Persuasion is part of life. We all try to persuade friends and loved ones to act in a certain way, usually with the best of intentions.
Social engineering is when “persuasion” takes a darker turn. In a broad sense, it includes any action that attempts to influence a person to act against their best interests.
Technically, acts that influence people to behave within their own interests is also social engineering. However, the term is used almost exclusively within the context of fraud, scams, and cyber crime.
Con artists are master social engineers. So are modern hackers who rely on spam and phishing — and they have a few new tricks up their sleeves.
Social Engineering Tactics
In a series of four blogs, I’ll describe some of the most common social engineering tactics used today in cyber crime.
In the real world, cyber attacks do not fit into neat categories. Instead, each is unique, often combining multiple channels and tactics.
While categorization is helpful to understand the nature of the beast, remember that many of these tactics will overlap in the wild.
Impersonation is one of the most common types of social engineering. Obviously, it’s when an attacker presents himself or his communication as originating from another party.
Attackers routinely impersonate authority figures – such as police officers or CEOs – knowing many people are quick to follow orders from authority, as has been proven in psychological experiments.
Many other roles are impersonated: lottery officials, wireless service reps, government officials, coworkers, family members – the list is nearly infinite.
Remote tech support scams
Phone scams are nearly as old as telephones. In a typical scam, the attacker calls the victim, poses as someone else, and uses a false pretense to con the victim into sending payment.
In recent years, the tactics have been used for cyber crime.
Tech support scams are a common example. The attacker calls posing as an employee from Apple, Dell, or Microsoft and claims the victim has a malware infection or other tech problem.
Rather than conning the victim into sending payment, the attacker walks them through the steps to allow a connection to their computer through a remote desktop app.
Once attackers are in, they do as they please, typically installing ransomware.
Some attackers take a multi-pronged approach. Posing as the IRS, one group called victims and demanded either payment or computer access immediately.
Legitimate companies do not call to inform you of an attack and offer to walk you through the process of fixing it. That doesn’t happen in real life. If there were such an issue, you’d receive notice via email, and you would contact your IT support team to resolve it.
Emergency email from the boss
Business email compromise (BEC) scams – which have accelerated in recent years – are an example of impersonation used to devastating effect.
In a typical BEC scam, the attacker has intimate knowledge of the target business, including who is authorized to send wire transfers and how the transfers are initiated.
The attacker targets this person, sending them an email purporting to be from their boss (either by compromising or spoofing the boss’ email). The email requests a large wire transfer to the attacker’s account.
The email is crafted to mimic prior wire requests. It may also inject a sense of urgency, which is a common marketing technique, by adding “I need this handled ASAP.”
It goes without saying, that anytime you are asked to wire money – even if it’s an urgent request from your boss – verify it directly with your boss, or a trusted person who would know if the request was legit.
What You Can Do About It
First, always be aware that these scams exist and keep your guard up. More importantly, partner with a trusted IT service company, who takes on the job of protecting your business from cybercriminals.
For more information, a security assessment, or help training your employees on cyber safety, call mPowered IT 678-389-6200.
If there’s a will there’s a way when it comes to scammers, especially with gift cards. Everyone loves gift cards. Consumers love how easy it is to purchase gift cards, use gift cards and even give gift cards. It’s as simple as buying a card at a brick and mortar store or clicking a few buttons and almost instantly having the funds needed to play. Scammers love gift cards too. Gift cards can immediately be activated and spent by these scammers even before the owner of the card knows what happened.
Google Play gift cards are targets right now. Scammers love how easy they are to steal so consumers need to stay one step ahead of these online crooks. Here’s one of the latest Google Play Gift Card Scam that is scouring the internet.
Scam Alert: Currently there is an email scam occurring where thieves, posing as someone the recipient knows and are phishing for personal, financial, and other private information. This includes requests for Google Play Gift Cards. For example, the message will read, “I need you to pick up a couple of gift cards. Can you make this happen? The type of gift card I need is Google Play gift cards. I need 4 cards in $500 denominations…scratch the back of the card to reveal the card codes and email me the gift card codes.”
Take away: Never provide any personal information including gift card codes like Google Play in an email. What seems like the information is going to a trusted source, it could be a scam.
How Marriott Got Caught In A 500-Million Person Data Breach
Were You Affected? (Your Questions Answered)
What Do We Need To Know About The Marriott Breach?
Another big corporation got hooked. This time it was Marriott International. They just revealed that their Starwood reservations database of 500 million customers was hacked and that the personal information of up to 327 million guests was stolen. And, this has been going on since 2014!
How Did This Happen?
- On September 8, 2018, Marriott was alerted about an attempt to access the Starwood guest reservation database.
- They contacted leading security experts to help them determine what occurred. Marriott said that the hacker copied, encrypted and removed their customers’ data.
- On November 19, 2018, Marriott was able to decrypt the data and learned that it was from the Starwood guest reservation database.
Marriott acknowledged that the encryption security keys for this data may have fallen into the hands of hackers. This allowed them to access the massive amount of data. Secure systems lock up data and should store the encryption keys in a location that’s separate from the confidential information.
