Estimated reading time: 7 minutes
Ethical hacking means the application for good of hacking techniques. The term “hacker” was coined in the 1960s at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) to describe experts who used their skills to re-develop mainframe systems, increasing their efficiency and allowing them to perform more tasks.
Nowadays, the term normally describes experienced programmers who gain unauthorized access to computer systems by exploiting weaknesses or using bugs, motivated by bad intentions. For example, a hacker could create algorithms to crack passwords, break into networks, or even interrupt network services.
With the rise in popularity of the Internet and e-commerce, negative hacking has become the most commonly known form. An image reinforced by its representation in various forms of news and entertainment. Typically, the main thrust of malicious / unethical hacking is the theft of valuable information or financial gain.
That said, not all hacking is bad . In fact, there is a second type of hacking: ethical hacking. It could be argued that this is the original type of hacking. In fact, the first hackers did not have any negative intent, rather, their purpose was to optimize and improve existing systems.
What is ethical hacking and why do we need it?
Ethical Hacking is the authorized practice of bypassing the security of a system to identify potential data breaches and threats on a network . The company that owns the system or network allows ethical engineers / hackers to perform such activities in order to test the system’s defenses . So, unlike malicious hacking, ethical hacking is planned, approved, and most importantly, legal .
Ethical hackers are meant to investigate your system or network for weaknesses that malicious hackers could exploit or destroy. They collect and analyze information to understand how to strengthen system / network / application security. By doing so, they can improve security so that it can better resist attacks or mitigate them .
Ethical hackers are hired by organizations to prevent data breaches . In essence, this is the reasoning: to understand how a thief could enter your house, the best thing is to pretend to be thieves and use their techniques.
Note that the reasoning implies that those who perform ethical hacking do not know the state of the system they are about to breach , so they will not be influenced in any way in carrying out certain activities or breaching only certain parts of the system . For the company, this means that the best ethical hacker they can find is someone outside the security team.
The activity of ethical hackers
Ethical hacking controls key vulnerabilities that include many aspects of the computer system such as: changes in security settings, exposure of sensitive data, breach of authentication protocols, etc.
Of course, every business infrastructure is made up of a potentially unique combination of tools, hardware and software. For this, the ethical hacker must field a lot of knowledge, customized tools and specific procedures that are almost never the same from project to project. This is good, because, just like malicious hackers, the ethical hacker is also pushed to stay up to date on industry news, test new techniques and study new ways to mitigate the risk.
Types of hackers
The practice of ethical hacking is called “white hat” hacking and those who perform it are called white hat hackers . In contrast to ethical hacking, “Black Hat” describes practices that involve security breaches. black hat hackers use illegal techniques to compromise systems or breach data.
Unlike white hat hackers, hackers “ Gray Hat ” do not ask for permission before entering the system , but their motives do not I’m malevolent. In fact, gray hats are also different from Black Hats in that they do not hack for personal or third party advantage. These hackers break into systems for fun, usually informing the owner of any threats they find . Gray hat and black hat hacking are both illegal because they both constitute an unauthorized breach of the system, even if the intentions are profoundly different.
The best way to distinguish between white hats and black hats is to take a look at their motives . black hats are motivated by personal gain, profit or harassment; while white hats (ethical hackers) seek and remediate vulnerabilities, so as to prevent other hackers from taking advantage of them.
Let’s look at other differences between the two types of hackers together.
Ethical hacking duplicates the techniques and methods used by malicious hackers in order to uncover the flaws in the system. By replicating all the steps of cyber criminals, you can find out how an attack on the system happened or could happen . If they find a weakness in the system or network, they report it immediately and fix the flaw. These types of services are usually called vulnerability assessment and penetration testing , and are also offered by SOD.
Even if the ethical hacker follows the same techniques and methods as the black hat hacker , only one practice is legally acceptable . Hackers usually break the law by breaking into systems without consent, while ethical hackers get permission from system owners who hire them to test infrastructure.
Ethical Hackers are employed by organizations to break into their systems and detect security problems. The black hat hackers do not own the system or work for someone who owns it.
