Security

Featured Article – ‘Snake’ Ransomware, A Threat To Your Whole Network

Over the last couple of weeks, there have been reports of a new type of ransomware known as ‘Snake’ which can encrypt all the files stored on your computer network and on all the connected devices.

Discovered

Snake ransomware is so-called because it is the reverse order spelling of the ‘ekans’ file marker that it attaches to each file that it encrypts.  It was discovered by the MalwareHunterTeam and studied in detail by Vitali Kremez who is the Head of SentinelLabs and who describes himself as an “Ethical Hacker”, “Reverse Engineer” and “Threat Seeker”.

How Does It Infect Your Network?

Snake can be introduced to a computer network in infected email attachments (macros) e.g. phishing emails with attached Office or PDF documents, RAR or ZIP files, .exe files, JavaScript files, Trojans, torrent websites, unpatched public-facing software and malicious ads.

How Does Snake Operate?

As ransomware, the ultimate goal of the cybercriminals who are targeting (mainly) businesses with Snake is to lock away (through encryption) important files in order to force the victim to pay a ransom in order to release those files, with the hope of restoring systems to normal as the motivator to pay.

In the case of Snake, which is written in Go (also known as Golang), an open-source programming language that’s syntactically similar to C and provides cross-platform support, once it is introduced to an operating system e.g. after arriving in an email, it operates the following way:

– Firstly, Snake removes Shadow Volume Copies (backup copies or snapshots of files) and stops processes related to SCADA Systems (the supervisory control and data acquisition system that’s used for gathering and analysing real-time data). Snake also stops any Virtual Machines, Industrial Control Systems, Remote Management Tools, and Network Management Software.

– Next, Snake (relatively slowly) uses powerful AES-256 and RSA-2048 cryptographic algorithms to encrypt files and folders across the whole network and on all connected devices, while skipping files in the Windows system folders and system files.

– As part of the encryption process, and unlike other ransomware, Snake adds a random five-character string as a suffix to file extension names e.g. myfile.jpg becomes myfile.jpgBGyWl. Also, an “EKANS” file marker is added to each encrypted file.

Ransom Note

Lastly, Snake generates a ransom note named Fix-Your-Files.txt which is posted on the desktop of the victim.  This ransom note advises the victim that the only way to restore their files is to purchase a decryption tool which contains a private key that has been created specifically for their network and that, once run on an affected computer, it will decrypt all encrypted files.

The note informs the victim that in order to purchase the decryption software they must send an email to bapcocrypt@ctemplar.com which has up to 3 of the encrypted files from their computers attached, not databases or spreadsheets (up to 3MB size) so that the cybercriminals can send back decrypted versions as proof that the decryption software (and key) works on their files (and to encourage payment and restoration of business).

Timing

Snake allows cybercriminals to not only target chosen businesses network but also to choose the time of the attack and the time that encryption takes place could, therefore, be after hours, thereby making it more difficult for admins to control the damage caused by the attack. Also, cybercriminals can choose to install additional password-stealing trojans and malware infections together with the Snake ransomware infection.

What To Do If Infected

If your network is infected with Snake ransomware there is, of course, no guarantee that paying the ransom will mean that you are sent any decryption software by the cybercriminals and it appears unlikely that those who targeted your company to take your money would do anything other to help than just take that money and disappear.

Some companies on the web are offering Snake removal (for hundreds of dollars), and there are some recommendations that running Spyhunter anti-malware software on your systems may be one way to remove this particularly damaging ransomware.

Ransomware Protection

News of the severity of Snake is a reminder to businesses that protection from malware is vital.  Ways in which companies can protect themselves from falling victim to malware, including ransomware include:

– Staff education and training e.g. about the risks of and how to deal with phishing and other suspicious and malicious emails, and other threats where social engineering is involved.

– Ensuring that all anti-virus software, updates and patching are up to date.

– Staying up to date with malware and ransomware resources e.g. the ‘No More Ransom’ portal (https://www.nomoreransom.org/ ), which was originally released in English, is now available in 35 other languages, and thanks to the cooperation between more than 150 partners, provides a one-stop-shop of tools that can help to decrypt ransomware infections – see https://www.nomoreransom.org/en/decryption-tools.html.

– Making sure that there is a regular and secure backup of company data, important business file and folders.

– Developing (and communicating to relevant staff) and updating a Business Continuity and Disaster Recovery Plan.

Featured Article – Windows 7 Deadline Now Passed

Microsoft’s Windows 7 Operating system and Windows Server 2008 formally and finally reached their ‘End of Life’ (end of support, security updates and fixes) earlier on Wednesday 14 January.

End of Life – What Now?

End of life isn’t quite as final as it sounds because Windows 7 will still run but support i.e. security updates and patches and technical support will no longer be available for it. If you are still running Windows 7 then you are certainly not alone as it still has a reported 27 per cent market share among Windows users (Statcounter).

For most Windows 7 users, the next action will be to replace (or upgrade) the computers that are running these old operating systems.  Next, there is the move to Windows 10 and if you’re running a licensed and activated copy of Windows 7, Windows 8 or Windows 8.1, Home or Pro, you can get it for free by :

>> going to the Windows 10 download website

>>  choosing to Create Windows 10 installation media

>> Download tool now and Run

>> Upgrade this PC now (if it’s just one PC –  for another machine choose ‘Create installation media for another PC’ and save installation files) and follow the instructions.   >> After installation, you can see your digital license for Windows 10 by going to Settings Update & Security > Activation.

