necessarily mean that those infections are not detected. Internet Service Providers – ISPs – are in a good position to identify malware infections from Internet traffic and an increasing number are now scanning for potential malware infections.

ISPs are able to detect computers that are being used for malicious activities such as denial-of-service (DoS) and distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks, and doing so is a relatively easy process.

Malware Protection at the ISP Level

Malware protection at the ISP level involves implementing controls to prevent malware infections and notifying consumers when malicious activity is detected.

ISPs can easily check for potential malicious activity on IP addresses, although blocking those IP addresses is not the answer. While some computers are undoubtedly knowingly used for malicious purposes, in many cases the users of the computers are unaware that their device has been compromised.

ISPs can however alert individuals to a potential malware infection when suspicious activity is identified. Warning emails can be sent to end users to advise them that their computer is potentially infected with malware. Those individuals can be sent a standard email template that contains instructions on how to check for a malware infection.

An increasing number of ISPs are now performing these checks and are notifying their customers of suspicious activity. Many ISPs in Europe provide this cybersecurity checking service and Level 3 Communications is one such ISP that is taking the lead.

The ISP is assessing Internet traffic and is identifying potentially malicious activity associated with certain IP addresses. So far, the ISP has created a database containing around 178 million IP addresses that are likely being used for malicious activity. Many of those IP addresses are static and are part of a botnet. Level3 Communications has estimated that around 60% of those IP addresses have been added to a botnet and 22% of the suspicious IP addresses are believed to be used to send out phishing email campaigns.

The content of Internet traffic is not investigated, although the ISP has been able to determine the IP addresses being used and those which are being sent messages and Internet traffic. While the IP addresses are known, the individuals that use those IP addresses are not. In order to notify individuals of potential infections, Level3 Communications is working with hosting providers. Once the individuals are identified they are contacted and advised of a potential malware infection.

The war on cybercrime requires a collaborative effort between law enforcement, governments, ISPs, and consumers. Only when all of those parties are involved will it be possible to curb cybercrime. Consumers can take steps to prevent infection, as can businesses, but when those measures are bypassed, ISPs can play their part.

If all ISPs were to conduct these checks and send out alerts, malware infections could be tackled and life would be made much harder for cybercriminals.

ISP Web Filtering for WiFi Networks – Protecting Consumers from Malware Infections

Notifying consumers about malware infections is one thing that should be considered, but malware protection at the ISP level should be implemented to prevent consumers and businesses from being infected in the first place.

ISPs can implement web filtering controls to block the accessing of illegal website content such as child pornography. The same technology can also be used to block websites known to contain malware. Broadband providers can implement these controls to protect consumers, and providers of public Internet can use web filtering for WiFi networks.

WiFi filters have already been implemented on the London Underground to prevent users from accessing pornography. Those controls can be extended to block websites known to be malicious. In the UK, Sky WiFi networks use filtering controls to block certain malicious and inappropriate website content from being accessed to better protect consumers. Effective malware protection at the ISP level not only keeps consumers protected, it is also a great selling point in a highly competitive market.

If you are an ISP and are not yet using filtering controls to protect your customers, speak to TitanHQ today and find out more about malware protection at the ISP level and how low-cost web filtering controls can be implemented to keep customers better protected.

Phishing Attacks on Law Firms Are Soaring

The past few months have seen an increase in phishing attacks on law firms. Cybercriminals are attacking law firms to gain access to the highly confidential data held by attorneys and solicitors. Healthcare industry attacks are often conducted to obtain sensitive patient data that can be used for identity theft and tax fraud. Phishing attacks on law firms on the other hand are conducted to steal data for insider trading. Data are also stolen to allow cybercriminals to blackmail law firms.

Law firms are threatened with reputation-killing publication of highly sensitive client data if sizeable payments are not made. Since law firms hold secret documents, including potentially damaging information on their clients, it is not only the law firm that can be blackmailed. Clients are also contacted and threatened. The profits that can be made from insider trading are enormous. The data held by law firms is incredibly valuable. It is therefore no surprise that phishing attacks on law firms are increasing. Cybercriminals see law firms as perfect targets.

Last year, more than 50 law firms were targeted by Russian hackers using a spear phishing campaign. The aim of that attack was to gather information that could be used for insider trading. The group, called Oleras, attacked some of the best-known law firms operating in the United States, including Cravath Swaine & Moor LLP and Gotshal and Manges LLP.

However, while those attacks were damaging, they arguably caused less harm than the Panama Papers Breach – The largest law firm data breach of the year. That attack resulted in an astonishing 2.6 Terabytes of data being stolen by the attackers – Documents that revealed highly sensitive banking activities of criminals, politicians, athletes and businessmen and women. More than 214,000 companies had data revealed as a result of that law firm data breach.

While law firms must ensure that firewalls are in place along with a host of other cybersecurity protections to prevent their systems from being hacked, all too often data breaches start with phishing attacks on law firms. A simple email containing a link to a website is sent to attorneys’ and solicitors’ inboxes. The links are clicked and users are fooled into revealing login credentials to networks and email accounts. The credentials are captured and used to gain access to sensitive data.

Website filtering for law firms is now as essential a protection as the use of antivirus software. Antivirus software may be able to detect attempted malware installations – although it is becoming less effective in that regard – although it will do little to prevent phishing attacks.

A web filter protects law firms by preventing users from visiting malicious links in emails. A website filtering solution also prevents end users from downloading malware, or accessing websites known to carry a high risk of infection with ransomware or malware. A web filter also prevents law firm staff from accidentally visiting phishing websites when browsing the Internet. Along with a robust spam filtering solution to prevent phishing emails from being delivered, law firms can make their networks and email accounts much more secure.

Further information on recent phishing attacks on law firms, along with steps that can be taken to prevent security breaches, can be found by clicking the image below. Clicking the image will direct you to a useful phishing infographic on this website.

 

Phishing Attacks on Law Firms

Is Your Organization Protected Against Printer Hacking?

You have secured your servers, you have end point protection, but have you ensured your organization is protected against printer hacking? According to one hacker, as many as 300,000 organizations have left a gaping hole in their security defenses as a result of leaving their printers open to the Internet and failing to even use any form of authentication.

Your Printer Has Been Owned!

The hacker decided to draw attention to the problem, not by publishing details of the flaws, but by attacking around 150,000 companies. The attack was rather benign. The hacker did not attempt to gain access to network resources or install malware. He just sent rogue jobs to the printers.

The printouts said “Your printer has been owned.” The hacker also claimed the printers had been added to ’a flaming botnet’ as a result of the lack of security in place. Some of the messages sent are not appropriate for reproduction. A common message was ‘everyone likes a meme, fix your bull***t.’

The claims were not true, but the hacker did prove a point. Printer hacking is a very real threat and future attacks may be much more malicious in nature. If printers are left open to the Internet with no authentication required, they could be subjected to DoS attacks. Companies would be left unable to print. Printers could also be added to botnets. Those would be best-case scenarios of course. Printer hacking could cause much more serious harm.

Hackers could take advantage of flaws and run arbitrary code. Printers could be used as a launchpad to gain access to corporate networks, sabotage systems, install malware and ransomware, and stealing corporate secrets and sensitive customer and patient data.

Following the printer cyberattack, the ‘victims’ took to social media to report the incidents. Some reported that corporate network printers were affected, others claimed their POS system printers had been owned. In the case of the former, the cyberattack could potentially have resulted in a network compromise. In the case of the latter, credit and debit card-stealing malware could have been installed.

The hacker in question claims he is a UK student with an interest in security research. He says he has access to RCE flaws that would enable him to take control of more than 300,000 printers. In this experiment, he took advantage of the lack of authentication controls on communications port 9100. The attacks involved the RAW protocol, Internet Printing Protocol (IPP) and the Line Printer Daemon (LPD).

