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Cybersecurity Awareness Month: Phight the Phish

October is Cybersecurity Awareness Month. Now, in its 18th year, Cybersecurity Awareness Month exists to help Americans develop an appreciation and awareness of the importance of cybersecurity. One of the focus areas of this year’s campaign is phishing. And with good reason. Consider the following statistics:

October is Cybersecurity Awareness Month. Now, in its 18th year, Cybersecurity Awareness Month exists to help Americans develop an appreciation and awareness of the importance of cybersecurity. One of the focus areas of this year’s campaign is phishing. And with good reason. Consider the following statistics:

  • The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) reported over 240,000 instances of phishing in 2020 – a 110% increase from 2019
  • There were 11 times as many phishing complaints in 2020 as compared with 2016
  • Globally, 75% of organizations experienced a phishing attack last year
  • 96% of phishing attacks were perpetrated via email

While cybercrime has been rising steadily for years, COVID-19 provided a host of opportunities for cybercriminals who were quick to exploit the global pandemic for their nefarious means, most notably through COVID-related fraud around the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act.

What is phishing?

Computerworld describes the origins of phishing as follows:

“The word phishing was coined in 1996 by hackers stealing America Online accounts and passwords. By analogy with the sport of angling, these internet scammers were using email lures, setting out hooks to ‘fish’ for passwords and financial data from the ‘sea’ of internet users. They knew that, although most users wouldn’t take the bait, a few likely would.”

With a phishing attack, the perpetrator sends unlawful emails, asking for personal information or credentials (perhaps a pin number). Oftentimes, these emails are disguised and appear to be sent from a company or service that the recipient uses and may redirect the individual to a phony website in the hope that users will bite and provide the information they ask for, such as credit card numbers, account numbers, passwords, usernames, and other valuable information. This information can be used to access important accounts, resulting in identity theft and financial loss.

Phishing is a form of social engineering, which is the art of manipulating people in order to gain access to buildings, systems, or data through the cloud. While email is the most common medium for phishing attacks, text messages, direct messaging, social media, and video games are also used in order to get people to respond with their personal information. Phishing attacks have one characteristic in common: They are designed to trigger emotions such as curiosity, compassion, fear, and greed.

How can you spot a phishing attack?

Phishing emails are one of the most common online threats, and it is important to know the telltale signs and know what to do if you see them. Here are a few rules of thumb in helping to identify phishing attacks:

  • A legit organization will never send you an email asking for passwords, credit card information, credit numbers, or tax numbers, and also will not send the link you need to log in – if the company you are dealing with needs information about your account, the email should refer to you by name and instruct you to contact them by phone
  • Check email addresses carefully – cybercriminals often use an email address that resembles one of a reputable company, but has been modified to omit a few characters
  • A general greeting such as “Dear Customer” or “Sir” and missing contact information or a signature block are strong indicators of a phishing email
  • Be alert when you receive a suspicious, urgent, or threatening email from a company

The Cybersecurity & Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) has provided a number of resources in support of Cybersecurity Awareness month, and has also shared these general cybersecurity tips:

  • Use multifactor authentication on all accounts and devices
  • Be password-savvy, get creative and avoid using use the same password for multiple accounts
  • Protect all devices with anti-virus software
  • Limit the information you post on social media
  • Before connecting to public wireless hotspots, confirm with staff that the network is legitimate

Examples of phishing attacks

While there are some definite telltale signs of phishing attacks, as identified above, they can also be incredibly well done. Cybercriminals have come a long way from the Nigerian prince days of yore. And since seeing is believing, we have included a few examples below.

This email, purporting to be from Netflix, is one that has been making the rounds. Recipients are encouraged to update their account by providing their credit card information.

phising

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) will never send an email asking for your banking information, like in this fraudulent email example.

refund

Even Chick-fil-A isn’t safe from cybercriminals.

it services

Keeping yourself and your organization cybersafe

The theme for Cybersecurity Awareness Month is Do Your Part. #BeCybersmart. Sound advice. And one of the best ways to be cybersmart is by working with the right managed services provider (MSP) partner, one that is up to speed on the latest and greatest in the constantly evolving field of cybersecurity and cloud computing, and one that is committed to keeping you and your organization secure. VersaTrust is that right MSP partner. By taking the time to get to know your business and your organizational requirements, VersaTrust is able to customize IT solutions that are in line with your strategic goals and constraints, and all within your budget. Reach out today and #BeCybersmart.

No one can escape the news of WannaCry. The IT industry has been covering this type of malware for years, but never has one campaign spread so far or infected so many computers. Read on to gain a greater understanding of what happened and how to prepare yourself for the inevitable copy cats.

Ransomware review

Ransomware is a specific type of malware program that either encrypts or steals valuable data and threatens to erase it or release it publicly unless a ransom is paid. We’ve been writing about this terrifying threat for years, but the true genesis of ransomware dates all the way back to 1989.

