Threat Lab

Shoring Up Your Network and Security Policies: Least Privilege Models

Why do so many businesses allow unfettered access to their networks? You’d be shocked by how often it happens. The truth is: your employees don’t need unrestricted access to all parts of our business. This is why the Principle of Least Privilege (POLP) is one of the...

Online Gaming Risks and Kids: What to Know and How to Protect Them

Online games aren’t new. Consumers have been playing them since as early as 1960. However, the market is evolving—games that used to require the computing power of dedicated desktops can now be powered by smartphones, and online gaming participation has skyrocketed....

Thoughtful Design in the Age of Cybersecurity AI

AI and machine learning offer tremendous promise for humanity in terms of helping us make sense of Big Data. But, while the processing power of these tools is integral for understanding trends and predicting threats, it’s not sufficient on its own. Thoughtful design...

A Cybersecurity Guide for Digital Nomads

Technology has unlocked a new type of worker, unlike any we have seen before—the digital nomad. Digital nomads are people who use technologies like WiFi, smart devices, and cloud-based applications to work from wherever they please. For some digital nomads, this means...

The Truth about Phishing & the Psychology of Why We Click

Reading Time: ~ 5 min.

“Phishing” may have been a relatively obscure term, but pretty much everyone has heard of it by now. In fact, recent statistics indicate a high likelihood that you—or someone you know—have been the victim of a phishing attack at least once. 

Now, if you remember the classic Nigerian Prince scams from back in the day, you might be asking yourself how the stats could be so high. After all, it seems pretty unlikely that an otherwise cautious person would fall for something like that, right? And in today’s cyber-climate, where the news is filled with headlines about major hacks and malware infections that spread like wildfire, why would anyone click on links from unknown senders or hand over their sensitive, personal information (think SSNs, etc.) without verifying the authenticity of the request? It turns out, there are a lot of subconscious influences at play, and the thing that makes phishing attacks so successful is the way they take advantage of our trust, curiosity, fear, greed, and even desire to do a good job at work.

Understanding the factors that drive a successful phishing attack is fundamental to preventing them in the future. That’s why Webroot partnered with Dr. Cleotilde Gonzalez, research professor at Carnegie Mellon University, to take a deep dive into the psychology of phishing. 

Read our full report, Hook, Line, and Sinker: Why Phishing Attacks Work, for more information on the psychology behind phishing attacks.

Tip #1: Maintain strong, unique passwords. Using individual passwords for each of your accounts will help prevent fraud, identity theft, and other malicious activity. Consider using a secure password manager, and enable two-factor authentication wherever possible.

What kind of person clicks a phishing link, anyway?

The truth? We all do it. While 86% of Americans believe they can distinguish a phishing message from a genuine one, 62% have had their personal information compromised as part of a breach. So what’s the deal here?

“People are generally overconfident about their ability to spot the fakes. Overconfidence is a big problem in many human actions. In this case, this probably happens because the ratio of phishing emails to regular emails feels low, so our mind underestimates the probability of receiving a phishing email, and in turn, overestimates our ability to identify one if we do.” – Cleotilde Gonzalez, Ph. D.

Tip #2: Stay on your toes. The more overconfident and complacent you are about your security, the easier it is for you to be phished. Don’t play into a cybercriminal’s hands. Maintaining a healthy level of suspicion about all links and attachments in messages may make all the difference during an attempted breach.

How are phishers using psychology against us?

By tapping into our own personal sense of urgency, cybercriminals are able to manipulate us in subtle ways that we may not realize until it is too late. Hackers often use cleverly disguised email handles and targeted messaging, known as “spear phishing,” to create a sense of trust and familiarity. This makes links appear more legitimate, and makes us perceive the click as less risky.

“Ultimately, urgency, familiarity, and context have a strong impact on decision making. If you already expect to receive emails from your boss at your office (context and familiarity), and you are accustomed to messages that request quick action (urgency), then you are likely to assume the message is real. It might never occur to you to suspect that it could be phishing.” – Cleotilde Gonzalez, Ph. D.

What are the most convincing ways for a phisher to tap into your sense of urgency to get you to open their email? 

  • 65% of Americans prioritize emails from their boss 
  • 54% prioritize emails from family or friends 
  • 33% prioritize emails to confirm bank transactions 

That means you shouldn’t feel weird or guilty for verifying odd requests from bosses, family, or friends. If your boss sends you an email asking for out-of-the-ordinary action, don’t hesitate to call them up and ask them for details. (Do this instead of replying to the email.) Same with links, downloads, and requests for information from family and friends. It never hurts to double-check.

Practicing phishing mindfulness, even when clicking links from seemingly trustworthy sources, cuts down significantly of the efficacy of spear phishing attacks. Pay close attention to sender addresses and handles, as well as signatures. If you get an email from your bank, financial institution, or even a regular website for which you have a login, navigate to their official website independently instead of clicking through on that potentially risky email.

Tip #3: Back everything up and do it regularly. All of your important data and files should be regularly backed up to a secure hard drive or cloud storage. When using a physical hard drive, only connect it while backing up. This will help prevent the drive from being affected by an infection.

Why are we still clicking?