Windows Server

Windows Server 2008 and Windows Server 2008 R2 have also now reached their end-of-life which means no additional free security updates on-premises or non-security updates and free support options, and no online technical content updates.

Microsoft is advising that customers who use Windows Server 2008 or Windows Server 2008 R2 products and services should migrate to its Microsoft Azure.

About Azure

For Azure customers, the Windows Virtual Desktop means that there’s the option of an extra three years of extended support (of critical and important security updates) as part of that package, but there may be some costs incurred in migrating to the cloud service.

Buying Extended Security Updates

‘Extended Security Updates’ can be also purchased by customers with active Software Assurance for subscription licenses for 75% of the on-premises annual license cost, but this should only really be considered as a temporary measure to ease the transition to Windows 10, or if you’ve simply been caught out by the deadline.

Unsupported Devices – Banking & Sensitive Data Risk

One example of the possible risks of running Windows 7 after its ‘end-of-life’ date has been highlighted by the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC), the public-facing part of GCHQ.  The NCSC has advised Windows 7 users to replace their unsupported devices as soon as possible and to move any sensitive data to a supported device.  Also, the NCSC has advised Windows 7 users to not use unsupported devices for tasks such as accessing bank and other sensitive accounts and to consider accessing email from a different device.

The NCSC has pointed out that cyber-criminals began targeting Windows XP immediately after extended support ended in 2015. It is likely, therefore, that the same thing could happen to Windows 7 users.

Businesses may wish to note that there have already been reports (in December) of attacks on Windows 7 machines in an attempt to exploit the EternalBlue vulnerability which was behind the serious WannaCry attacks.

Windows 7 History

Windows 7 was introduced in 2009 as an upgrade in the wake of the much-disliked Windows Vista.  Looking back, it was an unexpected success in many ways, and looking forward, if you’re one of the large percentage of Windows users still running Windows 7 (only 44% are running Windows 10), you may feel that you’ve been left with little choice but to move away from the devil you know to the not-so-big-bad Windows 10.

Success For Microsoft

Evolving from early codename versions such as “Blackcomb”, “Longhorn,” and then “Vienna” (in early 2006), what was finally named as Windows 7 in October 2008 proved to be an immediate success on its release in 2009.  The update-turned Operating System, which was worked upon by an estimated 1,000 developers clocked-up more than 100 million sales worldwide within the first 6 months of its release. Windows 7 was made available in 6 different editions, with the most popularly recognised being the Home Premium, Professional, and Ultimate editions.

Improvement

Windows 7 was considered to be a big improvement upon Windows Vista which, although achieving some impressive usage figures (still lower than XP though) came in for a lot of criticism for its high system requirements, longer boot time and compatibility problems with pre-Vista hardware and software.

Some of the key improvements that Windows 7 brought were the taskbar and a more intuitive feel, much-improved performance, and fewer annoying User Account Control popups. Some of the reasons for switching to Windows 7 back in 2009 were that it had been coded to support most pieces of software that ran on XP, it could automatically install device drivers, the Aero features provided a much better interface, it offered much better hardware support, the 64-bit version of Windows 7 could handle a bigger system memory, and the whole Operating System had a better look and feel.

Embracing the Positive

It may even be the case that in the process of worrying about the many complications and potential challenges of migrating to Windows 10 you haven’t allowed yourself to focus on the positive aspects of the OS such as a faster and more dynamic environment and support for important business software like Office 365 and Windows server 2016.

What To Do Now

The deadline to the end of support/end of life for Windows 7 has now passed and the key factor to remember is that Windows 7 (and your computers running Windows 7) is now exposed to any new risks that come along. If you have been considering some possible OS alternatives to Windows 10, these could bring their own challenges and risks and you may now have very limited time to think about them. Bearing in mind the targeting of Windows XP immediately at the end of its extended support (in 2015), we may reasonably expect similar targeting of Windows 7 which makes the decision to migrate more pressing.

For most businesses, the threat of no more support now means that continuing to run Windows 7 presents a real risk to the business e.g. from every new hacking and malware attack, and as the NCSC has highlighted, there is a potentially high risk in using devices running Windows 7 for anything involving sensitive data and banking.

If you choose to upgrade to Windows 10 on your existing computers, you will need to consider factors such as the age and specification of those computers, and there are likely to be costs involved in upgrading existing computers.  You may also be considering (depending on the size/nature of your business and your IT budget) the quick solution of buying new computers with Windows 10 installed, and in addition to the cost implications, you may also be wondering how and whether you can use any business existing systems or migrate any important existing data and programs to this platform.  The challenge now, however, is that time has officially run out in terms of security updates and support so, the time to make the big decisions has arrived.

Featured Article – Email Security (Part 2)

Following on from last month’s featured article about email security (part 1), in part 2 we focus on many of the email security and threat predictions for this year and for the near, foreseeable future.

Looking Forward

In part 1 of this ‘Email Security’ snapshot, we looked at how most breaches involve email, the different types of email attacks, and how businesses can defend themselves against a variety of known email-based threats. Unfortunately, businesses and organisations now operate in an environment where cyber-attackers are using more sophisticated methods across multi-vectors and where threats are constantly evolving.

