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When Patching Isn’t Enough
While patching is one of cybersecurity’s best practices, in some cases, this best practice isn’t enough to protect your organization’s network. Such is the case of patching your organization’s Pulse Secure VPN product.
Pulse Secure VPN Patch
On April 24, 2019, VPN vendor Pulse Secure released software updates, also known as patches, addressing multiple security vulnerabilities, including a patch for the security vulnerability designated as CVE-2019-11510. This security vulnerability allows an unauthenticated remote attacker with network access via HTTPS to send a specially crafted URI to perform an arbitrary file reading vulnerability.
Because of the CVE-2019-11510 vulnerability, an attacker will then be able to view files, such as plain text cache of credentials of past VPN users. Armed with stolen credentials, an attacker can pretend to be a legitimate Pulse Secure VPN user. The following are the affected Pulse Secure VPN versions:
Following the release of Pulse Secure security updates, Cyber Security Centers in several countries, including Canada, US and Japan have issued alerts calling local organizations to apply in a timely manner the security updates released by Pulse Secure, including the patch for CVE-2019-11510.
Post Pulse Secure VPN Patching Exploitation
The United States’ Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) recently issued a follow-up alert, warning organizations that those that applied the April 24, 2019 Pulse Secure VPN update could still face continued threat actor exploitation post Pulse Secure VPN patching. According to CISA, as the security vulnerability CVE-2019-11510 allows attackers to steal victim organizations’ credentials, failing to change those stolen credentials allows an attacker to move laterally through the organization’s network even after the organization has patched this vulnerability.
CISA reported it observed threat actors used connection proxies, such as Tor infrastructure and virtual private servers (VPSs), to lessen the chance of detection when they connected to victims’ networks via Pulse Secure VPN. The US Cybersecurity Agency found that once inside the victims’ networks, threat actors conducted the following malicious activities:
CISA added that, in one case, it observed a malicious actor attempting to sell the stolen Pulse Secure VPN credentials after 30 unsuccessful attempts to connect to a victim’s network to escalate privileges and drop ransomware. CISA also noted that this same malicious actor successfully dropped ransomware at hospitals and U.S. Government entities.
CISA further reported that malicious actors that leveraged stolen Pulse Secure VPN credentials used tools such as LogMeIn and TeamViewer. LogMeIn is a software that allows users to remotely access another computer. TeamViewer, meanwhile, is an all-in-one solution for remote support, remote access and online meetings. According to CISA, LogMeIn and TeamViewer enable malicious actors to maintain access to the victim’s network environment if they lost their primary connection, that is, via VPN access.
Preventive and Mitigating Measures Against Post Pulse Secure VPN Patching Exploitation
As many organizations encourage employees to work from home as a result of the current COVID-19 crisis, the use of VPN products has been increasing. It’s important to secure this communication line between remote workers and your organization.
Patching, from the word “patch”, is a set of changes to the source code of a software program for the purpose of fixing a known security vulnerability or to improve it.
While patching is still one of the top cybersecurity best practices, this practice alone isn’t enough especially when the exploited security vulnerability involves stolen authentication credentials. According to the US Cybersecurity Agency, organizations that have applied patches for CVE-2019-11510 may still be at risk for exploitation from compromises that occurred pre-patch.
Below are the suggested detection methods by the US Cybersecurity Agency to find out if your organization had been targeted before applying the Pulse Secure VPN patch.
The following are the additional suggested mitigating measures against post Pulse Secure VPN patching exploitation:
“If organizations find evidence of malicious, suspicious, or anomalous activity or files, they should consider reimaging the workstation or server and redeploying back into the environment,” the US Cybersecurity Agency said.
Decade-Old Vulnerability Found in Avaya VoIP Phones
Researchers at McAfee Advanced Threat Research have discovered a decade-old security vulnerability lurking in the Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) phones of Avaya, the world’s second largest VOIP phone provider.
The decade-old vulnerability present in Avaya VOIP phones, specifically 9600 Series, J100 Series and B189 Series using the H.323 firmware, according to researchers at McAfee Advanced Threat Researchallows remote code execution (RCE) – enabling an attacker to access someone else's device and make changes to it, regardless of where this device is geographically located.
The RCE vulnerability in a piece of open-source software that Avaya used, the researchers said, was likely copied and modified 10 years ago and the company failed to apply subsequent security patches. The researchers added that a malicious actor exploiting the said vulnerability could take over the normal operation of the phone, copy audio from speakerphone and “bug” the phone.