Here’s the thing: 76% of Americans know they have received a phishing email, and yet still 56% of people would feel comfortable clicking on a link or attachment from an unknown source on their personal devices. So why are so many of us still willing to jeopardize our safety for an unknown link?

“Risk and under-weighed probability are linked. Risks sometimes come with rewards, right? So if the risk seems low and the reward seems high, you’ll make riskier decisions. It’s like gambling; our minds explore different gain/loss experiences, then respond with risk-taking or risk-averse actions.” – Cleotilde Gonzalez, Ph. D.

Tip #4: Always keep your software up-to-date. Hackers are known to regularly exploit security holes in outdated software and operating systems. By installing software updates when prompted, you can stop many cybercriminals in their tracks. 

What if you’ve been phished? Now what?

With 62% of those surveyed reporting some type of data breach, it’s important to know what to do in the event of a breach that can help keep the damage to a minimum. George Anderson, Product Marketing Director at Webroot, recommends the following steps:

  1. Change your account passwords immediately! That includes accounts you don’t believe were breached, but are using the same or a similar password.
  2. Set up alerts with your credit agency. 
  3. Void existing credit cards and order new ones. 
  4. Engage a credit security service. 
  5. Notify law enforcement or the appropriate government agency

While some of these steps may seem obvious to you, they clearly need to be repeated; of people whose information was stolen or exposed, a baffling 32% didn’t bother to change their account passwords afterward. 

Dr. Gonzales shared her thoughts on what can be done to combat this type of complacency.

“These findings illuminate the fact that what we really need here is a mindset makeover,” she says. “The longer-term reward of security needs to be highlighted, front and center, not placed on the backburner. To do that, we’re going to have to shift the way that people think about security and prioritize their responsibilities. We have to allow the time and brain space for security-related considerations.”

What can we all do going forward?

You can nurture the type of security mindset shift Dr. Gonzalez references by taking small steps. First, you know those software and security updates you (like many people) are probably putting off? Just do them. Enable two-factor authentication wherever possible, especially on important online accounts like your banking and credit institution websites. 

You may even find that your heightened security practices influence those around you to make stronger choices. After all, seeing a person you know being on top of their game can be very motivating to start making personal changes! 

Remember, the most important thing you can do is avoid overconfidence. Don’t underestimate the risk of a phishing attack. Doing that is exactly what will make you a prime target for criminals.

“It’s a classic case of underweighting probabilities, but explicit numbers speak for themselves. Providing this information might help people calibrate the risk and confidence more accurately.” – Cleotilde Gonzalez, Ph. D.

Cyber News Rundown: MedusaLocker Ransomware

Reading Time: ~ 2 min.

MedusaLocker Ransomware Spotted Worldwide

While it’s still unclear how MedusaLocker is spreading, the victims have been confirmed around the world in just the last month. By starting with a preparation phase, this variant can ensure that local networking functionality is active and maintain access to network drives. After shutting down security software and deleting Shadow Volume copies, it begins encrypting files while setting up self-preservation tasks.

Bargain Website Server Exposes Customer Data

Several websites used by UK customers to find bargains have left a database filled with customer data belonging to nearly 3.5 million users completely unprotected and connected to the internet. Along with the names and addresses of customers, the database also included banking details and other sensitive information that could be used to commit identity fraud. The researchers who initially discovered the breach notified the site owners, but received no response or any indication the leak would be resolved until nearly six weeks after the database was left exposed.

Arrests Made Following Major BEC Scam

At least three individuals have been arrested in Spain for their connection to a business email compromise (BEC) scam that netted over 10 million euros and affected 12 companies across 10 countries. It appears the operation began in 2016 and involved the cooperation of multiple law enforcement agencies. By creating a web of fake companies and bank accounts, the group was able to successfully launder money into various investments, including real estate, in an attempt to remain undetected.

LA Court System Hacked

The perpetrator of a 2017 spear phishing attack on the LA court system was sentenced to 145 months in prison following convictions on charges of wire fraud, unauthorized access to a computer, and identity theft. The individual was able to compromise employee email accounts and use them to launch a malspam campaign that distributed over 2 million emails.

Pennsylvania School District Hacked

Multiple students are being questioned after school district officials noticed unauthorized access to the student assistance site Naviance, a hack which appears to have been an attempt “to gain a competitive edge in a high-stakes water gun fight.” Access to the site would have also given them access to other student’s personal data, though no financial or social security information is stored on the site. District officials determined the security practices for the site lacking but have not currently released plans for improvement.

5 Key Benchmarks for Choosing Efficient Endpoint Security

Reading Time: ~ 3 min.

First and foremost, endpoint protection must be effective. Short of that, MSPs won’t succeed in protecting their clients and, more than likely, won’t remain in business for very long. But beyond the general ability to stop threats and protect users, which characteristics of an endpoint solution best set its administrators for success?

Get the 2019 PassMark Report: See how 9 endpoint protection products perform against 15 efficiency benchmarks.

Consider the world of the MSP: margins can be thin, competition tight, and time quite literally money. Any additional time spent managing endpoint security, beyond installing and overseeing it, is time not spent on other key business areas. Performance issues stemming from excess CPU or memory usage can invite added support tickets, which require more time and attention from MSPs. 

