Mobile Security

Web-borne threats are not exclusive to wired network systems, and mobile security is an element often ignored by organizations and mobile users alike. With the increased use of mobile devices in the workplace, mobile security is an issue that should feature uppermost in the consciousness of IT security professionals.

Mobile security is not just an issue for employers and employees. Visitors using an organization´s WiFi network to stay connected should also be subject to an acceptable use policy to ensure that they do not visit websites that may result in malware being downloaded onto a WiFi router – and subsequently onto every device that connects with the WiFi router.

Stay up-to-date with the latest news about mobile security and mitigate the risk of malware infecting users´ devices by implementing a WiFI Internet filter. A WiFi Internet filter can do much more than enhance online security. It has been seen to enhance productivity in the workplace, increase custom and even introduce new marketing opportunities for organizations in the retail sector.

WannaCry Ransomware Attacks Halted… Temporarily

The WannaCry ransomware attacks that crippled hospitals in the United Kingdom on Friday have temporarily halted, although not before infections spread to 150 countries around the globe.  The massive ransomware campaign saw 61 NHS Trusts in the UK affected.

As the NHS was cancelling appointments and scrambling to halt the spread of the infection and restore its systems, the WannaCry ransomware attacks were going global. Organizations around the world were waking up to total chaos, with systems taken out of action and data access blocked. Other victims include FedEx, Telefonica, Deutsche Bahn and the Russian Interior Ministry and around 200,000 others.

The victim count rose considerably throughout Friday and Saturday morning, before a security researcher in the UK accidentally flicked the ransomware’s kill switch, preventing further WannaCry ransomware attacks. Had it not been for that researcher’s actions, the victim count would have been considerably higher.

The researcher in question prefers to remain anonymous, although he tweets under the Twitter account @MalwareTechBlog. While analyzing the ransomware, he discovered a reference to a nonsense web domain. He checked to see who owned the domain and discovered it had not been registered. He bought it and realized that his actions had stopped the ransomware in its tracks. If the domain could be contacted, encryption would not take place. If contact was not possible, the ransomware would proceed and encrypt files on the infected device.

This kill switch could have been put in place by the authors as a way to stop infections getting out of control. However, far more likely is the domain check was performed to determine if the ransomware was running in a test environment.

For now at least, the WannaCry ransomware attacks have stopped, although that does not mean they will not continue. New versions of the ransomware – without the kill switch – will almost certainly be released. In the meantime, IT security professionals have some time to plug the vulnerability that was exploited.

The exploit takes advantage of a vulnerability in Windows Server Message Block (SMB) that allows the attackers to download files onto a vulnerable machine. Microsoft issued a patch to plug the vulnerability on March 13 (MS17-010). Even though this was a high priority patch for which an exploit had been developed (ETERNALBLUE) and released online, many companies failed to update Windows leaving them vulnerable to attack.

Of course, any organization using an unsupported version of Windows – Windows XP for example – would not be able to apply the patch. Many NHS Trusts in the UK still use the unsupported version of Windows even though it is vulnerable to this and other exploits.

The attackers have reportedly made around $50,000 so far from the WannaCry ransomware attacks. That figure will rise, as victims are given 7 days to pay before the decryption keys held by the attackers will be permanently deleted. If payment is not made within 3 days, the $300 ransom doubles.

There are no clues as to who was behind the attack, although it was made possible by the actions of the hacking group Shadow Brokers, who published the exploit used in the WannaCry ransomware attacks in April. The exploit was not developed by Shadow Brokers however. That appears to have been developed by the National Security Agency in the USA. Shadow Brokers allegedly stole the exploit.

Microsoft has responded to the WannaCry ransomware attacks saying they should serve as a “wake-up call.” That’s not just the need to apply patches promptly to prevent cyberattacks, but also a wake up call for governments not to secretly stockpile exploits.

Internet Security and Threat Report Offers Insight into Changing Attack Trends

Sabotage, subversion and ransomware attacks all increased sharply in 2016, with malware-infected emails now at a five-year high according to the latest installment of Symantec’s Internet Security and Threat Report (ISTR).

For the 22nd volume of the report, the antivirus and antimalware software vendor analyzed data collected from millions of users of its security solutions – The world’s largest civilian threat collection network, consisting of 98 million attack sensors spread across 157 countries around the globe.

The 77-page Internet Security and Threat Report is one of the most highly respected publications issued by any cybersecurity company.

The Internet Security and Threat Report provides a valuable insight into the state of cybersecurity and details how global cybersecurity threats have changed over the course of the past 12 months.

Internet Security and Threat Report Shows Change in Attack Tactics

Data theft and financial fraud may be major motivators behind cyberattacks on businesses, but over the past 12 months there has been a sharp rise in politically motivated cyberattacks. Rather than steal data, the attackers are sabotaging businesses using destructive malware such as hard disk wipers.

The attacks are conducted to cause serious harm to business competitors, although nation state-backed hackers have also been targeting the critical infrastructure in many countries. Attacks on Ukrainian energy providers have been conducted to disrupt the power supply while attacks on companies in Saudi Arabia –  using Shamoon malware – attempted to permanently delete corporate data.

Many attacks were conducted last year with a different aim – subversion. That was clearly demonstrated during the recent U.S presidential campaign. Sensitive data from the Democratic party was leaked in an attempt to influence the outcome of the U.S presidential election. The FBI investigation into the hacking of the presidential election is ongoing.

Sabotage is on the rise, but data theft incidents continue. The past year has seen many espionage attacks resulting in the theft of sensitive data and corporate secrets and financial attacks have increased.

The Internet Security and Threat Report shows there has been a major increase in large-scale financial heists in the past year. Attacks on consumers are occurring with increasingly regularity, although the banks themselves are now being targeted. Those attacks have resulted in the theft of many millions of dollars.

The Carbanak gang has been highly active in this area and has performed multiple attacks on U.S banks, while the Banswift group performed one of the biggest heists of the year, stealing $81 million from the central bank in Bangladesh.

While exploit kits and other web-based attacks were a major threat in 2015, attackers have returned to email as the primary method of gaining access to networks. In 2015, Symantec blocked an average of 340,000 web-based attacks per day. In 2016, the number had fallen to 229,000 – a significant reduction, although the threat of web-based attacks cannot be ignored.

The Biggest Malware Threat Comes from Email

Phishing is still a major risk for businesses, although the phishing rate has fallen over the past three years, according to the Internet Security and Threat Report. In 2014, one in 965 messages were used for phishing. In 2016, the number fell to one in 2,596 emails.

However, email spam levels have remained constant year on year. Email spam accounts for 53% of all sent messages.

Phishing email volume may be down, but email-borne malware attacks have increased. The Symantec Internet Security and Threat Report shows the volume of malicious emails now being sent is higher than any point in the past five years.

Now, one in 131 emails contain either a malicious attachment or hyperlink, up from one in 220 emails in 2015 and one in 244 emails in 2014.  The number of new malware variants being released has also soared. In 2014, there were 275 million new malware variants discovered. That figure rose to 357 million last year. The number of bots sending malicious email has also increased year on year, from 91.9 million in 2015 to 98.6 million in 2016.

Ransomware Attacks Soared in 2016

Ransomware attacks also increased significantly in 2016, with the United States the most targeted country. Even though the FBI and other law enforcement agencies strongly advise against paying a ransom, 64% of U.S. companies ignore that advice and pay the attackers for keys to decrypt their data.