Many of the printers susceptible to printer hacking are used by universities and other higher education establishments. In a separate ‘attack’ a different hacker also proved a point about the lack of security controls, the ease of finding computers to attack, and just how easy it was to send rogue output to printers. He chose to send anti-sematic print jobs to printers at universities in the United States for maximum coverage. After the attacks, reports started flooding social media from students at Yale, UC Berkeley, DePaul University and UMass Amherst.

Printer Hacking Mitigation Required

The two hacks come just a few days after security researchers in Germany announced they had discovered vulnerabilities in printer manufacturers by some of the big names in computer hardware, such as Samsung, HP, Dell and Lexmark. More than 20 models of printer were discovered to contain flaws that could be easily exploited. Undoubtedly many more printers are vulnerable.

If printers are left exposed and can be accessed by anyone over the Internet, it will only be a matter of time before a malicious attack occurs. Protecting against printer hacking is therefore essential. To do this, printers should be set up on a virtual private network (VPN) and organizations should make 100% sure that their printers cannot be accessed through public IP addresses. That would require access controls to be applied to routers to whitelist certain IP ranges.

Why a Restaurant WiFi Filtering Service is Now Essential

A restaurant WiFi filtering service can help to keep customers safe when they use the Internet by blocking access to websites known to contain malware. A restaurant WiFi filtering service will also ensure that patrons can only view website content that is suitable for families.

WiFi networks are often abused and used by some individuals to view pornography or other material that has no place in a restaurant. If one diner chooses to view such material on a personal device while in a restaurant, other diners may catch glimpses of the screen – That hardly makes for a pleasant dining experience.

However, there is another important reason why a restaurant WiFi filtering service should be used. Diners can be protected from a range of web-borne threats while using free wi-Fi networks, but also the computer systems of the restaurant.

Each year, many restaurants discover that their computers and networks have been infected with malware. Malware infections are often random; however, restaurants are now being targeted by cybercriminals.  If a hacker can gain access to a restaurant’s computer network and succeeds in loading malware onto its POS system, every customer who pays for a meal with their debit or credit card could have their credentials sent to the hacker.

Restaurants, especially restaurant chains, are targeted for this very reason. One infected POS system will give a cybercriminal a steady source of credit card numbers. Each year, there are many examples of restaurants that have been attacked in this manner. One of the latest restaurant chains to be attacked was Popeye’s Louisiana Kitchen – A multinational chain of fried chicken and fast food restaurants.

Popeyes recently discovered a cyberattack that resulted in malware being installed on its systems. The attack started on or around May 5, 2016 and continued undiscovered until August 18, 2016. During that time, certain customers who paid for their meals on their credit and debit cards had their card numbers stolen by the malware and passed on to the attackers.

Popeyes only discovered the cyberattack when it received notification from its credit card processor of suspicious activity on customers’ accounts. CCC Restaurant Enterprises, which operates Popeyes, retained a forensic expert to analyze its systems for signs of its systems having been compromised. That analysis revealed a malware infection. The information stealing malware was passing credentials to the attacker and those details were being used to defraud customers. Ten restaurants in the chain were known to have been affected. Those restaurants were located in Georgia, North Carolina, and Texas. The malware infection has now been removed and customers are no longer at risk, although the cyberattack undoubtedly caused reputation damage for the chain.

Malware can be installed via a number of different vectors. Vulnerabilities can be exploited in servers and software. It is therefore essential to ensure that all software is patched and kept up to date. Attacks can occur via email, with malicious links and attachments sent to employees. A spam filter can block those emails and prevent infection. Attacks can also take place over the Internet. The number of malicious websites now produced every day has reached record levels and the threat level is critical.

A restaurant WiFi filtering service will not protect against every possible type of attack but it does offer excellent protection against web-borne threats. A web filtering service can also prevent users from visiting malicious links sent in spam and phishing emails, blocking users’ attempts to click the links. A restaurant WiFi filtering service will also ensure family-friendly Internet access is provided to customers. Something that is increasingly important for parents when choosing a restaurant.

To find out more about how a restaurant WiFi filtering service can be implemented, the wide range of benefits that such a service offers, and for details of how you can trial the WebTitan restaurant WiFI filtering service for 30 days without charge, contact the TitanHQ team today.

Why Web Filtering for Managed Service Providers is Now Essential

The increase in cyberattacks and proliferation of web-borne threats has made web filtering for Managed Service Providers one of the most important, and profitable, opportunities for MSPs. However, not all MSPs have started offering a web filtering service to their clients, even though web filtering is now an essential cybersecurity defense

Why is web filtering for Managed Service Providers now so important? Listed below – and in a useful infographic – are some of the reasons why businesses need to control the websites that can be visited by their employees and why web filtering for Managed Service Providers is an important addition to any MSPs service stack.

Cybercriminals Have Switched from Email to the Web to Spread Malware

Email remains one of the most likely routes that malware can be installed. Malicious email volume is growing and in Q3, 2016, Proofpoint discovered 96.8% of malicious attachments were used to download Locky ransomware. Blocking malicious spam email messages is therefore an essential element of any organization’s cybersecurity defense strategy. However, times are a changing. The threat from web-borne attacks has increased significantly in the past few years.

Cybercriminals are well aware that most organizations now use a spam filter to block malicious messages and that they now conduct end user training to warn employees of the risks of opening email attachments or clicking on hyperlinks sent by strangers.

However, far fewer businesses have implemented a solution that blocks web-borne threats. Consequently, cybercriminals have changed their focus from email to the Internet.

The shift to the web means cybercriminals can reach a much bigger target audience and can spread malware and ransomware more effectively. The extent of this paradigm shift is deeply concerning.

Now, more than 80% of malware is web-related and spread via malicious web adverts, hijacked websites, and websites that have been created with the sole purpose of infecting visitors with malware.

As TitanHQ CTO Neil Farrell points out, “the average business user now encounters 3 malicious links per day.” Those links are rarely identified as malicious and the malware downloads that result from visiting malicious websites go undetected.

Web-Borne Threats have Increased Substantially in Recent Years

Cybercriminals use exploit kits – malicious software that probes for vulnerabilities in browsers – on hijacked webpages and purpose designed, malware-laced websites. Zero-day vulnerabilities are frequently identified in web browsers, browser plugins, and extensions and these flaws can be exploited and leveraged to download malware and ransomware. Each time a new flaw is identified, it is rapidly added to a swathe of exploit kits.

Anti-virus software is capable of detecting a high percentage of malware and preventing the malicious software from being installed on computers; however, new forms of malware are being released at an unprecedented rate. A new malware is now released every 4 seconds. Naturally, there is a lag between the release of new malware and the addition of its signature into antivirus software companies’ virus definition lists. Visits to malicious websites all too often result in malware installations that go undetected.

Malicious websites are constantly being created. Google reports that since July 2013, 113,132 new phishing websites have been created and it is businesses that are being targeted. TitanHQ now adds over 60,000 new malware-spreading websites to its blocklists every single day.

Companies that fail to block these web-borne threats face a high risk of their computers and networks being infected with malware. Figures from IDC show that 30% of companies employing more than 500 staff have experienced malware infections as a result of end users surfing the Internet.

New Threats are Constantly Being Developed

The range of threats is also increasing. Malware-infected websites are conducting Cross Site Request Forgery (CSRF) attacks, Cross-Component attacks, SQL injection attacks, as well exploiting vulnerabilities in popular Internet applications such as Adobe Flash, JSON, JavaScript, XPath and XML. Keeping all of these applications 100% up to date, 100% of the time is simply not possible for businesses, and any out-of-date-software could be exploited.