The piece of open-source software that Avaya copied bore the 2004-2007 copyright, which according to the researchers is a “big red flag” as this piece of software has an exploit that has been publicly available since 2009. The 2009 exploit demonstrated that devices using DHCP client version 4.1 and below allows remote DHCP servers to execute arbitrary code. A DHCP client, also known as dhclient, is a device that needs an IP address; while DHCP server hands out an IP address to the dhclient.
Researchers at McAfee Advanced Threat Research found that Avaya VOIP phone’s version of dhclient is vulnerable to the exploit reported in 2009. The researchers said that malicious actors could build a “weaponized version” of the exploit and threaten private networks.
The researchers reported their discovery to Avaya. In June this year, Avayaissued a patch for the affected VOIP phones.
VOIP Phones as Path to Intrusion
Early this month, researchers at Microsoft Threat Intelligence Center reported that VoIP phone is one of the devices being used by a known cyber adversary to gain initial access to corporate networks. Aside from VoIP phone, the researchers said, popular office IoT devices printer and video decoder, are also being used by this known cyber adversary in gaining an initial foothold into corporate networks.
Researchers at Microsoft Threat Intelligence Center, however, didn’t specify the brands of VOIP phone, office printer and video decoder. These office devices, according to the researchers, were compromised either as these devices were deployed without changing the default manufacturer’s login details or the latest security update hadn’t been applied.
According to Microsoft Threat Intelligence Center researchers, the known cyber adversary used these 3 popular office IoT devices as points of ingress in gaining initial foothold to a corporate network. Once inside a corporate network via these compromised IoT devices, the attacker was seen conducting a simple network scan to look for other vulnerable devices.
As the attacker moved from one vulnerable device to another, a simple shell script was dropped to establish persistence on the network. This simple shell script allowed the attacker to search for higher-privileged accounts that would grant access to higher-value data, the researchers at Microsoft Threat Intelligence Center found.
Aside from using popular office IoT devices as points of ingress in accessing high-value data, these compromised devices are also used to build a botnet – referring to a group of devices infected with a malicious software (malware) and controlled by an attacker or attackers for malicious activities, including distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks. In a DDoS attack, a botnet or group of infected devices is controlled to direct their traffic to a target, overwhelming this target with too much traffic that the target can’t handle, ultimately bringing the target offline and rendering the target inaccessible to its legitimate customers.
VPNFilter is an example of a botnet. At its peak, VPNFilter infected at least 500,000 networking devices in at least 54 countries. The following are devices affected by VPNFilter: Linksys, MikroTik, NETGEAR and TP-Link networking equipment in the small and home office (SOHO) space, as well at QNAP network-attached storage (NAS) devices.
According to researchers at Cisco, VPNFilter has a self-destruct capability that can be triggered en masse via the botnet structure and has the potential of cutting off internet access for hundreds of thousands of users worldwide. The researchers are unsure why so many devices were infected with VPNFilter. Most of the infected devices, however, have known public exploits or default manufacturer’s login details hadn’t been changed.
In May 2018, the potential negative effect of VPNFilter was mitigated when the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI)seized a domain used as command and control (C2) by the threat group in their botnet campaign. In a botnet operation, C2 (could be a website or a public cloud account) is used to communicate or control the infected devices.
The devastating effect of a botnet was shown to the world when the Mirai botnet attacked in 2016 Dyn, a major dynamic DNS provider, resulting in the widespread internet outages across the U.S. and Europe. The earlier versions of the Mirai, including the one that attacked Dyn, infected hundreds of thousands of wireless cameras and routers and turned them as botnets. Since the publication of the source code of the Mirai in 2016, a number of Mirai versions has been observed in the wild.
Researchers at Palo Alto Networks discovered a different version of the Mirai which targeted WePresent WiPG-1000 Wireless Presentation systems and LG Supersign TVs – IoT devices that are often used by businesses. Many of the Mirai variants infect IoT devices by exploiting the practice of users of not changing the default manufacturer’s login details.
Today’s IoT devices outnumber the combined number of personal computers and mobile phones. Hundreds of thousands, if not, millions of these IoT devices are, however, left without basic management.
Changing the default manufacturer’s login details and applying the latest security update are two cyber security best practices in preventing malicious actors from accessing your organization’s network. These practices also stop your organization’s IoT devices from being used as part a botnet for malicious activities such as DDoS attacks.