In 2015, the average ransom demand was for $294 per infected machine. Over the course of the past 12 months, ransom amounts have increased considerably. The Symantec Internet Security and Threat Report shows ransom demands increased by an astonishing 266% in 2016. The average ransom demand is now $1,077 per infected machine.

Symantec tracked 101 separate ransomware families in 2016 – A substantial rise from the 30 known ransomware families in 2014 and 2015.  Last year, there were 463,841 ransomware detections, up from 340,655 from 2015.

One of the biggest threats comes from the cloud, although many organizations are underestimating the risk. When organizations were asked how many cloud apps are in use in their company, few provided an accurate figure. Many estimated they used around 40 cloud-based apps. Symantec reports that for the average company, the figure is closer to 1,000.

As the Internet Security and Threat Report shows, the cyberthreat landscape is constantly changing as cybercriminals develop new methods of attacking businesses. Only by keeping up to date on the latest threat indicators and bolstering cybersecurity defenses can businesses maintain a robust security posture and prevent attacks.

Software Exploit Attacks Rose by 25% in 2016 with Businesses the Worst Affected

Kaspersky Lab has released new figures showing software exploit attacks increased by almost a quarter in 2016. In total, more than 702 million attempted software exploit attacks were performed; a rise of 24.54% year on year. Corporate users were the worst affected, registering 690,000 attacks in 2016; a rise of 28.35% year on year.

According to the report, 69.8% of software exploit attacks took advantage of flaws in web browsers, Microsoft Windows, Microsoft Office or the Android platform. Software exploit attacks involve malware leveraging flaws in software to run malicious code or install other malware. Last year, the most common exploit took advantage of the Stuxnet vulnerability on unpatched systems.

Software exploits are difficult to identify because they occur silently without alerting the user. Unlike email-based attacks, software exploits require no user interaction. A user must only be convinced to visit a website hosting an exploit kit. A hyperlink can be sent via email or users can be redirected to malicious sites using malvertising. Attacks can occur through general web browsing. Hackers often take advantage of flaws to hijack websites and install exploit kits.

While attacks on companies have increased, attacks on private users fell by around 20% to 4.3 million attacks. This has been attributed to two major exploit kits – Neutrino and Angler – being shut down. Without those exploit kits, criminal groups have lost the ability to spread malware and have had to resort to different tactic to spread malware, with spam email the delivery mechanism of choice.

Exploit kits are expensive to develop and require considerable work, and since software developers are reacting faster and patching vulnerabilities, exploit kits are no longer as profitable for cybercriminals. However, exploits are still being used by sophisticated criminal gangs in targeted attacks aimed at stealing highly sensitive data.

This year has seen an increase in exploit activity using the Rig exploit kit, while last month Checkpoint noted a major rise in software exploit attacks.

Exploit kits may not pose as big a threat as in late 2015, but they are still a significant threat for businesses. Organizations can improve their defenses against software exploits by installing patches promptly and ensuring anti-virus and anti-malware solutions are kept up to date. A web filtering solution should also form part of organizations’ defenses. Web filters prevent end users from visiting, or being redirected to, websites known to host exploit kits.

Continued Use of Unsupported Operating Systems Places Organizations at High Risk of Attack

Do you have any machines running on unsupported operating systems? Is all of your software up to date with all of the latest patches applied? If you are not patching promptly or are still running outdated, unsupported operating systems or software, you are taking unnecessary risks and are leaving your network open to attack.

Hackers are constantly trawling the Internet looking for vulnerable systems to attack. Even if you are only running Windows XP or Vista on one networked machine, it could allow a hacker to exploit vulnerabilities and gain access to part or all of your network.

An alarming number of businesses are still running outdated software and are not patching promptly. For instance, 7.4% of businesses are still using Windows XP, even though Microsoft stopped issuing patches three years ago.

Hackers are discovering new vulnerabilities in software and operating systems faster than the software manufacturers can address those flaws. Zero-day vulnerabilities are regularly discovered and exploits developed to take advantage of the flaws and gain access to business networks. When a software developer stops issuing updates, the list of potential vulnerabilities that can be exploited grows fast.

Take Windows for example. Each set of updates released by Microsoft every Patch Tuesday contains patches to remediate several critical vulnerabilities that could be exploited to run code or access a system and gain user privileges. While exploits may not currently exist for those flaws at the time the patches are released, that is not the case for long. Hackers can look at the updates and reverse engineer patches to discover the vulnerabilities. Exploits can then be developed to attack unpatched machines.

Take the recent set of updates addressed by Microsoft in its March Patch Tuesday update as an example. Microsoft silently patched a slew of flaws for which exploits had been developed. Four days later, exploit tools from The Equation Group were dumped online by Shadow Brokers. Those tools could be used to exploit the flaws addressed by Microsoft a few days previously.

The exploit tools can be used to attack unpatched machines, but the patches were only issued to address flaws in supported versions of Windows. Many of those exploit tools can be used to attack unsupported Windows versions such as XP and Vista.

One of those tools, called Eternalromance, will likely work on all previous versions of Windows back to Windows XP. EasyPi, Eclipsedwing, Emeraldthread, eraticgopher and esteemaudit have all been confirmed to work on Windows XP.

Those are just the exploit tools recently discovered by The Equation Group. They represent just a small percentage of the exploits that exist for flaws in older, unpatched Windows versions. In addition to exploits for Windows flaws, there are exploits for many software programs.

There will always be zero day exploits that can be used to attack businesses, but running outdated software and unsupported operating systems makes it too easy for hackers.

Businesses of all sizes must therefore ensure that they have good patch management policies covering all software and operating systems and all devices. However, since unsupported operating systems will never be patched, continued use of those products represents a very large and unnecessary risk.

The True Cost of a Ransomware Attack

The cost of a ransomware attack is far higher than the amount demanded by cybercriminals to unlock encrypted files. The final cost of a ransomware attack is likely to be many times the cost of the ransom payment, in fact, the ransom payment – if it is made – could be one of the lower costs that must be covered.

Typically, cybercriminals charge between $400 and $1,000 per infected computer to supply the keys to decrypt data. If one member of staff is fooled into clicking on an infected email attachment or downloading ransomware by another means, fast action by the IT team can contain the infection. However, infections can quickly spread to other networked devices and entire networks can have files encrypted, crippling an organization.

Over the past 12 months, ransomware attacks have increased in number and severity. New ransomware variants are constantly being developed. There are now more than 600 separate ransomware families, each containing many different ransomware variants.

Over the past year there has also been an increase in ransomware-as-a-service (RaaS). RaaS involves developing a customizable ransomware which is rented out to affiliates. Any individual, even someone with scant technical ability, can pay for RaaS and conduct ransomware campaigns. Access to the ransomware may be as little as $50, with the affiliate then given a cut of the profits. There has been no shortage of takers.

Figures from FireEye suggest ransomware attacks increased by 35% in 2016. Figures from the FBI released in March 2016 suggested ransomware had already netted cybercriminals $209 million. Herjavec Group estimated that ransomware profits would top $1 billion in 2016; a considerable rise from the $24 million gathered during the previous calendar year. Figures from Action Fraud indicate ransom payments in the United Kingdom topped £4.5 million last year.