Malware is used to log keystrokes to obtain login credentials for further, more sophisticated attacks. Banking credentials are stolen and fraudulent transfers are made. Businesses also have to contend with the current ransomware epidemic. 40% of businesses have now been attacked with ransomware.

Malware and ransomware infections do not just occur via obscure websites that few employees visit. Hugely popular news sites such as the New York Times and the BBC have been discovered to display adverts containing malicious code. Social media websites are also a major risk. 24% of organizations have been infected with malware via Facebook and 7% via LinkedIn/Twitter, according to a recent study by Osterman Research.

These and other serious threats, along with the extent to which infections are occurring, have been summarized in a new infographic that can be accessed by clicking on the image below:

web filtering for managed service providers msps (infographic)

WebTitan Cloud – Web Filtering for Managed Service Providers

Fortunately, there is an easy solution to prevent web-borne attacks: WebTitan Cloud. WebTitan Cloud is a 100% cloud-based web filtering solution that can be used to prevent end users from visiting websites known to contain malware. WebTitan can be configured to block malicious adverts and can prevent end users from being directed to malware-infected websites if malicious links are clicked.

Given the range of threats and the extent to which cybercriminals are using the web, it is now essential for organizations to add web filtering to their cybersecurity defenses. Consequently, web filtering for Managed Services Providers presents a huge opportunity for growth. TitanHQ has seen a significant increase in uptake of its web filtering for Managed Service Providers in recent months as MSPs have started to appreciate the huge potential web filtering for Managed Services Providers has to improve bottom lines.

WebTitan can be rapidly added to an MSPs service stack and is an easy sell to clients. WebTitan can be deployed remotely and rapidly installed and configured. The solution is automatically updated, requires little to no IT support, is technology agnostic, and therefore so has an extremely low management overhead. The solution also has excellent scalability and can be used to protect any number of end users.

MSPs can be provided with a white-label version of WebTitan Cloud ready for branding and WebTitan Cloud can even be hosted within an MSPs own environment. Perhaps most important for MSPs is the high margin recurring SaaS model. That means high recurring revenues for MSPs and better bottom lines.

Contact TitanHQ today to find out more about web filtering for Managed Service Providers, for full technical specifications, and to discover just how easy it is to add WebTitan to your service stack and start boosting profits.

The Risks of Social Media In Business

Many employers are not entirely happy with employees using social media sites in the workplace, and with good reason: There are many risks of social media in business and the costs can be considerable.

Social Media Use Can be a Huge Drain on Productivity

When employees are spending time updating their Facebook accounts or checking Twitter they are not working. All those minutes spent on social media platforms really do add up. Social media site use can be a major drain on productivity.

If every employee in an organisation spends an hour a day on social media sites, the losses are considerable. Unfortunately, many employees spend much more than an hour a day on the sites.

Salary.com reports that around 4% of employees waste more than half of each day on non-work related tasks. For a company employing 1,000 members of staff, that equates to more than 160 hours lost each day, not including the hour or two spent on social media sites by the remaining 96% of the workforce.

Social media site use is not all bad, in fact, the use of the sites can be good for productivity. Employees cannot be expected to work solidly for 8 or more hours each day; at least not 8 highly productive hours. If employees enjoy some ‘Facetime’ every hour or two, it can help them to recharge so they are more productive when they return to their work duties.

The problem for employers is how to control the use of Facebook in the workplace and ensure that social media site use is kept within acceptable limits. Taking 5 minutes off every hour or two is one thing. Taking longer can have a seriously negative impact. Unfortunately, relying on employees to self-moderate their use of social media sites may not be the best way to ensure that Internet use is not abused.

The Cost of Social Media Use Can Be Severe

Productivity losses can have a serious negative impact on profits, but there are far biggest costs to employers from social media site use. In fact, the risks of social media in business are considerable.

The cost from lost productivity can be bad, but nowhere near as bad as the cost of a malware or ransomware infection. Social media sites are commonly used by hackers to infect computers. Just visiting a malicious Facebook or Twitter link can result in a malware or ransomware infection. The cost of resolving those infections can be astronomical. The more time employees spend on non-work related Internet activities, the greater the risk of a malware infection.

Is there a genuine risk? According to PC Magazine, the risks are very real. There is a 40% chance of infection with malicious code within 10 minutes of going online and a 94% chance of encountering malicious code within an hour.

Controlling employees’ use of the Internet can not only result in huge increases in productivity, Internet control can help to reduce the risk of malware and ransomware infections. Further, by limiting the sites that can be accessed by employees, organizations can greatly reduce legal liability.

Fortunately, there is a simple, cost-effective, and reliable solution that allows organisations to effectively manage the risks of social media in business: WebTitan.

Managing the Risks of Social Media in Business

WebTitan is an innovative web filtering solution that allows organizations to accurately enforce Internet usage policies. Employers can block inappropriate content to effectively reduce legal liability, block or limit the use of social media sites to improve productivity, and prevent users from encountering malicious code that could give cybercriminals a foothold in the network.

If you have yet to implement a web filtering solution to control Internet use in the workplace or you are unhappy with the cost or performance of your current web filtering product, contact TitanHQ today and find out more about the difference WebTitan can make to your bottom line.

To find out more about the risks of social media in business and why it is now so important to manage social media use in the workplace, click the image below to view our informative infographic.

Risks of Social Media In Business

How to Block Facebook Chat at Work

One of the questions most frequently asked of the WebTitan customer support team is how to block Facebook chat at work without blocking access to Facebook entirely.

Why Block Facebook Chat at Work?

There are many reasons why an organization would want to prevent employees from accessing Facebook. Social media websites can be a drain on productivity. Some employees may spend hours of each day accessing and updating their Facebook account, which is time spent not working.

However, an employee cannot remain productive for a full eight hours each day. By allowing access to Facebook – and other social media sites – employers can actually increase productivity, providing social media site use is kept within acceptable limits.

If employees take short breaks throughout the day and access Facebook for a few minutes every hour, they are likely to be more productive. Morale can also be improved with a little social media site use.

However, there is the question of security to consider and Facebook chat is a particular cause for concern. Many organisations believe Facebook Chat is a security risk. Use of Facebook chat can increase the risk of malware infections. The chat function also lacks the security standards demanded by many organizations and makes it too easy for employees to share sensitive corporate data. Use of Facebook chat is also difficult to police.

How to Block Facebook Chat Without Blocking Facebook Access

With WebTitan Cloud it is easy to block Facebook chat at work without blocking Facebook access entirely. The process takes just a few seconds and is detailed in the video presentation below (and described underneath.)

 

 

To block Facebook chat at work, open your WebTitan Cloud administration panel and navigate to “Filtering URL keywords.”

To block Facebook chat you need to add in two blacklisted keywords. Enter in the first keyword:

ajax/updatestatus.php

Then set filter options to ‘find keyword in entire URL’

The second keyword that must be blocked is:

ajax/mercury/send_messages.php

As before, set filter options to ‘find keyword in entire URL’

These two files are used by Facebook chat and if the files are blocked, the Facebook chat will not function, although the Facebook website will still be accessible.

In order for URL keywords to work correctly it is necessary to have the SSL certificate pushed out to the browsers. Further information on how to do this via GPO or manually can be found in the help section on the WebTitan website.

Visit the link below for detailed instructions on how you can download and push out the SSL certificate to browsers.
http://helpdesk.webtitan.com/support/solutions/articles/4000035615-ssl-inspection-certificates

How to Prevent Drive-By Malware Downloads

Are you taking steps to prevent drive-by malware downloads? Have you implemented controls to reduce your attack surface and prevent your employees from inadvertently downloading malware onto your network?

