Passive Risk: What you don’t do can hurt you

Passive Risk: What you don’t do can hurt you

When we think of risk — especially in cybersecurity — we usually think about the things we do that can hurt us: clicking on that phish, accidentally forwarding an email to the wrong party, wiring money to the wrong (or fraudulent) bank account.

However, we should also pay attention to what we don’t do, such as failing to patch the system as soon as an update is available, failing to act on findings in a vulnerability scan, failing to change or strengthen our passwords, failing to add multi-factor authentication, or failing to review logs. Sometimes, our ability to accept “passive risk,” such as putting off taking an action to another day can be more pernicious than active risk.  In fact, misconfigurations — a form of passive risk — is a top threat factor, according to Verizon’s 2020 Data Breach Investigations Report.

A recent paper describes a series of studies conducted that assess employees’ level of passive risk. According to the results, those that stated that their tolerance for passive risk was high also exhibited those passive risk cybersecurity behaviors. Interestingly, however, the study did not find the same correlation between active risk assessments and active risk behaviors.

So, how can you address passive risk? Design the behaviors that you would like to see and test changes in processes with the staff that seems most prevalent to passive risk. One example is to facilitate the automation of patching so that it makes it easy for the IT staff to perform. Another option is to take the time to fine tune log alerts so that the team does not have to deal with a lot of false positives. The paper also suggests changing the wording of certain security features to highlight the consequence of passive risk behavior. For example, instead of referring to passwords as “strong” or “weak,” using phrases such as “low risk” or “high risk” passwords can help drive home the potential consequence of poor credential management.

Whatever methods you use, In today’s remote environment, it’s always important to take the time to get together with your team and bond with them. Having a better relationship with your team can help generate the cohesion that is necessary for a risk-aware culture.

Experts Worry Future AI Crimes Will Target Human Vulnerabilities

Experts Worry Future AI Crimes Will Target Human Vulnerabilities

Earlier this month, a study by the University College London identified the top 20 security issues and crimes likely to be carried out with the use of artificial intelligence in the near future. Experts then ranked the list of future AI crimes by the potential risk associated with each crime. While some of the crimes are what you might expect to see in a movie — such as autonomous drone attacks or using driverless cars as a weapon — it turns out 4 out of the 6 crimes that are of highest concern are less glamorous, and instead focused on exploiting human vulnerabilities and bias’.

Here are the top 4 human-factored AI threats:

Deepfakes

The ability for AI to fabricate visual and audio evidence, commonly called deepfakes, is the overall most concerning threat. The study warns that the use of deepfakes will “exploit people’s implicit trust in these media.” The concern is not only related to the use of AI to impersonate public figures, but also the ability to use deepfakes to trick individuals into transferring funds or handing over access to secure systems or sensitive information.

Scalable Spear-Phishing

Other high-risk, human-factored AI threats include scalable spear-phishing attacks. At the moment, phishing emails targeting specific individuals requires time and energy to learn the victims interests and habits. However, AI can expedite this process by rapidly pulling information from social media or impersonating trusted third parties. AI can therefore make spear-phishing more likely to succeed and far easier to deploy on a mass scale.

Mass Blackmail

Similarly, the study warns that AI can be used to harvest a mass information about individuals, identify those most vulnerable to blackmail, then send tailor-crafted threats to each victim. These large-scale blackmail schemes can also use deepfake technology to create fake evidence against those being blackmailed.

Disinformation

Lastly, the study highlights the risk of using AI to author highly convincing disinformation and fake news. Experts warn that AI will be able to learn what type of content will have the highest impact, and generate different versions of one article to be publish by variety of (fake) sources. This tactic can help disinformation spread even faster and make the it seem more believable. Disinformation has already been used to manipulate political events such as elections, and experts fear the scale and believability of AI-generated fake news will only increase the impact disinformation will have in the future.