While ransom demands for individual infections can be well below $1,000, all too often ransomware spreads to multiple computers and consequently, the ransom increases considerably. Cybercriminals are also able to gather information about a victim and set ransoms based on ability to pay.

In June 2016, the University of Calgary paid $16,000 to recover its email system. In February last year, Hollywood Presbyterian Medical Center (HPMC) paid a ransom payment of $17,000 to unlock its system. A ransom demand in excess of $28,000 was demanded from MIRCORP following an infection in June 2016. The MUNI metro ransomware attack in San Francisco saw a ransom demand of $73,000 issued!

Figures from Malwarebytes suggest globally, almost 40% of businesses experienced a ransomware attack in the previous year. Ransomware is big business and the costs are considerable.

What is the Cost of a Ransomware Attack?

Ransomware infections can cause considerable financial damage. The cost of a ransomware attack extends far beyond the cost of a ransom payment. The Malwarebytes study suggests more than one third of businesses attacked with ransomware had lost revenue as a result, while 20% were forced to stop business completely.

The FBI and law enforcement agencies strongly advise against paying a ransom as this only encourages further criminal activity. Organizations that are unprepared or are unable to recover data from backups may have little choice but to pay the ransom to recover data essential for business.

However, the true cost of a ransomware attack is far higher than any ransom payment. The HMPC ransomware infection resulted in systems being out of action for 10 days, causing considerable disruption to hospital operations.

System downtime is one of the biggest costs.  Even if backup files exist, accessing those files can take time, as can restoring systems and data. Even if a ransom is paid, downtime during recovery is considerable. One study by Intermedia suggests 32% of companies that experienced a ransomware attack suffered system downtime for at least five days.

A study by Imperva on 170 security professionals indicates downtime is the biggest cost of a ransomware attack. 59% of respondents said the inability to access computer systems was the largest cost of a ransomware attack. 29% said the cost of system downtime would be between $5,000 and $20,000 per day, while 27% estimated costs to be in excess of $20,000 per day.

One often forgotten cost of a ransomware attack is notifying affected individuals that their data may have been compromised. Healthcare organizations must also notify individuals if their protected health information (PHI) is encrypted by ransomware under HIPAA Rules.

Major attacks that potentially impact tens of thousands of patients could cost tens of thousands of dollars in mailing and printing costs alone. Credit monitoring and identity theft protection services may also be warranted for all affected individuals.

Many affected individuals may even choose to take their business elsewhere after being notified that their sensitive information may have been accessed by cybercriminals.

Following a ransomware attack, a full system analysis must be conducted to ensure no backdoors have been installed and all traces of malware have been removed. Additional protections then need to be put in place to ensure that future attacks do not occur.

The true cost of a ransomware attack is therefore considerable. The final cost of a ransomware attack could be several hundred thousand dollars or more.

It is therefore essential that businesses of all sizes have appropriate protections in place to prevent ransomware attacks and limit their severity if they do occur.

To find out more about some of the key protections that you can put in place to improve your resilience against ransomware attacks, contact the TitanHQ team today.

Safari Scareware Used to Extort Money from Porn Viewers

A flaw in the mobile Safari browser has been exploited by cybercriminals and used to extort money from individuals who have previously used their mobile device to view pornography or other illegal content. The Safari scareware prevents the user from accessing the Internet on their device by loading a series of pop-up messages.

A popup is displayed advising the user that Safari cannot open the requested page. Clicking on OK to close the message triggers another popup warning. Safari is then locked in an endless loop of popup messages that cannot be closed.

A message is displayed in the background claiming the device has been locked because the user has been discovered to have viewed illegal web content. Some users have reported messages containing Interpol banners, which are intended to make the user think the lock has been put on their phone by law enforcement. The only way of unlocking the device, according to the messages, is to pay a fine.

One of the domains used by the attackers is police-pay.com; however, few users would likely be fooled into thinking the browser lock was implemented by a police department as the fine had to be paid in the form of an iTunes gift card.

Other messages threaten the user with police action if payment is not made. The attackers claim they will send the user’s browsing history and downloaded files to the Metropolitan Police if the ransom is not paid.

This type of Safari scareware is nothing new, although the zero-day flaw that was exploited to display the messages was. The attackers loaded code onto a number of websites which exploited a flaw in the way the Safari browser handles JavaScript pop-up windows. The code targeted iOS versions 10.2 and earlier.

The Safari scareware campaign was recently uncovered by Lookout, which passed details of the exploit onto Apple last month. Apple has now released an update to its browser which prevents the attack from taking place. Users can protect their devices against attack by updating their device to iOS version 10.3.

Scareware is different from ransomware, although both are used to extort money. In the case of ransomware, access to a device is gained by the attacker and malicious file-encrypting malware is downloaded. That malware then locks users’ files with powerful encryption. If a backup of the encrypted files is not owned, the user faces loss of data if they do not pay the attackers for the key to decrypt their locked files.

Scareware may involve malware, although more commonly – as was the case with this Safari scareware campaign – it involves malicious code on websites. The code is run when a user with a vulnerable browser visits an infected webpage. The idea behind scareware is to scare the end user into paying the ransom demand to unlock their device. In contrast to ransomware, which cannot be unlocked without a decryption key, it is usually possible to unlock scareware-locked browsers with a little computer knowhow. In this case, control of the phone could be regained by clearing the Safari cache of all data.

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

Malware and Phishing Attacks on Healthcare Organizations are the New Norm

Malware and phishing attacks on healthcare organizations are all but guaranteed. In fact, they are almost as certain as death and taxes. Healthcare organizations hold huge volumes of data on patients and more types of data than virtually any other industry.

Healthcare providers store personal information and Social Security numbers, which are needed for identity theft and tax fraud. Insurance information that can be used for health insurance fraud; Medicare/Medicaid numbers and health information that can be used for medical fraud. Bank account information and credit card numbers are also often stored. For cybercriminals, breaching a healthcare organization’s defenses means a big payday.

Further, health data does not expire like credit card numbers. Social Security numbers never change. It is therefore no surprise that malware and phishing attacks on healthcare organizations are on the rise.

As if there was not enough incentive to attack healthcare organizations, the healthcare industry has underinvested in cybersecurity defenses, lagging behind other industries when it comes to implementing the latest technologies to thwart cybercriminals. Healthcare networks are also highly complex and difficult to protect. They also contain many outdated software and operating systems. Many healthcare organizations still run medical devices on the unsupported Windows XP OS, which contains many vulnerabilities.

The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) has helped to bring cybersecurity standards up to an acceptable level. HIPAA compliance has made it harder for cybercriminals, although far from impossible. With the healthcare industry, firmly in cybercriminals’ crosshairs, healthcare organizations need to look beyond meeting the minimum standards for data security to avoid a HIPAA fine and ensure that defenses are improved further still.

One of the biggest problems comes from cyberattacks on healthcare employees. Even advanced firewalls can be easily avoided if employees can be fooled into clicking on a malicious link or opening an infected email attachment. Phishing attacks on healthcare organizations are the most common way that cybercriminals gain access to healthcare networks. Most cyberattacks start with a spear phishing email.

In addition to perimeter defenses, it is essential for healthcare organizations to employ technologies to block phishing attacks. Advanced spam filters will prevent the vast majority of phishing emails from being delivered, while web filtering solutions will block phishing attacks on healthcare organizations by preventing malicious links from being clicked and malicious websites from being accessed.