Why Organizations Need To Secure Microsoft Office Settings
The latest discovery of a flaw in Microsoft Excel by researchers at Mimecast shows the importance of securing your organization’s Microsoft Office settings.
Researchers at recently released a proof of concept demonstrating that a flaw in Microsoft Excel could allow a malicious actor to access someone else's computer and launch a cyber-attack, no matter where this computer is located. Mimecast researchers said that Power Query, a feature in Excel that lets users integrate their spreadsheets with other data sources, such as an external database or a web page, could allow attackers to “embed malicious content in a separate data source, and then load the content into the spreadsheet when it is opened”. Mimecast researchers added, “The malicious code could be used to drop and execute malware that can compromise the user’s machine.”
According to Mimecast researchers, Power Query is a powerful tool within Microsoft Excel that if exploited, can be used to launch . In a DDE attack, a malicious actor exploits DDE – a protocol in Windows which was first introduced in 1987 and currently used by thousands of applications such as Microsoft Excel.
The researchers added that attacks that exploit Power Query are hard to detect by anti-virus or anti-malware security solutions. “Using the potential weakness in Power Query, attackers could potentially embed any malicious payload that as designed won’t be saved inside the document itself but downloaded from the web when the document is opened,” the researchers said.
Dynamic Data Exchange (DDE) Attacks
Researchers have known about DDE vulnerabilitysince 2014, finding that “by specifying some creative arguments and a magic number, it’s possible to craft a ‘link’ that hijacks the computer of whoever opens the document”.
In May 2016, researchers at SensePostdemonstrated that DDE attack can be done in Microsoft Excel. In October 2017, researchers at SensePost demonstrated that DDE attack can be done in Microsoft Word.
In November 2017, reported that the threat Group known as “APT28” slipped a malware into a malicious Word document with a subject heading that cites of a then-recent terrorist attack in New York City. McAfee said this Word document leveraged the Microsoft Office Dynamic Data Exchange (DDE) attack technique.
According to McAfee, the malicious Word document itself is blank and once the document is opened, the document contacts a control server that drops the malware called “Seduploader” onto a victim’s computer. Seduploader is a first-stage malware deployed for the purpose of conducting reconnaissance on a network before dropping a second-stage malware.
To successfully launch a DDE attack, McAfee said, an attacker only needs to convince a user to click through a few dialogs, which would evade the latest macro-based document mitigations. “DDE can be used to launch scripts and executables from the command line by inserting the DDE field in the Office document,” McAfee said.
In an email attack scenario, Microsoft, for its part, said that an attacker could exploit the DDE protocol by sending a specially crafted attached file to the user and then convincing the user to open the attached file. “The attacker would have to convince the user to disable Protected Mode and click through one or more additional prompts,” Microsoft said.
How to Mitigate Microsoft Office Settings Risk
Microsoft, in a statement to Threatpost, said that the proof of concept of the Mimecast researchers was reviewed but in order for the concept to work, a victim “would need to be socially engineered to bypass multiple security prompts prior to loading external data or executing a command from a DDE formula”. Because of this finding, Microsoft didn’t release a patch for this security vulnerability.
Microsoft issued the following mitigating measures in order to protect your organization from DDE attacks:
1. Keep Your Microsoft Office Up-to-Date
The December 12, 2017 security updatein Microsoft’s Office disables the Dynamic Data Exchange protocol (DDE) in all supported editions of Microsoft Word.
2. Disable DDE Protocol in Microsoft Excel
Microsoft, however, hasn’t disabled DDE in Microsoft Excel. In the security advisory "Securely opening Microsoft Office documents that contain Dynamic Data Exchange (DDE) fields", Microsoft noted that Excel, in particular, depends on the DDE feature to launch documents. "Disabling this feature could prevent Excel spreadsheets from updating dynamically if disabled in the registry,” Microsoft said. “Data might not be completely up-to-date because it is no longer being updated automatically via live feed. To update the worksheet, the user must start the feed manually. In addition, the user will not receive prompts to remind them to manually update the worksheet.”
As early as 2007, Raymond Chen, who has been involved in the evolution of Windowsfor decades, said that "there is no technological reason for you to use DDE”. Chen, however, said that even if there’s no technological reason for you to use DDE, “you still have to be mindful of whether your actions will interfere with other people who choose to”.