The results of the study underscore the need to develop systems to identify AI-generated images and communications. However, that might not be enough. According to the study, when it comes to spotting deepfakes, “[c]hanges in citizen behaviour might [ ] be the only effective defence.” With the majority of the highest risk crimes being human-factored threats, focusing on our own ability to understand ourselves and developing behaviors that give us the space to reflect before we react may therefore become to most important tool we have against these threats.

 

 

Auto-Forward Hell

Auto-Forward Hell

We understand the risks of having our email credentials compromised. If it happens, we know to change our login information as quickly as possible to ensure whoever got in can’t continue to access our emails. The problem, however, is that there is a very simple way for hackers to continue to access the content of your inbox even after you change your password: auto-forwarding. If someone gains access to your email, they can quickly change your configurations to have every single email sent to your inbox forwarded to the hacker’s personal account as well.

The most immediate concern with unauthorized auto-forwarding is the ability for a hacker to view and steal any sensitive or proprietary information sent to your inbox. However the risks associated with this form of attack have far greater ramifications. By setting up auto-forwarding, phishers can carry out reconnaissance efforts in order to carry out more sophisticated social engineering scams in the long-term.

For example, auto-forwarding can help hackers carry out spear phishing attacks — a form of phishing where the scammer tailors phishing emails to target specific individuals. By learning how the target communicates with others and what type of email they are most likely to respond to, hackers can create far more convincing phish and increase the chance that their attack will be a success.

Bad actors can also utilize auto-forwarding to craft highly-sophisticated business email compromise (BEC) attacks. BEC is a form of social engineering in which a scammer impersonates vendors or bosses in order to trick employees into transfering funds to the wrong place. If the scammer is using auto-forward, they may be able to see specific details about projects or services being carried out and gain a better sense of the formatting, tone, and style of invoices or transfer requests This can then be used to create fake invoices for actual services that require payment.

How to protect yourself from unauthorized auto-forwarding

There are, however, a number of steps you and your organizations can take to prevent hackers from setting up auto-forwarding. The most obvious is to prevent access to your email account in the first place. Multi-factor authentication, for example, places an extra line of defense between the hacker and your inbox. However, every organization should also disable or limit users’ ability to set up auto-forwarding. Some email providers allow organizations to block auto-forward by default. Your IT or security team can then manually enable auto-forwarding for specific employee’s when requested for legitimate reasons and for a defined time period.

When it comes to the risks with auto-fowarding, the point is that the more the hackers can learn about your organizations and your employees, the more convincing their future phishing and BEC attacks will be. By putting safeguards in place that help prevent access to email accounts and block auto-forwarding, you can lower the risk that a bad actor will gain information about your organization and carry out sophisticated social engineering attacks.

Cybersecurity Behaviors Made Easy

Cybersecurity Behaviors Made Easy

We’ve talked about the human factors of cybersecurity and the importance of exposing employees to social engineering scams and other attacks that exploit human vulnerabilities.  However, when we look at how to improve our organization’s digital practices, we have to do more than train and simulate phish. We have to take a look at what we are asking staff to do and make sure that the cybersecurity behaviors we want them to do are easy, not difficult. Otherwise, those behaviors will become hard to sustain in the long term.

When you’re trying to create new behaviors — for yourself or for your employees — it’s essential to remember that motivation is not a constant. You might be energized and excited to spot phishing emails when you first learn about it, but overtime that could fade. You might get stressed about other parts of your job, or you might be distracted by friends and family, and overtime your interest in your new habit may start to fade. But that is okay! According to behavior scientist BJ Fogg, instead of trying to keep yourself motivated, focus on creating behaviors that are so easy you can do them without worrying about motivation at all.

So, when it comes to fostering cybersecurity behaviors in your employees, it’s essential to keep things short and easy to do. And the truth is, there are a number of super easy cybersecurity behaviors that will help keep you, your employees, and your businesses from being vulnerable to cyber threats. Here are just a few:

Automated Security Scanning

One example of a simple behavior for your software security is to run applications through an automated security scanning tool. Automation is becoming more and more helpful for relieving some of the burden off your IT and security staff. Now, many scanning tools can be set to run automatically, and will highlight potential vulnerabilities with your applications, systems, and even websites. This will leave your security team to evaluate and patch vulnerabilities, instead of wade through your entire system looking for any holes.