Malvertising – A Major Security Risk that Should be Managed

Malvertising is the term used for the practice of displaying malicious adverts to website visitors. The malicious adverts are displayed via third party advertising networks which are present on a wide range of legitimate websites. Malicious adverts have been displayed to visitors to many of the top 500 global websites.

The New York Times website was discovered to be displaying malvertising via a third party ad networks. Those adverts redirected visitors to websites where ransomware was downloaded. The UK’s BBC website was similarly discovered to be displaying malicious adverts that resulted in ransomware downloads.

Other high profile sites found to be displaying malvertising include AOL, the NFL website, Realtor, theweathernetwork, newsweek, infolinks, answers.com, and thehill, amongst many many others.

Proofpoint recently announced it has succeeded in shutting down the AdGholas malvertising operation. This large-scale operation was reported to have resulted in malicious adverts being displayed to between 1 million and 5 million individuals per day. Researchers at Proofpoint estimated that between 10% and 20% of computers that loaded the malicious adverts were redirected to websites containing exploit kits. Exploit kits probe for security vulnerabilities in web browsers. If vulnerabilities are discovered, malware is silently downloaded onto the site visitor’s computer. Of course this was just one malvertising operation out of many.

Cost of Malware and Ransomware Infections

Many ransomware variants are capable of moving laterally within a network and replicating. One download may see multiple computers infected. Each infected device is encrypted with a separate key and a separate ransom demand is issued for each infection.

Organizations experiencing multiple infections can be issued with ransom demands of tens of thousands of dollars. In January, Hollywood Presbyterian Medical Center was forced to pay $17,000 for the decryption keys to unlock its computers.

The threat from malware can be far more serious. Malware such as keyloggers can be used to obtain login credentials to corporate bank accounts, allowing criminals to make fraudulent transfers and empty company accounts. Malware can install backdoors that can be used to steal patient data from healthcare organizations. Failing to prevent drive-by malware downloads can prove very costly indeed. Recently, the Ponemon Institute calculated the average healthcare data breach cost to be $4 million. The cost per compromised healthcare record was calculated to be $158.

Prevent Drive-by Malware Downloads

To prevent drive-by malware downloads you need to employ a range of tactics. Good patch management policies can help to ensure that devices are not left vulnerable. Software, browsers, and browser plugins should be kept up to date and patches applied promptly. Plugins and software commonly exploited by cybercriminals include Java, Adobe Flash, and PDF reader, as well as out of date web browsers.

Organizations can prevent employees from being directed to malicious websites by using a web filtering solution. A web filter can be configured to block websites known to contain malware or host exploit kits. A web filter can be used to block third party advertising from being displayed. Block the ad networks, and you will ensure that malvertising is not displayed.

You should also implement Acceptable Usage Policies (AUPs) to limit the websites that employees can visit. A web filtering solution can help in this regard. Employees can be instructed not to visit certain categories of websites which are known to carry a higher than average risk, but a web filter can be used to enforce those policies. By blocking access to gambling websites, pornography, sites containing illegal website content, and other risky websites such as p2p file sharing sites, risk can be greatly reduced.

A web filtering solution cannot prevent all data breaches and malware attacks, but it is a vital element of cybersecurity defenses that should not be ignored. It is one of the most important controls to employ to prevent drive-by malware downloads.

Ranscam Ransomware Shows Why Paying the Ransom Is Never Wise

Another day passes and another ransomware variant emerges, although the recently discovered Ranscam ransomware takes nastiness to another level. Ranscam ransomware may not be particularly sophisticated, but what it lacks in complexity it more than makes up for in maliciousness.

The typical crypto-ransomware infection involves the encryption of a victim’s files, which is accompanied by a ransom note – often placed on the desktop. The ransomware note explains that the victim’s files have been encrypted and that in order to recover those files a ransom must be paid, usually in Bitcoin.

Since many victims will be unaware how to obtain Bitcoin, instructions are provided about how to do this and all the necessary information is given to allow the victim to make the payment and obtain the decryption key to unlock their files.

There is usually a time-frame for making payment. Usually the actors behind the campaign threaten to permanently delete the decryption key if payment is not received within a specific time frame. Sometimes the ransom payment increases if payment is delayed.

Ranscam Ransomware will not Allow Victims to Recover Their Files

Rather than encrypting files and deleting the decryption key, Ranscam ransomware threatens to delete the victim’s files.

The ransomware note claims the victim’s files have been encrypted and moved to a hidden partition on their hard drive, which prevents the files from being located or accessed. The payment requested by the actors behind this scam is 0.2 Bitcoin – Around $133 at today’s exchange rate.

While the ransom note claims that the victim’s files will be moved back to their original location and will be decrypted instantly once payment is received, this is not the case.

Unfortunately for the victims, but the time the ransom note is displayed, the victim’s files have already been deleted. Paying the ransom will not result in the encrypted files being recovered. A decryption key will not be provided because there isn’t one.

Researchers at Talos – who discovered the Ranscam ransomware variant – noted that the ransomware authors have no way of verifying if payment has been made. The ransomware only simulates the verification process. There is also no process built into the ransomware that will allow a victim’s files to be recovered.

Backup Your Files or Be Prepared to Lose Them

Many ransomware authors have a vested interest in ensuring that a victim’s files can be recovered. If word spreads that there is no chance of recovering encrypted files, any individual who has had their computer infected will not pay the ransom demand. Locky, CryptoWall, and Samsa ransomware may be malicious, but at least the thieves are honorable and make good on their promise. If they didn’t, discovering that files had a locky extension would be a guarantee that those files would be permanently lost.

There are new ransomware variants being released on an almost daily basis. Many of the new variants are simplistic and lack the complexity to even allow files to be recovered. The discovery of Ranscam ransomware clearly shows why it is essential to make sure that critical files are regularly backed up. Without a viable backup, there is no guarantee that files can be recovered and you – or your organization – will be at the mercy of attackers. Not all will be willing – or able to – recover encrypted files.

New Angler Exploit Kit Update Confirms Need for Web Filtering Software

Researchers at FireEye have reported that the Angler Exploit Kit has been updated and that it is now capable of bypassing Microsoft’s Enhanced Mitigation Experience Toolkit (EMET) protection – the first time this behavior has been observed in the wild.

Angler Exploit Kit Could be Used to Deliver any Malicious Payload

The Angler exploit kit is being used to exploit vulnerabilities in Silverlight and Adobe Flash plug-ins. If vulnerabilities are found, Angler downloads its malicious payload: TeslaCrypt ransomware. Teslacrypt was closed down a few weeks ago and the authors released a universal decryption key that can unlock all infections. Anti-virus firms have since developed tools that can be used to remove TeslaCrypt infections. However, it is probable that the Angler exploit kit will be updated to deliver other malicious payloads for which there is no known fix. Many distributors of TeslaCrypt have already transitioned to CryptXXX.

Currently EMET protections are only being bypassed on devices running Windows 7, although it is probable that attackers will soon develop EMET bypasses that work on more recent versions of Windows. That said, updating to later versions of Windows will help organizations improve their security posture. If an upgrade is not possible or practical, sys admins should ensure that patches are applied promptly. If possible, ActiveX should also be disabled as should Flash and Silverlight plugins. Uninstalling unnecessary software and disabling plugins will reduce the attack surface.

EMET was developed to prevent malicious actors from exploiting memory corruption vulnerabilities, and while this has proved effective at some preventing attacks, the bypass shows that Microsoft’s protection is not 100% effective. While EMET can be used to reduce the risk of ransomware and other malware infections, system admins should not rely on EMET alone. Multi-layered security defenses should be employed to keep networks protected, as this bypass clearly shows. It is still essential to use anti-virus and anti-malware software and to keep definitions up to date.