 

This form of digital extortion has enjoyed peaks and troughs in popularity since then, but never has it been as dangerous as it is now. In 2015, the FBI reported a huge spike in the popularity of ransomware, and healthcare providers became common targets because of the private and time-sensitive nature of their hosted data.

The trend got even worse, and by the end of 2016 ransomware had become a $1 billion-a-year industry.

The WannaCry ransomware

Although the vast majority of ransomware programs rely on convincing users to click compromised links in emails, the WannaCry version seems to have spread via more technical security gaps. It’s still too early to be sure, but the security experts at Malwarebytes Labs believe that the reports of WannaCry being transmitted through phishing emails is simply a matter of confusion. Thousands of other ransomware versions are spread through spam email every day and distinguishing them can be difficult.

By combining a Windows vulnerability recently leaked from the National Security Agency’s cyber arsenal and some simple programming to hunt down servers that interact with public networks, WannaCry spread itself further than any malware campaign has in the last 15 years.

Despite infecting more than 200,000 computers in at least 150 countries, the cyberattackers have only made a fraction of what you would expect. Victims must pay the ransom in Bitcoins, a totally untraceable currency traded online. Inherent to the Bitcoin platform is a public ledger, meaning anyone can see that WannaCry’s coffers have collected a measly 1% of its victims payments.

How to protect yourself for what comes next

Part of the reason this ransomware failed to scare users into paying up is because it was so poorly made. Within a day of its release, the self-propagating portion of its programming was brought to a halt by an individual unsure of why it included a 42-character URL that led to an unregistered domain. Once he registered the web address for himself, WannaCry stopped spreading.

Unfortunately, that doesn’t help the thousands that were already infected. And it definitely doesn’t give you an excuse to ignore what cybersecurity experts are saying, “This is only the beginning.” WannaCry was so poorly written, it’s amazing it made it as far as it did. And considering it would’ve made hundreds of millions of dollars if it was created by more capable programmers, your organization needs to prepare for the next global cyberattack.

Every single day it should be your goal to complete the following:

  • Thorough reviews of reports from basic perimeter security solutions. Antivirus software, hardware firewalls, and intrusion prevention systems log hundreds of amateur attempts on your network security every day; critical vulnerabilities can be gleaned from these documents.
  • Check for updates and security patches for every single piece of software in your office, from accounting apps to operating systems. Computers with the latest updates from Microsoft were totally safe from WannaCry, which should be motivation to never again click “Remind me later.”
  • Social engineering and phishing may not have been factors this time around, but training employees to recognize suspicious links is a surefire strategy for avoiding the thousands of other malware strains that threaten your business.

Revisiting these strategies every single day may seem a bit much, but we’ve been in the industry long enough to know that it takes only one mistake to bring your operations to a halt. For daily monitoring and support, plus industry-leading cybersecurity advice, call us today.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

As the technology that recognizes and thwarts malware becomes more advanced, hackers are finding it much easier to trick overly trusting humans to do their dirty work for them. Known as social engineering, it’s a dangerous trend that is becoming increasingly prevalent. Read on to educate yourself on how to avoid the most recent scam and those that came before it.

Broadly defined, “phishing” is any form of fraud in which an attacker tries to learn information such as login credentials or account information by masquerading as a reputable entity or person in email, IM or other communication channels.

These messages prey on users who click links, images and buttons without thoroughly investigating where they lead to. Sometimes the scam is as simple as an image with a government emblem on it that links to a website containing malware. Just hovering your mouse over the image would be enough to see through it. But some phishing schemes are far more difficult to recognize.

The Google Defender scam

Recently, an email spread to millions of Gmail accounts that almost perfectly imitated a message from Google. The text read:

“Our security system detected several unexpected sign-in attempts on your account. To improve your account safety use our new official application “Google Defender”.

Below that was a button to “Install Google Defender”. What made this scheme so hard to detect is that the button actually links to a totally legitimate site…within Google’s own framework. When third-party app developers create Gmail integrations, Google directs users to an in-house security page that essentially says, “By clicking this you are giving Google Defender access to your entire inbox. Are you sure you want to do this?”

Even to wary users, the original message looks like it came from Google. And the link took them to a legitimate Google security page — anyone could have fallen for it. The Gmail team immediately began assuring users that they were aware of the scam and working on eradicating it and any potential copycats.

There’s no happy ending to this story. Although vendors and cybersecurity experts were able to respond to the crisis on the same day it was released, millions of accounts were still affected. The best way to prepare your business is with thorough employee training and disaster recovery plans that are prepared to respond to a breach. To find out how we can protect your business, call today.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

Most phishing attacks involve hiding malicious hyperlinks hidden behind enticing ad images or false-front URLs. Whatever the strategy is, phishing almost always relies on users clicking a link before checking where it really leads. But even the most cautious users may get caught up in the most recent scam. Take a look at our advice for how to avoid the newest trend in phishing.

