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What Defines a Machine Learning-Based Threat Intelligence Platform?

As technology continues to evolve, several trends are staying consistent. First, the volume of data is growing exponentially. Second, human analysts can’t hope to keep up—there just aren’t enough of them and they can’t work fast enough. Third, adversarial attacks that...

Global Privacy Concerns: The World’s Top Five Cities Using Invasive Technology

Cities are expanding their technological reach. Many of their efforts work to increase public protections, such as using GPS tracking to help first responders quickly locate the site of a car accident. But, in the rush for a more secure and technologically advanced...

A Chat with Kelvin Murray: Senior Threat Research Analyst

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...

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...

Cloud Services in the Crosshairs of Cybercrime

It's a familiar story in tech: new technologies and shifting preferences raise new security challenges. One of the most pressing challenges today involves monitoring and securing all of the applications and data currently undergoing a mass migration to public and...

Cyber News Rundown: Georgia County Pays for Ransomware Threat

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Georgia County Pays Six Figure Ransom to Restore IT Systems

Following a ransomware attack earlier this month, officials in Jackson County, Georgia decided to pay a $400,000 ransom in order to obtain a decryption key and return their systems to normal operations. While it’s not normally recommended to pay ransoms, but instead to keep proper backups of critical files, the county decided that it would cost significantly more to restore the systems on their own. It is still unclear how the breach unfolded or how long the hackers had access to the network.

Michigan Healthcare Group Compromised

Sensitive information on over 600,000 patients was recently exposed after the Wolverine Solutions Group (WSG) suffered a data breach. The WSG initially suffered a ransomware attack in September of last year, and has been working to decrypt many of their systems since then. Due to Michigan’s lax laws regarding the announcement of a data breach, customers who may have been affected were contacted only within the last month.

Redirect Tags Found on Fortune 100 Sites

Hundreds of third-party redirect tags have been found hidden on the websites of Fortune 100 companies. These tags could allow attackers to access user data from any of the compromised sites and also degrade the performance of sites with multiple hidden tags. Many site owners even expressed concern over possible customer data loss, but did little to clear the tags from  their sites.

Asian Gaming Companies Infiltrated by Backdoors

Several Asia-based gaming companies have discovered hidden backdoors within main executables of some games attracting tens of thousands of players. Fortunately, after identifying the malicious code two of the three companies immediately pushed updates to their software, and the command & control servers for the backdoors were taken offline soon after. The backdoors appear to have originated from a malicious Chinese hacker group that has committed these types of attacks multiple times in recent years.

Info on 1.8 Million Women Found on Unprotected Chinese Database

An unprotected database was recently found which contains extremely sensitive data for nearly 1.8 million women in China. Amongst the personally identifying information was GPS coordinates, political affiliations, and even available video of specific individuals. Unfortunately, while the owners of this one database were successfully contacted, there are still thousands of similarly unprotected databases on Chinese networks.

The Hidden Costs of ‘Free’ WiFi

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The True Cost of Free WiFi

Ease-of-access is a true double-edged sword. Like all powerful technologies, WiFi (public WiFi in particular) can be easily exploited. You may have read about attacks on publicly accessible WiFi networks, yet studies show that more than 70% of participants admit to accessing their personal email through public WiFi. WiFi vulnerabilities aren’t going away anytime soon—in 2017, the WPA2 security protocol used by essentially all modern WiFi networks was found to have a critical security flaw that allowed attackers to intercept passwords, e-mails and other data.

So what are the most commonly seen attacks via free WiFi, and how can we protect ourselves and our families? We turned to Tyler Moffitt, Webroot’s Sr. Threat Research Analyst, for answers.

Common Public WiFi Threats

“Criminals are either taking over a free WiFi hotspot at the router level, or creating a fake WiFi hotspot that’s meant to look like the legitimate one,” explained Moffitt. “The purpose of these man-in-the-middle attacks is to allow attackers to see and copy all of the traffic from the devices connected to the WiFi they control.”

Basic security protocols often aren’t enough to protect users’ data.

“Even with HTTPS sites where some data is encrypted, much of it is still readable,” Moffitt said. “Beyond just seeing where you surf and all the login credentials, criminals also have access to your device and can drop malicious payloads like ransomware.”