So, even when an endpoint solution is effective the majority of the time (a tall order in its own right), other factors can still raise the total cost of ownership for MSPs. Here are some metrics to consider when evaluating endpoint solutions, and how they can contribute to the overall health of a business. 

1. Installation Time

We’ve written recently about the trauma “rip and replace” can cause MSPs. It often means significant after-hours work uninstalling and reinstalling one endpoint solution in favor of another. While MSPs can’t do much about the uninstall time of the product they’ve chosen to abandon, shopping around for a replacement with a speedy install time will drastically reduce the time it takes to make the switch. 

Quick installs often also make a good impression on clients, too, who are likely having their first experience with the new software. Finally, it helps if the endpoint solution doesn’t conflict with other AVs.  

2. Installation Size

Few things are more annoying to users and admins than bulky, cumbersome endpoint protection, even when it’s effective. But cybersecurity is an arms race, and new threats often require new features and capabilities. 

So if an endpoint solution is still storing known-bad signatures on the device itself, this can quickly lead to bloated agent with an adverse effect on overall device performance. Cloud-based solutions, on the other hand, tend to be lighter on the device and less noticeable to users.

3. CPU Usage During a Scan

Many of us will remember the early days of antivirus scans when considering this stat. Pioneering AVs tended to render their host devices nearly useless when scanning for viruses and, unfortunately, some are still close to doing so today. 

Some endpoint solutions are able to scan for viruses silently in the background, while others commandeer almost 100 percent of a device’s CPU to hunt for viruses. This can lead to excruciatingly slow performance and even to devices overheating. With such high CPU demand, scans must often be scheduled for off-hours to limit the productivity hit they induce. 

4. Memory Usage During a Scheduled Scan 

Similar to CPU use during a scan, RAM use during a scheduled scan can have a significant effect on device performance, which in turn has a bearing on client satisfaction. Again older, so-called legacy antiviruses will hog significantly more RAM during a scheduled scan than their next-gen predecessors. 

While under 100 MB is generally a low amount of RAM for a scheduled scan, some solutions on the market today can require over 700 MB to perform the function. To keep memory use from quickly becoming an issue on the endpoints you manage, ensure your chosen AV falls on the low end of the RAM use spectrum. 

5. Browse Time

So many of today’s threats target your clients by way of their internet browsers. So it’s essential that endpoint security solutions are able to spot viruses and other malware before it’s downloaded from the web. This can lead to slower browsing and frustrate users into logging support tickets. It’s typically measured as an average of the time a web browser loads a given site, with variables like network connection speed controlled for. 

Effectiveness is essential, but it’s far from the only relevant metric when evaluating new endpoint security. Consider all the above factors to ensure you and your clients get the highest possible level of satisfaction from your chosen solution.

Webroot DNS Protection: Now Leveraging the Google Cloud Platform

Reading Time: ~ 2 min.

We are  excited to announce Webroot® DNS Protection now runs on Google Cloud Platform (GCP). Leveraging GCP in this way will provide Webroot customers with security, performance, and reliability. 

Security

Preventing denial of service (DoS) attacks is a core benefit of Webroot DNS Protection. Now, the solution benefits from Google Cloud load balancers with built-in DoS protection and mitigation, enabling the prevention of attack traffic before it ever hits the agent core. 

“The big thing about Google Cloud is that it dynamically manages denial of service (DoS) attacks,” said Webroot Sales Engineer Jonathan Barnett. “That happens automatically, and we know Google has that figured out.”

Click here to learn why businesses need DNS protection.

Performance

With this release, Webroot DNS Protection now runs on the Google Cloud’s high-redundancy, low-latency networks in 16 regions worldwide. That means there’s no need for a Webroot customer in Australia to have a DNS request resolved in Los Angeles, when more convenient infrastructure exists close by.  

“Google Cloud provides the ability to scale by adding new regions or new servers whenever necessary as load or need determines, nationally or internationally,” said Barnett. “This allows us to provide geolocation-appropriate answers for our customers, maximizing performance.”

Reliability

Because of GCP’s global infrastructure footprint, Webroot can quickly and easily provision more of Google’s servers in any region to ensure latency times remain low. 

And because those regional deployments can be programmed to auto-scale with spikes in traffic, even drastically increasing loads won’t increase wait times for requests.

According to Barnett, “Even if Webroot were to take on a large number of customers in a short time period, say with the closing of a deal to offer DNS solutions to an enterprise-level client with a number of subsidiaries, our environments would automatically scale with the additional load.”

One more note on the release 

Another key feature of the April DNS agent update regards switching communications from port 53, which is typically associated with DNS requests, to port 443, which is more commonly associated with SSL certificates.

The reason for this change is that, given port 443’s relevance to routine requests like banking sites and those accepting payment information, it is rarely constrained, modified, or controlled. This will reduce the need to configure firewalls or make other admin adjustments in order for Webroot DNS Protection to function as intended. 

It’s good to be in good company

With Webroot DNS Protection now leveraging the GCP will power your network-level protection. Fewer outages, latency, and bottlenecks. Ready to experience Webroot DNS Protection for yourself? Try it free for 30-days here. 