3. Exercise Caution When Opening Suspicious File Attachments
As email attachments are a primary method by DDE attackers to spread malware, Microsoft recommends that users exercise caution when opening suspicious file attachments.
Microsoft Windows Privilege Escalation Vulnerability Leaked via Twitter
A security researcher who goes by the name “SandboxEscaper” leaked via Twitter an exploit code for a Microsoft Windows privilege escalation vulnerability.
In the now-deleted Twitter post, SandboxEscaper provided a link to a Github repository that contains the code necessary to exploit a Microsoft Windows privilege escalation vulnerability. Other security researchers have since verified the authenticity of the vulnerability exploit disclosed by SandboxEscaper.
The bug uncovered by SandboxEscaper lies in Microsoft Windows task scheduler service. Task scheduler allows users to schedule any program to run at a convenient time or when a specific event occurs.
SandboxEscaper found that task scheduler uses unsecured API that allows an attacker, having access to a computer as a local user to gain system-level privileges, enabling the attacker to overwrite system files with malicious code to hijack Windows.
“The Microsoft Windows task scheduler SchRpcSetSecurity API contains a vulnerability in the handling of ALPC, which can allow an authenticated user to overwrite the contents of a file that should be protected by filesystem ACLs,” CERT Coordination Center (CERT/CC)described the uncovered flaw. “This can be leveraged to gain SYSTEM privileges.”
“The flaw is that the Task Scheduler API function SchRpcSetSecurity fails to check permissions,” security researcher Kevin Beaumont, for his part, noted. “So anybody – even a guest – can call it and set file permissions on anything locally.”
As a proof-of-concept, SandboxEscaper overwrites a file used by Windows' printing subsystem with a malicious code when an attempt is made to print.
According to CERT/CC, the exploit code leaked by SandboxEscaper works on 64-bit Windows 10, Windows Server 2016 systems, 32-bit Windows 10 with minor modifications and with other Windows versions with further modifications. CERT/CC said it’s currently unaware of a practical solution to this problem.
A Microsoft spokesperson told the Registerthat the company will “proactively update impacted devices as soon as possible.”
In another Twitter post, SandboxEscaper blamed depression for leaking the vulnerability exploit before Microsoft has time to issue a security update or a patch.
Exploits for privilege escalation vulnerabilities are rarely leaked to the public prior to a patch as many software vendors like Microsoft now offer financial rewards to security researchers who uncover and discreetly inform the concerned software vendors. This gives security vendors time to create a security fix to the reported problem.
Dangers of Privilege Escalation Attacks
In a privilege escalation attack, the attacker has to have local access to the computer or computer network that he or she wants to compromise. A local user needs the system administrator's password to complete certain tasks, such as overwriting system files. As such, this is given less priority by software vendors when it comes to patching.
Remote code execution attacks, on the other hand, are given high priority in terms of patching as these attacks don’t require that the attacker have local access to the target computer.
In a remote code execution attack, an attacker can install malicious code on a computer even when he or she has no local access, provided though that the computer is connected to the internet. An example of the remote code execution attack was the WannaCry attack. Hours after the WannaCry attack on May 12, 2017, Microsoft issued a security update for Windows platforms originally not covered by an earlier security patch, showing the importance of patching remote code execution attacks.
Privilege escalation attacks, however, aren’t given similar immediate attention. Privilege escalation vulnerabilities are typically patched during scheduled updates, like Microsoft’s regular security updates every second Tuesday of each month.
Client-side exploits, however, make privilege escalation attacks dangerous as attackers then effectively become local users and escalate their privileges to system administrators.
"If an attacker can gain access to a system through a client side exploit, they may then effectively become the local user, and escalate to local system,” SANS Technology Instituteinstructor Adrien de Beaupre wrote in a post "Privilege escalation, why should I care?" “Local system priv on a Windows computer is just a hop, skip, and jump away from being Domain administrator.”
Client-side exploits come in numerous and varied formats. Compared to remote execution attack like the WannaCry that has worm capability – meaning, it replicates itself without user interaction, client-side exploits need user interaction, such as clicking a malicious link or downloading a malicious email attachment.
The fact that the exploit code is out and there’s no official patch from the software vendor should warrant some caution. However, unofficial patch has been posted by 0Patch.com
“Windows has a customer commitment to investigate reported security issues, and proactively update impacted devices as soon as possible,” a Microsoft spokesperson told Threatpost. “Our standard policy is to provide solutions via our current Update Tuesday schedule.”