Single Sign-On

Another important and easy cybersecurity tool is single sign-on (SSO). Essentially, SSO allows employees to use one set of credentials to access a variety of separate services and applications. While it may seem safer to have different credentials for every applications, single sign-on can actually create stronger authentication processes across the enterprise. As companies began to rely on more and more services, each requiring different credentials, it became hard for employees to keep track of all their log in information, leading to worse password hygiene. By combining all credentials into one, it is easier for employees to use smart and secure credentials.

Phish Reporting

One other easy cybersecurity behavior you can implement is a phish reporting button within your email provider. It’s essential that your IT department is aware of any phishing emails being sent around the office, and in many cases it’s up to the employees to report any phish they receive. While simply forwarding an email to your IT help desk might not seem like a lot, using a simple button to report potential phish is that much easier. Implementing a feature as simple as a report button can increase your reporting and help your IT department keep the network safe.

There are plenty of additional cybersecurity behaviors that you can make easy. All you have to do is first look at what people do, find out what is making the behaviors you want to see difficult to accomplish, then work to make them easier.

Vishing Scam Led to Twitter Hack

Vishing Scam Led to Twitter Hack

By now, most people have heard about the hack of high-profile Twitter accounts that took place on July 15th. To carry out the attack, the perpetrators used a social engineering tactic called  “vishing” — short for voice phishing — in which attackers use phone calls rather than email or messages to trick individuals into giving out sensitive information. The incident once again highlights the risks associated with human rather than technical vulnerabilities, and shows Twitter’s shortcomings in managing employee access controls.

On the day of the attack, big names like President Barack Obama, Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos , and Joe Biden all tweeted a message asking users to send them bitcoin with the promise of being sent back double the amount. Of course, this turned out to be a scam and the tweets were quickly removed, but not before the hacker received over $100,000 worth of bitcoin.

According to a statement by Twitter, the attackers gained access to the company’s internal systems the same day as the attack. By using “a phone spear phishing attack,” — commonly known as vishing — the scammers tricked lower-level employees into revealing  credentials that allowed them access to Twitter’s internal system. This access, however, did not allow the attackers to immediately access user accounts. However, once inside they were able to carry out additional attacks on other employees who did have access to Twitter’s support controls. From there, the hackers had access to every account on Twitter and could make important changes, including changing the email address associated with an account.

While vishing is not the most well known or most frequent form of social engineering attack, the Twitter hack shows just how dangerous it can be. It’s the one type of attack that requires no code, email, or usb device to carry out. However, there are key protections businesses can use, and that should have been in place at Twitter. First among them is to have explicit policies and safeguards for disclosing credentials and wiring funds. Individual employees should not be allowed to give out information on their own — even if they think they are giving it to a trusted colleague. Instead, employees should have to communicate with a third-party within the company who can verify an employee’s identity before sharing credentials.

Secondly, Twitter needed to have stricter access controls in place, throughout all levels of the company. While Twitter claims that “access to [internal] tools is strictly limited and is only granted for valid business reasons,” this was clearly not the case on July 15th. And even though the employees that were initially exploited did not have full access to user accounts, the hackers were able to leverage the limited access they had to then gain even more advanced and detailed permission rights. Businesses should therefore ensure all employees, even with limited access, have the proper cyber awareness training and  undergo simulations of various social engineering attacks.

Lastly, when it comes to vishing, it’s important to use techniques similar to those used to spot other types of scams. When getting a call, the first thing to do is simply take a breathe. This will interrupt automatic thinking and allow you to be more alert. You also need to make sure you are actually talking to who you think you are. Scammer’s can make a call look like it’s coming from a trusted number, so even if you get a call from someone in your contacts it could still be a scammer. That’s why it’s important to focus on what the phone call or voicemail is trying to convey. Is it too urgent? Are they probing for sensitive or personal information about you or others? Is it relevant to what you already know? If anything at all seems off, be extra cautious before talking about that could be damaging.