Benefits of ethical hacking
Learning ethical hacking involves studying the mentality and techniques of black hat hackers to learn how to identify and correct vulnerabilities within networks. The study ethical hacking can be applied by security professionals in all industries and in a multitude of sectors. This sphere includes the network defender , the risk management and the quality assurance tester .
However, the most obvious benefit of learning ethical hacking is its potential to inform and improve and defend corporate networks. The primary security threat to any organization is a hacker . Learning, understanding and implementing how these criminals operate can help security officers prioritize potential risks and learn how to best remedy them.
It should be noted that hacking must not be understood as relating only to IT infrastructures but to the entire technological apparatus of a company . Social engineering , for example, leverages the human factor to gain access to places, physical or virtual, where valuable data is stored. Furthermore, through phishing campaigns , it is possible to trick users of a system into providing their passwords and “giving” access to malicious people.
SOD services for the security of your company
Every company that handles sensitive customer data must ensure that the procedures and systems used are sufficiently secure. As mentioned before, having internal personnel carry out tests and vulnerability tests could be a weapon double-edged. Even if you have a security expert, you have to consider that having to violate systems that he may have set up himself, increases the risk of a false positive.
For this reason, companies like SOD provide services geared towards the evaluation and testing of corporate security measures.
From the classic Vulnerability Assessment and Penetration Test , designed to test network hardware and software , you can switch to services that physically test corporate security or even the management procedures of sensitive data.
With the physical security addons techniques are put in place to gain access to offices , try to reach network control units or servers, but also attempts to tamper with or install unauthorized hardware.
As regards the human factor, a ethical phishing service is also available, through which a phishing campaign is launched towards the company and employee reactions are tested . This identifies the weak points that will then be used to organize an ad hoc training path.
As you can see, SOD provides companies with complete security services. Please feel free to contact us to request further information or ask us any questions you may have.
Estimated reading time: 6 minutes
Cyber Security is the practice of defending computers, servers, mobile devices, electronic systems, networks and data from malicious attacks. It is also known as Information Technology Security and Electronic Information Security . The term applies in a wide variety of contexts, from business to mobile computing and can be divided into a few common categories.
We can divide cyber security into several areas of interest which I list briefly below. In almost every situation listed, SOD has a dedicated service.
Cyber Security areas of interest
network security is the practice of protecting a computer network from intruders, whether it is targeted attacks or generic malware .
application security focuses on keeping software and devices free from threats. A hacked application may be providing access to data that it was designed to protect. Robust security begins in the design phase , well before a program or device is deployed. This is why analyzing the code of an app is essential before it is released.
operational security includes processes and decisions in the management and protection of resources and data. The permissions that users have when accessing a network and the procedures that determine how and where data can be stored or shared all fall within this scope.
Disaster recovery and business continuity define how an organization is able to respond to a cyber security incident or any other event that causes data loss . Disaster recovery policies dictate how the organization restores its operations and information to return to the same operational capacity as before the event. business continuity is the plan the organization resorts to as it tries to operate without certain resources.
The human part of cyber security
End User Education addresses the most unpredictable factor in cybersecurity: people . Anyone can accidentally introduce a virus into an otherwise secure system by not following security best practices. For example, teaching users to delete suspicious email attachments and not insert unidentified USB drives is vital to the security of any organization .
In this area, particular importance should be given to scams, phishing and in general social engineering, which relies on the element usually more weak computer system: the operator.
The scope of cyber threats
The global cyber threat continues to evolve at a rapid pace, with a increasing number of data breaches every year . A report from RiskBased Security revealed that 7.9 billion documents were exposed to data breaches in the first nine months of 2019. This figure is more than double (112%) of the number of documents exposed in the same period the previous year.
I medical services , retailers and government agencies have experienced the most breaches , with malicious criminals responsible for most accidents. Some of these industries are more attractive to cybercriminals because they collect financial and medical data, but all companies using networks can be targeted for their customers’ data, corporate espionage, or to attack customers .
What governments do
With the scale of the cyber threat set to continue to grow, the International Data Corporation predicts global spending on cyber security solutions will reach a record $ 133.7 billion by 2022 . Governments around the world have responded to the growing cyber threat with guidance to help organizations implement effective cybersecurity practices.