With this in mind, and with businesses seeking to be as secure as possible against the latest threats, here are some of the prevailing predictions based around email security for the coming year.

Ransomware Still a Danger

As highlighted by a recent Malwarebytes report, and a report by Forbes, the ransomware threat is by no means over and since showing an increase in the first quarter of 2019 of 195 per cent on the previous year’s figures it is still predicted to be a major threat in 2020. Tech and security commentators have noted that although ransomware attacks on consumers have declined by 33 per cent since last year, attacks against organisations have worsened.  In December, for example, a ransomware attack was reported to have taken a US Coast Guard (USCG) maritime base offline for more than 30 hours.

At the time of writing this article, it has been reported that following an attack discovered on New Year’s Day, hackers using ransomware are holding Travelex’s computers for ransom to such a degree that company staff have been forced to use pen and paper to record transactions!

Information Age, for example, predicts that softer targets (outdated software, inadequate cybersecurity resources, and a motivation to pay the ransom) such as the healthcare services will be targeted more in the coming year with ransomware that is carried by email.

Phishing

The already prevalent email phishing threat looks likely to continue and evolve this year with cybercriminals set to try new methods in addition to sending phishing emails e.g. using SMS and even spear phishing (highly targeted phishing) using deepfake videos to pose as company authority figures.

As mentioned in part 1 of the email security articles, big tech companies are responding to help combat phishing with new services e.g. the “campaign views” tool in Office 365 and Google’s advanced security settings for G Suite administrators.

BEC & VEC

Whereas Business Email Compromise (BEC) attacks have been successful at using email fraud combined with social engineering to bait one staff member at-a-time to extract money from a targeted organisation, security experts say that this kind of attack is morphing into a much wider threat of ‘VEC’ (Vendor Email Compromise). This is a larger and more sophisticated version which, using email as a key component, seeks to leverage organisations against their own suppliers.

Remote Access Trojans

Remote Access Trojans (RATs) are malicious programs that can arrive as email attachments.  RATs provide cybercriminals with a back door for administrative control over the target computer, and they can be adapted to help them to avoid detection and to carry out a number of different malicious activities including disabling anti-malware solutions and enabling man-in-the-middle attacks.  Security experts predict that more sophisticated versions of these malware programs will be coming our way via email this year.

The AI Threat

Many technology and security experts agree that AI is likely to be used in cyberattacks in the near future and its ability to learn and to keep trying to reach its target e.g. in the form of malware, make it a formidable threat. Email is the most likely means by which malware can reach and attack networks and systems, so there has never been a better time to step up email security, train and educate staff about malicious email threats, how to spot them and how to deal with them. The addition of AI to the mix may make it more difficult for malicious emails to be spotted.

The good news for businesses, however, is that AI and machine learning is already used in some anti-virus software e.g. Avast, and this trend of using AI in security solutions to counter AI security threats is a trend that is likely to continue.

One Vision of the Email Security Future

The evolving nature of email threats means that businesses and organisations may need to look at their email security differently in the future.

One example of an envisaged approach to email security comes from Mimecast’s CEO Peter Bauer.  He suggests that in order to truly eliminate the threats that can abuse the trust in their brands “out in the wild” companies need to “move from perimeter to pervasive email security.  This will mean focusing on the threats:

– To the Perimeter (which he calls Zone1).  This involves protecting users’ email and data from spam and viruses, malware and impersonation attempts, data leaks – in fact, protecting the whole customer, partner and vendor ecosystem.

– From inside the perimeter (Zone 2).  This involves being prepared to be able to effectively tackle internal threats like compromised user accounts, lateral movement from credential harvesting links, social engineering, and employee error threats.

– From beyond the perimeter (Zone 3).  These could be threats to brands and domains from spoofed or hijacked sites that could be used to defraud customers and partners.

As well as recognising and looking to deal with threats in these 3 zones, Bauer also suggests an API-led approach to help deliver pervasive security throughout all zones.  This could involve businesses monitoring and observing email attacks with e.g. SOARs, SIEMs, endpoints, firewalls and broader threat intelligence platforms, feeding this information and intelligence to security teams to help keep email security as up to date and as tight as possible.

Into 2020 and Beyond

Looking ahead to email security in 2020 and beyond, companies will be facing plenty more of the same threats (phishing, ransomware, RATs) which rely on email combined with human error and social engineering to find their way into company systems and networks. Tech companies are responding with updated anti-phishing and other solutions.

SME’s (rather than just bigger companies) are also likely to find themselves being targeted with more attacks involving email, and companies will need to, at the very least, make sure they have the basic automated, tech and human elements in place (training, education, policies and procedures) to help provide adequate protection (see the end of part 1 for a list of email security suggestions).

The threat of AI-powered attacks, however, is causing some concern and the race is on to make sure that AI-powered protection is up to the level of any AI-powered attacks.

Taking a leaf out of companies like Mimecast’s book, and looking at email security in much wider scope and context (outside the perimeter, inside the perimeter, and beyond) may bring a more comprehensive kind of email security that can keep up with the many threats that are now arriving across a much wider attack surface.