We are now seeing these attacks evolve, with cryptojacking becoming a particularly lucrative exploitation model for public WiFi networks. Cryptojacking is seen as a “low risk” attack as an attacker siphons a victim’s computer processing power, something far less likely to be detected and tracked than a traditional malware or ransomware attack. This was particularly notable in a 2017 cryptojacking attack that targeted Starbucks customers, which went uncorrected until Noah Dinkin—a tech company CEO—noticed a delay when connecting to the shop’s WiFi. Dinkin took it upon himself to investigate

It’s not just coffee shops that are being targeted. Airports, hotels, and convention centers are particularly prime targets due to their high  traffic. To demonstrate the power of a targeted attack in a conference setting, a security experiment was conducted at the 2017 RSA Conference. Surprisingly, even at an IT security conference, white hat hackers were able to trick 4,499 attendees into connecting to their rogue WiFi access point. The targeting of high-traffic, travel-focused locations means that many frequent travelers will leave themselves exposed at some point by connecting to public WiFi options—even though they may know better.

How to Detect the Threat

What are the telltale signs of a compromised system?

“With cryptomining, you will definitely notice that your machine will start acting slow, the fans will kick on full blast, and the CPU will increase to 100 percent, usually the browser being the culprit,” Moffitt said. “But there are few signs of a man-in-the-middle attack, where wireless network traffic is spied on for credentials and financial information. You won’t notice a thing, as your computer is just connecting to the router like normal. All information is being observed by someone in control of the router.”

With one recent attack in 2018 alone affecting 500,000 WiFi routers, the need for WiFi security has never been stronger.

Protecting Yourself on the Go

You can take steps to keep your data secure; the first of which is being sure that you have a VPN installed and protecting your devices. Nothing else will as effectively encrypt and shield your traffic on a public network.

“Using a VPN is the most impactful way to combat the dangers of free WiFi,” Moffitt said. “Think of VPN as a tunnel that shelters all of your information going in and out of your device. The traffic is encrypted so there is no way that criminals can read the information you are sending.”

“I use a VPN on my phone when I’m on the go,” he continued. “It’s really easy to use and you make sure all your data is private and not visible to prying eyes.”

But be sure to research any VPN before you commit to ensure it is trustworthy. It’s important to review the vendor’s privacy policy to make sure the VPN does not monitor or retain logs of your activities. Remember that, with security software and apps, you generally get what you pay for.

While free VPN apps will shield your data from the router you are connecting to, they may still spy on you and sell your information,” Moffitt said.

What does this all mean for you? If there is no such thing as free lunch, then there is definitely no such thing as free WiFi. The true cost just might be your online security and privacy.

Stay vigilant, secure all of your web traffic behind a trusted VPN, and check back here often for the latest in cybersecurity updates

Cyber News Rundown: New Ransomware Service Offers Membership

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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: Botnet Hijacks Browsers

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Fake Apex Legends App Spreads Malware

As the popularity of the latest free-to-play battle royale pushes ever higher, malicious Apex Legends apps have been spotted in the Google Play store with upwards of 100,000 downloads. The fake apps typically offer free in-game currency, or free downloads for an already free game, while installing malware onto devices and directing users to enter phishing domains to further compromise themselves.  

Cryptocurrency Wallet Bug Checks User Passwords with Spellchecker

A new bug has been found within the Coinomi cryptocurrency wallet app that quietly submits each user password to Google’s spellchecker without encryption, leaving user accounts vulnerable to attacks if someone is monitoring the web traffic of the application. The bug was discovered by a researcher who noticed that a majority of his funds had gone missing from his Coinomi-stored cryptocurrencies, leading him to investigate the app more extensively. 

Bangladeshi Embassy Site Compromised

Researchers have found that the web site for the Bangladesh Embassy in Cairo has been compromised and was pushing malicious word document downloads to any user who visited the site. Once the download is confirmed, it installs to an innocuous location within ProgramData and begins attempting to contact the command & control server to pull down additional malware. It’s likely that this issue is linked to an earlier attack on the site that left a cryptominer operating for several days and is affecting users who accessed the site during that time. 

Botnet Controls Browsers Even After Being Closed

A new type of cyber attack has been found that uses normal JavaScript and HTML5 functionality to take control of a user’s browser for a number of malicious activities and can even continue operating and commandeering resources after the browser or website has closed. Through these normal capabilities, this type of attack could affect both desktop and mobile browsers and, due to its nature, can be exceedingly persistent on the system once active. 

