Phishing; what is phishing and how to protect against it.

Phishing continues to be one of the key attack vectors against both individuals and corporations.

At a personal level it’s one of the most successful ways malicious individuals and groups have for stealing credit card details and identities.

At a corporate level it is one of the most if not the most common entry points into an organisation.  This is true even for the majority of the Advanced Persistent Threat type attacks that are discovered; while they may use many clever techniques to avoid detection once they are established the usual entry point is via some form of social engineering with Phishing being the most common social engineering attack.

It is due to this that I was recently asked to create a brief overview of Phishing covering what it is, why it is so prevalent, and what can be done to reduce the risk.  I’m sure most of you are aware what Phishing is, but I thought I would share some of the content of my recent presentation.

I started with a brief overview of what Phishing is;

•Phishing is a fraudulent attempt, usually made through email, to steal your personal information. The best way to protect yourself from phishing is to learn how to recognize a phish.

•Phishing emails usually appear to come from a well-known organization and ask for your personal information — such as credit card number, social security number, account number or password. Often times phishing attempts appear to come from sites, services and companies with which you do not even have an account.

•In order for Internet criminals to successfully “phish” your personal information, they must get you to go from an email to a website. Phishing emails will almost always tell you to click a link that takes you to a site where your personal information is requested. Legitimate organizations would never request this information of you via email.

Wikipedia has a longer version providing an overview of Phishing;

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phishing

This is actually a pretty good article covering a brief history of Phishing, various Phishing techniques, and some prevention / anti-Phishing tools and techniques.

I then went onto cover some further terminology around different types or developments of Phishing that have dramatically improved its effectiveness;

Phishing began as very generic, spam like emails.  These have over time become much more realistic and targeted in order to improve the chances of success for the attacker.  Various terms have been coined to describe these more targeted attacks;

•Spear Phishing refers to attacks targeted at specific individuals or groups of individuals such as employees of a company.  Attackers will gather personal and / or company specific information in order to improve their chances of success.

•Clone Phishing is where a legitimate email that contains attachments or links is cloned / copied, but with malicious attachments or links.  This exploits the trust that may be inferred from the email coming from a seemingly legitimate source.

•Whaling is a term for phishing attacks specifically targeting only very senior company executives.

•A further term recently coined in a blog post by Bruce Schneier was ‘laser guided precision phishing’ when describing some recent advanced phishing attacks.  The clear message is that these are getting better and harder to spot all the time, and these attacks are seldom stopped by technical means;

–“Only amateurs attack machines; professionals target people”

Basically Phishing continues to evolve with attackers spending time to do recognisance on higher value targets to make the attacks look as realistic as possible in order to increase their success rate.

The final part of the presentation covered some of the methods that can be employed to reduce the risk from Phishing attacks;

•Security / Phishing awareness and training.

–Phishme (or similar service) – this has a great success rate with figures such as 60% of users clicking on Phishme email links reducing to <10% after a few cycles.

–Broader training – regular communications from our department around security awareness and things to look out for.

•Make emails from external sources more obvious, such as by changing the display name on internal emails.

–This helps improve vigilance, however so many emails are received from external sources the benefit it likely limited.

•Disable links and attachments in emails from external sources

–Likely impacts many business processes, is a white list of all ‘trusted’ email sources feasible or maintainable?

•Ensure any heuristic and zero day type protections are functioning as designed to provide maximum protection from bespoke and new attacks.

•Enforce ‘least privilege’ – no users log onto any machine with administrative or root privileges, always use ‘Run As’ or Sudo for any actions requiring elevated privileges

•Ensure any browsers in use are kept up to date with any anti-phishing add ins / tool bars installed and functioning

•Black / White listing of acceptable sending domains.  White listing is more cumbersome, but more effective, black listing is easier (as with most security technologies) but less effective as it can only block known bad sites / domains.  Neither of these techniques will stop spoofed emails or emails from compromised ‘good’ sites / domains.

•Become involved with organisations / forums such as the Anti Phishing Working Group; http://www.antiphishing.org/

In conclusion I would wholly recommend a solid defence in depth strategy for your organisation when it comes to security tools and strategy, but I would also say that user training is a key component of reducing the risk from Phishing; if not the most critical component.

