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Malicious Email Campaigns Geo-Targets Canadian Organizations, Report Says
Canadian organizations are increasingly becoming the targets of cyber-attackers as shown in the recent discovery of nearly 100 malicious email campaigns specifically targeting organizations based in Canada.
In the report "Beyond 'North America' - Threat actors target Canada specifically" researchers at Proofpoint reported that between the period of January 1, 2019 to May 1, 2019, threat actors conducted nearly 100 malicious email campaigns specifically targeting Canadian organizations or were customized for Canadian audiences.
Malicious Email Campaigns
Malicious email campaign, also known as phishing scam, is a type of cyber-attack that uses emails as a weapon. Phishing emails contain malicious attachments or malicious links.
Downloading this malicious attachment or clicking this malicious link could lead to compromise. Victims are tricked into opening the malicious email and downloading this malicious attachment or clicking this malicious link as threat actors use branding familiar to the recipients.
In the recent malicious email campaigns detected by Proofpoint researchers, the top affected organizations in Canada include financial services, energy/utilities, manufacturing, healthcare and technology. The researchers also observed that some of the malicious emails sent were customized for the French-speaking recipients in Canada.
In the nearly 100 malicious email campaigns specifically targeting Canadian organizations, Proofpoint researchers also observed that the threat actors tricked the victims into opening the malicious email or downloading the malicious attachment or clicking the malicious link by stealing the branding of several notable Canadian companies and agencies including national banks, major shipping and logistics organizations and government agencies.
“Emotet in particular, with its frequent region-specific email campaigns, is bringing new attention to geo-targeting in Canada …,” Proofpoint researchers said.
The first version of the malicious software (malware) Emotet, which was first observed in 2014 targeting German and Austrian victims, functioned as a banking trojan – a type of malware designed to steal financial data.
Since then, Emotet has evolved into a powerful malware, with its ability to continuously evolve and update its capabilities for various online criminal activities from information stealing to distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks. In recent years, instead of delivering its own banking trojan, Emotet has delivered third-party banking trojans such as Qbot, The Trick, IcedID and Gootkit.
In 2018, the United States Computer Emergency Readiness Team (US-CERT)issued an alert, warning about the dangers of Emotet. "Emotet continues to be among the most costly and destructive malware affecting state, local, tribal, and territorial (SLTT) governments, and the private and public sectors,” US-CERT said. “Emotet infections have cost SLTT governments up to $1 million per incident to remediate.”
One of the reasons why Emotet continues to be among the most costly and destructive malware is its worm-like capability, that is, the ability to spread from computer to computer without any human action.
Emotet has been known to spread from computer to computer without any human interaction by accessing Server Message Block (SMB), an internet standard protocol that Windows uses to share files, printers and serial ports. “Emotet’s access to SMB can result in the infection of entire domains (servers and clients),” US-CERT said.
Emotet is also capable of spreading its own phishing email without human interaction through the use of Outlook scraper, a tool that’s used to scrape names and email addresses from the victim’s Outlook accounts and uses this names and email addresses to send out additional phishing emails from the compromised accounts.
According to Proofpoint researchers, the threat actor called “TA542” is the primary actor behind Emotet. Proofpoint researchers said that this threat actor is known to use the latest version of Emotet and develops malicious emails specific to given regions in the world.
"TA542 typically distributes high volume email campaigns consisting of hundreds of thousands or even millions of messages targeting all industries,” Proofpoint researchers said. “TA542 is currently one of the most prolific actors in the entire threat landscape. With TA542’s international reach and high volume campaign strategy, we expect Emotet use to continue to grow in the upcoming quarters.”
Even as Emotet has evolved in terms of capabilities, one thing remains constant with this malware: delivery is always via malicious email. As the delivery is always via malicious email, it’s important to protect your organization’s email system from this threat through the following mitigating measures:
Here are additional cyber-security measures in order to block or mitigate the effects of Emotet:
Timely identification and mitigation of IT risks can save your business from suffering costly consequences. Call us todayand we will show you how to better protectyour staff and your sensitive information against targeted attacks.