In the United States, the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) has created a cyber security framework , to combat the proliferation of malware code and aid early detection. The framework recommends continuous, real-time monitoring of all electronic assets .
The importance of system monitoring is resumed in the “ 10 steps to cybersecurity “, a guide provided by the UK government’s National Cyber Security Center . In Australia, the Australian Cyber Security Center (ACSC) regularly publishes guidance on how organizations can counter the latest cybersecurity threats.
In Italy we have the national framework for cyber security which provides tutorials, guides and European standards on cyber security .
MSSP and cyber security services
A Managed Security Service Provider (MSSP) provides monitoring and management in outsourcing for security devices and systems. In practice it takes care of all cyber security measures for the company requesting the services.
SOD is an MSSP and the services offered include protection and monitoring of various sectors of the corporate IT department.
Our verification services include vulnerability and penetration testing , as well as the analysis of safety procedures . With the SOC as a Service service we provide the potential of a Security Operation Center , relieving the company of installation and management costs. The SOC adopts latest generation technologies such as SIEM Next Gen and UEBA , which introduce analysis by an AI for motoring logs and users .
SOD uses security operations centers to provide 24/7 services designed to reduce the number of operational personnel that a company must manage, while still guaranteeing levels of cyber security excellent.
But defense fronts don’t stop at software and machines, must also include the most unpredictable element: the end user . That’s why our offer for companies also includes people-oriented services, as we will see shortly.
End user protection
End user protection is a crucial aspect of cyber security . After all, it is often the end user who accidentally loads a malware or other form of malware on their device .
As suggested earlier, the security protocols set up by SOD analyze software in real time. Through behavioral analysis systems we can monitor both the behavior of a software and the user . In the case of an attack based on lateral movement , for example, abnormal accesses and requests by a user can be indicators of an attack in progress.
But we don’t stop there, we can test the company against techniques of social engineering , phishing and physical tampering. Thanks to the ethical hacking services and consequent report, we are able to identify the company’s weak points and suggest effective strategies to mitigate the risks. In the case of phishing, we also organize ad hoc training based on the weaknesses highlighted in the report.
Through the physical security service, in addition to the IT vulnerability testing services, we put ourselves in the play the bad guys and try to carry out physical attacks . For example, we try to enter corporate buildings that should be protected, we try to reach network infrastructures and install potentially harmful hardware, etc.
Thanks to a team of ethical hackers and trained and trained operators, we test every aspect of cyber security before a risk becomes a problem .
If you want more information about our services or have any questions, don’t hesitate to contact us.
Estimated reading time: 9 minutes
Spam seems to reach every single email account we use , no matter how careful we are or what the address provider is. How do spammers get all of our email addresses? Can we do something to hide our email address from common spammer techniques?
Unfortunately, there’s not much you can do to stop spammers from bombarding you with emails. There are some tips that will help protect you, but spammers will probably find your email address anyway .
The problem is not so much the unwanted advertisement message, but rather what it means that you received a message. How did you react? Did you delete it? Did you click on any links? Have you flagged it as spam? Any action could bring useful information to attackers without you noticing.
Let’s face it more clearly and start with a question: where do spammers find our e-mails?
Spammer techniques for retrieving e-mail addresses
Nobody gives their email to a website and expects it to end up in the hands of a scammer. Yet it’s not uncommon for someone to find their inbox full of unsolicited spam emails.
The simplest of the techniques spammers use to collect large lists of active email addresses is through stolen account databases. These password thefts happen with frightening regularity. Companies like Adobe, LinkedIn, eHarmony, Gawker, Last.fm, Yahoo !, Snapchat and Sony have all been compromised in recent years .
Leaked databases are normally considered a security threat because they often display account names and passwords. However, generally show email addresses as well. Spammers can download these leaked databases and add the millions of email addresses to their lists . Spammers know that most of these email addresses should be active , so these databases are excellent for them.
This is probably how most spammers are finding email addresses to send spam. There really isn’t much you can do to protect yourself from a spammer who gets your address this way.
A site like Have I been pwned? can tell you if the information of your account may have been spread .
You can protect yourself from password theft by using different ones, unfortunately, you must always use the same email address everywhere , it would be unthinkable to have an address for each service used.