A great way to learn more, and help improve anti-phishing techniques is to get involved with organisations such as the Anti Phishing Working Group (link above).  They also offer some useful anti-phishing training.

It would be great to hear your thoughts on Phishing, and the user training vs. technical controls debate.

K

RSA Conference Europe 2012 – They’re inside… Now what?

Eddie Schwartz – CISO, RSA and Uri Rivner – Head of cyber strategy, Biocatch

Talk started with some discussion around general Trojan attacks against companies, rather than long term high tech APTs, with the tagline; If these are random attacks.. We’re screwed!

Worth checking the pitch, but there was a series of examples from the RSA lab in Israel of usernames and passwords and other data that Trojans had sent to C&C servers in Russia.  These included banks, space agencies, science agencies, nuclear material handling companies etc.

So what to the controllers of these Trojans do with the data?  Remember these are random attacks collecting whatever personal data they can get, not specific targeted attacks.  A common example is to sell the data, you can find examples of the criminals on message boards etc. offering banking, government and military credentials for sale.

Moving onto examples of specifically targeted attacks and APTs..  Examples of targeted attacks include; Ghostnet, Aurora, Night Dragon, Nitro and Shady RAT.  These have attacked everything from large private companies, to critical infrastructures to the UN.  All of the given examples had one thing in common – Social Engineering.  Every one used Spear Phishing as their entry vector.

From this I think you need to consider – Do you still think security awareness training shouldn’t be high on your organisations to-do list?

The talk went onto discuss Stuxnet and Duqu, along with their similarities and differences, largely what was captured in my last post.  The interesting observation here was their likely different plaes in the attack process.  Stuxnet was at the end and the actual attack, Duqu likely much earlier in the process as it was primarily for information gathering.

A whole lot more targeted malware examples were given including Jimmy, Munch, Snack, Headache etc.  Feel free to look these up if you want to do some further research.

A very recent example of a targeted attach that was only discovered in July of this year is VOHO.  This campaign was heavily targeted on Geopolitical and defence targets in Boston, Washington and New York.  It was a multistage campaign heavily reliant on Javascript.  While focused on specific target types the attack was very broad, hitting over 32000 unique hosts and successfully infections nearly 4000.  This is actually a very good success rate, with the campaign no doubt considered a success by those instigating it..

In light of this evidence it is clear we need a new security doctrine.  You will get hacked despite your hard work, if it has not yet happened, it will..  Learn from the event, an honest evaluation of faults and gaps should result in implements.

Things to consider as part of this new doctrine;

–          Resist – Threat resistant virtualisation, Zero day defences

–          Detect – Malware traces, Big data analytics, behavioural profiling

–          Investigate – Threat analysis, Forensics and reverse engineering

–          Cyber Intelligence – Threat and Adversary intelligence

Cyber Intelligence was covered in some more specific details around how we can improve this;

–          External visibility – Industry / sector working groups, Government, trusted friends and colleges, vendor intelligence;

  • Can this information be quickly accessed?  For speed should be in machine readable format, but use whatever works!

–          Internal visibility – Do you have visibility in every place it it needed, HTTP, email, DNS, sensitive data etc.

  • Do you have the tools in place to make use of and analyse all of these disparate data sources

–          Can you identify when commands like NET.. and schedulers etc. are being used?

–          Do you have visibility of data exfiltration, scripts running, PowerShell, WMIC (Windows Management Instrumentation Command-line) etc?

–          Do you have the long term log management and correlation in place to put all the pieces of these attacks together?

Summary recommendations and call to action..

–          Assume you are breached on a daily basis and focus on adversaries, TTPs and their targets

–          Develop architecture and tools for internal and external intelligence for real-time and post-facto visibility into threats

–          Understand current state of malware, attack trends, scenarios, and communications

–          Adjust security team skills and incident management work flow

–          Learn from this and repeat the cycle..

Next steps (call to action!);

–          Evaluate your defence posture against APTs, and take the advice from the rest of this post

–          Evaluate your exposure to random intrusions (e.g. data stealing Trojans), and take the advice from the rest of this post

Useful presentation from a technical and security team standpoint, but completely missed the human and security awareness training aspect – despite highlighting that all the example APTs used spear phishing to get in the door.  I’d recommend following all the advice of this talk and then adding a solid security awareness program for all employees and really embedding this into the company philosophy / culture.

K