Some good questions to ask here are:
“How did the criminals get Marriott’s encryption keys?
“Why did it take so long for Marriott to reveal the breach?” They learned about it in September which is over two months ago.
And, this was a 4-year long breach! “Why didn’t Marriott know that their customers’ data was being stolen over this long period?”
Maybe we’ll find out the answers to these questions, and perhaps not. What’s for sure is that you are on your own when it comes to protecting your confidential data.
How Do I Know If My Data Was Stolen?
If you are a Starwood Preferred Guest member and your data was stored in the Starwood property’s database (which includes Sheraton, Westin and St. Regis hotels, among others) you need to be on alert.
As mentioned, this data breach goes all the way back to 2014 and includes names, passport numbers, email addresses and payment information for approximately 327 million travelers – a “big catch” for any hacker. Even your date of birth, gender, reservation dates and communication preferences may be included in the breach.
Should I Contact Marriott?
Marriott set up a website and call center for customers who were impacted by the data breach. Email notifications are also being rolled out.
Marriott is also offering affected customers the option to enroll in WebWatcher free of charge for one year. WebWatcher monitors internet sites where personal information is shared and generates an alert if your personal information is found. If you live in the U.S., you’ll also be offered fraud consulting services
What Else Should I Do?
If your data was stolen, you should observe for incidents of identity theft. Also, watch for phishing emails where hackers try to impersonate someone you trust to take information or money from you.
Arrange For Security Awareness Training For Your Employees
If your business data was involved, make sure that you arrange for Security Awareness Training for your employees to train them to recognize phishing attempts. This includes:
- Baseline Testing to assess the Phish-prone percentage of your employees through a free simulated phishing attack.
- Training For Your Users with content that includes interactive modules, videos, games, posters, and newsletters.
- Simulated Phishing Attacks that utilize best-in-class, fully automated, simulated phishing attacks, thousands of templates with unlimited usage, and community phishing templates.
- Reports with statistics and graphs for both training and phishing for your management to review.
Whether your business was involved in the breach or not, Security Awareness Training for your employees is always a good idea.
Another good idea is to sign up for Dark Web Scanning Services.
Get Dark Web Scanning For Your Confidential Business Data
The Dark Web is a secret internet society that’s only accessible to a select group of criminals. Criminals use it to take stolen data (like the Marriott/Starwood customer information) and dump it on the black market for sale.
Dark Web Scanning is a sophisticated monitoring solution that helps businesses of any size detect cyber threats that expose their stolen business accounts, email addresses, payment information, and other confidential data that’s on the Dark Web. It also does this in real time and detects any of your compromised credentials or information before criminals can use it for profit or other crimes.
Don’t Count On The Marriott’s Of The World To Protect Your Business Data – You Must Do This Yourself
Contact us for information about Data Protection, Security Awareness Training and Dark Web Scanning. We have a Suite of IT Security Solutions to help you keep your business data secure.
The Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Bureau of Investigation issued a critical alert Dec. 3, warning users about SamSam ransomware and providing details on what system vulnerabilities permit the pernicious product to be deployed.
According to the alert, which came from the DHS’s National Cybersecurity and Communications Integration Center (NCCIC) along with the FBI, the SamSam actors targeted multiple industries—some within critical infrastructure—with the ransomware, which also is known as MSIL/Samas. The attacks mostly affected victims within the United States, but there was also an international impact.
As pointed out in the alert, organizations are more at risk to be attacked by network-wide infections than individuals because they are typically in a position where they have no option but making ransom payments.
“Organizations that provide essential functions have a critical need to resume operations quickly and are more likely to pay larger ransoms,” the alert states.
That does not mean individual systems cannot or are not attacked, but they are targeted significantly less by this particular type of malware.
How do SamSam actors operate?
Through FBI analysis of victims’ access logs and victim-reporting over the past couple of years, the agencies have discovered that the SamSam actors exploit Windows servers and vulnerable JBoss applications. Hackers use Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP) to gain access to their victims’ networks through an approved access point and infect reachable hosts. From there, the cyber actors “escalate privileges for administrator rights, drop malware onto the server, and run an executable file, all without victims’ action or authorization,” the report states.
RDP ransomware campaigns are typically accomplished through stolen login credentials—sometimes purchased from darknet marketplaces—or brute force attacks. Since they do not rely on victims completing a specific action, detecting RDP intrusions is challenging, according to the alert.
Ransom notes instructing victims to establish contact through a Tor hidden service are left on encrypted computers by the SamSam attackers. Victims are assured that once they pay the ransom in Bitcoin, they will receive links to download cryptographic keys and tools for decrypting their network.
Where did SamSam originate?
The Department of Justice recently indicted two Iranian men who allegedly were behind the creation of SamSam and deployed the ransomware, causing approximately $30 million of damage and collecting about $6 million in ransom payments from victims. The crippling ransomware affected about 200 municipalities, hospital, universities and other targets during the past three years, according to an article from Wired.
Keith Jarvis, a senior security researcher at SecureWorks, reiterated the sophistication of the SamSam ransomware and how it gains access to systems through weak authentication or vulnerabilities in web applications, methods that don’t require the victim to engage in a particular action. Hackers also go out of their way to target specific victims whose critical operations rely on getting systems up and running as quickly as possible, making them more likely to simply pay up.