How Much Does Cybercrime Cost Canadian Companies?
Cybercrime continues to pose a real risk to businesses of all sizes, across all industries. Attackers have ever-more-sophisticated tools and techniques at their disposal, empowering them to launch bold hacks — with potentially devastating results.
We all want to believe we’ve taken the necessary steps to build a safe, secure business that’s strong enough to resist cyber-attacks. We all want to trust our team is informed and educated enough to avoid opening the doors for viruses to simply walk into our systems. But, sadly, that’s not always the case.
Businesses worldwide have a shared responsibility — to their clients and employees — to take precautions against cybercrime. When personal and financial details are leaked by attackers, people and businesses alike can suffer. Research reveals the average price paid by Canadian firms in 2018 amounts to a staggering US$9.25 millionper business.
This is an astonishing sum of money for any company, even those operating at an international or global level. Let’s take a closer look at which types of attacks were most common, what the biggest vulnerabilities are and more.
The Most Common Cybersecurity Risks Facing Canadian Businesses
Cybercrime comes in many forms, but the most prevalent throughout 2018 was the malware-based attack. Individual companies in Canada lost over US$2 million on average to these, and the number of malware-based attacks actually grew by 11 percent from the previous year.
That’s sobering news for any company taking a lax approach to its cybersecurity. Malware can infect your system and cause major disruptions with surprising ease: all it takes is one unaware employee downloading a suspicious attachment from an unsecure website or email. Your entire business could be affected for days or weeks, costing you valuable time and money.
As well as malware-based cybercrimes, ransomware became even more of a danger to Canadian companies in 2018, growing by 15 percent. This is a particularly unnerving type of attack, essentially locking certain key aspects of your business’s system until you agree to pay the amount of money (typically, a cryptocurrency) demanded.
The risk of ransomware
Ransomware may bring your working processes to a halt or, to a lesser extent, cause severe delays. Clients may become frustrated and concerned by your system’s vulnerabilities, choosing to take their business elsewhere. They could spread the word of your security flaws to acquaintances, relating their own stories either privately or publicly.
This can affect your reputation enough to leave prospective new clients wondering how safe their data will be in your hands. Winning their trust and demonstrating how you plan to handle any similar incidents in the future would be a sizeable challenge, particularly when you’re in a competitive industry.
Around 70 percent of ransomware attacks of 2018 were launched against small businesses, while the average sum of money demanded was more than $110,000 — a huge amount for any small firm. But that’s not the highest price asked for: one ransomware attack saw the victim faced with a charge of over $8 million. And one client actually paid just under $1 million to regain access to their entire system.
Some of these figures are mind-boggling, especially when even the biggest brands have so many overheads to consider. While global companies may appear to have millions of dollars to sacrifice when struck by a ransomware attack, they have many people depending on them — employee salaries, products, services and more all must be taken into account.
Enough of a powerful hit may have a domino effect, causing significant ripples to occur for a long time after. Sadly, though, one of the areas most commonly hit by ransomware attacks was healthcare. Loss of data and resources here could mean the difference between life and death in some cases.
Another form of cybercrime increasing in popularity during 2018 was phishing, with a 16 percent riseon 2017’s numbers. These involve cybercriminals posing as businesses or reliable individuals to fool victims into sharing critical information like passwords, credit card details and similar.
Research reveals an incredible 85 percent of firms questioned have come into contact with this type of cyberattack.
One of 2018’s prominent phishing scams focused on the World Cup. Targets received emails claiming they were the lucky winners of tickets, offering the chance to become part of the excitement in Russia. For dedicated soccer fans with little to no awareness of phishing scams, such a scheme is easy to fall for, leading you to hand over crucial information in the hopes of watching a game.