While you may feel comfortable spotting a phishing attack, hackers and scammers are constantly looking for new ways to trick us. And, as the Twitter hack shows, they are very good at what they do. It’s better to be too cautious and assume you are at risk of being scammed, then think it could never happen to you. Because it can.

An Incident Response Plan Will Save You Money

An Incident Response Plan Will Save You Money

Last week, we reviewed some of the highlights of IBM’s 2020 Cost of a Data Breach Report, and saw how both human-factored cyber attacks and compromised credentials are increasingly frequently and can cost businesses  upwards of $4 million. But now we’ll finish out on a positive note by emphasizing a key driver in reducing the cost of a data breach: incident response.

If your business ever experiences a data breach, you don’t want to be caught without a plan. Being about to identify and put a stop to the attack quickly will not only stop more information from being stolen, but will also dramatically reduce the cost of the breach. Last year, the IBM report showed that businesses with an n incident response team and which tested their response saved an average of $1.23 million on the cost of the breach. This year,  that number jumped up all the to $2 million saved on a breach. Given the increased cost reduction of responding quickly, there is no reason why business shouldn’t have an incident response team in place.

However, having an incident response team in place is only one piece of the puzzle. It’s also important that your team, alongside with business leadership test your plan by simulating different cyber attacks that your business is vulnerable to. According to the report, incident response testing is the single biggest factor in limiting cost of a breach. Just testing your response shaves off an average of nearly $300,000 from the cost of a breach.

When it comes to forming a response team and testing, it essential that your team includes more than just staff from the IT department. A data breach also requires the oversight of businesses leadership and legal to ensure the response is aligned with regulatory requirements such as disclosure. Of course, the having technical experts is also important to help limit further access, exfiltration and damage to your systems.

Of course, with everything today, COVID-19 has made the job of your response team even harder. While the report doesn’t have data on the exact impact COVID has had on response time, it does show that 76% of businesses expect that working remotely will increase the time it takes to respond to a breach, which, of course, will also increase the cost of the breach. It’s therefore essential that your team tests how your response differs when everyone is working remotely, then discuss possible changes to the response plan should a breach happen while everyone is working from home.

Compromised Credential Attacks are Frequent and Costly

Compromised Credential Attacks are Frequent and Costly

Earlier this week we wrote about the cost of human-factored, malicious cyber attacks. However, there are also other threats that can lead to a malicious attack and data breach. According to this year’s Cost of a Data Breach Report, the stolen or compromised credentials tied for the most frequent cause of malicious data breaches, and took the lead as the most costly form of malicious breach.

The root cause of compromised credentials varies. In some cases, stolen credentials are also related to human-factored social engineering scams such as phishing or business email compromise attacks. In other cases, your login information may have been stolen in a previous breach of online services you may use. Hackers will often sell that data on the dark web, where bad actors can then use the data to carry out new attacks.

Whatever the cause, the threat is real and costly. According to the report, compromised credentials accounted for 1 out of every 5 — or 19% of — reported malicious data breaches. That makes this form of attack tied with cloud misconfiguration as the most frequent cause of a malicious breach. However, stolen credentials tend to cost far more than any other cause of malicious breach. According to the report, the average cost of a breach caused by compromised credentials is $4.77 million — costing businesses nearly $1 million more than other forms of attack.

Given the frequency of data breaches caused by compromised credentials, individuals and businesses alike need to be paying closer attention to how they store, share, and use their login information. Luckily, there are a number of pretty simple steps anyone can take to protect their credentials. Here are just a few:

Password Managers

There are now a variety of password managers that can vastly improve your password strength and will help stop you from using the same or similar passwords for every account. In my cases, they can be installed as a browser extension and phone app and will automatically save your credentials when creating an account. Not only are password managers an extremely useful security tool, they are an incredible convenient tool for a time when we all have hundreds of different accounts.