A web filter can also be configured to block downloads of file types commonly associated with malware: SCR, VB, and JavaScript files for instance. A web filter is also an excellent defense against drive-by malware downloads, social media phishing links, and malvertising.

Fortunately, with appropriate defenses in place, cyberattacks can be prevented and the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of ePHI can be preserved.

For further information on the major healthcare cyberattacks of 2016, the key threats to healthcare organizations, and the impact of data breaches, click the image below to view our healthcare hacking infographic.

 

Phishing Attacks on Healthcare Organizations

Crackdown on Fake News Shines Light on Typosquatting and Cybersecurity Risks

The proposed crackdown on fake news websites has shone a light on the use of typosquatting and cybersecurity risks for businesses from employees visiting fake news websites.

Over the past few weeks there has been considerable media attention focused on fake news websites and the harm that these fake news stories can cause.

Just as newspapers and news networks can earn big money from being the first to break a new story, there is big money to be made from posting fake news items. The problem is growing and it is now becoming harder to separate fact from fiction. 2016 has seen fake news stories hit the headlines – Both the problem and the republishing of fake news in the mainstream media.

Fake News Websites are a Serious Problem

This year’s U.S. presidential election has seen the Internet awash with propaganda and fake news posts, especially – but not exclusively – about support for Donald Trump and criticism of Hillary Clinton. Fake news sites such as the Denver Guardian (the periodical doesn’t actually exist) posted news about rigging of the election. Genuine news organizations notably picked up on a story about Denzel Washington supporting Trump; however, the original story was taken from a fake news site. Of course, these are just two of many hundreds of thousands of fake news stories published throughout the year.

All too often fake news stories are silly, satirical, or even humorous; however, they have potential to cause considerable harm and influence the public. Potentially, they could change the outcome of an election.

Consumers are now increasingly basing their opinions on fiction rather than fact. Fake news is nothing new of course, but the U.S. presidential election has brought it to the forefront and has highlighted the extent to which it is going on – on a scale never before seen.

Worldwide governments are now taking action to crackdown on the problem. Germany and Indonesia have joined the U.S. in the fight against fake news stories and there have been calls for greater regulation of online content.

Facebook has received considerable criticism for failing to do enough to prevent the proliferation of fake news. While CEO Mark Zuckerberg dismissed the idea that fake news on Facebook was influential in the election – “the idea that fake news on Facebook, which is a very small amount of the content, influenced the election in any way, I think is a pretty crazy idea.” However, last month he confirmed a new initiative to address hoaxes and fake news. Facebook is to make it easier for users to report fake news stories, third-party fact checkers will be enlisted, news websites will be analyzed more closely, and stories will be pushed down the rankings if they are getting fewer shares.

All of the attention on fake news sites has highlighted a tactic that is being used to spread fake news – a tactic that has long been used by cybercriminals to spread malware: Typosquatting.

Typosquatting and Cybersecurity Risks

Typosquatting – otherwise known as URL hijacking – is the use of a popular brand name with authority to fool web surfers into thinking a website is genuine. The fake news scandal brought attention to the tactic after fake news items were posted on spoofed news websites such as usatoday.com (usatoday.com.com) and abcnews (abcnews.com.co).

To the incautious or busy website visitor, the URL may only get a casual glance. The slightly different URL is unlikely to be spotted. This may only result in website visitors viewing fake news, although in many cases it can result in a malware download. Cybercriminals use this tactic to fool web surfers into visiting malicious websites where malware is automatically downloaded.

Typosquatting is also used on phishing websites and for fake retail sites that relieve visitors of their credit card information or other sensitive credentials.

Even fake news sites are a problem in this regard. They often contain third-party adverts – this is one of the ways that fake news stories generate income for the posters. Those adverts are often malicious. The site owners are paid to display the adverts or send visitors to malicious websites. Adverts are also used to direct visitors to fake retail sites – zappoos.com or Amazoon.com for example. Many fake news sites are simply used as phishing farms.

While consumers can be defrauded, businesses should also take note. Since many of these sites are used to either spread malware or direct users to malicious sites where malware is downloaded, fake news sites are a serious cybersecurity risk.

Governments and social media networks may be taking a stand against these malicious sites, but businesses should also take action. All it takes is for one user to visit a malicious site for malware or ransomware to be downloaded.

Fortunately, it is possible to reduce risk with a web filtering solution. Web filtering solutions such as WebTitan can be used to block access to websites known to contain malware. Malicious websites are rapidly added to global blacklists. If a web filtering solution is used, an employee will be prevented from visiting a blacklisted site, which will prevent a malware download.

Malicious adverts can also be blocked and prevented from being displayed. Malicious links on fake news sites can also easily be blocked. Users can also be prevented from visiting websites when clicking on links to the sites in emails or on social media websites.

For further information on the full range of benefits of WebTitan and to find out how you can sign up for a free 30-day trial of WebTitan, contact TitanHQ today.

Anti-Phishing Solutions for Businesses Required to Tackle Growing Phishing Risk

Anti-phishing solutions for businesses are now an essential element of cybersecurity defenses. The risk from phishing websites has grown considerably in 2016, and 2017 is likely to see the problem become much more severe. 

Anti-Phishing Solutions for Businesses Now a Necessity

Cybercriminals are using increasingly sophisticated tactics to infect end users with malware and ‘phish’ for sensitive information such as credit card details, email login credentials, and other sensitive data that can be used for identity theft and fraud. Cybercriminals have changed their tactics to infect more end users and bypass traditional cybersecurity defenses.

In the past it was common for domains to be registered by cybercriminals and only used for phishing or to spread malware. Sooner or later the websites would be reported as malicious in nature, and those domains would be added to global blacklists. As the sites were blocked, the cybercriminals would simply buy another domain and repeat the process. Phishing websites used to remain active for weeks or even months before they ceased to be effective. However, cybersecurity firms are now faster at detecting malicious websites and adding them to blacklists.

Cybercriminals are aware that phishing websites and malicious webpages have a very short shelf life and will only remain effective for a few days before they are blocked. In response, they have changed tactics and are now creating webpages which are only used for very short periods of time.

New webpages are now being created faster and in higher volumes. Those webpages now remain active for less than 24 hours in the majority of cases. Cybercriminals are hijacking legitimate websites with poor security controls or unaddressed vulnerabilities. Malicious URLS are then created and hidden on those domains. Cybercriminals have now all but abandoned malicious websites in favor of single URLs on otherwise benign websites.

The volume of phishing websites has also increased considerably in 2016. Studies now suggest that around 400,000 phishing websites are being detected every month of the year.

Web Filtering Solutions Can Significantly Reduce Risk

There are many anti-phishing solutions for businesses that can be adopted to reduce risk, although one of the most effective tools is an advanced web filter. A web filter can be used to prevent users from visiting malicious websites and webpages that are used to phish for sensitive information or infect end users with malware.

While it was possible for standard web filtering solutions to protect against the risk from phishing by comparing domains against blacklists, it is now essential for each webpage to be checked to determine whether it is malicious. Each URL must also be checked each time it is visited to make sure that it has not been hijacked and used for phishing or to spread malware. For that an advanced web filtering solution is needed, such as WebTitan.