A Chat with Kelvin Murray: Senior Threat Research Analyst

Reading Time: ~ 3 min.

In a constantly evolving cyber landscape, it’s no simple task to keep up with every new threat that could potentially harm customers. Webroot Senior Threat Research Analyst Kelvin Murray highlighted the volume of threats he and his peers are faced with in our latest conversation. From finding new threats to answering questions from the press, Kelvin has become a trusted voice in the cybersecurity industry.

What is your favorite part of working as a Senior Threat Research Analyst? 

My favorite part about being a threat researcher is both the thrill of learning about new threats and the satisfaction of knowing that our work directly protects our customers. 

What does a week as a Senior Threat Research Analyst look like? 

My week is all about looking at threat information. Combing through this information helps us find meaningful patterns to make informed analysis and predictions, and to initiate customer protections. It roughly breaks down into three categories. The first would be “top down” customer data like metadata. The data we glean from our customers is very important and a big part of what we do. The interlinking of all our data and the assistance of powerful machine learning is a great benefit to us.  

Next would be “whole file” information, or static file analysis and file testing. This is a slow process but there are times when the absolute certainty and granular detail that this kind of file analysis provides is essential. This isn’t usually part of my week, but I work with some great specialists in this regard.  

Last would be news and reports on the threat landscape in general. Risks anywhere are risks everywhere. Keeping up to date with the latest threats is a big part of what I do. I work with a variety of internal teams and try to advise stakeholders, and sometimes media, on current threats and how Webroot fits in. Twitter is a great tool for staying in the know, but without making a list to filter out the useful bits from the other stuff I follow, I wouldn’t get any work done! 

What skills have you built in this role? 

Customer support taught me a lot in terms of the client, company culture, and dealing with customer requests. By the time I was in business support I was learning the newer console system and more corporate terms. Training on the job was very useful for my move to threat, where I also picked up advanced malware removal (AMR), which is the most hands on you can get with malware and the pain it causes customers. All of that knowledge is now useful to me in my public facing role where I prepare webinars, presentations, interviews, blogs, and press answers about threats in general. 

What is your greatest accomplishment in your career at Webroot so far? 

Learning the no-hands trick on the scooter we have in the office. And of course my promotion to Senior Threat Research Analyst. I have had a lot of different roles in my time here, but I’m glad I went down the path I did in terms of employment. There’s never a dull moment when you are researching criminal news and trends, and surprises are always guaranteed. 

What brought you to Webroot? 

I like to say divine providence. But really I had been travelling around Asia for a few months prior to this job. When I got back home I was totally broke and needed a job. A headhunter called me up out of the blue, and the rest is history.   

Are you involved in anything at Webroot outside of your day to day work? 

Listening, singing and (badly) dancing to music. Dublin is a fantastic place for bands and artists to visit given its proximity to the UK and Europe and the general enthusiasm of concert goers. I do worry that a lot of venues, especially nightclubs, are getting shut down and turned into hotels though. I sing in a choir based out of Trinity College.  

Favorite memory on the job? 

Heading to (the now closed) Mabos social events with my team. The Mabos collective ran workshops and social and cultural events in a run-down warehouse that they lovingly (and voluntarily) converted down in Dublin’s docklands. Funnily enough, that building is now Airbnb’s European headquarters. 

What is your favorite thing about working at Webroot? 

The people that I get to work with. I have made many great friendships in the office and still see previous colleagues socially, even those from five or six years ago.  

What is the hardest thing about being a Senior Threat Research Analyst? 

Prioritizing my time. I can try my hand at a few different areas at work, but if I don’t focus enough on any one thing then nothing gets done. I find everything interesting and that curiosity can get in the way sometimes! 

What is your favorite thing to do in Dublin?  

Trying new restaurants and heading out to gigs. I’d be a millionaire if I didn’t eat out at lunchtime so much. Dublin is full of great places. I like all kinds of gigs from dance to soul to traditional. The Button Factory is one of the coolest venues we have. 

How did you get into the technology field? 

I first become interested in technology through messing with my aunt’s Mac back in the early 90s. There were a lot of cool games on her black and white laptop she brought home from a compucentre she worked in, but the one that sticks in my memory was Shufflepuck Café. My dad always had some crazy pre-Windows machines lying around. Things with cartridges or orange text screens running Norton commander. 

 To learn more about life at Webroot, visit https://www.webroot.com/blog/category/life-at-webroot/

Antivirus vs. VPN: Do You Need Both?

Reading Time: ~ 3 min.

Public concern about online privacy and security is rising, and not without reason. High-profile data breaches make headlines almost daily and tax season predictably increases instances of one of the most common types of identity theft, the fraudulent filings for tax returns known as tax-related identity theft

As a result, more than half of global internet users are more concerned about their safety than they were a year ago. Over 80% in that same survey, conducted annually by the Center for International Governance Innovation, believe cybercriminals are to blame for their unease.  

Individuals are right to wonder how much of their personally identifiable data (PII) has already leaked onto the dark web. Are their enough pieces of the puzzle to reconstruct their entire online identity?  

Questions like these are leading those with a healthy amount of concern to evaluate their options for enhancing their cybersecurity. And one of the most common questions Webroot receives concerns the use of antivirus vs. a VPN.  