That means that the next Windows update is still days away – this coming September 11th. This gives attackers a window to exploit the flaw exposed by SandboxEscaper in the wild.
According to Kevin Beaumont, if you use Microsoft Sysmon, a sure way to find out whether a Microsoft Windows task scheduler exploit is being used is by looking for spoolsv.exe spawning abnormal processes.
Here are some general measures in preventing privilege escalation attacks like the one exposed by SandboxEscaper:
Critical Security Flaw Meltdown and Spectre Explained
Meltdown and Spectre are critical security vulnerabilities that affect most modern computer processors and operating systems. These vulnerabilities allow computer programs to steal sensitive data processed on the computer.
Meltdown’s official name is CVE-2017-5754. Spectre is the collective name for 2 vulnerabilities, CVE-2017-5753 and CVE-2017-5715. CVE stands for common vulnerabilities and exposures. It’s a system that provides official references for publicly known cybersecurity vulnerabilities.
A typical computer program isn’t allowed to read data from other computer programs. What Meltdown and Spectre do is access the data stored in the memory of other running computer programs. Data that could be accessed by these vulnerabilities include photos, instant messages, emails and passwords stored in a browser or password manager.
What is Meltdown?
What Meltdown does is break the barrier that isolates computer programs and the operating system. By breaking this barrier, a Meltdown attack could access the operating system and other programs.
Meltdown was independently discovered by security researchers from Google Project Zero, Cyberus Technology and Graz University of Technology.
According to the security researchers who discovered Meltdown, this vulnerability potentially affects every Intel processor which implements “out-of-order execution” meaning, every Intel processor produced since 1995, except Intel Itanium and Intel Atom before 2013. Meltdown has also been shown to potentially affect other processors including ARM and AMD.
Cloud providers which use Intel CPUs and Xen PV and cloud providers without real hardware virtualization may also be potentially affected.
What is Spectre?
What Spectre does is break the barrier that isolates different computer programs. It also tricks a computer program that follows security practices into leaking data.
Spectre was independently discovered by Jann Horn of Google Project Zero and
According to the security researchers who discovered Spectre, almost every modern desktops, laptops, mobile devices and cloud servers are potentially vulnerable. In particular, Intel, AMD and ARM processors are known to be potentially vulnerable to Spectre.
Similarities Between Meltdown and Spectre
Here are the similarities between Meltdown and Spectre:
It’s difficult to detect these vulnerabilities as they don’t leave any traces in traditional log files. They’re also difficult to detect as antivirus, for instance, find it hard to distinguish an error-free computer program from Meltdown or Spectre.
Difference Between Meltdown and Spectre
The difference between Meltdown and Spectre is that while Meltdown cracks the barrier that prevents programs from accessing the computer memory, Spectre tricks other computer programs into accessing arbitrary locations in their memory.
Researchers who discovered Meltdown and Spectre said they don’t know whether these vulnerabilities have been exploited into the wild. ProjectZero team at Googlepublicly disclosed these vulnerabilities on January 3, 2018. The team reported these security issues to Intel, AMD and ARM on June 1, 2017.
Intel’s January 2018 press statementstates that the company will issue security updates for at least 90% of Intel CPUs introduced in the last 5 years by January 15, 2018, while security updates for the remaining CPUs will be available by the end of January.
In Intel’s latest press statement, the company said it won’t issue security updates for Spectre for the following processors: Bloomfield line, Clarksfield, Gulftown, Harpertown line, Jasper Forest, Penryn/QC, SoFIA 3GR, Wolfdale line and Yorkfield Line.
Here’s Intel’s explanation why it won't issue security updates of the above-mentioned chips:
“After a comprehensive investigation of the microarchitectures and microcode capabilities for these products, Intel has determined to not release
microcode updates for these products for one or more reasons including, but not limited to the following:
Most of the above-mentioned unsupported Intel processors are more than 5 years old, some even are more than a decade old, with exception of SoFIA 3GR which was released only in 2015.
According to Microsoft, it has released several security updates to mitigate the effects of Meltdown and Spectre. The company added that it took action to protect its cloud services against these vulnerabilities. “Microsoft has released several updates to help mitigate these vulnerabilities,” Microsoft said in a statement. “We have also taken action to secure our cloud services."