What are homographs?

There are a lot of ways to disguise a hyperlink, but one strategy has survived for decades — and it’s enjoying a spike in popularity. Referred to as “homographs” by cybersecurity professionals, this phishing strategy revolves around how browsers interpret URLs written in other languages.

Take Russian for example, even though several Cyrillic letters look identical to English characters, computers see them as totally different. Browsers use basic translation tools to account for this so users can type in non-English URLs and arrive at legitimate websites. In practice, that means anyone can enter a 10-letter Cyrillic web address into their browser and the translation tools will convert that address into a series of English letters and numbers.

How does this lead to phishing attacks?

Malicious homographs utilize letters that look identical to their English counterparts to trick users into clicking on them. It’s an old trick, and most browsers have built-in fail-safes to prevent the issue. However, a security professional recently proved that the fail-safes in Chrome, Firefox, Opera and a few other less popular browsers can be easily tricked.

Without protection from your browser, there’s basically no way to know that you’re clicking on a Cyrillic URL. It looks like English, and no matter how skeptical you are, there’s no way to “ask” your browser what language it is. So you may think you’re clicking on apple.com, but you’re actually clicking on the Russian spelling of apple.com — which gets redirected to xn—80ak6aa92e.com. If that translated URL contains malware, you’re in trouble the second you click the link.

The solution

Avoiding any kind of cybersecurity attack begins with awareness, and when it comes to phishing, that means treating every link you want to click with skepticism. If you receive an email from someone you don’t know, or a suspicious message from someone you do, always check where it leads. Sometimes that’s as simple as hovering your mouse over hyperlink text to see what the address is, but when it comes to homographs that’s not enough.

In the case of homographs, the solution is unbelievably simple: Manually type in the web address. If you get an email from someone you haven’t heard from in 20 years that says “Have you checked out youtube.com??”, until your browser announces a fix, typing that URL into your browser’s address bar is the only way to be totally sure you’re safe.

For most, this trend feels like yet another development that justifies giving up on cybersecurity altogether. But for small- and medium-sized businesses that have outsourced their technology support and management to a competent and trustworthy IT provider, it’s just another reason to be thankful they decided against going it alone. If you’re ready to make the same decision, call us today.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

Social engineering is the ability to manipulate people into willfully giving up their confidential information. The data varies, but in terms of cyber security this usually means passwords and bank information. Criminals are using social engineering to gain access to your business and its network by exploiting employees who often don’t have a clue about what is happening. Avoiding it is a matter of training, and we’re here to educate you on the subject.

As more and more of our information moves into the digital realm, criminals are turning to social engineering to trick people into trusting them with their delicate information. People often trust others too easily and make themselves the targets of easy attacks from criminals. These attacks may come in the form of messages, baiting scenarios, fake company responses, and many others.

Most often, messages are sent to users in the form of an email that might contain a link or something to download. Although they may look legitimate, these emails often contain viruses; once the link is opened or you attempt to download it, a virus latches onto your computer, giving its creator free access to your email account and personal information.

Emails such as these can also come with a compelling story about needing help, winning the lottery, or even paying taxes to the government. Under the veil of legitimacy, criminals will ask you to trust them with your account details so they can either reward you or help you avoid fines and punishments. What you actually get is a bad case of identity theft.

In another scenario, criminals will bait their targets with “confidential information regarding their account.” This may come in the form of fake company messages that appear to be responses to your claims, which are followed up by a request for login details. While victims believe they are slamming the door on a crime by providing their information, they’ve actually provided their attackers with the keys.

There are several ways people can avoid becoming victims of social engineering. First, always ensure that you delete all spam from your email, and thoroughly research sources before responding to claims from a company — even if it seems like the one you normally use.

The same applies for links. Confirm the destination of any link before clicking on it. Sites like bit.ly are often used to shorten long and cumbersome links, but because users have grown accusomted to them they are often used to hide malacious misdirections.

Never give out sensitive information that includes your password, bank information, social security, or any other private details. No respectable financial institution will request this type of information through email or a site other than their own. If you’re unsure, navigate away from the page you’ve been sent to and visit the page you believe to be making the request. If the address doesn’t have the letter ‘s’ after ‘http,’ it’s likely a scam.

Last but not least, check that all your devices are protected by the most recent antivirus software. While the strength of social engineering lies in the fact that it’s people-driven rather than technology-driven, antivirus software can help detect and prevent requests from known cybercriminals.

Cyber security is essential to the success of any modern business. Don’t let yourself become victim to criminals who have mastered the art of social engineering. While we’re proud of our extensive experience as technology professionals, we also have more than enough expertise to keep your business safe from those who are using people-based exploits. Get in touch with us today for all your security concerns.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.