Here we’ll explain what each does and why they work as compliments to each other. Essentially, antivirus solutions keep malware and other cyber threats at bay from your devices, while VPNs cloak your data by encrypting it on its journey to and from your device and the network it’s communicating with. One works at the device level and the other at the network level.  

Why You Need Device-Level Antivirus Security 

Antiviruses bear the primary responsibility for keeping your devices free from infection. By definition, malware is any software written for the purpose of doing damage. This is the category of threats attempting to undermine the antivirus (hopefully) installed on your PC, Mac, and yes, even smartphones like Apple and Android devices, too.  

In an ever-shifting threat landscape, cybercriminals are constantly tweaking their approached to getting your money and data. Banking Trojans designed specifically for lifting your financial details were among the most common examples we saw last year. Spyware known as keyloggers can surreptitiously surveil your keystrokes and use the data to steal passwords and PII. A new category of malware, known as cryptojackers, can even remotely hijack your computing power for its own purposes.  

But the right anti-malware tool guarding your devices can protect against these changing threats. This means that a single errant click or downloaded file doesn’t spell disaster. 

“The amazing thing about cloud-based antivirus solutions,” says Webroot threat analyst Tyler Moffit, “is that even if we’ve never seen a threat before, we can categorize it in real time based on the way it behaves. If it’s determined to be malicious on any single device, we can alert our entire network of users almost instantaneously. From detection to protection in only a few minutes.” 

Why You Need Network-Level VPN Security 

We’ve covered devices, but what about that invisible beam of data traveling between your computer and the network it’s speaking to? That’s where the network-level protection offered by a VPN comes into play.  

While convenient, public networks offering “free” WiFi can be a hotbed for criminal activity, precisely because they’re as easy for bad actors to access as they are for you and me. Packet sniffers, for instance, can be benign tools for helping network admins troubleshoot issues. In the wrong hands, however, they can easily be used to monitor network traffic on wireless networks. It’s also fairly easy, given the right technical abilities, for cybercriminals to compromise routers with man-in-the-middle attacks. Using this strategy, they’re able to commandeer routers for the purpose of seeing and copying all traffic traveling between a device and the network they now control.  

Even on home WiFi networks, where you might expect the protection of the internet service provider (ISP) you pay monthly, that same ISP may be snooping on your traffic with the intent to sell your data.  

With a VPN protecting your connection, though, data including instant messages, login information, social media, and the rest is encrypted. Even were a cybercriminal able to peek at your traffic, it would be unintelligible.  

“For things like checking account balances or paying bills online, an encrypted connection should be considered essential,” says Moffit. “Without a VPN, I wouldn’t even consider playing with such sensitive information on public networks.”  

How Webroot Can Help 

Comprehensive cybersecurity involves protecting both data and devices. Antivirus solutions to protect against known and unknown malware—like the kinds that can ruin a laptop, empty a bank account, or do a cybercriminals bidding from afar—are generally recognized as essential. But for complete protection, it’s best to pair your antivirus with a VPN—one that can shield your data from intrusions like ISP snooping, packet sniffers, and compromised routers.  

Click the links for more information about Webroot SecureAnywhere® antivirus solutions and the Webroot® WiFi Security VPN app.  

HTTPS: Privacy vs. Security, and Where End Users and Security Culture Fit In

Reading Time: ~ 4 min.

Since the dawn of IT, there’s been a very consistent theme among admins: end users are the weakest link in your network, organization, security strategy, fill-in-the-blank. We’ve all heard the stories, and even experienced them first-hand. An employee falls for a phishing scam and the whole network is down. Another colleague torrents a file laced with malware. Or maybe it’s something less sinister: someone wants to charge their phone, so they unplug something from the only nearby outlet, but what they unplug is somehow critical… help desk tickets ensue. 

But when it comes to security issues caused by human error, it’s not necessarily always the end user’s fault. Cyberattacks are getting more and more sophisticated by the second, and all of them are designed to either circumvent defenses or appear totally legitimate to fool people. One of the major advances of this type that we’ve seen is with phishing sites and the use of HTTPS.

HTTPS: The Beginning

While HTTP is the foundation of all data exchange and communication on the internet, it wasn’t designed for privacy. Transmitting information on the web using HTTP is kind of like sending a postcard; anybody who handles that card can read it. HTTPS was supposed to be a way of adding privacy to protect users and sensitive information from prying eyes.

At first, you’d only see HTTPS on financial or health care websites, or maybe the cart page on a shopping site, where the extra privacy was necessary. And back then, getting a security certificate was much harder—it involved significant costs and thorough security checks. Then, a few years ago, most web browsers started requiring security certificates for every website, or else they’d throw up a scary-looking warning that the site you were trying to visit might be dangerous. That trained us to look for (and trust) HTTPS.

A False Sense of Security

These days, when we see HTTPS at the beginning of a URL or the accompanying lock icon in our browser’s address bar, we’ve been conditioned to think that means we’re safe from harm. After all, the S in HTTPS stands for “secure”, right? But the issue is that HTTPS isn’t really about security, it’s about privacy. That little lock icon just means that any information we transmit on that site is encrypted and securely delivered to its destination. It makes no guarantees that the destination itself, is safe.