How to Protect Your Organization’s Computers from Meltdown and Spectre
Here are some of the preventive measures to protect your organization’s computers from these vulnerabilities:
Meltdown and Spectre affect a number of computer processors, not just Intel. These vulnerabilities also affect operating systems, not just Windows. According to Microsoft, users of Windows operating systems should apply the January and February 2018 Windows security updates as well as the monthly Windows security updates.
According to Carnegie Mellon University Software Engineering Institute, there have been reports that the overall CPU performance is impacted by many of the available patches for these vulnerabilities.
“While we recognize that replacing existing CPUs in already deployed systems is not practical, organizations acquiring new systems should evaluate their CPU selection in light of the expected longevity of this vulnerability in available hardware as well as the performance impacts resulting from the various platform-specific software patches,” Carnegie Mellon University Software Engineering Institute said.
Top 7 Cyber Security Tools for Your Business
With so much of our information online, everyone is vulnerable to hackers and cyber-thieves. When it comes to business, a cyber invasion is a constant threat.
Short term loss could be financial, intellectual property theft, data loss, or worse.
The real threat is the long term loss of trust and reputation damage that could take years to repair. If your clients' information is exposed, it will be hard for them to consider it safe to give you their business again.
Protect your business with these 7 cyber security tools.
7 Cyber Security Tools Your Business Must Be Using
In order to protect your business' digital information, you need a variety of cyber security tools in place.
For complete peace of mind, you'll want to work with a trusted cyber security partner. In the mean time, these tools are a great place to start.
1. Malware Scanners
Malware is short for malicious software. It is designed by hackers to gain access to a computer without the owner's knowledge.
You must have specific anti-malware cyber security tools in place to detect any hacker invasion.
There are a variety of malware scanners out there, many even available for free (with limited features).
Protect your business with automatic malware scanners in place.
2. Routine Patching
Patching is the process of installing a piece of software that repairs any security flaws. Updating an app is an example of patching.
Picture your business's digital infrastructure as a house. Each time you add a new application, piece of software, etc. it's like adding a new room to the house.
Software, apps, and the like are built by humans, meaning that there is room for human error. Human error is like an unlocked door or unfinished window in one of the new rooms.
This can leave a welcome mat out to cyber attackers. That's why your security plan needs to include routine assessments and patching.
3. Two-Factor Authentication
Use two-factor authentication to add a difficult-to-hack layer of security to your log in systems.
Examples include a verification code sent to a linked phone number or a piece of information only the user would know.
4. Restrictive Administrative Access
Add an additional security level for your most sensitive information and infrastructure by restricting who can access it.
Click here for more information on how to implement restrictive admin mode.
5. Network Segmentation
Divide your computer network into sub networks to improve security and performance.
This allows you to isolate the most sensitive data to a specific network to limit access and decrease congestion.
6. Vulnerability Scanning
There's no better way to access your security levels than a vulnerability scan.
Try our free vulnerability assessment to find weaknesses in your code and how to remedy them.
7. 24/7 Security Monitoring
Cyber security protection doesn't come in the form of a quick fix.
Continually protect your business' data with a 24/7 security monitoring system in place to catch attacks the minute they happen.
Protect Your Business for Peace of Mind
Cyber security tools are of the utmost importance for businesses and individuals alike.
Questions? Let us know if there is anything we can help you with. Our emergency response team is available 24/7 if you're currently dealing with a cyber attack. Contact us today.
Why Mobile App Vulnerabilities are Dangerous for a Business
Ninety-nine percent of the business workforce currently uses mobile devices to perform their jobs, this according to the IBM-sponsored 2016 Mobile Security & Business Transformation Study.
While this reliance on mobile devices brings enhanced productivity and other business benefits, it also comes with a greater number of security risks.
According to Statista, there were 1.86 billion smartphone users worldwide in 2015. This number is expected to grow to 2.32 billion in 2017. In the smartphone operating system (OS) market, Gartner reported that the battle is clearly between Android (an OS developed by Google) and iOS (an OS developed by Apple). For the first quarter of 2017, Gartner reported that 86.1% of the smartphones sold worldwide runs on Android, 13.7% runs on iOS, and 0.2% runs on other OS.
The Malicious Apps Issue
One of the security risks of using a mobile device at work is the malicious app. There’s an app – short for application program – for almost everything today. As of March 2017, according to Statista, 2.8 million apps can be downloaded from Google Play and 2.2 million apps from Apple App Store.