WebTitan checks each webpage that an end user attempts to visit in a fraction of a second, with no noticeable latency – slowing of webpage loading. If a website or webpage is identified as malicious the end user will be prevented from accessing that webpage.

WebTitan allows businesses to further protect their networks by restricting access to certain categories of websites which are commonly used by cybercriminals to spread malware. Since these websites have no legitimate work purpose, they can be easily blocked without any negative impact on the business. In fact, businesses are likely to see significant increases in employee productivity as a result.

Cybercriminals are also increasingly using third party advertising blocks on legitimate websites to display malicious adverts. Those adverts redirect visitors to malicious websites containing exploit kits. Some of those adverts require no user interaction at all – visitors are automatically redirected to websites where drive-by malware downloads occur. WebTitan can be configured to prevent these adverts from being displayed, thus neutralizing the risk.

Cybercriminal activity has been steadily increasing, yet employing an advanced web filtering solution such as WebTitan can help businesses stay one step ahead of cybercriminals and keep their networks malware free.

For further information on the capabilities of WebTitan, to find out how easy it is to protect your end users and networks from attack, and to register for a free 30-day trial of WebTitan, contact TitanHQ today.

Zuckerberg Twitter Hack Shows Danger of Password Reuse

The Zuckerberg Twitter hack has clearly demonstrated the danger of password reuse. Zuckerberg used the same password for Twitter as he did for his Pinterest and LinkedIn accounts. In spite of the Facebook founder, chairman, and CEO’s lofty position at the top of the world’s most popular social media network, he is guilty of poor data security practices like many others.

In addition to reusing passwords, Zuckerberg also chose a password of 6 digits with no capital letters, symbols, or numbers and did not change it for at least three years. The password was revealed to be “dadada.”

Mark Zuckerberg Twitter Hack Stemmed from the LinkedIn Data Breach

A collective known as OurMine was responsible for the Mark Zuckerberg Twitter hack. The collective, which is understood to hail from Saudi Arabia, gained access to data from the LinkedIn breach. The data were listed for sale a few days previously by a hacker operating under the name of “Peace”.

The LinkedIn passwords were not stored as plaintext, so a little effort was required to reverse the hash to obtain the password. While SHA-1 was thought to be impossible to reverse, it has since been shown to be a relatively straightforward task unless the passwords are also salted. In the case of LinkedIn, they were not.

Simply enter in the SHA-1 hash of a password into one of many reverse hash calculators and the plaintext password will be revealed. A search of the keyword phrase “how to reverse a sha1 password” will reveal many online options for doing so. Once the password had been obtained, access to online accounts was possible.

The Zuckerberg Twitter hack did not appear to cause anything other than some embarrassment. The group notified Zuckerberg of the hack by tweeting him using his own account, saying “we are just testing your security.” While the tweet said that Zuckerberg’s Instagram account was compromised, it has since been confirmed that this account was secure all along, as was Zuckerberg’s Facebook account.

While it is embarrassing, it should be pointed out that Zuckerberg was not a regular Twitter user, having only sent 19 tweets from his account in the past four years. His compromised Pinterest account was similarly rarely used.

Spate of Account Hacks Reported After Major Data Leaks

Other individuals were not quite so fortunate. Since the data from the LinkedIn breach was made available online, numerous celebrity social media accounts have been compromised. The Twitter accounts of celebrities such as Keith Richards and Kylie Jenner were hacked, as was the account of Tenacious D. The latter’s account was used to send a tweet saying Jack Black had died.

While these hacks have not been confirmed as stemming from the LinkedIn breach (or the MySpace or Tumblr breaches) the spate of account hijacks suggest as much.

TeamViewer GmbH was also a victim, having had numerous accounts compromised recently. The company provides remote desktop software and a number of users claim that the hacking of GmbH employee accounts enabled attackers to compromise their computers and authorize PayPal and Amazon transactions. This was attributed to “password mismanagement” by GmbH rather than any flaws in their software.

All of these account hacks show how common the reuse of passwords is, and the danger of doing so. What should be particularly worrying for businesses, is many people use their LinkedIn passwords for work accounts, or vice versa. If that password is obtained via a data breach, malicious actors could do a considerable amount of damage.

Important Online Security Best Practices

To improve security and reduce the risk of more than one account being compromised….

  • Never reuse passwords
  • Create a complex password for each platform – use symbols, capitals, and numerals
  • Change your passwords regularly – every month or three months
  • Use 2-factor authentication if available
  • Use a password manager to help keep track of passwords
  • Don’t store your passwords in your browser
  • Regularly check your email address/username against the Have I Been Pwned? database

Healthcare Data Privacy and Security: Ponemon Releases Results of New Benchmark Study

Each year, the Ponemon Institute conducts a benchmark survey on healthcare data privacy and security. The surveys give a picture of the state of healthcare data security, highlight the main threats faced by the healthcare industry, and offer an insight into the main causes of healthcare data breaches. This week, the Ponemon Institute released the results of its 6th annual benchmark study on healthcare data privacy and security.

Over the past 6 years, the main causes of healthcare data breaches have changed considerably. Back in 2010/2011 when the two healthcare data privacy and security surveys were conducted, the main causes of healthcare data breaches were lost and stolen devices, third party errors, and errors made by employees.

Breaches caused by the loss and theft of unencrypted devices such as laptops, smartphones, tablets, and portable storage devices such as zip drives has fallen considerably in recent years. Due to the high risk of loss and theft – and the cost of risk mitigation following a data breach and compliance fines – healthcare organizations are keeping tighter controls on portable devices. Staff have been trained to be more security conscious and many healthcare organizations have chosen to use data encryption on portable devices. However, lost/stolen devices and mistakes by employees and third parties are still the root cause of 50% of healthcare data breaches.

Healthcare Data Privacy and Security Study Shows Criminals Caused 50% of Healthcare Data Breaches

Data breaches caused by the loss and theft of portable devices may be in decline, but the same cannot be said of cyberattacks, which have increased considerably. When the first benchmarking study was conducted in 2010, 20% of data breaches were caused by hackers and other cybercriminals. By 2015, the figure had risen to 45%. This year criminals have been responsible for 50% of healthcare data breaches.

Healthcare data breaches have increased in volume, frequency, and severity. Prior to 2015, the largest healthcare data breach exposed 4.7 million patient health records. Data breaches that exposed more than 1 million healthcare records were very rare. However, in 2015, the Anthem Inc. breach exposed 78.8 million healthcare records, Premera BlueCross recorded a cyberattack that exposed 11 million records, and Excellus Blue Cross Blue Shield reported a breach of 10 million records. These data breaches were caused by criminals who gained access to systems using phishing techniques.

Phishing remains a major cause for concern, as is malware, although over the course of the past 12 months a new threat has emerged. Ransomware is now the second biggest cause for concern for healthcare security professionals. DDoS attacks remain the biggest worry as far as cyberattacks are concerned.

The purpose of ransomware and DDoS attacks is to cause widespread disruption. Healthcare IT professionals are right to be concerned. Both of these types of cyberattack have potential to have a hugely detrimental effect on the care that is provided to patients, potentially disrupting healthcare operations to such a degree that patients can actually come to physical harm.

Healthcare organizations have been investing more heavily in data security technologies to prevent breaches, yet these measures have not been sufficient to stop breaches from occurring. The report indicates that 89% of healthcare organizations suffered a data breach in the past two years, 79% suffered more than one breach, and 45% experienced more than five data breaches.