If you unwittingly end up on a well-faked phishing copy of your banking website and see the lock icon, it’s natural to assume that you’re in the right place and all is well. Except when you try to log in, what you’re really doing is securely transmitting your login credentials to an attacker. In this case, HTTPS would’ve been used to trick you.

The Bad Guys and HTTPS

Malicious actors are always looking for new ways to trick end users. Because so many of us think HTTPS ensures security, attackers are using it against us. It’s no longer difficult to obtain a security certificate. Attackers can do so very cheaply, or even for free, and there’s really no background or security check involved. 

As I mentioned during my talk on HTTPS at this year’s RSA conference, almost half a million of the new phishing sites Webroot discovered each month of 2018 were using HTTPS. In fact, 93% of phishing domains in September and October alone were hosted on HTTPS sites. When you think about these numbers, it’s easy to see why end users might not be to blame when you discover that a major security breach was caused by someone being duped by a phishing scam. 

The Way Forward

As more HTTPS phishing and malware sites emerge, even the most vigilant among us could fall victim. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t invest in end user education. End users are on the front lines on the cybersecurity battlefield. It’s up to us to provide right tools and armor to keep users and the companies they represent safe. To be truly effective, we need to implement ongoing security awareness training programs that recur continually throughout an employee’s time with the company. If we accomplish that, the results speak for themselves; after 12 months of training, end users are 70% less likely to fall for a phishing attempt!

We also need to make sure our security strategies incorporate real-time threat intelligence to accurately classify and determine which websites are good or malicious, regardless of their HTTPS designation. In an age where phishing sites appear and disappear in a matter of hours or minutes, malicious sites use HTTPS, and at least 40% of bad URLs can be found on good domains, it’s more important than ever that we all use the most advanced real-time technologies available. 

Ultimately building a culture of cybersecurity will always be more effective than a top-down mandate.. Everyone in the organization, from the CEO to the newest intern, should be invested in adopting and furthering a security conscious culture. Part of that process is going to be shifting the general IT perceptions around human error and the issues it can cause. We shouldn’t think of our end users as the weakest link in the chain; instead we should think of them as the key to a robust security strategy.

To hear more about HTTPS, phishing, and end user education, you can listen to the podcast I did with cybersecurity executive and advisor Shira Rubinoff at RSAC 2019.

Post Coinhive, What’s Next for Cryptojacking?

Reading Time: ~ 2 min.

In late February, the notorious cryptojacking script engine called Coinhive abruptly announced the impending end to its service. The stated reason: it was no longer economically viable to run.

Coinhive became infamous quickly following its debut as an innovative javascript-based cryptomining script in 2018. While Coinhive maintained that its service was born out of good intentions—to offer website owners a means to generate revenue outside of hosting ads—it took cybercriminals no time at all to create cryptojacking attack campaigns. Cryptojacking became incredibly popular in 2018, infecting millions of sites (and cloud systems among the likes of Tesla) and netting criminals millions in cryptocurrency at the expense of their victims.

Source: Coinhive [dot] com

I honestly did not see this happening, but I do understand. It is reasonable to think that Coinhive didn’t intend for their creation to be abused by criminals. However, they have still kept 30 percent of ALL the earnings generated by their script, one that was often found running illegally on hijacked sites. Most of that profit came from illicit mining, which has earned Coinhive a lot of negative press.

Additionally, 2018 was a terrible year in terms of the US-dollar value of Monero (XMR), which means their service is significantly less profitable now, relative to what it once was. Combined with the fact that the XMR development team hard-forked the coin and changed the difficulty of the hashrate, this means Coinhive is making very little money from legitimate miners.

Coinhive created this service so legitimate domain owners could host their script and generate enough revenue to replace ads. Ads are annoying and I believe this innovation was aimed at attempting to fix that problem. But the ultimate result was a bunch of criminals breaking into other people’s domains and injecting them with Coinhive scripts that essentially stole from visitors to that domain. Without consent, millions of victims’ computers were subject to maximum hardware stress for extended periods of time, all so some criminals could make a few pennies worth of cryptocurrency per computer.

Would you continue to operate a startup business in which most of the money you earned was a cut of criminal activity—stealing from victims in the form of an increased power bill? Maybe a year ago, when the hashing difficulty was easier (you earned more XMR) and XMR was worth 10 times what it’s worth now, it might have been easier to “sleep at night” but now it probably just isn’t worth it.

Even before this news, there were plenty of other copycats—Cryptoloot, JSEcoin, Deepminer, and others—so criminals have plenty of similar services to choose from. At the time of its shutdown, Coinhive had about around 60% share of all cryptojacking campaigns, though we saw this market dominance reach as high as 80% last year. I anticipate these other services stand to take larger shares of cryptojacking revenue now that the largest player has left. We might even see a new competitor service emerge to challenge for cryptojacking dominance.

Stay tuned to the Webroot blog for future developments in cryptojacking.

Cyber News Rundown: New Ransomware Service Offers Membership

Reading Time: ~ 2 min.