Link in mail messages
If you receive spam emails, you should avoid clicking on the links in the email . If you find an “Unsubscribe” link in an email from a legitimate company, it’s probably safe to click it. A real company doesn’t want to spam and potentially run into anti-spam laws, so they will simply remove you from their list.
However, if you see an “Unsubscribe” link (or, even worse, a “Buy Now!” link) in an email that looks very unprofessional and scam, the spammer will not necessarily remove you from his lists .
This is where things get more complex. They will notice your click and their systems will identify your email address as active . They know you’re there, and you may see larger amounts of spam after clicking the link.
The same goes for uploading images in spam emails. Do not click the “Upload images” button, or spammers will know that you have opened the email . Even if you don’t see an image in the message, there may be a small tracking pixel that allows the spammer to identify you if you upload the asset.
This is why most email clients don’t automatically upload images.
E-mail scraping, search for unencrypted e-mails on the net
Another spammer technique to retrieve addresses from the network is to scrape them ( scraping ) from the unencrypted data on the network. There are software out there that read files on the net and find those that contain e-mails and save them. A bit like Google’s crawlers do when they crawl a site, but with malicious intent.
You may have seen a comment where someone leaves their address to be contacted. The bot that scans the network will save similar addresses.
The spammer adds this address to his spam lists et voilà , spam is served . This is why eBay provides a temporary email address where you can be reached rather than including your real email address. This technique is probably less common now that spammers have huge leaked account databases to work with.
Spammers can also try to acquire valid email addresses by browsing other places that are publicly available, such as whois records for a domain . These records show an email address associated with the person or organization that registered the domain name.
Purchase of email addresses
Another spammer technique, definitely for lazy hackers, is to buy addresses from databases that provide them.
Unscrupulous people sell email lists to spammers for a low price. These addresses were often distributed on CD in the past , and may still be, but the leaked account databases have probably eliminated some interest in this market.
Spammers can also simply exchange their mailing lists with each other, making sure other bad guys get their hands on your address once it happens the first time.
Please be aware that this technique is not entirely illegal. When we subscribe to a service, we often have the possibility to provide our e-mail address to third parties for advertising purposes. Some users accept without reflection and without verifying whether it is an obligation to subscribe to the service or not. .
I personally happened to be contacted by a person who, with no intent to spam, but to make up the number, had bought my address from a contact resale agency, divided by areas of interest. If he had been a spammer, he could have used a similar service.
How to protect your address
Spammers can also obtain email addresses in other ways but the methods listed above are some of the most common.
There isn’t much you can do to prevent your email address from being leaked and receiving spam.
- – you can avoid putting your e-mail address on the web in plain text form
- – never click on a link
- – don’t upload a image in a suspicious email.
However, your address will almost certainly end up in the hands of a spammer at some point.
Actually, you don’t have to worry so much about whether the address is in circulation, but about how the address is used, especially if it is active.
Spammer techniques of using addresses
Once a scammer obtains your email address, it is very likely that they will use it to take advantage in any way possible . The better he is, the greater the risks.
Many will send you spam emails, with the hope of collecting private information such as credit card numbers . They will try to trick you into believing that you have won something, or that they have a profitable item for sale. Hackers may also use your email to steal your identity and send messages to your contacts . Remember the techniques of Zombie Phishing ?
Other scammers will use your personal information to try to access your other accounts . Most people reuse the same passwords for different accounts, which means that hackers who have access to one account can easily infiltrate the others.
This is why using the same passwords around the web is highly discouraged and not secure at all.
One of the reasons why you should never actively interact with spam messages is that interactions send hackers an important piece of information: the address is active, someone uses it on their device.
An active address, once discovered, is a perfect target for more specific attacks than phishing , and since all addresses are at risk, even corporate ones, from phishing you can easily get to a double extortion ransomware .
In the latter case, the threat of a DDoS attack may already come from mentioned zombie phishing technique, and it could all have started with some spam message.
The computers that will basically send requests to the server to perform the DDoS attack could themselves be part of a botnet created as a result of techniques used by spammers .
Phenomenology of an attack
As a first spammer technique, company addresses are retrieved . This can be done through scraping or database buying on the dark web. Next, to check which addresses are active , a couple of spam campaigns are sent. Nothing harmful, fake newsletters with an obvious Unsubscribe message, or a tracking pixel.