Multi-Factor Authentication

Another important and easy to use tool is multi-factor authentication (MFA), in which you are sent a code after logging in to verify your account. So, even if someone stole your login credentials, they still won’t be able to access your account without a code. While best practice would be to use MFA for any account offers the feature, everyone should at the very least use it for accounts that contain personal or sensitive, such as online bank accounts, social media accounts, and email.

Check Past Compromises

In order to ensure your information is protected, it’s important to know if your credentials have ever been exposed in previous data breaches. Luckily, there is a site that can tell you exactly that. Have I Been Pwned is a free service created and run by cybersecurity expert Troy Hunt, who keeps a database of information compromised during breaches. User’s can go on and search the data to see if their email address or previously used passwords have ever been involved in those breaches. You can also sign up to receive notifications if your email is ever involved in a breach in the future.

Cyber Awareness Training

Lastly, in order to keep your credentials secure, it’s important that you don’t get tricked into give them away. Social engineering, phishing, and businesses email compromise schemes are all highly frequent — and often successful — ways bad actors will try to gain access to your information. Scammers will send emails or messages pretending to be from a company or official source, then direct you to a fake website where you are asked to fill out information or login to your account. Preventing these scams from working largely depends on your ability to accurately spot them. And, given the increased sophistication of these scams, using a training program specifically designed to teach you how to spot the fakes is very important.

Human Factored Cyber Attacks Will Cost You

Human Factored Cyber Attacks Will Cost You

Last week, IBM and The Ponemon Institute released their annual Cost of a Data Breach Report. For the past 15 years, the report has highlighted recurring and emerging factors that contribute to the cost of data data breaches, as well as the root causes of those breaches. One of the key findings in this year’s report is the fact that human factored cyber attacks not only make up a large percentage of the all malicious attacks, but also are incredibly costly to businesses that suffered breaches. This only confirms the importance of cyber awareness training for employees to limit the risk of a human factored attack.

There are many different causes of a data breach, some of which are merely accidental. However, according to this year’s report, malicious attacks now make up 52% of all breaches. This didn’t used to be the case. In fact, malicious attacks have seen a 24% growth rate in just six years.  Malicious attacks are also the most expensive, costing businesses an average of $4.27 million. That’s nearly $1 million more than all other causes of a breach.

Given the frequency and cost of malicious attacks, it’s important to look closer at the different threats that account for the rise in malicious attacks — and the data is surprising. While expected threats such as system vulnerabilities and malicious insiders are certainly present, human factored cyber attacks take up a large chunk of all malicious attacks. Threats ranging from phishing attacks, to business email compromise, to social engineering and cloud misconfigurations are all rooted in human rather than technical vulnerability, and account for 41% of all malicious attacks leading to data breaches.  Indeed this report correlates with what was presented in the Verizion 2020 Data Breach Investigations Report.

Human factored cyber attacks aren’t something you can protect yourself against strictly through technically safeguards. Instead protecting against these vulnerability requires working with employees, establish proper quality control protocols, ensuring your have the right expertise on your team and using cyber awareness training to help build safer online habits.

As a Fortune 100 CISO once told me, “at the end of the day, every cyber incident starts with someone making a decision.”

Blackbaud Breach Leaves Hundreds of Non-Profits Scrambling

Blackbaud Breach Leaves Hundreds of Non-Profits Scrambling

This month Blackbaud, a cloud computing provider primarily serving nonprofits and educational institutions, announced that the company suffered a ransomware attack back in May. The company’s response, however, has raised more than a few eyebrows from security experts, and left hundreds of nonprofits scrambling to figure out if they’ve been affected. The Blackbaud breach is just the latest reminder that third party data processors can be a liability to your business.

According to Blackbaud’s statement about the breach, the company quickly discovered the attack and was able to remove the attackers from their systems — but not before the hackers stole a copy of a data set. Blackbaud has not specified the exact nature of that data, but claims it does not include sensitive information such as credit card information, bank account information, or social security numbers. On source told the BBC, however, that the stolen data involves donor information from hundreds of nonprofits and institutions and includes details such as names, addresses, ages, and estimated wealth. Now, organizations that are customers of Blackbaud are scrambling to see if their donors’ information was included in the breach and, if so, must release data breach disclosures of their own.