However, anyone opening attachments, clicking on links or providing their details in exchange for said tickets would be in for a nasty surprise.
Taking Steps to Protect Your Business Against Cybercrime
The prevalence of cybercrime highlights just how important a proper cybersecurity program is for every single company. Simply taking the stance of assuming your business faces no risk because there are bigger targets is impractical, not to say dangerous. Just one powerful attack could cause lasting problems your team is simply unprepared for.
Taking precautions to strengthen your business’s cybersecurity plans and procedures is vital to minimize your risk of falling prey to hackers. Work with professionals to secure your system and safeguard against breaches — this offers valuable peace of mind, leaving you (and your team) free to focus on core responsibilities.
Effective training for each employee with access to any device is paramount too. It only takes one simple mistake to bring a vulnerable system to its knees, and an uninformed worker may well have no idea what constitutes a threat. There are various solutions to protect your business and build a security-savvy team with the skills to identify dangers.
Want to learn more about your cybersecurity options? Please don’t hesitate to get in touchwith The Driz Group’s experts now!
How to Protect Your Organization’s Computers from WannaCry-Like Cyber-Attack
Microsoft recently took an unusual step of rolling out a patch for Windows operating systems that are out of support in an effort to stop a WannaCry-like cyber-attack.
This is the second time in just over 2 years that the technology giant rolled out a patch for Windows operating systems that are out of support. The previous unprecedented patch was rolled out at the height of the WannaCry cyber-attack on May 12, 2017.
According to Microsoft, the latest patch, which was released on May 14, 2019, fixes the security vulnerability in out-of-support versions of Windows, specifically Windows 2003 and Windows XP; as well as versions of Windows that still receive support from Microsoft, specifically Windows 7, Windows Server 2008 R2 and Windows Server 2008.
Failure to apply the May 14, 2019 patch renders the above-mentioned out-of-support and in-support versions of Windows vulnerable to WannaCry-like cyber-attack, this according to Simon Pope, Director of Incident Response at Microsoft Security Response Center (MSRC).
What Is WannaCry?
WannaCry is a malicious software (malware) that wreaked havoc in more than 300,000 computers in over 150 countries in less than 24 hours on May 12, 2017. Once a computer becomes infected with WannaCry, this malware encrypts files on the computer's hard drive, making it impossible for legitimate users to access them, and demands a ransom payment in exchange of the decryption keys that supposedly would unlock the encrypted files.
After infecting one computer, the WannaCry malware spreads itself through the network, infecting other vulnerable devices, without the need for further action from the users. Attempts on the part of the WannaCry victims to unlock the encrypted files by paying the ransom was a useless endeavour as the source code of this malware was written in such a way that it isn’t possible to determine who paid the ransom and who didn’t, as such, there’s no way to decrypt on a per-user basis.
Two months, specifically on March 14, 2017, prior to the WannaCry cyber-attack, Microsoft released a patch that fixes the security vulnerability exploited by WannaCry. The patch, however, wasn’t made available to Windows operating systems that were out of support, specifically Windows XP, Windows 8 and Windows Server 2003. At the height of the WannaCry cyber-attack on May 12, 2017, Microsoft took an unusual step of rolling out a patch for these 3 out-of-support versions of Windows.
The WannaCry malware was able to infect hundreds of thousands of computers in less than 24 hours as a result of these two features: remote code execution and worm capabilities.
Remote code execution is the ability of a malicious actor to access someone else's computer and make malicious changes to this computer regardless of the geographical location of this device. Worm capability, meanwhile, refers to the capability of a malware to spread itself through the network, infecting other vulnerable devices, without user interaction.
The May 14, 2019 patch released by Microsoft fixes the security vulnerability labelled CVE-2019-0708. Similar the WannaCry malware, security vulnerability CVE-2019-0708 exhibits remote code execution and worm capabilities.