Glimpse of the Future of Tech at CES Expo Show

This week, at the giant CES expo in Las Vegas, the latest technology from around the world is on display, and here are just a few of the glimpses into the future that are being demonstrated there, with regards to business-tech.

Cyberlink FaceMe®

Leading facial recognition company Cyberlink will be demonstrating the power of its highly accurate FaceMe® AI engine. The FaceMe® system, which Cyberlink claims has an accuracy rate (TAR, True Acceptance Rate) of 99.5% at 10-4 FAR, is so advanced that it can recognise the age, gender and even the emotional state of passers-by and can use this information to display appropriate adverts.

D-ID

In a world where facial recognition technology is becoming more prevalent, D-ID recognise the need to protect the sensitive biometric data that makes up our faces. On display at CES expo is D-ID’s anti facial recognition solution which uses an algorithm, advanced image processing and deep learning techniques to re-synthesise any given photo to a protected version so that photos are unrecognisable to face recognition algorithms, but humans will not notice any difference.

Hour One

Another interesting contribution to the Las Vegas CES expo is Hour One’s AI-powered system for creating premium quality synthetic characters based on real-life people. The idea is that these very realistic characters can be used to promote products without companies having to hire expensive stars and actors and that companies using Hour One can save time and money and get a close match to their brief due to the capabilities, scale/cope and fast turnaround that Hour One offers.

Mirriad

Also adding to the intriguing and engaging tech innovations at the expo, albeit at private meetings there, is Mirriad’s AI-powered solution for analysing videos, TV programmes and movies for brand/product insertion opportunities and enabling retrospective brand placements in the visual content. For example, different adverts can be inserted in roadside billboards and bus stop advertising boards that are shown in pre-shot videos and films.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

AI is clearly emerging as an engine that’s driving change and creating a wide range of opportunities for business marketing as well as for security purposes. The realism and accuracy, flexibility, scope, scale, and potential cost savings that AI offers could provide many beneficial business opportunities. The flipside for us as individuals and consumers is that, for example, as biometric systems (such as facial recognition) offers us some convenience and protection from cyber-crime, they can also threaten our privacy and security. It is ironic and probably inevitable, therefore, that we may need and value AI-powered protection solutions such as D-ID to protect us.

Featured Article – Email Security (Part 1)

In this week’s article, which is the first of two parts on what is a huge subject for businesses to tackle, we take a look at some of the important issues of email security and how businesses can try to strengthen this crucial area of their cyber defences.

Most Breaches Involve Email

Over 90 per cent of breaches now involve email, and Proofpoint’s Annual Human Factor Report figures, for example, show that social engineering is strongly favoured as a way in by cybercriminals as 99 per cent of email attacks rely on victims clicking links.

Statistics like these reveal some of the key challenges that businesses and organisations face on a daily basis, such as how to defend effectively against the whole range of email attacks, how to spot and eliminate threats as they arrive, and how to ensure that staff are aware of email threats and know what to do when faced with suspicious emails and links.

Types of Email-Based Attacks

There is a vast array of attacks launched through email systems (often relying on social engineering) including targeted phishing schemes, business email compromises, and ransomware attacks.

– Ransomware is still a popular attack and extortion method, and Trend Micro reported a 77 per cent surge in malware attacks during the first half of 2019.

– Phishing is a cheap, easy and highly effective method for criminals to gain access to company systems, steal important data and money, and create a cornerstone of all kinds of other hacking campaigns. Just some of the high profile examples from the news this year include fake voicemail messages being used to lure victims into entering their Office 365 email credentials into a phishing page, Thomas cook customers being targeted by phishing attacks in the wake of the travel company going into receivership, and news of Lancaster University being hit by a large, sophisticated phishing attack aimed at grabbing the details of new student applicants.

Verizon’s 2019 Data Breach Investigations Report showed that 32 per cent of data breaches involve phishing. Phishing threats to businesses are also evolving and becoming more sophisticated all the time. For example, PhishLabs recently discovered a tactic whereby by attackers used a malicious Microsoft Office 365 app to gain access to a victim’s account without the need for the account holder to give up their credentials to the attackers!

The National Cyber Security Centre offers advice on how to protect your business/organisation from phishing attacks here: https://www.ncsc.gov.uk/guidance/phishing.

There is also a number of phishing test sites available online so that you (or staff members) can see if you’re able to spot a phishing email.

– Malware attachments to emails. There is a now staggering amount of malware types that businesses and organisations have to protect themselves against. For example, over 800 million different types were encountered in 2018, and some commentators are predicting that variants will reach over 1 billion by 2020!

A Number of Sources

Email-based attacks aren’t simply targeted just at your email system in a straightforward way but could come from e.g. supplier email systems that have been compromised or could use details stolen from breaches elsewhere as part of the campaign.

PROTECTING YOUR BUSINESS AGAINST E-MAIL THREATS

There are many ways that you can try to protect your email system from email attacks and try to minimise the risk of human error that is so important in social engineering attacks. These include:

HELP FROM THE BIG TECH COMPANIES

Microsoft

Microsoft offers a number of ways that businesses and organisations can help keep their email secure, such as:

– Outlook’s Junk Email Filter, and the Report Message add-in for Outlook.

– Office 365’s Advanced Threat Protection (ATP) plans which offer a variety of leading-edge tools to investigate, understand, simulate, and prevent threats.