The most egregious part of the Blackbaud breach, however, was the company’s response. When they discovered their data had been stolen, they agreed to pay a ransom to have the attackers delete that data. Subsequently, Blackbaud assured their customers that there is no reason to believe the stolen data “was or will be misused; or will be disseminated or otherwise made available publicly.” However, cybersecurity experts have been quick to point out that this is a dangerous assumption to make.

Despite Blackbaud’s insistence that the data has been deleted by the hackers, the company has not stated why they are confident in that assumption, and no external investigation has been able to confirm it. As many have noted, Blackbaud’s response to the breach seems more an attempt to protect their brand’s reputation, rather than a transparent disclosure. There are also questions about the amount of time the company took to disclose the breach, and whether or not that violates GDPR requirements.

The fact that so many questions about the Blackblaud breach are still unanswered two weeks after it was announced has not been assuring to the nonprofits that use their services. Over 100 organizations have already notified their donor’s about the breach, and more will likely do so in the weeks ahead.

While this far from the only third-party provider to suffer a data breach, the attack on Blackbaud is a rather stark example of why businesses need to take the time to carefully evaluate third-party security practices, as well as insist on strong agreements that define accountability and responsibilities in the event of an incident. This is especially important for associations and non-profits because their very existence relies on the trust that their members or donors place in them.  When that trust is violated, it takes a long time to repair.

COVID-Related Business ID Theft Rising Fast

COVID-Related Business ID Theft Rising Fast

Alongside all of the harm the COVID-19 pandemic has caused to our family, friends, and businesses, the unfortunate truth is that hackers and scammers are profiting off of the chaos. From data breaches of government sites, to hacks against the healthcare industry, to COVID-related phishing themes, consumers have reported over $98 million lost in COVID-19 scams since January. What is not included in that number, however, is the dramatic increase in COVID-related ID theft against businesses.

Business ID theft is not a new problem. Dun and Bradstreet, a data analytics company that handles credit checks for many businesses, reported a 100% increase in ID theft against businesses in 2019. This year, however, the problem has grown out of control, with a stunning 258% spike in business identity theft since the beginning of 2020. This is in large part directly related to the COVID-19 pandemic, because scammers will steal business information to illegally gain access to relief funds and loans.

According to reports, there are groups of cyber scammers that target small businesses for ID theft throughout the United States. The groups will start by looking up business records through the Secretary of State website, identity the officers and owners connect to the company, then find corresponding tax ID and social security numbers on the dark web. These groups will then forge official documents with this information and submit them to the Secretary of State with a mailing address that they control. Traditionally, they will use these documents to update profiles on credit monitoring sites, like Dun and Bradstreet, and apply for credit lines with companies like Staples, Home Depot and Office Depot. Now, however, these groups have switched their tactics and are carrying out business ID thefts for COVID-related federal assistance, such as unemployment payments or relief loans for small businesses.

As we’ve wrote about before, hackers and scammers will often take advantage if times of crisis, confusion, and uncertainty in order to make money or seed further chaos. Given the dramatic rise of business ID theft throughout the COVID pandemic, small businesses should take steps to protect themself against this threat. The most effective way to detect and prevent ID theft is to regularly monitor and update your business information. This includes keeping an eye on your financial records and credit lines to spot potential fraudulent activity, as well as checking your business records with the federal and state government. If you spot a any changes your records that you don’t recognize, it’s a likely sign someone is in the process of stealing your business’ identity.

It can be hard to regularly monitor your records and stay vigilant when you are trying to keep your business afloat throughout the pandemic, but this is exactly what scammers are hoping for. You don’t need to be checking your credit report every single day, but it is essential to keep as close an eye as possible on your records to ensure you and your business are protected from fraud.

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