Pope, Director of Incident Response at Microsoft Security Response Center (MSRC), said in a blog post, that while there’s no evidence that this security vulnerability has been exploited in the wild, it’s highly likely that malicious actors will write an exploit for this vulnerability and include it into their malware.
The security vulnerability, Pope said, is “wormable”, which means that “any future malware that exploits this vulnerability could propagate from vulnerable computer to vulnerable computer in a similar way as the WannaCry malware spread across the globe in 2017.”
WannaCry, in particular, infects vulnerable Windows operating systems via Server Message Block 1.0 (SMBv1) server – a protocol that enables Windows systems to share files, printers and serial ports. In vulnerability CVE-2019-0708, remote code execution and worm capabilities are made possible via Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP) – a proprietary protocol developed by Microsoft which allows users to access another computer over a network connection. “The Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP) itself is not vulnerable,” Pope said. “This vulnerability is pre-authentication ….”
Many malware in the past were able to bypass anti-malware and other security defences via RDP. Malicious actors gain access to compromised devices by stealing or brute forcing RDP credentials.
In early 2019, authorities shut down xDedic Marketplace, a website involved in the illicit sale of RDP credentials. According to authorities, RDP login details of tens of thousands of compromised servers owned by unknowing companies and private individuals were sold on the xDedic platform for amounts ranging from $6 to more than $10,000 each.
The top preventive measure in order to protect your organization’s computers from WannaCry and WannaCry-like cyber-attack is by keeping all software and, in particular, operating system software up-to-date.
It’s worthy to note that even though it has been a long time since the major WannaCry attack, organizations continue to be victimized by this malware. Months after the major WannaCry attack, US aircraft maker Boeingfell victim to WannaCry. In March 2018, Mike VanderWel, chief engineer at Boeing Commercial Airplane production engineering, sent out an alert to his colleagues that the WannaCry malware was “metastasizing rapidly” out of Boeing’s North Charleston production plant and could potentially “spread to airplane software”. Linda Mills, head of communications for Boeing Commercial Airplanes, in a statement said, “The vulnerability was limited to a few machines.”
As an added protection to your organization’s computers, it’s best to disable Windows protocols that are often exploited by malicious actors. Specific to WannaCry malware, disable SMB protocol and for the security vulnerability CVE-2019-0708, disable RDP.
Connect with our cyber security expertstoday to learn more about common threats and prevent cyberattacks.
Retargeted Attacks Continue to Rise
Once a target, always a target. This seems to be the case in the City of Baltimore in Maryland as the City recently suffered another cyber-attack – the second attack in just over a year.
Last May 7, Baltimore Mayor Bernard Jack Young announcedthat the City’s network was infected with a ransomware. As a precaution, he said the City shut down the majority of its servers. While the City’s essential services such as police and fire departments are operational, the ransomware infection and the resulting shutting down of the majority of the servers resulted in network outage, email outage and phone outage with nearly every other department of the City affected.
Just over a year ago, in March 2018, the City of Baltimore suffered another cyber-attack. The 2018 attack was, however, limited to Baltimore's computer network that supports emergency calls. The attack forced the staff to resort to manual operations to handle calls.
Baltimore Chief Information Officer and Chief Digital Officer Frank Johnson told Ars Technicathat the 2018 cyber-attack which brought down Baltimore's computer-aided dispatch (CAD) system was caused by a ransomware. It wasn’t revealed what was the exact type of ransomware that hit Baltimore’s CAD system.
The point of entry of the ransomware was, however, partially identified. According to Johnson, the Baltimore City Information Technology office determined that "the vulnerability was the result of an internal change to the firewall by a technician who was troubleshooting an unrelated communication issue within the CAD System”.
In a press conference, Baltimore Chief Information Officer and Chief Digital Officer Johnson said that the recent cyber attack on Baltimore’s system was caused by the “very aggressive RobinHood ransomware".
Ransomware is a type of malicious software (malware) that locks out computer users by encrypting computer systems or files and demands from victims ransom payment in exchange for the decryption keys that would unlock the encrypted computer systems or files.