While efforts can be made to prevent exploit kits from taking advantage of vulnerabilities in plugins, enterprises can reduce risk further by stopping end users from visiting websites known to host exploit kits. By implementing a web filtering solution and restricting access to certain categories of website, enterprises can greatly enhance their security posture.

Web Filtering Services for MSPs: Why MSPs Can’t Afford Not to Offer Web Filtering to Clients

There are a number of companies that offer web filtering services for MSPs; however, while many managed service providers are happy to provide web filtering to their clients if the service is requested, web filtering is not generally offered to clients as part of an MSP’s range of standard Internet services. Yet, by leveraging web filtering services for MSPs it is possible to substantially increase profits for very little effort.

Web filtering services for MSPs have been developed to be easy to implement, easy to sell to clients, and straightforward to manage, so why are more MSPs not offering web filtering to their clients as part of their Internet services?

Some MSPs may feel that there is not much of a market for web filtering. Draconian Internet usage policies may ensure that Internet access is not abused, yet highly restrictive Internet policies can have a negative impact on staff morale and productivity. Most employees can be trusted to get all of their daily tasks completed, while still occasionally checking Facebook, purchasing something on Amazon, and viewing the occasional YouTube video.

However, providing totally free access to the Internet is unwise. Not preventing employees from accessing illegal and inappropriate website content can cause employers many problems. Some of those problems can prove very costly to resolve.  Any organization that has not chosen to filter the Internet – even to a minimal degree – may not be aware of the risks. If MSPs explain these risks, they are likely to find many of their clients will want to sign up for web filtering services.

What are the Main Benefits of Using Web Filtering Services?

There are two main reasons for using a web filter to control Internet content:

Reducing the Risk of Malware Infections

As we have seen in recent months, there is a clear and present danger of a serious malware infection. Cyberattacks are taking place with increasing regularity, new malware is being released at alarming rates, and cybercriminals have embraced ransomware and are using it to extort money out of businesses.

IT teams struggle to implement patches promptly, leaving their networks at risk of attack. This is mainly due to the frequency at which patches are released. Keeping all software – including web browsers and plugins – 100% up to date, 100% of the time is an uphill struggle.

If end users visit malicious websites containing exploit kits, malware and ransomware can be easily loaded onto networks. Issuing staff members with acceptable use policies (AUPs) can reduce the probability of end users visiting high-risk websites, while policies can help to reduce the risk from shadow IT installations, but unless those policies are enforced there is a risk that some employees will break the rules.

Numerous organizations have experienced phishing attacks even when training has been provided on how to identify phishing emails. Unfortunately, scammers are getting much better at crafting highly convincing emails to fool users into visiting websites containing exploit kits that can download malware.

Business email compromise scams have been increasing in recent months, prompting the FBI to issue warnings due to the high risk of attack. Scammers are impersonating CEOs, CISOs, and executives to get end users to visit websites and divulge their login credentials or download malware.

With so many Internet threats to deal with, policies are no longer enough to keep organizations’ networks free from malicious software and infections can prove very costly to resolve.

Controlling Personal Use of the Internet

Many companies take a relaxed attitude to personal Internet use, provided it is kept within certain limits. This is arguably the best option for employers and employees. Blocking personal access to the Internet can have a negative effect on staff morale, and all employees will need to use the Internet from time to time for personal reasons.

That said, there will always be some members of staff that choose to abuse their Internet access and this can lead to serious problems for employers. Not only is there a risk of malware infections, abuse of the Internet can have legal implications for employers. The use of illegal file sharing websites for copyright-infringing downloads, the accessing of illegal website content such as child pornography, or even the viewing of legal pornography in the workplace can cause many HR issues.

Of course, web filtering is not only about blocking access. It allows companies to monitor use of the Internet and identify employees who are breaking the rules before serious HR or legal issues arise. Web filtering also allows organizations to place limits on online activities at certain times of the day to ensure the workforce remains productive and bandwidth is not wasted.

Summary of the Benefits of Filtering the Internet

  • Blocks malware, ransomware, botnets, adware, and spyware installations
  • Prevents the accessing of illegal website content
  • Stops the downloading and installation of shadow IT
  • Prevents bandwidth wastage
  • Allows employers to monitor employees’ Internet usage
  • Prevents many HR issues
  • Helps organizations to comply with industry regulations
  • Can help to increase employee productivity

Benefits of Web Filtering Services for MSPs

  • Protects clients from Internet threats
  • Easily increases client revenue
  • Helps MSP’s to attract more clients and win new business
  • Allows MSPs to provide a more comprehensive range of Internet services

Web Filtering Services for MSPs can be Easily Incorporated into Existing Service Packages

Web filtering services for MSPs no longer require expensive appliances to be purchased, and it is not necessary to use local IT support teams to visit clients to install and configure web filters. In fact, it is not even necessary to install software on clients’ devices or servers at all. Clients can have their Internet filtered within 5 minutes of them saying yes to a sales representative if cloud-based web filtering services are used.

Cloud-based web filtering services for MSPs require clients to make a small change to their DNS settings, something that even the most technically inept employee could be talked through over the phone. By pointing the DNS to the service provider’s servers, the Internet can be filtered quickly and painlessly.

Web filtering services for MSPs can be easily offered to clients alongside managed service providers’ solutions. WebTitan Cloud – and WebTitan Cloud for WiFi – are offered as web filtering services for MSPs without any branding. MSPS are able to add their own logos and corporate color schemes, tailor block pages, and customize reports with their own branding. If required, MSPs can also host the solution within their own infrastructure or use a private cloud for clients.

The management overhead is low and the configuration of new accounts is quick and easy. New client accounts can be set up in approximately 20 minutes. Even reporting is taken care of with a full suite of pre-configured, schedulable reports, including instant email alerts.

The cost for the client is low with only a small spend required per user, per year, and the margins offered by TitanHQ on web filtering services for MSPs are generous. This allows MSPs to easily increase profits, in some cases, by tens of thousands of dollars.

If you want to attract new business, increase client spending, and easily increase profits, web filtering services for MSPs could well be the answer.

For further information on our web filtering services for MSPs, including a product demonstration and details of pricing, contact our sales team today.

Critical Symantec Vulnerability is “As Bad as it Can Possibly Get”

This week, a new critical Symantec vulnerability has been discovered that enables an attacker to trigger a memory buffer overflow, allowing root-level control over a system to be gained without any user interaction. The cross-platform security vulnerability affects many Symantec and Norton anti-virus software releases.

Critical Vulnerability in Symantec AVE Scan Engine is “As Bad as it Can Possibly Get”

The critical fault has been found in the core scanning engine used in both Norton and Symantec anti-virus software, including Norton antivirus, and Symantec’s Scan Engine, Endpoint Antivirus, and Email Security, although other products may also be affected. The vulnerability affects Windows, Mac, Linux, and UNIX platforms.

Since the scan engine intercepts all system input and output, the vulnerability could be exploited by an attacker by simply sending a file attachment to a user’s inbox. The user would not even be required to open the file in order for the vulnerability to be exploited.

The vulnerability could therefore allow an attacker to take full control of the device on which the software has been installed with no user interaction necessary. The vulnerability has been described as “as bad as it can possibly get” by Tavis Ormandy – the researcher at Google Project Zero who discovered the security flaw.

Ormandy said that if the vulnerability is exploited it causes kernel memory corruption on Windows because “the scan engine is loaded into the kernel (wtf!!!).” It must be said, unpacking malware in the kernel was perhaps not the best decision. Ormandy also discovered a number of other remote code execution security vulnerabilities in Symantec products.

The new critical Symantec vulnerability has now been addressed – AVE version 20151.1.1.4 – although the remaining vulnerabilities have yet to be remediated. Users of Symantec and Norton branded products will have to wait until a patch is made available.