The cost of healthcare data breaches is considerable. The Ponemon Institute calculates the average cost to resolve a data breach to be $2.2 million for healthcare providers. The average cost of a business associate data breach is $1 million. The total cost each year, to mitigate risk and resolve data breaches, has been estimated by Ponemon to be $6.2 billion for the industry as a whole.

Healthcare Organizations Need to Increase Cybersecurity Efforts

Cybersecurity budgets may have increased over the years, but too little is being spent on healthcare data privacy and security data. Even with the increased risk, 10% of healthcare organizations have actually decreased their cybersecurity budgets, and more than half (52%) said their budgets have stayed the same this year.

Further investment is needed to tackle the growing threat and to prevent criminals from gaining access to data and locking it with ransomware.

Education also needs to be improved and greater care taken by healthcare employees to prevent accidental disclosures of data and mistakes that open the door to cybercriminals. Employee negligence was rated as the top cause for concern by both healthcare providers and business associates of healthcare organizations. Unless greater care is taken to prevent data breaches and healthcare organizations are held more accountable, the data breach totals will only rise.

FTC to Investigate Security Update Practices of Mobile Device Manufacturers

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is conducting a study to investigate the security update practices of mobile device manufacturers. The study is being conducted amid concern that mobile device manufacturers are not doing enough to ensure owners of mobile devices are protected from security threats.

Security Update Practices of Mobile Device Manufacturers Leave Mobile Users Exposed to Attack

A number of new and highly serious threats have emerged in recent years which allow attackers to remotely execute malicious code on mobile devices if users visit a compromised website. One of the most serious threats comes from the Stagefright vulnerability discovered last year.

The Stagefright vulnerability could potentially be exploited to allow attackers to gain control of Android smartphones. It has been estimated that as many as one billion devices are prone to attack via this vulnerability. Google released an Android update to fix the vulnerability, yet many mobile phone users were unable to update their devices as the manufacturer of their device, or the mobile carrier they used, did not allow the updates to be installed. Because of this, many smartphone owners are still vulnerable to attack.

Even when device manufacturers do update their devices there are often long delays between the issuing of the fix and the rolling out of updates. When a rollout is executed, it can take a week or more before all device owners receive their updates. During that time users are left vulnerable to attack.

The FTC wants to find out more about the delays and the rationale behind the slow rolling out of updates.

FTC and FCC Join Forces and Demand Answers from Carriers and Device Manufacturers

The FTC has joined forces with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) for the study and has ordered smartphone manufacturers and developers of mobile device operating systems to explain how security updates are issued, the reasoning behind the decision to delay the issuing of security updates, and for some device manufacturers, why security updates are not being issued.

While the study is primarily being conducted on manufacturers of devices running the Android platform, although Apple has also been ordered to take part in the study, even though its devices are the most secure. Apple’s security update practices are likely to serve as a benchmark against which other manufacturers will be judged. Manufacturers that use the Android platform that will take part in the study include Blackberry, HTC, LG, Motorola and Samsung. Google and Microsoft will also take part.

The FTC is asking operating system developers and mobile manufacturers to disclose the factors that are considered when deciding whether to issue updates to correct known vulnerabilities. They have been asked to provide detailed information on the devices they have sold since August 2013, if security vulnerabilities have been discovered that affect those devices, and if and when those vulnerabilities have been – or will be – patched.

The FCC has asked questions of mobile phone carriers including the length of time that devices will be supported, the timing and frequency of updates, the process used when developing security updates, and whether device owners were notified when the decision was taken not to issue a security update for a specific device model.

Whether the study will result in better security update practices of mobile device manufacturers remains to be seen, although the results of the study, if published in full, will certainly make for interesting reading.

Healthcare Industry Faces Highest Risk of Cyberattacks

A new study has confirmed that the healthcare industry faces the highest risk of cyberattacks. Healthcare providers and health plans are being targeted by cybercriminals due to the value of patient data on the black market. A full set of medical records, along with personally identifiable information and Social Security numbers, sells for big bucks on darknet marketplaces. Health data is far more valuable then credit cards for instance.

Furthermore, organizations in the healthcare industry store vast quantities of data and cybersecurity protections are still less robust than in other industry verticals.

The survey was conducted by 451 Research on behalf of Vormetric. Respondents were asked about the defenses they had put in place to keep sensitive data secure, how they rated their defenses, and how they planned to improve protections and reduce the risk of cyberattacks occurring.

78% of respondents rated their network defenses as very or extremely effective, with network defenses having been prioritized by the majority of healthcare organizations. 72% rated data-at-rest defenses as extremely or very effective. While this figure seems high, confidence in data-at-rest defenses ranked second from bottom. Only government industries ranked lower, with 68% of respondents from government agencies rating their data-at-rest defenses as very or extremely effective.

Even though many IT security professionals in the healthcare industry believe their network and data-at-rest defenses to be robust, 63% of healthcare organizations reported having experienced a data breach in the past.

The Risk of Cyberattacks Cannot Be Effectively Managed Simply by Becoming HIPAA-Compliant

Many organizations have been prioritizing compliance with industry regulations rather than bolstering defenses to prevent data breaches. Many healthcare organizations see compliance with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) as being an effective way of ensuring data are protected.

HIPAA requires all covered-entities – healthcare providers, health plans, healthcare clearinghouses, and business associates of covered entities – to implement administrative, technical, and physical safeguards to keep confidential patient data secure. By achieving “HIPAA-compliance” covered entities will improve their security posture and reduce the risk of cyberattacks, but compliance alone will not ensure that data are protected.

One only needs to look at the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office for Civil Rights breach portal to see that healthcare data breaches are commonplace. Many of the organizations listed in the breach portal have implemented defenses to protect data and are HIPAA-compliant. Compliance has not prevented data breaches from occurring.

The 451 Research survey asked respondents their views on compliance. 68% said it was very or extremely effective at ensuring data were secured. The reality is HIPAA only requires healthcare organizations to implement safeguards to achieve a minimum level of data security. In order to prevent data breaches and effectively manage the risk of cyberattacks, organizations need to invest more heavily in data security.

HIPAA does not, for example, require organizations to protect data-at-rest with encryption. If the network perimeter is breached, there is often little to prevent data from being stolen. Healthcare organizations are focusing on improving network protection but should not forget to protect data-at-rest with encryption. 49% said network security was still the main spending priority over the next 12 months, which was the highest rated security category for investment.

Healthcare organizations did appreciate that investment in technologies to protect data-at-rest was important, with 46% of respondents saying spending would be increased over the next 12 months on technologies such as disk and file encryption to help manage the risk of cyberattacks.

Mobile Device Data Breaches Experienced by 21 Percent of Companies

Employers are enjoying the benefits of mobile devices but IT security professionals are concerned about the security risk that that comes from the use of Smartphones and tablets. The more devices that are allowed to connect to company networks, the higher the risk, but are mobile device data breaches actually occurring?

There is widespread concern that the devices pose a major security risk, but little data on the extent to which mobile data breaches occur. A new survey sheds some light on just how frequently mobile devices are implicated in data breaches.

Six data security firms* sponsored a survey conducted by Crowd Research Partners which set out to shed some light on the matter. 882 IT security professionals from a wide range of industries were asked a number of questions relating to mobile security and data breaches experienced at their organizations.