RobinHood ransomware is a fairly new malware. In early April last month, the RobinHood ransomware similarly infected the network of the City of Greenville, South Carolina, which prompted the City to shut down the majority of its servers.
In late April last month, security researcher Vitali Kremez reverse engineered a sample of the RobinHood ransomware. Kremez told BleepingComputerthat on execution, this malware stops 181 Windows services associated with antivirus and other software that could keep files open and prevent their encryption. This ransomware also doesn’t spread within the network, which means that every infected computer is individually targeted.
Kremez, meanwhile, told Ars Technica that the RobinHood ransomware attacker or attackers need administrative-level access to a system on the network “due to the way the ransomware interacts with C:\Windows\Temp directory”. It’s still unknown how the RobinHood ransomware gains access to a network and the computers connected toit.
The Robinhood ransomware drops its ransom note on the desktop, informing victims that 3 bitcoins must be paid to get the decryption key of one computer or alternatively send 13 bitcoins for the decryption keys of an entire infected system. The ransom note also states that the cost of payment increases “$10,000 each day after the fourth day.” The value of 1 bitcoin as of May 11, 2019 4PM GMT+7 is $6,312.
Prevalence of Retargeted Cyber Attacks
A study conducted by FireEye Mandiantfound that organizations that have been breached before are much more likely to be targeted again. In 2017, FireEye Mandiant reported that 56% of victims of at least one significant cyber-attack were targeted again by the same or similarly motivated attack group. In 2018, this number has continued to climb, increasing to 64%, FireEye Mandiant reported.
The top 5 retargeted industries in 2018 were finance (18%), education (13%), health (11%), pharmaceutical (9%), retail and hospitality (7%), and telecommunications (7%).
The FireEye Mandiant report further found that in 2018 organizations in the Asia-Pacific (APAC) region were far more likely to succumb to retargeted attacks, with 78% of APAC organizations fell victim to another attack. The said report also found that for the same period, 63% of organizations in the Americas fell victim to another attack. The report also found that for the same period, 57% of the organizations in Europe, Middle East, and Africa (EMEA) fell victim to another attack.
"This data further substantiates the fact that if you’ve been breached, you are much more likely to be targeted again and possibly suffer another breach," FireEye Mandiant said.
How to Prevent Retargeted Attacks
Configuring ordinary workstations not to install software and establishing a separate device or devices exclusively for administrative tasks (for installing and removing software and changing configuration settings) are two preventive measures in reducing the odds of malicious actors gaining access into your organization’s network.
Configuring ordinary workstations not to install software is a proactive means of preventing accidental installation of malicious software by unwittingly downloading malicious attachments or clicking on malicious links contained inside malicious emails.
Devices exclusively used for administrative tasks, meanwhile, should be secured through the following:
When you need help preventing cyberattacks and protecting your network and computers against ransomware, connect with our teamand get right advise at the right time.
Why Local Government Offices Are Targeted by Cyber Attackers and How to Prevent Such Attacks
In recent months, a concerning number of local governments in Ontario, Canada have openly admitted that they have been victims of cyber-attacks. What could have caused these attacks? And what can be done to prevent these attacks?
Town of Wasaga Beach
The Town of Wasaga Beach,Ontario admitted that on April 30, 2018, several of its servers were illegally accessed and infected with a ransomware – a type of malicious software (malware) that encrypts computer systems and files, locking out users and demands ransom payment in exchange for the keys that would decrypt or unlock the computer systems and files.
It took the Town of Wasaga Beach approximately 7 weeks to fully recover from the ransomware attack and as a result, the Town lost hundreds of thousands of Canadian dollars, with 3 bitcoin, valued at $34,950 Canadian at the time of payment, paid to the ransomware attackers and bulk of the cost went into the internal productivity losses totaling $251,759 Canadian.