According to an advisory issued by Symantec, the critical vulnerability affects the AVE scanning engine and occurs “when parsing malformed portable-executable header files.” If one of these malformed portable-executable header files is downloaded in an application or document, or if a malicious website is visited which downloads one of these files onto the device, the flaw could be exploited. The flaw could also be exploited if an attacker sends one of these files to the user as an email attachment, or even if a link is sent in an email. The parsing of the malformed file would be triggered.

Symantec reported that “Sufficiently malformed, the code executed at the kernel-level with system/root privileges causing a memory access violation.”

The critical Symantec vulnerability needs to be remediated as soon as possible. If you run Symantec anti-virus software and your system is not set to update automatically, it is essential to perform a manual Symantec LiveUpdate to address the issue. A patch is expected to be released in the next few days to address the other serious vulnerabilities discovered by Ormandy.

How to Block Exploit Kits and Keep your Network Protected

Last week, the website of a major toy manufacturer was discovered to have been compromised and was being used to infect visitors with ransomware. The website of Maisto was loaded with the Angler exploit kit that probed visitors’ browsers for exploitable vulnerabilities. When vulnerabilities were discovered, they were exploited and ransomware was downloaded onto visitors’ devices. In this case, the ransomware used was CryptXXX.

The website was attacked using JavaScript, which loaded the site with the angler exploit kit. The exploit kit searches for a wide range of browser plugin vulnerabilities that can be exploited. A malware dropper called Bedep is then used to install the ransomware.

Many ransomware infections require a system rebuild and restoration of data from a backup. If a viable backup does not exist there is no alternative but to pat the attackers for an encryption. Fortunately, in this case there is an easy fix for a CryptXXX infection. The ransomware-encrypted files can be decrypted for free according to Kaspersky Lab. However, there are many malicious strains of ransomware that are not so easy to remove.

While decrypting files locked by CryptXXX is possible, that is not the only malicious action performed by the ransomware. CryptXXX is also an information stealer and can record logins to FTP clients, email clients, and steal other data stored in browsers. It can even steal bitcoins from local wallets.

CryptXXX is now being used in at least two major exploit kit attack campaigns according to researchers from Palo Alto Networks. While Locky ransomware was extensively used in March this year – deployed using the Nuclear exploit kit – the attackers appear to have switched to the Angler exploit kit and the Bedep/CryptXXX combo.

How to Block Exploit Kits from Downloading Malware

To protect end users’ devices and networks from malware downloads and to block exploit kits, system administrators must ensure that all browser plugins are kept up to date. Exploit kits take advantage in security vulnerabilities in a wide range of plugins, although commonly vulnerabilities in Flash and Java are exploited. These two browser plugins are used on millions of machines, and new zero-day vulnerabilities are frequently discovered in both platforms. Cybercriminals are quick to take advantage. As soon as a new vulnerability is identified it is rapidly added to exploit kits. Any machine that contains an out-of-date plug in is at risk of attack.

It takes time for patches to be developed and released when a new zero-day vulnerability is discovered. Keeping all devices up to date is a time consuming process and sys admins are unlikely to be able to update all devices the second a patch is released. To effectively protect devices and networks from attacks using exploit kits, consider using a web filtering solution.

A web filter can be used to block websites containing exploit kits and thus prevent the downloading of malware, even if patches have not been installed. The best way to block exploit kits from downloading malware is to ensure that end users never visit a website containing an exploit kit!

A web filter should not be an excuse for poor patch management practices, but web filtering software can ensure devices and networks are much better protected.

WebTitan Cloud Opens up New Revenue Avenues for MSPs

Finding new revenue avenues for MSPs can be difficult. There are many ways for MSPs to increase client spending and win new business, although new revenue avenues for MSPs that are easy to implement and manage, are straightforward to sell to clients, and also offer good margins are few and far between. Fortunately, there is a product that can easily be incorporated into existing client offerings which is highly desirable, has a low management overhead, and offers MSPs excellent margins. That service is WebTitan Cloud. WebTitan Cloud is a web filtering service that has been developed with MSPs in mind.

New Revenue Avenues for MSPs: Internet Filtering-as-a-Service

The benefits of WebTitan Cloud are considerable. Our web filtering solution can be used to protect virtually all organizations from a wide range of Internet threats: Something that is increasingly important given the increase in phishing attacks and the proliferation of malware and ransomware in recent years. The cost of resolving malware infections is considerable, and data theft and loss can have catastrophic consequences for SMBs. Heavy fines can be issued by regulators for data breaches, and reputation damage from customer data theft can be considerable.

Employees need to be provided with Internet access to work efficiently; however, Internet access is often abused. Employees are wasting a considerable amount of time each day on personal Internet use. Social media networks are accessed, gambling sites used at work, and gaming sites used by many employees during working hours. By limiting access to these websites organizations can greatly increase the productivity of the workforce. Filtering the Internet to prevent employees and customers from accessing inappropriate website content can also prevent HR issues from developing and can reduce legal risk.

Our web filtering solution can also be used to manage bandwidth. Most organizations face bandwidth issues at some point, yet with careful configuration of our web filter, bandwidth can be effectively managed. Bandwidth-heavy Internet services can be limited to ensure that fast Internet access can be enjoyed by all.

WebTitan Cloud – An Easy Way for MSPs to Increase Profits

WebTitan Gateway is a powerful web filtering product that can keep networks protected from web-borne threats and can be used to control the content that can be accessed by employees and customers. While WebTitan Gateway can be offered by MSPs to their clients, TitanHQ has developed a new product that has been tailored to the specific needs of managed service providers.

WebTitan Cloud is a 100% cloud-based web filtering solution that requires no software installations and no hardware purchases. Our web filtering service can be applied in a matter of minutes without the use for on-the-ground IT support teams. Being DNS-based, all that is required is a small change to DNS settings. Point the DNS to our servers and website content can be filtered in as little as 2 minutes.

Configuring new clients’ web filtering settings is a quick and easy process. It takes approximately 20 minutes to add a new client and upload their Internet policy settings. Furthermore, configuring client accounts is a straightforward admin task requiring no technical skill. If clients want to manage their own settings, they can be provided with their own login and administrative roles can be easily delegated. With WebTitan Cloud, filtering the Internet could not be any simpler.

A Web Filtering Service that’s a Perfect Fit for MSPs

There are many companies now offering a web filtering service that can be used by MSPs, but few offer a product or service that has been created with MSPs in mind. With many solutions the cost of implementation is high, margins for MSPs are low, implementation is impractical, and management causes major headaches. On top of that, the lack of white label options means clients could easily end up going direct and cutting an MSP out of the equation. WebTitan Cloud is different.

WebTitan Cloud is offered as a white label, allowing MSPs to easily incorporate a web filtering service into their existing product offerings. MSPs are able to add their own logos, configure block screens, and change color schemes to match their own corporate branding. A range of APIs are also included to make integration with back-office systems as easy as possible. We even offer multiple hosting options. WebTitan Cloud can be run on our servers, in a private cloud, or even within an MSP’s infrastructure.

With WebTitan Cloud, MSPs can start providing a much more comprehensive Internet service to clients and easily boost their profits. For further information on WebTitan Cloud, how our service can be incorporated into your existing portfolios, and for details of pricing, contact our sales team today.

Risk of Phishing Attacks and Ransomware Infections Highlights Need for Web Filtering Software

The risk of phishing attacks has increased considerably over the past 12 months, according to a new data breach report from Verizon. Ransomware attacks are also on the rise. The two are often used together to devastating effect as part of a three-pronged attack on organizations.

Firstly, cybercriminals target individual employees with a well-crafted phishing campaign. The target is encouraged to click a link contained in a phishing email which directs the soon-to-be victim to a malicious website. Malware is then silently downloaded to the victim’s device.