Note: A tracking pixel is usually a very small transparent image that is uploaded from a remote server. Just check how many times it has been downloaded and by whom to understand which addresses are active and which are not .
As a result, the contact database will have shrunk to a list of active addresses , in which users have been inattentive enough to click on a link from a suspicious email.
Finally, to these selected addresses, is sent a real phishing message containing malware or a request to intervene on a seemingly legitimate web page . For example, the request to reset your credentials via the attached link.
The unsuspecting user, thinking he is doing a safe thing, follows the link, enters the credentials and gives them to the spammer . At this point the attacker has gained access to an account. From that moment on, the risks are much more and much more damaging.
How to defend against spammer techniques
Let’s take a few steps back. The whole chain of events that led the hacker to gain access to an important account went through spam and phishing messages.
In some of the passages, the attack could have been avoided . The ability to recognize a suspicious message and then ignore it is the first weapon available to a user. SOD can help your business with this .
Through a ethical phishing service, we first test the resilience of users . Once any weak points have been identified, a training course ad hoc is constructed to provide adequate proactive defense tools to all employees.
SOC as a Service
Not always being aware users is enough , and a careless mistake could cost a company a lot of sensitive data. For this reason, we can also implement a service SOCaaS for the mitigation of risk and damage following an attack.
In this scenario, a system consisting of next generation SIEM and protocols UEBA implemented by an artificial intelligence, they monitor the network in search of any anomaly . Any suspicious behavior is identified and analyzed by technicians to see if it can actually become a threat or not.
If you would like more information on how SOD can help you raise your company’s cybersecurity level, don’t hesitate to contact us.
Estimated reading time: 6 minutes
Out of nowhere, someone replies to an email conversation dated months ago. This is a real conversation that actually happened. Maybe it’s about a meeting, a job opportunity. This email seems very relevant, but beware, it could be zombie phishing .
Indeed, something is wrong, the topic discussed has been over for months and now there is a strange error message in the body of the email. This is a sneaky tactic: revive a long dead email conversation.
Not the usual phishing
The Cofense ™ Phishing Defense Center ™ (PDC) spotted a large Zombie Phishing campaign in 2018. The scam , like almost any phishing attack, is carried out through compromised email accounts.
Scammers take over an email account and respond to long-closed conversations with a phishing link or malicious attachment (e.g. malware or a keylogger ) . Since the email subject is usually relevant to the victim, a curiosity-driven click is very likely to occur . In fact, let’s not forget that the original conversation was already present in the messages received, it is easy to think that it is a follow up or similar.
These Zombie Phishing attacks appear to use automatically generated infection URLs to evade detection. No two links are alike, and they are hidden behind “error” messages without too many frills in the body of the message. This scenario provides a pattern of apparent legitimacy for the users who are victims.
The zombies in computer science
In the computer industry, a zombie is a compromised computer connected to the network. The compromised state could be due to a hacker, virus, malware, or trojan horse .
The infected machine performs malicious tasks under a remote direction. Zombie computer botnets are often used to spread email spam and launch denial-of-service (DoS) attacks.
Types of attack
Here are some observed patterns of Zombie Phishing carrying malicious links . A distinguishing factor was the use of two distinct graphic templates containing button or link error messages.
The message reads something like “Incomplete message” or “Inability to show the whole message”. The link or button invites you to click to see the original message. Obviously the click only involves the installation of a malware or other similar events . Note that no two identical links have been identified, a sign that probably a bot was generating the addresses.
Another common factor is the use of domains with the
.icu TLD. This is probably a factor that varies considerably over time. Here are some of the domains found in the first analysis of 2018:
These zombie phish attacks have been observed to use official organizational logos to add legitimacy to the fake login pages. A common practice in phishing techniques that we have already seen in other articles.
Landing pages are designed to look like a legitimate online portal, including a company logo and even a favicon. In these cases the ultimate goal is the theft of the victim’s credentials .