More than a Fifth of Companies Have Suffered Mobile Device Data Breaches

The results show that 21% of companies have experienced a mobile device data breaches at some point in the past that affected either devices supplied by their company or used by employees under BYOD policies. However, a further 37% of respondents could not say whether mobile device data breaches had actually occurred, indicating many are at risk of data theft or loss, but would not be able to determine if a data breach had in fact occurred.

Malicious Wi-Fi networks continue to be a problem. 24% of respondents said that BYOD or corporate-supplied devices have connected to malicious Wi-Fi networks at some point in the past. Many companies cannot say whether this has actually happened. Almost half of respondents (48%) could not say with any degree of certainty whether their employees had connected to malicious Wi-Fi networks.

Cybercriminals are developing malware at an alarming rate and mobile devices are now being targeted by many cybercriminal gangs. While the majority of threats affect Android phones, iPhone users are also being targeted. A number of new iOS malware have been discovered in the past year.

Mobile malware is a major problem for businesses. 39% of respondents said users of their networks had, at some point in the past, downloaded malware onto their devices. 35% of respondents were unaware whether this had happened. This suggests more than a third of companies are not monitoring the mobile devices that are allow to connect to corporate networks.

Respondents were asked what measures they were using to protect the mobile devices they allowed to connect to their networks. Only 63% of respondents said they used password protection to keep the devices secure. 49% said they had implemented solutions that enable them to remotely wipe devices that are lost, stolen, or reach the end of their life. 43% use encryption for sensitive data and only 38% said they have policies covering data removal at employee separation or device disposal.

34% said that when an employee leaves their organization ensures data is wiped from mobile devices 100% of the time. 13% said this occurred more than half of the time, and 16% said this happened less than half of the time.  Most alarmingly, 23% were unaware if they wiped devices and 14% said they never wipe data from employees’ devices when they leave the company.

43% reported using mobile device management (MDM), 28% used endpoint security tools such as anti-malware programs, and 27% used network access controls.

Many IT security professionals are worried about the risk posed by mobile devices and are concerned about mobile device data breaches. The survey results show there is good reason for them to be concerned. Many companies are failing to implement policies and procedures to effectively manage mobile device security risks.

*The online survey was sponsored by Bitglass, Blancco Technology Group, Check Point Technologies, Skycure, SnoopWall and Tenable Network Security. The survey was conducted on members of the LinkedIn Information Security Community.  

AceDeceiver iPhone Malware Attacks Non-Jailbroken Phones

AceDeceiver iPhone malware can attack any iPhone, not just those that have been jailbroken. The new iOS malware has recently been identified by Palo Alto Networks, and a warning has been issued that the new method of attack is likely to be copied and used to deliver other malware.

Malware Exploits Apple DRM Vulnerability

Many iPhone users jailbreak their phones to allow them to install unofficial apps, yet the act can leave phones open to malware infections. One of the best malware protections for iPhones is not to tamper with them. Most iPhone malware are only capable of attacking jailbroken phones. However, AceDeceiver is different.

The new malware exploits a vulnerability in Apple’s Digital Rights Management (DRM) mechanism allowing it to bypass iPhone security protections. AceDeceiver iPhone malware is capable of fooling FairPlay into thinking it is a legitimate app that has been purchased by the user.

Users that have installed a software tool called Aisi Helper to manage their IPhones are most at risk of infecting their phones. While Aisi Helper can be used to manage iPhones and perform tasks such as cleaning devices and performing backups, it can also be used to jailbreak phones to allow users to install pirated software. To date more than 15 million iPhone owners have installed Aisi Helper and face a high risk of an AceDeceiver malware attack.

The software tool has been around since 2013 and is mainly used as a method of distributing pirated apps. While the software has been known to be used for piracy, this is the first reported case of it being used to spread malware. Palo Alto Networks reports that some 6.6 million individuals are using the software tool on a regular basis, many of whom live in China. This is where most of the AceDeceiver iPhone malware attacks have taken place to date.

The software tool can be used to install AceDeceiver onto iPhones without users’ knowledge. The malware connects the user to an app store that is controlled by the attackers. Users must enter in their AppleID and password and the login credentials are then sent to the attackers’ server. While Palo Alto Networks has discovered that IDs and passwords are being stolen, they have not been able to determine why the attackers are collecting the data.

AceDeceiver Malware Attacks Non-Jailbroken iPhones

Protecting against AceDeceiver iPhone malware would appear to be simple. Don’t install Aisi Helper. However, that is only one method of delivery of AceDeceiver iPhone malware. In the past 7 months three different AceDeceiver malware variants have been uploaded to the official Apple App store. The three wallpaper apps managed to get around Apple’s code reviews initially to allow them to be made available on the Apple App store. They also passed subsequent code reviews.

Once Apple was made aware of the malicious apps the company removed from the App store. However, that is not sufficient to prevent users’ devices from being infected. According to Palo Alto’s Claud Xiao, an attack is still possible even though the apps have been removed from the App store. Apparently, all that is required is for the malicious apps to gain authorization from Apple once. They do not need to be available for download in order for them to be used for man-in-the-middle attacks. The vulnerability has not been patched yet, but Palo Alto has warned that even patching the problem will still leave users of older iPhones open to attack.

AceDeceiver iPhone Malware Attack Method Likely to be Copied

Xiao warned that this new method of malware delivery is particularly worrying because “it doesn’t require an enterprise certificate. Hence, this kind of malware is not under MDM solutions’ control, and its execution doesn’t need the user’s confirmation of trusting anymore.” Palo Alto believe the attack technique is likely to be copied and used to spread new malware to iPhone users.

United States Ransomware Attacks Conducted by Chinese Hacking Groups?

Security firms are reporting that some of the United States ransomware attacks conducted over the past few months have demonstrated a level of sophistication that suggest they are the work of hacking groups previously backed by the Chinese government.

Ransomware attacks have previously been associated with low level cybercriminals who use spam email to send millions of messages out to random targets in the hope that some individuals will install the malicious file-locking software. In many cases, ransomware-as-a-service is being offered to cybercriminals via darknet marketplaces. Cybercriminals therefore do not need to have an extensive knowledge of hacking, and do not need to be highly skilled at conducting intrusions. However, due to the fact that ransomware can be incredibly lucrative, attacks are now being conducted by a wide range of individuals, including skilled hackers.

United States Ransomware Attacks Appear to Have Been Conducted by Former Chinese Government-Backed Hacking Groups

In some cases, the tactics used in the attacks bear the hallmarks of hacking groups known to have previously been involved in state-sponsored attacks on U.S. companies. The ransomware may not have been developed by foreign-government-backed hackers, but the methods and software used to gain entry to company networks and move around certainly appears to be.

Security firms Dell SecureWorks, InGuardians, G-C Partners, and Attack Research have all been called upon to investigate United States Ransomware attacks recently. The Dell team have investigated three highly sophisticated attacks, and the other companies have similarly been called upon to investigate security breaches involving ransomware.

All of the companies have come to the conclusion that these attacks were not the work of run-of-the-mill cybercriminals, and believe a well-known Chinese hacking group was behind the attacks. In one case, an attack on a U.S. company resulted in over 100 computers being locked with the file-encrypting software. Another attack involved 30 computers being locked. Similar large-scale ransomware attacks have also been investigated by the security firms. These attacks, like many conducted on large U.S. companies, have not previously been reported.