The malware logs keystrokes to gain access to login credentials which allows an attacker to infiltrate email accounts and other systems. Infections are moved laterally to compromise other networked devices. Stolen login credentials are then used to launch further attacks, which may involve making fraudulent bank transfers or installing ransomware on the network.

The Risk of Phishing Attacks is Growing

Verizon reports that due to the effectiveness of phishing and the speed at which attackers are able to gain access to networks, the popularity of the technique has grown substantially. In years gone by, phishing was a technique often used in nation-state sponsored attacks on organizations. Now there is a high risk of phishing attacks from any number of different players. Even low skilled hackers are now using phishing to gain access to networks, steal data, and install malware. Out of the nine different incident patterns identified by the researchers, phishing is now being used in seven.

Phishing campaigns are also surprisingly effective. Even though many companies now provide anti-phishing training, attempts to educate the workforce to minimize the risk of phishing attacks is not always effective. The 2016 Verizon data breach report suggests that when phishing emails are delivered to inboxes, 30% of end users open the emails. In 2015 the figure was just 23%. Rather than employees getting better at identifying phishing emails they appear to be getting worse. Even worse news for employers is 13% of individuals who open phishing emails also double click on attached files or visit the links contained in the emails.

Ransomware Attacks Increased 16% in a Year

Ransomware has been around for the best part of a decade although criminals have favored other methods of attacking organizations. However, over the past couple of years that has changed and the last 12 months has seen a significant increase in ransomware attacks on businesses. According to the data breach report, attacks have increased by 16% in the past year. As long as companies pay attackers’ ransom demands attacks are likely to continue to increase.

How Can Web Filtering Software Prevent Ransomware Infections and Reduce the Risk of Phishing Attacks

Defending a network from attack requires a wide range of cybersecurity defenses to be put in place. One of the most important defenses is the use of web filtering software. A web filter sits between end users and the Internet and controls the actions that can be taken by end users as well as the web content they are allowed to access.

A web filter can be used to block phishing websites and malicious sites where drive-by malware downloads take place. Web filtering software can also be configured to block the downloading of files typically associated with malware.

Training employees how to avoid phishing emails can be an effective measure to reduce the risk of phishing attacks, but it will not prevent 100% of attacks, 100% of the time. When training is provided and web filtering software is used, organizations can effectively manage phishing risk and prevent malware and ransomware infections. As phishing attacks and ransomware infections are on the increase, now is the ideal time to start using web filtering software.

FBI Seeks Help To Deal With Enterprise Ransomware Threat

In February, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) issued an alert over a new ransomware called MSIL (AKA Samas/Samsam/Samsa), but a recent confidential advisory was obtained by Reuters, in which the FBI asked U.S. businesses and the software security community for help to deal with the growing enterprise ransomware threat from MSIL.

The new ransomware is particularly nasty as it is capable of infecting networks, not just individual computers. In February, the FBI alert provided details of the new ransomware and how it attacked systems by exploiting a vulnerability in the enterprise JBoss system. Any enterprise running an outdated version of the software platform is at risk of being attacked. The FBI’s list of indicators was intended to help organizations determine whether they had been infected with MSIL.

Just over a month later, the FBI sent out a plea for assistance, requesting businesses to contact its CYWATCH cybersecurity center if they suspected they had been attacked with the ransomware. Any business or security expert with information about the ransomware was also requested to get in touch.

Recent high profile attacks on healthcare organizations and law enforcement have resulted in ransoms being paid to attackers in order to unlock ransomware infections. Oftentimes there is no alternative but to pay the ransom demand in order to recover data. However, paying ransoms simply encourages more attacks.

The Enterprise Ransomware Threat is Now at A Critical Level

Ransomware is not new, but the methods being used by cybercriminals to infect systems is more complex as is the malicious software used in the attacks. The volume of attacks and the number of ransomware variants now in use mean the enterprise ransomware threat is considerable, with some security experts warning that ransomware is fast becoming a national cybersecurity emergency.

The healthcare industry is being targeted as hospitals cannot afford to lose access to healthcare data. Even if electronic patient medical files are not encrypted, systems are being shut down to contain infections. This causes massive disruption and huge costs, which attackers hope will make paying the ransom the best course of action.

Dealing with the enterprise ransomware threat requires a multi-faceted approach. Attackers are using a variety of methods to install ransomware and blocking spam email is no longer sufficient to deal with the problem. MSIL attacks are being conducted by exploiting vulnerabilities in enterprise software systems, end users are being fooled into installing ransomware with social engineering techniques, drive by downloads are taking place and the malicious file-encrypting software is also being sent via spam email.

How to Protect Against Enterprise Ransomware Attacks

The FBI is trying to encourage business users and individuals never to open untrusted email attachments and to ensure they are deleted from inboxes. Fortunately, the high profile attacks on large institutions have put enterprises on high alert. With awareness raised, it is hoped that greater efforts will be made by enterprises to reduce the risk of an attack being successful.

Some of the best protections include:

  • Ensuring all software is kept up to date and patches are installed promptly
  • Using spam filtering tools to reduce the risk of infected attachments being delivered to end users
  • Backing up all systems frequently to ensure data can be restored in the event of an attack
  • Conducting regular staff training sessions to help end users recognize phishing emails and malicious attachments
  • Disabling macros on all computers
  • Using web filtering solutions to prevent drive-by downloads and block malicious websites
  • Issuing regular security bulletins to staff when a new enterprise ransomware threat is discovered

It’s World Backup Day – Could You Recover From a Data Disaster?

Today is World Backup Day – a day when awareness of the need to backup data is raised around the world. It is a day when companies that are not backing up their critical data are encouraged to do so, and companies that do are encouraged to take a close look at their data backup policies and procedures to make sure that they are up to scratch.

world-backup-day

World Backup Day 2016 is More Important Than Ever

World Backup Day may be an opportunity for companies to sell you a host of products and services associated with disaster recovery – a number of software companies offering backup services sponsor the day – but this year the day is more important than ever. This week, a large not-for-profit health system in the United States discovered just how important it is to have a fully functional backup of all critical data.

MedStar Health, a network of 10 hospitals and more than 250 outpatient facilities in the Washington D.C. area, was hit with a ransomware infection that compromised 18 computers. It could have been far worse had rapid action not been taken to shut down its network to prevent the lateral spread of the ransomware infection.

Fortunately, systems are now being restored and it appears that the reported ransom demand of $18,500 will not need to be paid. Many companies would not be in a position to decide whether or not to pay the ransom. If a viable copy of data has not been stored securely on an isolated drive, the ransom would have to be paid. Losing critical data would simply not be an option.

MedStar Health is not the only healthcare organization to have suffered a ransomware attack in recent weeks. In the United States, Methodist Hospital in Kentucky, and Chino Valley Medical Center, Desert Valley Hospital, and Hollywood Presbyterian Medical Center in California have all been attacked, as was Canada’s Ottawa Hospital. All of those attacks have occurred in the past two months.

It is not just the healthcare industry that is under attack; however, many companies prefer not to announce that they have had their systems infiltrated and data encrypted by attackers. Ransoms are quietly paid in order to get the security keys to unlock the encryption.

30% of Users Have Never Backed Up Their Data

Even though the loss of data could prove catastrophic for companies, many organizations are not backing up data as frequently as they should. Some do not test the backups they perform to make sure that in the event of an emergency, data can actually be recovered.

Almost a year ago to the day, the Tewksbury Police Department in Massachusetts was given no alternative but to pay a ransom to have its files unlocked. A backup of data had been recently performed, but that file was corrupted. The only non-corrupted backup file the Police Department had was more than 18 months old.