Multi-OS Ransomware Demands High Payment

The latest ransomware variant to make its rounds, Borontok, has already been spotted encrypting Linux servers and commercial websites, leaving a .rontok extension at the end of the filename. To make matters worse, the demanded ransom payment is 20 Bitcoins, or roughly $75,000, and gives directions to an actual payment site, though it does later offer the user a chance to negotiate for a lower payment. 

The Ransomware Threat isn’t Over. It’s Evolving.

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This is the third of a three-part report on the state of three malware categories: miners, ransomware and information stealers.

Ransomware is any malware that holds your data ransom. These days it usually involves encrypting a victim’s data before asking for cash (typically cryptocurrency) to decrypt it. Ransomware ruled the malware world since late 2013, but finally saw a decline last year. The general drop in malware numbers, along with defensive improvements by the IT world in general (such as more widespread backup adoption), were factors, but have also led this threat to become more targeted and ruthless.

Delivery methods

When ransomware first appeared, it was typically distributed via huge email and exploit kit campaigns. Consumer and business users alike were struck without much discretion. 

Today, many ransomware criminals prefer to select their targets to maximise their payouts. There’s a cost to doing business when it comes to infecting people, and the larger the group of people you are trying to hit, the more it costs. 

Exploit kits

Simply visiting some websites can get you infected, even if you don’t try to download anything. This is usually done by exploiting weaknesses in the software used to browse the web such as your browser, Java, or Flash. Content management and development tools like WordPress and Microsoft Silverlight, respectively, are also common sources of vulnerabilities. But there’s a lot of software and web trickery involved in delivering infections this way, so the bulk of this work is packaged into an exploit kit which can be rented out to criminals to help them spread their malware. 

Renting an exploit kit can cost $1,000 a month, so this method of delivery isn’t for everyone. Only those cybercriminals who’re sufficiently motivated and funded. 

“Because the cost of exploitation has risen so dramatically over the course of the last decade, we’ll continue to see a drop in the use of 0-days in the wild (as well as associated private exploit leaks). Without a doubt, state actors will continue to hoard these for use on the highest-value targets, but expect to see a stop to Shadowbrokers-esque occurrences. The mentioned leaks probably served as a powerful wake-up call internally with regards to who has access to these utilities (or, perhaps, where they’re left behind).” – Eric Klonowski, Webroot Principal Threat Research Analyst

Exploits for use in both malware and web threats are harder to come by these days and, accordingly, we are seeing a drop in the number of exploit kits and a rise in the cost of exploits in the wild. This threat isn’t going anywhere, but it is declining.

Email campaigns

Spam emails are a great way of spreading malware. They’re advantageous for criminals, as they can hit millions of victims at a time. Beating email filters, creating a convincing phishing message, crafting a dropper, and beating security in general is tough to do on a large scale, however. Running these big campaigns requires work and expertise so, much like an exploit kit, they are expensive to rent. 

Targeted attacks

The likelihood of a target paying a ransom and how much that ransom is likely to be is subject to a number of factors, including:

  • The country of the victim. The GDP of the victim’s home nation is correlated to a campaign’s success, as victims in richer countries are more likely to shell out for ransoms 
  • The importance of the data encrypted
  • The costs associated with downtime
  • The operating system in use. Windows 7 users are twice as likely to be hit by malware as those with Windows 10, according to Webroot data
  • Whether the target is a business or a private citizen. Business customers are more likely to pay, and pay big

Since the probability of success varies based on the target’s circumstances, it’s important to note that there are ways of narrowing target selection using exploit kits or email campaigns, but they are more scattershot than other, more targeted attacks.

RDP

Remote Desktop Protocol, or RDP, is a popular Microsoft system used mainly by admins to connect remotely to servers and other endpoints. When enabled by poor setups and poor password policies, cybercriminals can easily hack them. RDP breaches are nothing new, but sadly the business world (and particularly the small business sector) has been ignoring the threat for years. Recently, government agencies in the U.S. and UK have issued warnings about this completely preventable attack. Less sophisticated cybercriminals can buy RDP access to already hacked machines on the dark web. Access to machines in major airports has been spotted on dark web marketplaces for just a few dollars.

Spear phishing

If you know your target, you can tailor an email specifically to fool them. This is known as spear phishing, and it’s an extremely effective technique that’s used in a lot of headline ransomware cases.

Modular malware

Modular malware attacks a system in different stages. After running on a machine, some reconnaissance is done before the malware reinitiates its communications with its base and additional payloads are downloaded. 