What technical details about SamSam are important?
In the joint DHS and FBI report, the federal agencies provided a list, though not exhaustive, of SamSam Malware Analysis Reports that outline four variants of the ransomware. Organizations or their IT services administrators can review the following reports:
MAR-10219351.r1.v2 – SamSam1
MAR-10166283.r1.v1 – SamSam2
MAR-10158513.r1.v1 – SamSam3
MAR-10164494.r1.v1 – SamSam4
What mitigation and prevents practices are best?
In general, organizations are encouraged to not pay ransoms, since there is no guarantee they will receive decryption keys from the criminals. However, relying on a contingency plan or waiting out an attack, as advised by the FBI, is difficult when an entire operation has been compromised.
The best course of action is for organizations to strengthen their security posture in a way that prevents or at least mitigates the worst impacts of ransomware attacks. The FBI and DHS provided several best practices for system owners, users and administrators to consider to protect their systems.
For instance, network administrators are encouraged to review their systems to detect those that use RDP remote communication and place any system with an open RDP port behind a firewall. Users can be required to use a virtual private network (VPN) to access the system. Other best practices, according to the report, include:
- Applying two-factor authentication
- Disabling file and printer sharing services when possible, or using Active Directory authentication or strong passwords for required services
- Regularly applying software and system updates
- Reviewing logs regularly to detect intrusion attempts.
- Ensuring third parties follow internal policies on remote access
- Disabling RDP on critical devices where possible
- Regulating and limiting external-to-internal RDP connections
- Restricting the ability of users to install and run the unwanted software application
This just scratches the surface of actions that administrators and users can take to protect their networks against SamSam or other cyber-attacks. The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) provides more thorough recommendations in its Guide to Malware Incident Prevention and Handling for Desktops and Laptops, or Special Publication 800-83.
Information technology specialists can also provide insight and advice for how organizations can detect gaps or vulnerabilities in their cyber-security that leave them susceptible to SamSam or other malware infections.
Username and Password Security – Make sure your employees are not making access way too easy for hackers.
Although it should be common sense, employees need to understand password security and avoid the use of passwords that are easy for hackers to guess. Among the top ten worst passwords according to www.splashdata.com are those that use a series of numbers in numerical order, such as <123456>. The names of popular sports such as <football> and <baseball> are also on the list as are quirky passwords such as <qwerty> and even the word <password> itself.
Emphasis should also be placed on the importance of avoiding common usernames. In analysis conducted by the information security firm Rapid7, hackers most often prey upon these 10 usernames in particular3:
• Username • administrator • Administrator • user1 • Admin • Alex • Pos • Demo • db2admin • Sql
How Attackers Exploit Weak Passwords to Obtain Access
While most websites don’t store actual username passwords, they do store a password hash for each username. A password hash is a form of encryption, but cybercriminals can sometimes use the password hash to reverse engineer the password. When passwords are weak, it’s easier to break the password hash.
Password Security Hazards
Here is a list of common word mutations hackers use to identify passwords if they feel they already have a general idea of what the password might be:
- Capitalizing the first letter of a word
- Checking all combinations of upper/lowercase for words
- Inserting a number randomly in the word
- Placing numbers at the beginning and the end of words
- Putting the same pattern at both ends, such as <foobar>
- Replacing letters like <o> and <l> with numbers like <0> and <1>
- Punctuating the ends of words, such as adding an exclamation mark <!> • Duplicating the first letter or all the letters in a word
- Combining two words together
- Adding punctuation or spaces between the words
- Inserting <@> in place of <a>
Educating end users on these tactics underscores the importance of creating long passwords (at least 12 characters) and applying multiple deviations, rather than something simple like just capitalizing the first letter.
Nine Tips to Better Password Security
- Change passwords at least every three months for non-administrative users and 45-60 days for admin accounts.
- Use different passwords for each login credential.
- Avoid generic accounts and shared passwords.
- Conduct audits periodically to identify weak/duplicate passwords and change as necessary.
- Pick challenging passwords that include a combination of letters (upper and lower case), numbers and special characters (e.g. <$>, <%> and <&>).
- Avoid personal information such as birth dates, pet names and sports.
- Use passwords or passphrases of 12+ characters.
- Use a Password Manager such as LastPass where users need just one master password.
- Don’t use a browser’s auto-fill function for passwords.
- An advanced and under-used password security tip to consider is two-factor authentication, which is a way for websites to double confirm an end user’s identity. After the end user successfully logs in, they receive a text message with a passcode to then input in order to authenticate their ID.
- This approach makes sure that end users not only know their passwords but also have access to their own phone. Two-factor authentication works well because cybercriminals rarely steal an end user’s password and phone at the same time. Leading banks and financial institutions enable two-factor authentication by default, but if not, the service can often be turned on by asking the website to do so. More and more non-financial websites are now offering two-factor authentication as well.
Next blog: Mobile Security
For more information on keeping your small business secure call 678-389-6200 or contact us online.