The figures on the World Backup Day website indicate 30% of users have never backed up their data, even though the loss of files would cause considerable anguish. Figures from Backblaze suggest that since 2013 (from when the World Backup Day figures were taken) things have improved and the figure now stands at 25%.

Companies Need to Review Backup Policies

For companies, a single backup of data is not sufficient protection. Multiple backup files can reduce risk. If one backup file is corrupted, it will not spell disaster. Those backups must be stored off-site, but should not be connected to a computer network. Backup files can also be encrypted by ransomware if the drive on which they are stored remains connected to a network.

There are many other ways that data can be accidentally deleted or lost. There may not be an option to simply pay a ransom to recover valuable data. Without a viable backup data could be lost forever. WBD figures suggest that 29% of data incidents are the result of accidents.

Performing frequent backups is a complex task given the huge volumes of data now being stored by organizations. Today is a good day to reassess policies, procedures and software, to test backups, and to make sure that when (not if) disaster strikes, valuable data will not be lost.

Microsoft Makes it Easier to Block Malicious Word Macros in Office 2016

System administrators that do not block malicious Word macros in Office 2016 could be making it far too easy for hackers to compromise their networks. Malicious Word macros are nothing new, but in recent months they have been increasingly been used to deliver ransomware and other nasty malware.

Macros Used in 98% of Office-related Enterprise Malware Attacks

It is common knowledge that executable files are used to deliver malware. Many companies implement a web filter to prevent the downloading of executable files by end users, and spam filters are often configured to prevent attached .exe files from being delivered.

Screensaver files (.SCR) are also commonly used to deliver malware and these too are often blocked by security solutions. Blocking other file types commonly used by attackers, such as batch files (.bat) and compressed files (.zip) can also help to reduce the risk of a malware infection. For the majority of enterprise end users, these files can be blocked without affecting workflows.

However, it is not practical prevent Word documents and other Office files from being emailed or shared. These file types are used by most workers on a day to day basis. They are also being extensively used to deliver malware. According to figures released by Microsoft, office document macros are used in 98% of Office-related attacks on enterprises.

Fail to Block Malicious Word Macros in Office 2016 at your Peril!

There have been a number of recent cases of ransomware being installed after enabling Word macros. Hackers can add malicious scripts to Word macros and install malware without rousing too much suspicion. Word documents are often trusted not to be malicious by many end users.

After a rise in the use of macros to deliver computer viruses, Microsoft made a change to automatically disable macros in Word by default. Opening a Word document therefore required users to manually enable macros before they could be run.

The use of macro viruses went into rapid decline after this security measure was introduced because macros ceased to be a particularly effective method of malware delivery. That was about a decade ago.

However, recently there has been a surge in the use of embedded VBA scripts to deliver malware. Even when system administrators block malicious Word macros in Office 2016 it does not prevent infection. End users are enabling macros in order to open Word documents after being convinced to do so by attackers.

Enterprise end users are sent spam emails containing infected Word documents and are fooled into enabling macros in order to view the documents. When end users open the infected files they are presented with a warning message saying the content of the document cannot be viewed without first enabling macros. The end user does just that, and the malicious VBA script is run. That script then opens a connection to the hackers C&C server and malware is downloaded to the user’s device.

IT departments can conduct training and tell end users to never enable macros, but sooner or, later, one individual will ignore that advice and will inadvertently install malware. Many businesses use macros in their office files, so blocking them from running is simply not an option. So how can businesses block malicious Word macros in Office 2016 without having to stop using macros in documents altogether? Fortunately, Microsoft has come up with a cunning solution.

Microsoft Makes It Easier to Block Malicious Word Macros

Microsoft has responded to the wave of malicious macro attacks by developing a better solution than the one introduced more than a decade ago. A new setting has been added to make it possible to block malicious Word macros in Office 2016 while still being able to use genuine macros. The good news for system administrators is the settings cannot be bypassed by end users who think they know better than their IT department.

System administrators can now apply a group setting that will block macros in Office files that have been obtained from the Internet zone. Microsoft’s definition of the Internet zone includes documents attached to emails that have been sent from outside an organization, as well as documents obtained from cloud storage providers such as Google Drive and Dropbox and from file sharing websites.

Opening and attempting to run macros from these sources will result in a warning being presented to the user saying their system administrator has blocked macros for security reasons. They will not be given the option of bypassing those settings and running the macros. The new setting can be found in the Microsoft Trust Center in the security settings of Word.

Ransomware Mitigation Policies Essential to Protect Against Rampant Ransomware

A new report issued by the Institute for Critical Infrastructure highlights the need for organizations to develop ransomware mitigation policies due to the high risk of cyberattacks involving the malicious file encrypting software. The report warns that 2016 will be a year when ransomware wreaks havoc on businesses in the United States, in particular on the U.S critical infrastructure community.

Ransomware is being used by cybercriminals as it is a highly effective method of extorting money from businesses. Businesses need data in order to function, and ransomware prevents them from accessing it. If ransomware is installed on a computer, or worse still spreads to a computer network, critical data needed by the business is encrypted. A ransom demand is issued by the attackers who will not release the decryption keys until the ransom is paid. Without those keys data will remain locked forever. Business are often given no alternative but to give in to the attackers’ demands.

Rampant Ransomware Prompts ICIT to Issue Warning

The report warns organizations of the current dangers, and says that in 2016, “Ransomware is rampant.” Organizations of all sizes are being targeted. The criminal gangs behind the campaigns are targeting healthcare providers, even though their actions place the lives of patients in danger. Police and fire departments have also been targeted, as have educational institutions and businesses. The greater the need for access to data, the bigger incentive organizations have to pay the ransom.

According to the report, “In numerous cases, organizations tend to pay because, for them, every minute of downtime directly equates to lost revenue.” The cost of that downtime can be considerable. Far more than the ransom demand in many cases.

Unfortunately, as pointed out in the report, it is too difficult and time consuming to track down attackers. They are able to cover their tracks effectively and they take payment in Bitcoin or use other online payment methods that give them a degree of anonymity. Often attacks are conducted across International borders. This makes it simply too difficult for the perpetrators to be found and brought to justice by law enforcement agencies.

Even the FBI has said that it advises companies to pay the ransom in many cases, unless the victims can live without their data. The report says, “no security vendor or law enforcement authority can help victims recover from these attacks.” It is therefore up to each individual organization to put measures in place to protect against ransomware.

Ransomware Mitigation Policies are Essential

Recovering from a ransomware infection can be expensive and difficult. It is therefore imperative that defenses are put in place to prevent ransomware from being installed on computers and networks.

The report suggests four key areas that can help with ransomware mitigation.

  • Forming a dedicated information security team
  • Conducting staff training
  • Implementing layered defenses
  • Developing policies and procedures to mitigate risk

An information security team should conduct risk assessments, identify vulnerabilities, and ensure defenses are shored up. Security holes must be plugged to prevent them being exploited. The team must also devise strategies to protect critical assets. They are an essential element of a ransomware mitigation strategy.

Staff training is essential. Employees must be instructed how to identify threats. Employees are often targeted as they are the weakest link in the security chain. It is easiest to get an employee to install ransomware than to attempt a hack in many cases. According to the report, this is one of the most important ransomware mitigation steps to take.

Layered defenses should be implemented to make it harder for attackers to succeed. Organizations should not rely on one form of defense such as a firewall.  Antivirus and antimalware solutions should be used, anti-spam filters employed to prevent email attacks, and web filtering solutions should be used to prevent web-borne attacks.

With the threat now having reached critical levels, ransomware mitigation policies are essential. Administrative policies can help reduce the likelihood of an attack being successful. Employees must be aware who they can report suspicious emails and network activity to, and those individuals must be aware how they should act and deal with threats.