Ransomware as-a-Service Offers Tiered Membership Benefits

Jokeroo is the latest ransomware-as-a-service (RaaS) to begin spreading through hacker forums, though it’s differentiating itself by requiring a membership fee with various package offerings. For just $90, a buyer obtains access to a ransomware variant that they can fully customize in exchange for a 15% service fee on any ransom payments received. Higher packages are also available that offer even more options that give the user a full dashboard to monitor their campaign, though no ransomware has yet to be distributed from the service. 

Android Adware Apps are Increasingly Persistent

Several new apps on the Google Play store have been found to be responsible for constant pop-up ads on over 700,000 devices after being installed as phony camera apps. By creating a shortcut on the device and hiding the main icon, the apps are able to stay installed on the device for a considerable amount of time, as any user trying to remove the app would only delete the shortcut. Fortunately, many users have been writing poor reviews about their experiences in hopes of steering prospective users away from these fraudulent apps while they remain on the store.

Phone Scammers Disguising Themselves with DHS Numbers

People all across the U.S. have been receiving phone calls from scammers claiming to be from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), with actual spoofed DHS phone numbers, requesting sensitive information. While phone scams aren’t new, this campaign has upped the stakes by threatening the victims with arrest if they don’t provide information or make a payment to the scammers. DHS officials have stated they will never attempt to contact individuals through outgoing phone calls.

Failed Ransomware Attack Leaves Thousands of Israeli Sites Defaced

A ransomware attack aiming to infect millions of Israeli users through a widget used in thousands of websites failed over the weekend. Though all sites began displaying pro-Palestine messages, the intended file download never took place due to a coding error that prevented execution immediately after the pop-up message. After dealing with the poisoned DNS records for the widget creator Nagich, the company was able to restore normal function within a few hours of the attack beginning.

Chicago Medical Center Exposes Patient Records

Nearly eight months after a Rush Medical Center employee emailed a file containing highly sensitive patient information to one of their billing vendors, the company began contacting affected patients and conducting an internal investigation. Rush has setup a call center to provide additional information to concerned patients and has offered all victims access to an identity monitoring service, while warning them to check their credit history for any fraudulent activity.

Cyber News Rundown: Photography Site Breached

Reading Time: ~ 2 min.

Popular Photography Site Breached

A major photography site, 500px, recently discovered they had suffered a data breach in July of last year. Data ranging from name and email addresses, to birthdates and user locations, were comprised. While the company did confirm no customer payment data is stored on their servers, all 15+ million users are receiving a forced password reset to ensure no further accounts can be compromised.

Nigerian Scammers Target ‘Lonely’ Victims

 A recent email campaign by a criminal organization known as Scarlet Widow has been focusing on matchmaking sites for people they consider to be lonelier, elderly, or divorced. By creating fake profiles and gaining the trust of these individuals, the scammers are not only attempting to profit financially, but also causing emotional harm to already vulnerable people.  In some cases these victims have been tricked into sending thousands of dollars in response to false claims of needing financial assistance, with one victim sending over $500,000 in a single year.

VFEmail Taken Down by Hackers

The founder of VFEmail watched as nearly 20 years-worth of data was destroyed by hackers in an attack that began Monday morning. Just a few hours after servers initially went down, a Tweet from a company account announced that all of the servers and backups had been formatted by a hacker traced back to Bulgarian hosting services. The motivation for the attack is still unclear, though given the numerous security measures the hacker successfully bypassed, it appears to have been a significant effort.

Urban Electric Scooters Vulnerable to Attacks

With the introduction of electric scooters to many major cities, some are curious about the security measures keeping customers safe. One researcher was able to wirelessly hack into a scooter from up to 100 yards and use his control to brake or accelerate the scooter at will, leaving the victim in a potentially dangerous situation. Without a proper password authentication system for both the scooter and the corresponding application, anyone can take control of the scooter without needing a password.

Phishing Campaign Stuffs URL Links with Excessive Characters

The latest phishing campaign to gain popularity has brought with it a warning about accounts being blacklisted and a confirmation link containing anywhere from 400 to 1,000 characters. Fortunately for observant recipients, the link should immediately look suspicious and serve as an example of the importance of checking a URL before clicking on any links.

Common WordPress Vulnerabilities & How to Protect Against Them

Reading Time: ~ 3 min.

The WordPress website platform is a vital part of the small business economy, dominating the content management system industry with a 60% market share. It gives businesses the ability to run easily-maintained and customizable websites, but that convenience comes at a price. The easy-to-use interface has given even users who are not particularly cybersecurity-savvy a presence on the web, drawing cyber-criminals out of the woodwork to look for easy prey through WordPress vulnerabilities in the process.

Here are some of these common vulnerabilities, and how can you prepare your website to protect against them.

WordPress Plugins 

The WordPress Plugin Directory is a treasure trove of helpful website widgets that unlock a variety of convenient functions. The breadth of its offerings is thanks to an open submission policy, meaning anyone with the skill to develop a plugin can submit it to the directory. WordPress reviews every plugin before listing it, but clever hackers have been known to exploit flaws in approved widgets.