Trickbot

The modular banking Trojan Trickbot has also been seen dropping ransomware like Bitpaymer onto machines. Recently it’s been used to test a company’s worth before allowing attackers to deploy remote access tools and Ryuk (ransomware) to encrypt the most valuable information they have. The actors behind this Trickbot/Ryuk campaign only pursue large, lucrative targets they know they can cripple.

Trickbot itself is often dropped by another piece of modular malware, Emotet

What are the current trends?

As we’ve noted, ransomware use may be on the decline due to heightened defences and greater awareness of the threat, but the broader, more noteworthy trend is to pursue more carefully selected targets. RDP breaches have been the largest source of ransomware calls to our support teams in the last 2 years. They are totally devastating to those hit, so ransoms are often paid.

Modular malware involves researching a target before deciding if or how to execute and, as noted in our last blog on information stealers,they have been surging as a threat for the last six months. 

Automation

When we talk about selecting targets, you might be inclined to assume that there is a human involved. But, wherever practical, the attack will be coded to free up manpower. Malware routinely will decide not to run if it is in a virtualised environment or if there are analysis tools installed on machines. Slick automation is used by Trickbot and Emotet to keep botnets running and to spread using stolen credentials. RDP breaches are easier than ever due to automated processes scouring the internet for targets to exploit. Expect more and more intelligent automation from ransomware and other malware in future.

What can I do?

  • Secure your RDP
  • Use proper password policy. This ties in with RDP ransomware threats and especially applies to admins.
  • Update everything
  • Back up everything. Is this backup physically connected to your environment (as in USB storage)? If so, it can easily be encrypted by malware and malicious actors. Make sure to air gap backups or back up to the cloud.
  • If you feel you have been the victim of a breach, it’s possible there are decryption tools available. Despite the brilliant efforts of the researchers in decryption, this is only the case in some instances.

What can Webroot do?

  • Detect and stop ransomware. Prevention is always best, and it’s what we’re best at.
  • Block malicious URLs and web traffic.
  • Rollback changes made by some ransomware.
  • Offer support. Our support is excellent and easy to reach. As well as helping to tackle any possible ransomware attack, our team will investigate the root cause and help you secure your organisation against future attacks. Specialised security hardening tools that can be deployed from your console to your machines in a few clicks.
  • For more technical details see our Ransomware Prevention Guide.

A Cybersecurity Checklist for Modern SMBs

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The landscape of digital security is rapidly shifting, and even the largest tech giants are scrambling to keep up with new data regulations and cybersecurity threats. Small to medium-sized businesses (SMBs) are often left out of these important conversations, leaving themselves — and their users — vulnerable. In an effort to combat this trend, Webroot conducted a survey of more than 500 SMB IT leaders in the UK, revealing common blind spots in SMB cybersecurity practices. As businesses around the globe grapple with similar change, our Size Does Matter: Small Businesses and Cybersecurity report offers insight and guidance for companies regardless of geography. 

The biggest takeaway? We turned to Webroot’s Senior Director of Product Strategy Paul Barnes for his thoughts.

“The damage from data loss or downtime often means substantial financial and reputational losses, sometimes even leading to a business no longer being viable. A key learning for all small businesses should be to stop hiding behind your size. Instead, become educated in the risks and make your security posture a differentiator and business driver.”

When you’re putting together a cybersecurity checklist, you’ll need to do one thing first: check your preconceived notions about SMB cybersecurity at the door. Your business is not too small to be targeted. The data you collect is both valuable and likely vulnerable, and a costly data breach could shutter your business. More than 70% of cyberattacks target small businesses, with 60% of those going out of business within six months following their breach. With both the threat of hackers and the looming possibility of increased GDPR-style data regulatory fines, your small business cannot afford to be underprepared.

The first step to a fully realized cybersecurity program? An unflinching look at your company’s resources and risk factors.

“Understand what you have, from a technology and people perspective, and the risks associated with loss of data or operations, whether through externally initiated attacks or inside threats,” advised Barnes. “This will allow you to plan and prioritise next steps for protecting your business from attack.”

For established SMBs, this type of internal review may seem overwhelming; with so many employees already wearing so many hats, who should champion this type of effort? Any small business that is preparing to modernize its cybersecurity protocols should consider bringing in a managed service provider (MSP) to do an internal audit of its systems and to report on the company’s weaknesses and strengths. This audit should serve as the backbone of your cybersecurity reform efforts and — depending on the MSP — may even give you a security certificate that can be used for marketing purposes to differentiate your brand from competitors.