– Secure Score for Office 365 – a way to measure and get suggestions about how to protect your business from threats, all through a centralised dashboard.

– The “campaign views” tool in Office 365 that is designed to offer greater protection from phishing attacks by enabling businesses to be able to spot the pattern of a phishing campaign over individual messages.

More information: The Microsoft blog here gives 6 email security best practices to protect against phishing attacks and business email compromise: https://www.microsoft.com/security/blog/2019/10/16/top-6-email-security-best-practices-to-protect-against-phishing-attacks-and-business-email-compromise/

Google

Google also offers a number of tools and suggestions, including:

– Advanced security settings for G Suite administrators to protect against phishing and malware (find out more here: https://support.google.com/a/answer/9157861?hl=en).

– Offering steps to identify compromised accounts (see https://support.google.com/a/answer/2984349?hl=en&ref_topic=2683865).

– Advice on Firewall settings.

You may, of course, already be using another email protection system.

Other Advice

Advice about ways in which you can protect your company now from email-based attack such as phishing and malware attacks is widely available, and in addition to the measures already covered (e.g. using Microsoft security tools), some basic measures that companies take include:

– Always keeping anti-virus and patching up to date.

– Staff education and training e.g. how to spot suspicious emails and what to do/what not to do e.g. not to click on links from unknown sources.

– Disabling HTML emails if possible (text-only emails can’t launch malware directly).

– Encrypting sensitive data and communications as an added layer of protection.

– Getting into the routine of checking your bank account’s activity for suspicious charges.

– Making sure important and sensitive company data is backed up and including business email compromise (BEC) in business continuity planning and disaster recovery planning.

– Preventing email archives from being publicly exposed e.g. by making sure that archive storage drives are configured correctly.

– Monitoring for any exposed credentials (particularly those of finance department emails).

– Using two-Factor Authentication (2FA) where possible, and enterprise users may wish to block .html and .htm attachments at the email gateway level so that they don’t reach members of staff, some of whom may not be up to speed with their Internet security knowledge.

– Not using the same password for multiple platforms and websites (password sharing). This is because credentials stolen in one breach are likely to be tried on many other websites by other cybercriminals (credential stuffing) who have purchased/acquired them e.g. on the dark web.

Looking Forward and Getting Prepared

In today’s environment, attackers can adapt their campaigns and methods so quickly, and use methods that can evade the more common protection solutions (polymorphic attacks) that businesses and organisations find themselves in a position whereby known signature and reputation-based checks aren’t enough and that they need to be able to get a fuller picture and find solutions that can focus effectively on zero-day and targeted attacks in addition to known vectors. Looking forward, there is also the future threat of AI machine-learning software being able to possibly generate phishing URLs that can beat popular security tools, and of the threats posed (further in the future) buy the possible use of quantum computers in cyberattacks, and these are subjects that we will look briefly in part 2 of our look at email security. For now, stay safe.

New Phishing Tracker For Office 365

Microsoft is launching a new “campaign views” tool in Office 365 that is designed to offer greater protection from phishing attacks by enabling businesses to be able to spot the pattern of a phishing campaign over individual messages.

Context and Visibility

Microsoft is in a good position to leverage the large amount of anti-phishing, anti-spam, and anti-malware data and experience that it has across the entire Office 365 service world-wide to identify campaigns. It is this information that feeds into the campaign views tool.
The idea is that the extra context and visibility that campaign views provides gives the full story of how an organisation has been targeted. This additional dimension of defence means that an organisation and its users can see if/how defences have held up against popular attacks, and adjust its own defences accordingly, based on these insights.

What It Shows

The kind of information that the ‘campaign views’ tool can reveal to security teams includes:

  • A summary of a phishing campaign i.e. when it started, it’s pattern and timeline, the size and spread of the campaign, and how many known victims there has been (and see if users have clicked on the phishing link).
  • A list of IP addresses and senders associated with the attack, plus a list of all the URLs that were used in the attack.
  • A look at which messages were blocked, delivered to junk or quarantine, or allowed to get through to the inbox.

Today’s Attacks ‘Morph’ To Get Around Defences

Today’s email attacks are often the sophisticated output of factory-like cybercrime operations where new templates and variances can be rapidly created, generated, and scaled-up in a way that is designed to offer the best chance of maximising financial gain while evading detection and capture.

For example, in a single campaign, the attackers can make multiple changes and variants (morphs) e.g. changes in the sending infrastructure, the sending IPs and sending domains, sender names and addresses, URLs, and the hosting infrastructure for their attack sites. These morphs can, therefore, enable attackers to get around popular defence tactics such as blocking known bad URLs, sending IP address, or sending domains.

Value

Microsoft says that the extra context and visibility that ‘campaign views’ gives security teams means that they can be more effective and efficient. For example, once armed with the information that ‘campaign views’ provides, security teams can be better at remediating compromised/vulnerable users, improving the general security posture (by removing configuration flaws), investigating related/similar campaigns, and hunting and tracking any threats that have the same indicators of compromise.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

Email is one of the main ways that cybercriminals can gain access to company systems and phishing campaigns are an all-too-common way to dupe businesses into clicking on links in often convincing-looking pages, thereby releasing the malware that causes so much damage, or imparting password and financial information. ‘Campaign views’ appears to be another potentially valuable tool in the cyber defences of businesses with its main strong point being that it gives a much fuller picture of real-world attacks. This additional context and data can help businesses to become much better prepared and more proactive in finding and closing the door on rapidly evolving email security threats.