APT Tactics Used in Ransomware Attacks

Some of the attacks took advantage of security vulnerabilities in application servers, other used login credentials that were obtained in past Advanced Persistent Threat (APT) attacks on U.S companies. Rather than APT attacks taking place for espionage, the same methods appear to be used to gain access to networks in order to install ransomware.

None of the security firms are able to say with 100% certainty that the attacks were conducted by Chinese hacking groups, although it does appear to be the most logical answer. One theory put forward is that with China now pulling out of cyber-espionage after last year’s agreement with the U.S government, many Chinese hackers who were previously funded by the government are now out of work or are looking for additional income. Since the potential payoff from ransomware attacks is so high, they are now performing attacks on their own.

In some cases, where U.S companies have been compromised by government-sponsored attacks, it has been hypothesized that the hackers are cashing in as they pull out.

Even if Chinese hacking groups are not involved, it is clear is there is considerable money to be made by performing these attacks. Cybercriminal gangs who have previously targeted credit card numbers may now be switching to ransomware due to big potential payoffs.

Since most companies do not declare that they have suffered an attack and paid a ransom, it is difficult to tell exactly how bad the current situation is. But until ransomware ceases to be profitable, United States ransomware attacks are likely to continue.

Mobile Malware Threat Increasing According to Recent Studies

Two new studies indicate the mobile malware threat is increasing at an unpresented rate. Any enterprise that allows smartphones to connect to its network, such as those operating a BYOD policy, faces an increased risk of a cyberattack via those devices.

G DATA Report Warns of Rapidly Increasing Mobile Malware Threat

According to the recent G DATA survey, the mobile malware threat has increased substantially over the course of the past 12 months and shows no sign of abating. The number of new malware variants discovered in 2015 is 50% higher than 2014. In 2015, 2.3 million malware samples targeting Android devices were collected, with a new variant being identified, on average, every 11 seconds. In the final quarter of the year, an alarming 758,133 new malware samples were collected, which represents an increase of 32% from the third quarter.

The main risk is older devices operating outdated versions of Android, although G DATA reports that hackers are developing exploits for security vulnerabilities far faster than in past years. Unless Android operating systems are kept totally up to date, vulnerabilities will exist that can be exploited. Unfortunately, phone manufacturers often delay rolling out operating system updates leaving all devices prone to attack.

Mobile Malware Infections Increasing According to Nokia Threat Intelligence Lab

Earlier this month, a report issued by the Nokia Threat Intelligence Lab suggested that 60% of malware operating in the mobile space targets Android smartphones. While iOS malware was a rarity, that has now changed. Nokia reports that for the first time ever, iOS malware has made the top 20 malware list, which now includes the iOS Xcodeghost and FlexiSpy malware. These two malware account for 6% of global smartphone infections.

Mobile ransomware is also increasing. In 2015, several new mobile ransomware variants were identified. Ransomware is used to lock devices with file-encrypting software. Users are only able to recover their files if a ransom is paid to the attackers. With an increasing number of individuals using their smartphones to store irreplaceable data, and many users not backing up those files, individuals are often given no choice but to pay attackers for a security key to unlock their data.

Nokia reports that the malware now being identified has increased in sophistication and has been written by hackers that know the Android system inside out. Malware is getting harder to detect, and once identified it can be extremely difficult to remove. Nokia reports that many malware variants are highly persistent and can even survive a factory reset.

How to Mitigate Mobile Malware Risk

With the mobile malware threat increasing, organizations must implement new security measures to keep devices secure and protect their networks. Anti-virus and anti-malware solutions should be installed on all devices allowed to connect to business networks to reduce the risk of a malware infection.

Many mobile devices are used for work purposes such as accessing business email accounts. Android malware infections could all too easily result in business data being compromised, while keyloggers could give attackers access to business networks.

Enterprises may not yet be majorly concerned about the rising mobile malware threat, but they should be. With the growing sophistication of today’s mobile malware, a business network compromise is a very real threat.

Enterprises that permit the use of mobile devices for work purposes should limit the actions that can be performed on Wi-Fi networks by implementing a web filtering solution. They should ensure that all BYOD policies stipulate a minimum Android version that can be used, and all devices should be kept up to date with app updates installed promptly. Enterprises should also monitor for jailbroken or rooted devices, and prevent them from being used for work purposes or from connecting to business Wi-Fi networks.

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.

Marcher Trojan: Yet Another Reason to Use a Web Filter

The Marcher Trojan was first discovered in the wild around three years ago; however, malware does not remain the same for very long, so it is no surprise to see yet another Marcher Trojan variant appear. This time the method of attack differs substantially from previous incarnations of this money-stealing malware.

Marcher Trojan Delivered Using Fake Adobe Flash Update

This time, attackers are targeting users of online pornography and are attempting to trick them into installing the Marcher Trojan on their Android phones by disguising the malware as an Adobe Flash installer package. Adobe Flash may be on its last legs, but a considerable number of porn websites host Flash videos. Users of pornographic websites therefore need Adobe Flash in order to view adult videos.

The attackers are targeting users of pornographic websites by sending links to new porn sites via SMS messages and spam email. Clicking the links contained in those messages will direct the user to a malicious website where they are asked to download an update to Adobe Flash.

Adobe Flash updates are frequently released due to the high number of zero-day vulnerabilities discovered in the software. Users are therefore likely to think there is nothing untoward about the update. The attackers have named it AdobeFlashPlayer.apk to make the download appear genuine.

After downloading the update, the user is required to change settings on the phone to allow apps from unknown sources to be installed. They are then asked to give the fake Adobe Flash update administrator privileges. Once installed, the owner of the device will be unaware that they have just compromised their Android phone.

The malware will then start communicating with the attackers C&C server and will send a list of the apps installed on the device to the attackers. That information is then used to display the appropriate fake login screens for apps installed on the device. Those login screens record bank and credit card details and send them to the attackers.

Another method of attack used by the malware is to send a MMS message to the user asking them to download the X-Video porn app from the Google Play store. The X-Video app is not malicious and can be installed for free; however, after installing the app the user receives a fake prompt asking them to update their Google Play credit card information.

The Marcher Trojan can also prevent users from visiting the real Google Play store without first entering their payment card details into the fake Google Play payment screen.

Fortunately, the malware is easy to remove. The app can be deactivated and then uninstalled. But the user would need to know they have been infected in order to do that.

Blocking Adult Content to Protect WiFi Network Users

Any business that allows employees to access WiFi network can improve network security by blocking access to adult websites. Preventing WiFi network users from accessing adult sites and other websites commonly used to deliver malware can greatly improve security posture.

The Marcher Trojan is being used to steal money from Android users, although the malware has been used to deliver at least 50 different payloads. Other Trojan downloaders deliver ransomware and other nasty malware. Once on a network the malicious software can cause a considerable amount of damage.

WebTitan can be used to prevent the downloading of files commonly used by hackers to hide malware such as SCR, EXE, and ZIP files. It can also be used to block access to risky websites and those known to contain malware.

For business WiFi networks, a web filter is now becoming less of an option and more of a necessity to prevent malware and ransomware downloads and keep users’ devices and networks malware free.