With a strong understanding of your company’s strengths and weaknesses, you can begin to implement an actionable cybersecurity checklist that will scale as you grow, keeping your business ahead of the data security curve. Each SMB’s checklist will be unique, but these best practices will be integrated into any successful cybersecurity strategy.

Continuous Education on the Latest Threats

A majority of small to medium-sized businesses rely on software systems that are constantly evolving, closing old security gaps while potentially opening new ones. With a tech landscape in constant flux, one-off security training will never be enough to truly protect your business. Comprehensive employee training that evolves alongside cybersecurity threats and data privacy regulations are your company’s first line of cybersecurity defense. Include phishing prevention practices in these trainings as well. Although seemingly old hat, phishing attacks are also evolving and remain one of the largest causes of data breaches globally. Continuous training of employees helps build a culture of security where they feel part of the team and its success. 

Regular Risk Assessment and Security Audits

Just as one-off training is not sufficient in keeping your staff informed, a one-off audit does nothing to continuously protect your company as it grows. Depending on your industry, these audits should take place at least annually, and are the best way to detect a security flaw before it is exploited. Factors such as the sensitivity of the data your business houses, and the likely impacts of a successful breach—your risk profile—should guide decisions regarding the frequency of these security audits.

Disaster Response Plan

Having a prepared disaster response plan is the most effective way to mitigate your losses during a data security breach. Backup and recovery tactics are critical components of this plan. It should also include a list of security consultants to contact in order to repair the breach, as well as a communications plan that notifies customers, staff, and the public in accordance with data protection regulations. An MSP can work with your company to provide a disaster response plan that is customized to your business’ specific needs.

Bring Your Own Device

Never scrimp on mobile security. Many companies now tolerate some degree of bring-your-own-device (BYOD) policy, giving employees increased convenience and employer accessibility. But convenience is a compromise and, whether it be from everyday theft or a malicious app, mobile devices are a weak point in many company’s security. Including mobile security guidelines like automatic device lock requirements, strong password guidelines, and failsafe remote wipe access in your BYOD policies will save your company money, time, and heartache.

Layer Your Security

Finally, ensure your business has multiple layers of defense in place. Accounting for endpoint devices is no less critical than it’s always been, but businesses are increasingly learning that networks and users need protection, too. DNS-layer security can keep employees from inviting risky sites onto your network, and security awareness training will help your users recognize signs of an attack. No one solution is a panacea, but tiered defenses make a business more resilient against cybercrime.

Survey says: We don’t have time for this

One of the largest impediments to SMBs adopting these modern cybersecurity protocols is the perceived time cost, with two-fifths of IT leaders surveyed by Webroot stating they simply do not have the time or resources to fully understand cybersecurity threats. The uncomfortable truth is that, if you can’t find the time to protect your data, a hacker whodoes have the time is likely to find and exploit your security gaps. But there is a silver-lining, the smaller size of an SMB actually allows for a certain level of agility and adaptiveness when implementing cybersecurity policies that is inaccessible to tech giants.

“SMBs can no longer consider themselves too small to be targets. They need to use their nimble size to their advantage by quickly identifying risks and educating employees on risk mitigation, because people will always be the first line of defense,” said Barnes.

You’ll find additional benefits beyond the base-level protection a comprehensive cybersecurity plan provides. As 33% of SMBs surveyed by Webroot say they prefer not to think about cybersecurity at all, demonstrating that your company is ahead of the problem can be a powerful way to distinguish your business from its competitors. With consumer data privacy concerns at an all-time high, a modern cybersecurity checklist may be one of the best marketing tools available. The best way to stay ahead of cybersecurity threats is to stay informed. Read the entire Size Does Matter: Small Businesses and Cybersecurity report for an in-depth look at how your SMB contemporaries are handling data protection, and stay up-to-date with Webroot for additional cybersecurity reports and resources.

Cyber News Rundown: Phishing through Email Filter

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Email Phishers Find New Filter Bypass

Since email filters have gained popularity over the last decade, scammers have been forced to adapt their attacks. To bypass a normal URL filter that would check for malicious links, these scammers have found a way to alter the “document relationship” file (xml.rels) and continue to push out harmful links. By removing the malicious link from the relationship file, many filters simply skip over it and allow the link to remain clickable, a new tactic which relies on filters scanning only a portion of a file.