Real-time Phishing Protection Now Available in Chrome

Google has announced real-time phishing protection with the help of improvements to ‘Safe Browsing’ which allow Chrome to check each new site you visit against a safe list stored on your computer and with Google so that Chrome can issue an instant warning if the site is thought to be suspicious or malicious.

Phishing Problem

As well as being sent to phishing pages via links in phishing emails, phishing links are also inserted into malicious advertisements and even direct messages on chat apps.

Also, even though Google’s existing ‘Safe Browsing’ feature adds thousands of new unsafe sites and to the blocklists of the web industry and Chrome already checks the URL of each site you visit/file you download against a local list which is updated every 30 minutes, Google has noted that some phishing sites are even able to slip through the 30-minute refresh window by switching domains quickly or by hiding from Google’s crawlers.

The multiple phishing threats coupled with the ability of some sites to side-step even a 30-minute time window are what have prompted Google to move into real-time phishing checks through Chrome.

Real-Time

Google’s new, improved protections via Chrome allow the inspection of the URLs of pages visited with Safe Browsing’s servers in real-time (local safe site list check + checks with Google) in order to be able to give users an instant warning that they may be on a malicious page as well as a prompt to change their password.

Google says that this real-time warning system on sites that are brand new can deliver a 30% increase in protections.

Password Issues

The issues of using weak passwords, password sharing, and the stealing of passwords through phishing are all-too-familiar threats. With this in mind, Google launched predictive phishing protections which can warn users who are syncing history in Chrome when they enter their Google Account password into suspected phishing sites. Google has now also expanded this protection to cover everyone signed in to Chrome (whether or not Sync is enabled) and the feature will also work for all the passwords stored in Chrome’s password manager.

This updated security feature now means that if you type one of your protected passwords (from Chrome’s password manager, or the Google Account password you used to sign in to Chrome) into an unusual site, Chrome will classify this as a potentially dangerous event.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

Offering real-time phishing protection checks is one way to help Chrome users stay a step ahead of cybercriminals who have shown that they could even adapt their campaigns quickly enough to get past a sophisticated system that updates its security information every 30 minutes. This has to be good news for business and domestic users alike, and the flashing up of instant warnings on visiting new sites looks as though it could reduce the numbers of those who fall victim to phishing attacks as well as constantly reminding Chrome users of the risks that are ever-present on the Internet today and of how easy it would be to fall victim to ever-more convincing and sophisticated phishing attempts.

The Difference Between Backup and Disaster Recovery

We’re all familiar with the value of making a backup of business data, but how does this fit with ‘Disaster Recovery’ and ‘Business Continuity’ strategies?  This article takes a brief look at how these elements fit together to ensure that businesses can survive, function and get back up to speed when disastrous events (external or internal) pose a serious threat.

Reality

Normal life rules apply to the business environment i.e. things can and do go wrong, and backup and disaster recovery are both based upon this understanding.

Business continuity in the event of a ‘disaster’, is about making sure that your essential operations and core business functions can keep running while the repairs can be made that get you back up to speed.

What Could Go Wrong?

There is a potentially huge range of ‘disasters’ that businesses could make plans to be able to overcome, and even though organisations come in different sizes and have different budgets, the risks they face are generally the same.  Typically, the more obvious ‘disaster’ threats the business include:

  • Hardware failures/server failures.
  • Outages and/or file corruption
  • The effects of cyber-attacks.  For example, 53% of senior managers believe that a cyber-attack is the most likely thing to disrupt their business (Sungard AS 2019) and the effects could include damage to / locking out of systems (malware and ransomware), fraud and extortion, data breaches (which could also attract fines under GDPR, damaging publicity and loss of customers).
  • Environmental/natural disasters e.g. fire and flood.
  • Important 3rd supplier failure or the loss of key employees.
  • Failures of part / a component of a network e.g. as highlighted by recent problems with banking and airline industry services.
  • Theft or loss of equipment holding company data.

Backing Up Your Data – Where To Store It

When it comes to backups, security, integrity, cost, scalability, complying with legislation, your own business plans, and ease of daily use are all considerations.  Where / how to store backed-up data is a decision tackled differently by different companies.  In the UK, GDPR (the data protection regulations) should be taken into account in these decisions.  Places to back up data could include:

  • On-site – storing data in the same location e.g. on an external hard drive in the workplace.  Although the data backup is close to hand, this is not a particularly secure solution and in the event of flood/fire/theft disasters, your data would be gone.
  • Off-site – taking the data away on a hard drive or another physical storage medium.  This means it’s less at risk from local issues (e.g. loss, theft, damage) but could mean it takes longer to restore data .
  • Online – backing up your data on hosted servers (in the cloud) and accessing them through an application. This is now becoming the preferred method for most businesses as it is convenient and fast (if you have an Internet connection) and it cuts out many of your on-site potential disaster risks (fire, flood, loss and damage of physical storage media).

Some businesses prefer to use a ‘hybrid’ cloud backup to help address any vulnerabilities that cloud-only or local-only backup solutions have.

