SMS phishing attacks—annoyingly called “smishing”—are becoming more common.
I know that I have been receiving a lot of phishing SMS messages over the past few months. I am not getting the “Fedex package delivered” messages the article talks about. Mine are usually of the form: “Thank you for paying your bill, here’s a free gift for you.”
Posted on April 25, 2022 at 5:18 AM •
The City of Austin is warning about QR codes stuck to parking meters that take people to fraudulent payment sites.
Posted on January 10, 2022 at 6:21 AM •
This is part 3 of Sean Gallagher’s advice for “securing your digital life.”
Posted on November 15, 2021 at 8:18 AM •
Roger Grimes on why multifactor authentication isn’t a panacea:
The first time I heard of this issue was from a Midwest CEO. His organization had been hit by ransomware to the tune of $10M. Operationally, they were still recovering nearly a year later. And, embarrassingly, it was his most trusted VP who let the attackers in. It turns out that the VP had approved over 10 different push-based messages for logins that he was not involved in. When the VP was asked why he approved logins for logins he was not actually doing, his response was, “They (IT) told me that I needed to click on Approve when the message appeared!”
And there you have it in a nutshell. The VP did not understand the importance (“the WHY”) of why it was so important to ONLY approve logins that they were participating in. Perhaps they were told this. But there is a good chance that IT, when implementinthe new push-based MFA, instructed them as to what they needed to do to successfully log in, but failed to mention what they needed to do when they were not logging in if the same message arrived. Most likely, IT assumed that anyone would naturally understand that it also meant not approving unexpected, unexplained logins. Did the end user get trained as to what to do when an unexpected login arrived? Were they told to click on “Deny” and to contact IT Help Desk to report the active intrusion?
Or was the person told the correct instructions for both approving and denying and it just did not take? We all have busy lives. We all have too much to do. Perhaps the importance of the last part of the instructions just did not sink in. We can think we hear and not really hear. We can hear and still not care.
Posted on October 21, 2021 at 6:25 AM •
It’s a big one:
As first reported by Motherboard on Sunday, someone on the dark web claims to have obtained the data of 100 million from T-Mobile’s servers and is selling a portion of it on an underground forum for 6 bitcoin, about $280,000. The trove includes not only names, phone numbers, and physical addresses but also more sensitive data like social security numbers, driver’s license information, and IMEI numbers, unique identifiers tied to each mobile device. Motherboard confirmed that samples of the data “contained accurate information on T-Mobile customers.”
Posted on August 19, 2021 at 6:17 AM •
The problem with spear phishing is that it takes time and creativity to create individualized enticing phishing emails. Researchers are using GPT-3 to attempt to solve that problem:
The researchers used OpenAI’s GPT-3 platform in conjunction with other AI-as-a-service products focused on personality analysis to generate phishing emails tailored to their colleagues’ backgrounds and traits. Machine learning focused on personality analysis aims to be predict a person’s proclivities and mentality based on behavioral inputs. By running the outputs through multiple services, the researchers were able to develop a pipeline that groomed and refined the emails before sending them out. They say that the results sounded “weirdly human” and that the platforms automatically supplied surprising specifics, like mentioning a Singaporean law when instructed to generate content for people living in Singapore.
While they were impressed by the quality of the synthetic messages and how many clicks they garnered from colleagues versus the human-composed ones, the researchers note that the experiment was just a first step. The sample size was relatively small and the target pool was fairly homogenous in terms of employment and geographic region. Plus, both the human-generated messages and those generated by the AI-as-a-service pipeline were created by office insiders rather than outside attackers trying to strike the right tone from afar.
It’s just a matter of time before this is really effective. Combine it with voice and video synthesis, and you have some pretty scary scenarios. The real risk isn’t that AI-generated phishing emails are as good as human-generated ones, it’s that they can be generated at much greater scale.
Defcon presentation and slides. Another news article
Posted on August 13, 2021 at 6:16 AM •
Masquerading as UK scholars with the University of London’s School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), the threat actor TA453 has been covertly approaching individuals since at least January 2021 to solicit sensitive information. The threat actor, an APT who we assess with high confidence supports Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) intelligence collection efforts, established backstopping for their credential phishing infrastructure by compromising a legitimate site of a highly regarded academic institution to deliver personalized credential harvesting pages disguised as registration links. Identified targets included experts in Middle Eastern affairs from think tanks, senior professors from well-known academic institutions, and journalists specializing in Middle Eastern coverage.