Unknown Devices Putting UK Firms at Risk

In a recent survey, nearly 3 million UK businesses have admitted to constantly monitoring dozens of unknown devices connecting to their corporate networks. With internal security flaws being the main driver for data breaches, new policies should be implemented to work with the increasing number of external IoT devices connecting with systems expected to maintain a certain level of privacy. Unfortunately, many companies still see IoT devices as a non-threat and continue to ignore the gaping security holes appearing within their walls.

Swedish Healthcare Database Left Unattended for Years

A server was recently discovered to contain millions of call records made to a Swedish Healthcare Guide service that has been left exposed for up to six years. The server itself was created, then forgotten in 2013, and has since missed dozens of patches, leaving it vulnerable to at least 23 unique security flaws. Within the call records are names, birth dates, and even social security numbers, though after hearing of the breach, the company made swift efforts to properly secure the sensitive data.

Stanford Students Exposed After URL Vulnerability Spotted

What started as a simple admissions document request has left the personal data of 93 students exposed, due to a simple flaw in the record’s URL. By easily swapping out parts of the numeric ID viewable in the document’s URL, anyone with a login to the site could view another student’s records. Within the admissions documents was personal information relating to a specific student, including non-university records like background/criminal checks and citizenship standings. Fortunately, Stanford was quick to make the necessary changes and contacting affected students.

Avoid Unsecure IoT: Smart Device Shopping Tips

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“Internet of things” (IoT) is a term that’s becoming increasingly commonplace in our daily lives. Internet-connected devices are being designed and implemented at a rapid clip, especially in our own homes. The internet is not just at our fingertips anymore, but also at our beck and call with smart speakers and digital assistants.

It’s easy to see why we are drawn to these cool new devices. They promise to make our lives easier and the convenience associated with some of these devices is undeniable.

But at what point are we sacrificing security for convenience?

A Brave New World of IoT Devices

Internet-connected doorbells can beam a video feed to your phone so you can see who is at your door before deciding whether or not to open it. A smart refrigerator will alert you when supplies are running low or approaching expiration while you shop at the grocery store. Smart thermostats boost efficiency and deliver monthly savings on utilities. These functions have obvious appeal for consumers.

However, some devices on the market stretch their advertised utility and convenience. Smart salt shakers, for instance, deliver voice-controlled sodium so you can avoid the hassle of salting your food the old fashioned way. Smart toasters will burn the date and weather into your bread, lest you forget an umbrella and what day it is. But with each new “convenience” promised by smart devices comes the danger of ceding some of your security.

Image source: Screenshot from Toasteroid YouTube.

The underlying issue with the new and accelerating trend of buying more and more IoT devices is that the average consumer has little to no education about security when shopping for these devices. Even manufacturers can be blind to or willfully negligent of the security issues inherent to their IoT devices. It’s all about coolness and convenience—and that’s the trap.

Be wary of Unsecure IoT

Many IoT devices have little to no embedded security, and there’s little incentive for designers to consider it. One reason for that is a lack of third-party standards for evaluating IoT security. Until now, the focus has been on producing a viable product that’s functional enough to get consumers to purchase it at the right price. The “right price” is usually as inexpensive as possible, and so some quality is sacrificed.

With IoT devices, that sacrifice usually comes at the expense of security vetting in the design process. As a result, one of the biggest trends we see with cheap IoT devices is a complete and total lack of security. It’s just not something that stands out in marketing materials, so manufacturers don’t promise it and consumers don’t demand it.

That’s why care is required when shopping for new IoT devices—especially cheap ones. IoT devices like smart thermostats, smart doorbells, et cetera, usually feature competing products with varying functionalities and prices. It’s common to peruse the fanciest, most expensive devices, and then purchase an off-brand device that offers similar functionality at a much lower price.

Vendors have flooded the IoT market with devices that have so-called “hardcoded passwords.” This means that, when setting up your device, the password given to you in the instructions is the same password for every device of that model and can’t be changed. Even if the device allows you to setup a custom password, the hardcoded password will still work to log into the device.

This is basically the opposite of security. It served as the principal attack vector for the infamous Mirai botnet attack a couple years ago. It’s also how hundreds of thousands of routers have been hacked to mine cryptocurrency. Even premium IoT devices like Google’s Nest are subject to attacks, but when properly set up and used—as in by setting up two-factor authentication and not reusing their compromised credentials—they tend to be safer than their knock-off counterparts.