There are many dedicated online backup solutions available e.g. IDrive Business, Backblaze Business, Carbonite Safem, or larger solutions for businesses with much bigger data backup requirements.

Backup Decisions

Taking regular, secure backups of your business data is an important part of good practice.  It is also an important element of disaster recovery and the business continuity process.

There are several types of backup that businesses need to make decisions about.  These include whether, if/when and how to make:

  • A full backup – one that covers every folder and file type and typically takes a long time.
  • An incremental backup – the first back up is a full one, followed by simply backing up any changes made to the previous backup.
  • A differential backup – similar to an incremental backup, requires more storage space but has a faster restore time.
  • A mirror backup – an exact copy of your data that has the advantage of removing the obsolete files each time.
  • An Image-based backup – captures images of all data and systems rather than just copying the files.
  • A clone of your hard drive – similar to imaging and creates an exact cloned drive with no compression.

In reality, many businesses make use of many different types of backup solutions at the same time.

Business Continuity, Backup Decisions and Disaster Recovery

Accepting that disasters happen and that you can plan how to maintain business continuity while you deal with them (using a disaster recovery plan) is an important step in safeguarding your business. Maintaining the ability to ensure that core functions and critical systems remain in place in the event of a disaster (business continuity) involves planning, an important part of which is the disaster recovery plan (DRP).  Creating this plan is usually an interdepartmental process, which is often led by information technology.

RTO & RPO – Linking Backups To Your DRP.

There are two metrics you can use to help you to make data backup decisions that relate to your DRP.

The Recovery Time Objective (RTO): the recovery window / how long (time) the business realistically has to recover from a disaster before there are unacceptable consequences.

The Recovery Point Objective (RPO): how far back (the maximum tolerable period of time) your organisation needs to go in recovering data that may have been lost due to a disaster.

By working out these time periods (particularly RPO), it can help you to decide upon the frequency of backups, which backup methods are most suitable and preferable to you e.g. the need to go back longer periods may favour online backups, and businesses with  large quantities of valuable historic data may struggle with a short RTO (which may require tiered data recovery).

In today’s business environment it is worth bearing in mind that your customers are not likely to be very tolerant of downtime, so recovery windows now need to be as short as possible. Many businesses, therefore, simply opt for a daily backup.

Disaster Recovery Plan

At the heart of your business disaster recovery strategy should be the disaster recovery plan (DRP) which should provide step-by-step workable instructions to ensure a fast recovery.  A DRP should be tested and kept up to date to ensure that it will work in reality in the event of a disaster and typically includes elements like:

  • A plan for roles and communications, detailing employee contact information and who’s responsible for what following the disaster.
  • A plan to safeguard equipment e.g. to keep it off the floor, wrapped in plastic away from flooding.
  • A data continuity system that details what the business needs to run in terms of operations, finances/accounts supplies, and communications.
  • Checking that your data backup regime is working, and that very recent copy is stored in a secure place but would be easily and quickly accessible when needed.
  • An asset inventory, including photos where possible, of the hardware (workstations, printers, phones, servers etc) reference for insurance claims after a major disaster.
  • Keeping (up to date) documentation that lists all vital components of your IT infrastructure, hardware and software, and a sequence of what needs to be done to resume business operations with them.
  • Photos showing that the hardware was in use by employees and that care had been taken to minimise risk e.g. items were off the floor (e.g. to avoid flood damage).
  • A supplier communication and service restoration plan so that you quickly restore services and key supplies after the disaster.
  • Details of a secondary location where your business could operate from if your primary location was too badly damaged in a disaster.
  • Details of the testing, optimisation and automation of your plan to ensure that it could be implemented quickly, as easily as possible, and free from human error.

Putting The Pieces Together

The basic difference between a backup and disaster recovery, therefore, is that a backup is having a copy of your data, and disaster recovery is the whole strategy to recover your business operations and essential IT environment in the event of a serious event e.g. cyber-attack, equipment failure, fire or flood.

Creating a DRP involves completing a risk assessment and business impact analysis in order to identify critical applications and services, and it is from here that your business can then create its own tailored RTOs and RPOs which in turn, will link to your backup strategy and cycles.

Backups are essential files that enable a full restore, and as such are an important element of ongoing good practice and of your DRP, and your backup should relate strongly to the underlying strategy of disaster recovery.

One thing is certain about backup and disaster recovery which is that having no plan for either is means planning to fail.

Hacker’s Website Closed Down In International Operation

A website (and its supporting infrastructure) which sold a variety of hacking tools to other would-be cybercriminals has been closed down after an investigation by agencies from multiple countries including the UK’s National Crime Agency (NCA).

IM-RAT

The main tool that the agencies were particularly interested in eradicating was the Imminent Monitor Remote Access Trojan (IM-RAT) which is a hacking tool, of Australian origin, which has been on sale for 6 years and was available for sale via the Imminent Monitor website.

According to Europol, once installed on a victim’s computer the IM-RAT malware, which could be purchased for as little as $25, allowed cybercriminals to secretly “disable anti-virus and anti-malware software, carry out commands such as recording keystrokes, steal data and passwords and watch the victims via their webcams”.