These connection attempts were detailed and extensive, often including lengthy conversations prior to presenting the next stage in the attack chain. Once the conversation was established, TA453 delivered a “registration link” to a legitimate but compromised website belonging to the University of London’s SOAS radio. The compromised site was configured to capture a variety of credentials. Of note, TA453 also targeted the personal email accounts of at least one of their targets. In subsequent phishing emails, TA453 shifted their tactics and began delivering the registration link earlier in their engagement with the target without requiring extensive conversation. This operation, dubbed SpoofedScholars, represents one of the more sophisticated TA453 campaigns identified by Proofpoint.
The report details the tactics.
Posted on July 13, 2021 at 9:04 AM •
A coordinated effort has captured the command-and-control servers of the Emotet botnet:
Emotet establishes a backdoor onto Windows computer systems via automated phishing emails that distribute Word documents compromised with malware. Subjects of emails and documents in Emotet campaigns are regularly altered to provide the best chance of luring victims into opening emails and installing malware—regular themes include invoices, shipping notices and information about COVID-19.
Those behind the Emotet lease their army of infected machines out to other cyber criminals as a gateway for additional malware attacks, including remote access tools (RATs) and ransomware.
A week of action by law enforcement agencies around the world gained control of Emotet’s infrastructure of hundreds of servers around the world and disrupted it from the inside.
Machines infected by Emotet are now directed to infrastructure controlled by law enforcement, meaning cyber criminals can no longer exploit machines compromised and the malware can no longer spread to new targets, something which will cause significant disruption to cyber-criminal operations.
The Emotet takedown is the result of over two years of coordinated work by law enforcement operations around the world, including the Dutch National Police, Germany’s Federal Crime Police, France’s National Police, the Lithuanian Criminal Police Bureau, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, the US Federal Bureau of Investigation, the UK’s National Crime Agency, and the National Police of Ukraine.
EDITED TO ADD (2/11): Follow-on article.
Posted on January 28, 2021 at 6:02 AM •
Research paper: Rick Wash, “How Experts Detect Phishing Scam Emails“:
Abstract: Phishing scam emails are emails that pretend to be something they are not in order to get the recipient of the email to undertake some action they normally would not. While technical protections against phishing reduce the number of phishing emails received, they are not perfect and phishing remains one of the largest sources of security risk in technology and communication systems. To better understand the cognitive process that end users can use to identify phishing messages, I interviewed 21 IT experts about instances where they successfully identified emails as phishing in their own inboxes. IT experts naturally follow a three-stage process for identifying phishing emails. In the first stage, the email recipient tries to make sense of the email, and understand how it relates to other things in their life. As they do this, they notice discrepancies: little things that are “off” about the email. As the recipient notices more discrepancies, they feel a need for an alternative explanation for the email. At some point, some feature of the email—usually, the presence of a link requesting an action—triggers them to recognize that phishing is a possible alternative explanation. At this point, they become suspicious (stage two) and investigate the email by looking for technical details that can conclusively identify the email as phishing. Once they find such information, then they move to stage three and deal with the email by deleting it or reporting it. I discuss ways this process can fail, and implications for improving training of end users about phishing.
Posted on November 6, 2020 at 6:28 AM •
A criminal group called Cosmic Lynx seems to be based in Russia:
Dubbed Cosmic Lynx, the group has carried out more than 200 BEC campaigns since July 2019, according to researchers from the email security firm Agari, particularly targeting senior executives at large organizations and corporations in 46 countries. Cosmic Lynx specializes in topical, tailored scams related to mergers and acquisitions; the group typically requests hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollars as part of its hustles.
For example, rather than use free accounts, Cosmic Lynx will register strategic domain names for each BEC campaign to create more convincing email accounts. And the group knows how to shield these domains so they’re harder to trace to the true owner. Cosmic Lynx also has a strong understanding of the email authentication protocol DMARC and does reconnaissance to assess its targets’ specific system DMARC policies to most effectively circumvent them.
Cosmic Lynx also drafts unusually clean and credible-looking messages to deceive targets. The group will find a company that is about to complete an acquisition and contact one of its top executives posing as the CEO of the organization being bought. This phony CEO will then involve “external legal counsel” to facilitate the necessary payments. This is where Cosmic Lynx adds a second persona to give the process an air of legitimacy, typically impersonating a real lawyer from a well-regarded law firm in the United Kingdom. The fake lawyer will email the same executive that the “CEO” wrote to, often in a new email thread, and share logistics about completing the transaction. Unlike most BEC campaigns, in which the messages often have grammatical mistakes or awkward wording, Cosmic Lynx messages are almost always clean.
Posted on July 10, 2020 at 6:12 AM •
Sidebar photo of Bruce Schneier by Joe MacInnis.