While Google and Apple have strong security measures in preventing malicious apps from being part of their app stores, some of these malicious apps still slip right through the security nets of these app stores. In the first quarter of 2017, security firm G DATA discovered over 750,000 malicious apps in Android mobile devices.
McAfee in its 2016 Mobile Threat Report said that in 2015, thousands of apps were pulled out from both Google Play and the Apple App Store for security reasons. “Both Google and Apple have been very quick to remove malicious apps from their associated app stores, however it’s inevitable that some infected apps will still slip through the screening process,” McAfee said.
Business risks after your phone is hacked
Once your phone is hacked, your business data is at risk of being exploited by cyber criminals. Here are 2 ways that put business data at risk after your phone is hacked:
1. Ransomware Attack
Ransomware – a type of software that’s programmed to block users until a sum of money is paid – is often associated with PCs. The reality is ransomware isn’t just a PC problem anymore.
In January 2017, security firm Check Point discovered the ransomware called “Charger”. This ransomware was hidden inside an app called EnergyRescue – a malicious app that was briefly available on Google Play and attacked Android devices before being pulled. The Charger ransomware demanded 0.2 Bitcoins (worth $180) from the affected mobile device users and warned that personal information would be sold on the black market if the ransom was not paid.
The ransomware locks the mobile device and displays the following message:
“You need to pay for us, otherwise we will sell portion of your personal information on black market every 30 minutes. WE GIVE 100% GUARANTEE THAT ALL FILES WILL RESTORE AFTER WE RECEIVE PAYMENT. WE WILL UNLOCK THE MOBILE DEVICE AND DELETE ALL YOUR DATA FROM OUR SERVER! TURNING OFF YOUR PHONE IS MEANINGLESS, ALL YOUR DATA IS ALREADY STORED ON OUR SERVERS! WE STILL CAN SELLING IT FOR SPAM, FAKE, BANK CRIME etc… We collect and download all of your personal data. All information about your social networks, Bank accounts, Credit Cards. We collect all data about your friends and family.”
The Charger ransomware demonstrates how a malicious app can be a dangerous threat to your business.
2. Danger of Dead Apps
A dead app is an application that’s removed from the app store, without notice. It also refers to an application that’s abandoned by the developer, also without notice. Like other defective products, applications that are removed from the app stores and those abandoned by developers need recall notices.
McAfee identified over 4,000 apps that were removed in 2015 from Google Play without notification to users. McAfee’s 2016 Mobile Threat Report revealed that 500,000 mobile devices still have these dead apps installed and are active. “These users, and the organizations they work for, are still exposed to any vulnerabilities, privacy risks, or malware contained in these dead apps,” McAfee said.
Malicious Apps Prevention
Here are some of the ways to keep your business mobile device safe from malicious apps:
1. Pay close attention to the apps that you’re downloading.
A 3.5 rating for an app on Google Play or Apple App Store isn’t enough in evaluating an app. For instance, sometime before Google Play pulled from its app store, EnergyRescue app – hidden with it was the Charger ransomware – had a 3.6 review rate from 11,584 users. Before downloading an app from known app store such as Google Play and Apple App Store, conduct thorough research about the app developer first.
2. Delete apps that are no longer on the app store.
Apps that are deleted on any app store are vulnerable to cyber criminals as they may have been removed from the app for security reasons or the developer abandoned the app, leaving it without patches or security updates.
To keep the data in your business mobile phone secure and private, it’s a good practice to keep your mobile operating system and the apps up to date. Most of the malicious apps can be blocked by simply updating your mobile operating system. Legitimate app developers also issue patches or security updates.
Skycure’s Mobile Threat Intelligence Report for the 4th Quarter of 2016 showed that the majority of malicious app exploits relies on the existence of unpatched vulnerabilities in the mobile operating systems to be successful. In analyzing the adoption of Android security patches among the five leading wireless carriers in the United States, Skycure found that 71% of Android mobile devices in the 4th Quarter of 2016 were running on security patches that were at least 2 months old, leaving millions unnecessarily vulnerable to malicious app breach.
“About half of devices in use at the end of 2016 had not received a platform security update in the previous year,” said Google in its 2016 Year in Review report.
Pro tip: Administrators, restrict employee access to freely download apps without evaluation and IT approval to prevent device infection and a potential data breach.
Steve E. Driz, I.S.P., ITCP