It’s clear now that internet-connected devices will be a part of our lives for the foreseeable future. They will help run our cities, power our grids, and yes, manage our homes. But we must be aware of what we are connecting in our home and the security of each device. Vendor regulation will also need to play its part, something already underway in California, but there is plenty more ground to cover and no time to wait. For now, it’s on the consumer to scrutinize the IoT products they bring into their home, and security should be high on their checklist.

Make sure that any internet-connected devices you buy allow you to create custom passwords, as a start. It’s also wise to only shop from reputable vendors.

Taking caution will help ensure that your smart home isn’t an easy target for cybercriminals.

Cyber News Rundown: Photography Site Breached

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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.

Cyber News Rundown: Phishing British Parliament

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Members of British Parliament Targeted by Phishing Attack

Dozens of MPs from the UK were recently subjected to malicious spam and unauthorized solicitations via their mobile devices. Fortunately, as this wasn’t the first phishing attempt on MPs, many were quick to delete any unusual messages and quickly warned others to do the same. Due to the ease of mounting such an attack, phishing campaigns can be extremely effective, especially when deploying social engineering tactics to increase the victim pool.

Major African Utility Company Breached

One of the largest energy providers on the African continent suffered a data breach this week, brought on by an employee downloading a game onto a corporate device. Along with introducing a fairly sophisticated banking Trojan onto the system, the employee also allowed for a database containing sensitive customer information to be made available to the attackers. Even more worrisome, the utility company was only made aware of the breach after an independent security researcher attempted to contact them about the stolen data via Twitter.

Cryptocurrency Exchange Collapses After CEO Death

A Canadian-based cryptocurrency exchange was recently faced with a major dilemma after the untimely death of their CEO and only person to have access to the offline coin storage wallet. With more than $100 million worth of cryptocurrency current tied up in the exchange, many customers quickly found themselves without access to their funds, possibly indefinitely. Having a single point of failure is a critical, and easily avoidable, issue for any digital company.

Fast Food POS Breach

A new breach has been discovered that could affect any customers who paid with a credit card at any Huddle House fast-food locations over the past two years. While the specific malware variant is still unknown, there were obvious signs of credential stealing and other information gathering tactics. Huddle House has since been working with law enforcement and credit companies to help potential victims with credit monitoring.

Google Play Removes Porn Apps

In another wave of cleaning up the Google Play store, the company recently removed 29 apps that were disguised as photo or camera apps but would instead steal user photos and display a steady stream of pornographic advertisements. The apps had all been downloaded between 100,000 and 1 million time each, and were often extremely difficult to remove, even hiding the app icon entirely. Additionally, some of the apps would display as a photo editor, encouraging users to upload any extra pictures that weren’t already stolen.

Carbonite to Acquire Webroot

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I’m excited to share that Webroot has entered into an agreement to be acquired by Carbonite, a leader in cloud-based data protection for consumers and businesses.

Why do I think this is such good news for customers, partners and our employees?  

For customers and partners, the combined Webroot and Carbonite will create an integrated solution for their top security needs today and a platform for us to build upon in the future. When surveyed, SMBs and MSPs consistently name endpoint security and backup and data recovery services among their top priorities.

For our threat intelligence partners, the addition of new data sources will make our threat intelligence services even more powerful.

We see great opportunities ahead building on the solutions you trust—endpoint and network protection, security awareness training and threat intelligence services—and extending them to backup and data recovery and beyond.

For employees, we see a great future of growth for a team with a shared culture. Both Webroot and Carbonite have tremendously talented team members who together will bring even more innovative solutions to market. But, just as important, both companies have a culture of customer focus, where customer success is the ultimate proof of company success. 

Until the transaction closes, we must operate as separate companies. After close, which we expect to happen in the first calendar quarter of 2019, I look forward to sharing more information about our plans.

In the meantime, customers and partners can expect:  

  • The same commitment to customer care and support. You will have access to your same account reps and award-winning customer support team.
  • Future solutions that combine Webroot’s threat intelligence driven portfolio with Carbonite’s data protection solutions.
  • Extended sales channels and partner ecosystems. Carbonite partners will provide additional channels for Webroot to reach new customers and partners worldwide.

The most important point I want to underline is that our commitment to you will not change, and we are just expanding the family of people dedicated to building great solutions to protect you and your customers. 