The problem is so prevalent that, of the known 3,010 unique WordPress vulnerabilities, 1,691 are from WordPress plugins. You can do a few things to impede your site from being exploited through a plugin. Only download plugins from reputable sources, and be sure to clean out any extraneous plugins you are no longer using. It’s also important to keep your WordPress plugins up-to-date, as outdated code is the best way for a hacker to inject malware into your site.

Phishing Attacks 

Phishing remains a favored attack form for hackers across all platforms, and WordPress is no exception. Keep your eyes out for phishing attacks in the comments section, and only click on links from trusted sources. In particular, WordPress admins need to be on alert for attackers looking to gain administrative access to the site. These phishing attacks may appear to be legitimate emails from WordPress prompting you to click a link, as was seen with a recent attack targeting admins to update their WordPress database. If you receive an email prompting you to update your WordPress version, do a quick Google search to check that the update is legitimate. Even then, it’s best to use the update link from the WordPress website itself, not an email.

Weak Administrative Practices 

An often overlooked fact about WordPress security: Your account is only as secure as your administrator’s. In the hubbub of getting a website started, it can be easy to create an account and immediately get busy populating content. But hastily creating administrator credentials are a weak link in your cybersecurity, and something an opportunistic hacker will seize upon quickly. Implementing administrative best practices is the best way to increase your WordPress security.

WordPress automatically creates an administrator with the username of “admin” whenever a new account is created. Never leave this default in place; it’s the equivalent of using “password” as your password. Instead, create a new account and grant it administrative privileges before deleting the default administrator account. You’ll also need to change the easily-located and often-targeted administrator url from the default of “wp-admin” to something more ambiguous of your own choosing.

One of the most important practices for any WordPress administrator is keeping the WordPress version up-to-date. An ignored version update can easily become a weak point for hackers to exploit. The more out-of-date your version, the more likely you are to be targeted by an attack. According to WordPress, 42.6% of users are using outdated versions. Don’t be one of them.

Additional Security Practices 

The use of reputable security plugins like WordFence or Sucuri Security can add an additional layer of protection to your site, especially against SQL injections and malware attacks. Research any security plugins before you install them, as we’ve previously seen malware masquerading as WordPress security plugins. If your security plugin doesn’t offer two-factor authentication, you’ll still need to install a secure two-factor authentication plugin to stop brute force attacks. Keeping your data safe and encrypted behind a trusted VPN is also key to WordPress security, especially for those who find themselves working on their WordPress site from public WiFi networks.

WordPress is a powerful platform, but it’s only as secure as you keep it. Keep your website and your users secure with these tips on enhancing WordPress security, and check back here often for updates on all things cybersecurity.

Unsecure RDP Connections are a Widespread Security Failure

Reading Time: ~ 3 min.While ransomware, last year’s dominant threat, has taken a backseat to cryptomining attacks in 2018, it has by no means disappeared. Instead, ransomware has become a more targeted business model for cybercriminals, with unsecured remote desktop protocol (RDP) connections becoming the favorite port of entry for ransomware campaigns.

RDP connections first gained popularity as attack vectors back in 2016, and early success has translated into further adoption by cybercriminals. The SamSam ransomware group has made millions of dollars by exploiting the RDP attack vector, earning the group headlines when they shut down government sectors of Atlanta and Colorado, along with the medical testing giant LabCorp this year.

Think of unsecure RDP like the thermal exhaust port on the Death Star—an unfortunate security gap that can quickly lead to catastrophe if properly exploited. Organizations are inadequately setting up remote desktop solutions, leaving their environment wide open for criminals to penetrate with brute force tools. Cybercriminals can easily find and target these organizations by scanning for open RPD connections using engines like Shodan. Even lesser-skilled criminals can simply buy RDP access to already-hacked machines on the dark web.

Once a criminal has desktop access to a corporate computer or server, it’s essentially game over from a security standpoint. An attacker with access can then easily disable endpoint protection or leverage exploits to verify their malicious payloads will execute. There are a variety of payload options available to the criminal for extracting profit from the victim as well.

Common RDP-enabled threats

Ransomware is the most obvious choice, since it’s business model is proven and allows the perpetrator to “case the joint” by browsing all data on system or shared drives to determine how valuable it is and, by extension, how large of a ransom can be requested.

Cryptominers are another payload option, emerging more recently, criminals use via the RDP attack vector. When criminals breach a system, they can see all hardware installed and, if substantial CPU and GPU hardware are available, they can use it mine cryptocurrencies such as Monero on the hardware. This often leads to instant profitability that doesn’t require any payment action from the victim, and can therefore go by undetected indefinitely.

Source: https://knowyourmeme.com/photos/1379666-cheeto-lock

Solving the RDP Problem

The underlying problem that opens up RDP to exploitation is poor education. If more IT professionals were aware of this attack vector (and the severity of damage it could lead to), the proper precautions could be followed to secure the gap. Beyond the tips mentioned in my tweet above, one of the best solutions we recommend is simply restricting RDP to a whitelisted IP range.

However, the reality is that too many IT departments are leaving default ports open, maintaining lax password policies, or not training their employees on how to avoid phishing attacks that could compromise their system’s credentials. Security awareness education should be paramount as employees are often the weakest link, but can also be a powerful defense in preventing your organization from compromise.

You can learn more about the benefits of security awareness training in IT security here.