Town of Midland
The Town of Midland, Ontario admitted that on September 1, 2018 its network was illegally accessed and infected with ransomware. Six days after the ransomware attack, on September 6, 2018, the Town of Midland announced that it initiated the process of paying the ransom demanded by the attackers. It wasn’t specified though how much was paid to the attackers.
In exchange for the decryption keys, the Town said that it “initiated the process to pay the ransom.” The Town added, “Although not ideal, it is in our best interest to bring the system back online as quickly as possible.”
City of Stratford
The City of Stratford, Ontario admitted that on April 14, this year, its computer systems were illegally accessed and infected with an unspecified virus – a type of malware that spreads by attaching itself to legitimate computer files and programs and distributed via infected flash drives, emails or websites. This unspecified virus, the City said encrypted computer systems and files and locked out users.
“We have now begun methodically unlocking and decrypting our systems,” the City said. “This is a thorough process that takes days, not hours.”
A computer virus that locks computer users out through encryption and requires decryption to unlock is typical of a ransomware. Decryption key or keys used to unlock the systems or files are given out by ransomware attackers. In the case of the City of Stratford, it wasn’t specified whether or not ransom was paid to the attackers.
City of Ottawa
On April 8, 2019, it was revealed that the City of Ottawa, Ontario fell victim to a common fraud scheme called “Business Email Compromise (BEC)” scam. The City's Office of the Auditor General reported that US$97,797 was transferred to an account of a phony supplier as a result of the BEC scam – a cyber attack that targets organizations that conduct wire transfers for its suppliers. In a BEC scam, email accounts of executives or high-level employees are either spoofed or compromised for the purpose of fraudulent wire transfers, resulting in hundreds of thousands of dollars in losses.
“On July 6, 2018, the General Manager, Corporate Services and City Treasurer (the ‘City Treasurer’), received an email (the ‘Email’) apparently from the City Manager,” the Office of the Auditor General said. “The Email, which was later identified as a spoofed email, requested that a wire transfer in the amount of US$97,797.20 (the ‘Funds’) be processed for the completion of an acquisition. With the City Treasurer’s approval, later that day the request was processed, and the Funds were issued.”
A portion of the City’s funds ended up in a bank account that the U.S. Secret Service monitored and seized. It’s unclear how much, if any, might eventually be recovered by the City of Ottawa from this seized bank account.
Local governments are targeted by cyber criminals as these government organizations are repositories of trove of sensitive data from government licenses to government contracts. The fact that local governments have the financial capability to pay also makes them attractive targets to cyber criminals. And the willingness of some local governments to pay attackers compounded this growing problem.
The growing number of cyber attacks, in particular, ransomware attacks against local government offices within Ontario prompted the Ontario Provincial Police(OPP) to issue a ransomware alert. As to the question of paying attackers ransom, the OPP said, “The OPP does not support paying ransomware attackers, as it only encourages further criminal activity, and there is no guarantee that payment will restore the encrypted data.”
Here are some cybersecurity best practices in order to prevent or mitigate the effects of cyber attacks:
Mind the Emails
Many of today’s cyber criminals use emails as a means to infiltrate the IT systems of organizations. Many of ransomware attacks are carried out by malicious emails, containing malicious attachments or malicious links. Clicking a malicious attachment or clicking a malicious link could allow the installation of malicious software on your organization’s system.
BEC scammers, meanwhile, rely mainly on emails as their means to perpetuate their fraudulent act. In both ransomware and BEC scams, attackers use emails as their weapon.
It’s, therefore, important to have an automated email solution that could identify and block emails with malicious attachments or links as well as identify and block spoofed or compromised emails. It’s also important to train your organization’s staff to identify and block malicious and fraudulent emails.
Backup Important Files
Organizations that entertain the idea of negotiating with cyber attackers are those that have weak back-up systems. If your organization regularly back-up your important files, there’s no reason for your organization to negotiate or pay the attackers for the locked or stolen data.
Steve E. Driz