Big International Operation

The investigation and the operation to shut down the sale of IM-RAT was led by the Australian Federal Police (AFP) and involved judicial and law enforcement agencies in Europe, Colombia and Australia, and was coordinated by Europol and Eurojust.

Coordinated law enforcement activity has now ended the availability of IM-RAT, which was used across 124 countries and sold to more than 14 500 buyers. IM-RAT can no longer be used by those who bought it.

In a week of actions (in November), the international agencies dismantled the infrastructure of IM-RAT, arrested 14 of its most prolific users and seized over 430 devices for forensic analysis.

Back in June, search warrants were executed in Australia and Belgium against the developer and one employee of IM-RAT and most recently, actions to fully shut down the distribution of IM-RAT have also been taken in Australia, Colombia,  Czechia, the Netherlands, Poland, Spain, Sweden and the UK.

In the UK, it has been reported that the NCA searched properties in Hull, Leeds, London, Manchester, Merseyside, Milton Keynes, Nottingham, Somerset and Surrey in relation to the investigation.

The shutting down of the whole IM-RAT infrastructure, and the detailed analysis of the malware and the website used to sell it mean that IM-RAT can no longer be used.

Tens of Thousands of Victims

With the IM-RAT malware/hacking tool being so widely used, Europol believes that there are probably tens of thousands of victims around the world, and so far, investigators have been able to find evidence of stolen personal details, passwords, private photographs, video footage and data.

IM-RAT

Although IM-RAT allows cybercriminals to secretly take control of a computer, there are some common signs which indicate that a computer may have been infected with IM-RAT.  These signs include an unusually slow internet connection, unknown processes running in a system (which are visible in the Task Manager, Processes tab), files being modified or deleted without your permission, and unknown programs being installed on your device (visible in the Control Panel, Add or Remove Programs).

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

For businesses, this kind of malware caused considerable problems, not least in terms of data protection, disruption, industrial espionage and extortion, and left their devices wide open to hackers. This internationally co-ordinated move by multiple agencies is an important step in the battle against so-called ‘crime as a service’ and bulletproof hosting where organised gangs have sought to profit from crimes that they can carry out from a distance via the Internet.

If you believe that your device may have been infected by IM-RAT, the Europol advice is to disconnect your device from the network in order to prevent any additional malicious activity, install trustworthy security software, and run a scan of your device using security software. When you’re satisfied that you’ve removed the infection, change the passwords for your online accounts and check your banking activity.

Some general steps you can take to guard against falling victim to malware include keeping your anti-virus software and patching up to date, installing a firewall, only using strong passwords (that aren’t shared across different accounts), covering up your webcam when its not in use, regularly backing up your data, and making sure that you don’t open any suspicious-looking emails and attachments even if they do come from people on your contact list.

New Brave Browser: Blocks Ads, Pays Rewards

The new 1.0 browser from Brave removes ads and ad trackers and pays users through a reward system for viewing the ads that Brave presents.

Brave?

Brave is a San Francisco based start-up company, founded in 2015 and led by CEO Brendan Eich, formally of Firefox.

Ad and Tracker-Free

Two of the key advantages of the new Brave browser are that it protects a user’s privacy by removing ad trackers and makes browsing a faster (download time) and less distracting experience by removing adverts.

Displays Its Own Adverts and Pays You For Viewing Them

The big difference about Brave is that it offers its own Brave Rewards system. Users who join the system only see adverts from Brave and are paid 70% of the resulting ad revenue using Brave’s own crypto-token, the Basic Attention Token (BAT).  Brave also sends the revenue you accrue back to the websites you’ve visited.

The advantages of this system should be that it can lure new users to Brave in a crowded browser market with the promise of money and a better browsing experience and improved privacy and that websites can still find a way to support themselves with advertising without having to share the personal data of users with tech companies.  The hope is that, if this browser and model gains user approval on a large-scale it will eventually deter publishers from trying to profile the behaviour of their users via privacy-invading trackers.

Earnings

Users who sign-up to the Brave Rewards system can choose where to direct the BAT they’ve earned e.g. send it certain sites, tip Twitter and Reddit users or choose to convert it into currency (which is unlikely to be a large amount).

Numbers

There are some very well-established players in the Browser market which is currently dominated by Google Chrome which has more than 65% of the market (around 2+ billion installs).

In comparison, Brave says that it is used 8.7 million times each month on Windows, macOS, Android and iOS. The company has, however, reported that the number of users is growing by 10% per month.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

Privacy is a big concern for all web-users and trying to download web pages that are full of adverts can be a frustrating and a time and power-draining experience. Businesses also need to be able to use the tools available to them to make sure that they can get the maximum ROI from their advertising spend, plus the big tech companies need to be able to offer their business customers an ad system that delivers results, hence the perceived need for trackers and profiling the behaviour of customers.  Web publishers also need to have a viable way to help support their sites and offer content to their users (without a payment gateway) and this has traditionally been through advertising on their pages, much to the frustration of website visitors.  Brave’s browser, therefore, tries to meet the needs of all these groups in one package.  The combination of improved privacy, financial incentives and better browsing experience may prove appealing to users, and publishers may take note of the Brave model and realise that there is another way of supporting their sites. It remains to be seen, however, how much share of the browser market Brave can gain and how well it fares against some powerful and entrenched competitors.