Mike Potts
President & CEO, Webroot

The Reality of Passphrase Token Attacks

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In my blog, Password Constraints and Their Unintended Security Consequences, I advocate for the use of passphrases. Embedded in the comments section, one of our readers Ben makes a very astute observation:

What happens when attackers start guessing by the word instead of by the letter? Then a four-word passphrase effectively becomes a four-character password.

What Ben is describing is called a “passphrase token attack,” and it’s real. With a good passphrase, the attack is not much of a threat though. First, a definition, then I’ll explain why.

What’s a token?

In the context of a passphrase token attack, a token is a grouping of letters, AKA a word. The passphrase made famous by the comic xkcd, “correct horse battery staple,” is 28 characters long. But, in a passphrase token attack, I wouldn’t try to guess all possible combinations of 28 letters. I would guess combinations of entire words, or tokens, each representing a group of characters.

The math behind passphrases

One might assume, as Ben did, that a four-word password is the same as a four-character password. But that’s a math error. Specifically, 95≠1,000,000. 

Here’s why: There are 95 letters, numbers, and symbols that can be used for each character in a password. However, there are over a million words in the English language. For simplicity’s sake, let’s call it an even million words. If I’m thinking of a single character, then at most you have to try 95 characters to guess it. But if I ask you to guess which word I am thinking of, then you may need to guess a million words before you have guessed the word that I am thinking of. 

So while there are 95^4 possible combinations of characters for a four-character password, there are over 1,000,000^4 combinations of words for a four-word password. 

You might be thinking “But nobody knows a million words,” and you are correct. According to some research, the average person uses no more than 10,000. So, as an attacker, I’d try combinations of only the most common words. Actually, I may be able to get by with a dictionary as small as 5,000 words. But 5,000^4 is still a whole lot more combinations than 95^4.

Here is one list of 5,000 of the most commonly used words in the English language, and another of the 10,000 most commonly used words. Choosing an uncommon word is great, but even words in the top 5,000 are still far better than a complex nine-character password.

Why and how to use a passphrase

There are two major strengths of passphrases: 

  1. Passphrases allow for longer, more secure passwords. It’s length that makes a passphrase a killer password. A password/passphrase that’s 20 lowercase characters long is stronger than a 14 character password that uses uppercase letters, lowercase letters, numbers, and symbols. 
  2. Passphrases can be easy to remember, making creating and using passwords a lot less painful. “Aardvarks eat at the diner” is easy to remember and, at 26 characters long and including uppercase and lowercase letters, is more than 9 trillion times stronger than the password “eR$48tx!53&(oPZe”, or any other complex, 16-character password, and potentially uncrackable.

Why potentially uncrackable? Because “aardvark” is not one of the 10,000 most frequently used words and, if a word is not in the attacker’s dictionary, then you win. This is why it helps to use foreign-language words. Even common foreign words require an attacker to increase the size of their dictionary, the very factor that makes passphrase token attacks impractical. Learning a word in an obscure foreign language can be fun and pretty much assures a passphrase won’t be cracked.

As we’ve seen, cracking a passphrase can be far more difficult than cracking a password, unless you make one of two common mistakes. The first is choosing a combination of words without enough characters. “I am a cat,” for example. Although it’s four words, it’s only 10 characters long and an attacker can use a conventional brute force attack, even for a passphrase. Spaces between words can be used to increase the length and complexity of passphrases.

The second most common mistake is using a common phrase as a passphrase. I can create a dictionary of the top 1,000,000 common phrases and, if you’re using one, then it only takes at most 1,000,000 guesses to crack (about the same as a complex three-character password). 

So create your own unique passphrases and you’re all set. Most experts recommend passphrases be at least 20 characters long. But if you only go from eight characters to 16 upper and lower case letters, you’ll already be 430 trillion times better off. And if you’re creating a passphrase for a site requiring a number or symbol, it’s fine to add the same number and symbol to the end of your phrase, provided the passphrase is long to begin with.

As a side note, according to math, a five word passphrase is generally stronger than a four word passphrase, but don’t get too hung up on that.

So Ben, you are 100% right about the reality of passphrase token attacks. But, with a strong passphrase, the math says it doesn’t matter. Note: If this stuff fascinates you, or you suffer from insomnia, you might enjoy “Linguistic Cracking of Passphrases using Markov Chains.” You can download the PDF or watch this riveting thriller on YouTube. Sweet dreams.