Furthermore, any victim who visits the malicious website is “tagged” using the host’s IP address as an identifier and, after entering the credentials, is directed to the same spam website seen by other victims. This is often done via obfuscated links using URL shorteners (such as
If the same host tries to visit the phishing link again, the fake login page is skipped and you are forwarded directly to the spam page. This markup and URL shortener obfuscation helps attackers keep a low profile and continue their campaign unabated.
The conversation hijacking tactic is by no means new and is now living a new life with zombie phishing . Scammers have hijacked compromised email accounts to distribute malware and phishing emails as replies to conversations that have been concluded for years now.
This technique is still popular because it makes victims much more likely to click on links and download or open files. The threshold of attention against classic phishing attacks is lowered when messages are brought into conversations already in their inbox .
A couple of years old example of this was the botnet Geodo . Basically it is insertion into existing email threads ( conversation hijacking ) to deliver malicious documents. These, in turn, download a sample of Geodo or other malware such as Ursnif , which according to Key4Biz was the most widespread in Italy in June 2020.
However, the effectiveness of this tactic can greatly depend on the content of the conversations . A reply to an automated advertising email is less likely to cause an infection than a reply to a help-desk support thread.
There have been several Geodo zombie phishing campaigns consisting of replies to automated advertising emails. This is an indication that, in some cases, campaigns consist of indiscriminate replies to all emails in a mailbox. Since the volume of these conversation hijacking is still relatively low, the small reach of these emails is probably limited by the number of ongoing conversations .
Certain account types are therefore more likely to attract the direct attention of threat actors and induce them to invest additional effort and time in developing unique phishing campaigns for those accounts.
Defense from zombie-phishing
Here are some quick tips to avoid losing your credentials in a Zombie Phishing attack:
- Beware of email subjects that may seem relevant but come from old conversations
- Beware of any error message in the body of the message
- Don’t trust attached documents just because they’re replying to a conversation
- Hover your mouse over buttons or links in suspicious messages to check for suspicious domains
It has been observed that these campaigns have gotten smarter . To combat this and other forms of phishing, employee training is key.
A properly trained workforce is what it takes to defend your organization against Zombie Phishing attacks.
SOD offers a full service in this regard . We begin by attacking the company in a controlled manner, testing any weaknesses in employee safety or behavior. Subsequently, specific training is designed to remedy the gaps and fully train the staff.
To keep defenses high, our SOCaaS includes the analysis of user behavior, logs of connected machines and the network in a to immediately identify phishing attempts.
Estimated reading time: 10 minutes
Social engineering is the term used for a wide range of malicious activities performed through human interactions. It uses psychological manipulation to trick users into making security mistakes or provide sensitive information. Then, with that information, the hacker is able to successfully carry out targeted attacks, such as data theft, a ransomware or a ‘ interruption of services.
Social engineering attacks usually occur in stages . The perpetrator first investigates the intended victim to gather the necessary background information , such as potential entry points and weak security protocols, required to proceed with the attack. Then, the attacker moves to gain the victim’s trust and provide incentives for subsequent actions that violate security practices, such as disclosing sensitive information or granting access to critical resources.
What makes social engineering particularly dangerous is that it relies on human error rather than vulnerabilities in software and operating systems . Mistakes made by legitimate users are much less predictable, making them more difficult to identify and thwart than a malware-based intrusion.
Note that the target of a social engineer is not necessarily a network or software . Being able to enter a building evading security, and then installing a device or stealing documents, are actions that still fall under this type of attack.
The techniques of social engineering
Social engineering attacks come in many different forms and can be carried out wherever human interaction is involved . The following are five most common methods of digital social engineering attacks.
Baiting (from “bait”)
As the name suggests, baiting attacks use a false promise (a decoy , indeed) to whet the victim’s greed or curiosity. They lure users into a trap that steals their personal information or installs malware on their systems.
The most infamous form of baiting uses physical media to disperse malware . For example, attackers leave the bait (typically infected keys) in conspicuous areas where potential victims are certain to see them (e.g. bathrooms, elevators, the parking lot of a targeted company). The decoy has a legitimate look, like a label indicating the content, like the company’s payroll. The clue that reveals what it should contain may change, of course, but has the potential to be potentially very interesting .
Victims pick up the bait out of curiosity and insert it into a work or home computer, resulting in automatic installation of malware on the system.
Lure scams don’t necessarily have to be done in the physical world. Forms of online baiting consist of enticing advertisements leading to malicious sites or encouraging users to download a malware-infected application. Here it leads to the phishing techniques, which we will see shortly.
Defense notes : to defend against these social engineering attacks, as well as paying close attention to what is connected to your computer, it does not hurt to have an efficient antivirus and anti-malware system. For the company, a new generation SIEM system and UEBA help in detect suspicious user behavior and greatly reduce the risk of malware infection.
Scareware (from “to scare”)
Scareware consists of bombarding victims with false alarms and fake threats . Users are tricked into thinking their system is infected with malware, prompting them to install software that has no real benefit (other than the perpetrator) or is malware itself. Scareware is also called deception software ( deception software ), rogue scanner software and fraudware .
A common example of scareware is the legitimate-looking popup banner that appears in your browser as you browse the web , displaying text such as “ Your computer may be infected with spyware programs harmful “. In other cases, the popup offers to install the tool (often infected with malware) for you, or directs you to a malicious site where your computer is infected.
Scareware is also distributed via spam email which distributes bogus warnings, or offers users to buy useless / harmful services. Social engineering is often very imaginative and manages to find ever new ways to deceive. Always be alert.
Defense notes : In case you suspect that the received message is really legitimate, it is best to seek a solution actively , i.e. without using the links suggested by the message same. For example, we received a message from a service announcing that our account has been compromised. If in doubt, you can contact the support of the service directly from their site to ask for clarification. Avoid using the links suggested by the suspicious message at all costs .
Pretexting (from “to pretend”)
In this social engineering attack, an attacker gains information through a series of cleverly constructed lies . The scam is often initiated by an perpetrator who pretends to need sensitive information from a victim in order to perform a critical task.
The attacker usually begins by establishing trust with his victim by impersonating colleagues, police, bank and tax officials, or others who have a right to know authority . The hacker asks questions that are apparently necessary to confirm the victim’s identity, through which he collects important personal data.
Many types of information are collected using this technique, such as identity card numbers, personal addresses and telephone numbers, telephone records, staff vacation dates, bank records, and even security information relating to a physical facility.
Any information, however harmless it may seem, could later be used for a second attack. Even the name of a security guard hired by the company could already be enough to build trust and ask for a tear to the rule when asking for the access code to automatic doors.
Phishing (from “to fish”)
As one of the most popular types of social engineering attacks, phishing scams are email and text message campaigns that aim to create a sense of urgency , curiosity or fear in the victims . Then it prompts them to reveal sensitive information, click links to malicious websites, or open attachments that contain malware.
An example is an email sent to users of an online service notifying them of a policy violation that requires immediate action on their part, such as a mandatory password change. Includes a link to a website, nearly identical in appearance to its legitimate version, which prompts the user to enter their current credentials and new password . After submitting the form, the information is sent to the attacker.
Since identical, or nearly identical, messages are sent to all users in phishing campaigns, detecting and blocking them is much easier for mail servers that have access to threat-sharing platforms.
Defense note : While it is true that in some cases we have become accustomed to not giving weight to these kinds of messages, it is also true that social engineers have become increasingly clever. There is no need to let your guard down. Instead, it is very useful to always be wary of messages that require credentials.
These attacks leverage the fact that it’s easy to fool some users, whether out of distraction or naivety. The best defense is employee training through a ethical phishing service and subsequent targeted training.
Spear phishing (from “spear, and “to fish”)
This is a more targeted version of phishing in which an attacker chooses specific individuals or businesses . They then tailor their messages based on their victims’ characteristics, job positions, and contacts to make their attack less obvious. Spear phishing requires a lot more effort from the author and can take weeks and months to complete. They are much harder to detect and have better success rates when done skillfully.
A spear phishing scenario could involve an attacker who, impersonating an organization’s IT consultant, sends an email to one or more employees. It is worded and signed exactly as the consultant normally does, thus fooling recipients into thinking it is an authentic message. The message prompts recipients to change their password and provides them with a link that redirects them to a malicious page where the attacker now captures their credentials.
How to defend against social engineering attacks
Social engineers manipulate human feelings, such as curiosity or fear, to carry out patterns and lure victims into their traps. Therefore, it is essential to be cautious whenever you feel alarmed by an email, attracted to an offer displayed on a website, or when you come across digital media wandering around. Being alert can help protect you from most social engineering attacks that happen online.
Additionally, the following tips can help you improve your vigilance in relation to social engineering attacks.
- Do not open emails and attachments from suspicious sources . If you don’t know the sender in question, you don’t need to reply to an email. Even if you know them and are suspicious of their message, cross-check and confirm the news from other sources , such as over the phone or directly from a service provider’s website. Even an email that appears to come from a trusted source may have been initiated by an attacker.
- Use multi-factor authentication . One of the most valuable pieces of information attackers look for is your user credentials . Using 2-factor authentication helps ensure the protection of your account in case of system compromise. There are free applications for all types of mobile devices that allow you to implement this type of authentication.
- Be wary of attractive offers . If an offer seems too tempting , think twice before accepting it as real. Use Google to check the topic and quickly determine if you are dealing with a legitimate offer or a trap.
- Update your antivirus / antimalware software . Make sure automatic updates are turned on. Check periodically that updates have been applied and scan your system for possible infections.
If your company has an IT department, these recommendations should be standard security measures.
Security services for companies
When you think about the data that your company holds and manages, you are never too cautious in defense. Social engineering relies on the fact that an employee hacks more easily than a computer , which is often true.
In addition to the cyber protection measures listed above, it is good that all employees are aware of the risks and potential threats.
SOD offers a series of services that go in this direction. The first and perhaps most important is ethical phishing in which we try to attack the company with phishing techniques . We find out what the weak points are and organize internal training to provide the right tools for staff.
We also have the classic Vulnerability Assessment and Penetration Test for testing cybersecurity systems. Addons are applicable to this service to cover a greater number of areas. There is a specific addon for app analysis and code review , but also one where we try to hack the company with physical attacks . We will test the physical security of the company, the ability to enter buildings, access to network controllers and more.
Finally, to keep networks under control, the SOCaaS service allows you to monitor the entire network, identify suspicious actions (with behavior analysis via artificial intelligence), unauthorized installations, breach attempts and much more.
Data security in the company is really important, contact us to find out how we can help you!
Estimated reading time: 7 minutes
Phishing is a type of social engineering attack often used to steal user data, including login credentials and credit card numbers . Occurs when an attacker, disguised as a trusted entity , tricks a victim into opening an email, instant message, or text message.
The recipient is then tricked into clicking on a malicious link, which can lead to malware installation , system freezing as part of an attack ransomware or the disclosure of sensitive information.
An attack can have devastating results . For individuals, this includes unauthorized purchases, fund theft or identity theft.
What is Phishing for Business?
Even more damaging, phishing is also used to gain an entry point into corporate or government networks as part of a larger attack , such as a persistent advanced threat event (APT – Advanced Persistent Threat). In the latter scenario, employees are compromised in order to bypass security perimeters , distribute malware within a closed environment, or gain privileged access to protected data.
An organization that succumbs to such an attack typically suffers severe financial losses, as well as a decline in market share, reputation and consumer confidence. Depending on the scope, a phishing attempt could escalate into a security incident that a company will have difficulty recovering from .
What a phishing attack looks like
Knowing what phishing is often isn’t enough to protect yourself . The best thing to do is work on resilience to attacks and understand how to spot them before falling victim to them.
As we mentioned earlier, the consequences can be enormous. But, if it seems simple to do when it comes to a single individual, what if there is an entire company to protect? SOD offers a service geared towards just that : train entire companies to recognize and mitigate the risk of phishing attacks.
Through a first controlled attack, we are able to understand which are the points to work on . Subsequently, training proposals for employees are organized. They are taught how to recognize threats before they become problematic. To find out more, visit the service page .
But let’s see what a generic attack looks like.
1. A bogus email ostensibly from
myuniversita.edu is being distributed en masse to as many faculty members as possible.
2. The email claims that the user’s password is about to expire . Instructions are given to go to the
myuniversita.edu/rinnovo link to renew their password within 24 hours.
Various things can happen by clicking on the proposed link.
– The user is redirected to
myuniversita.edurinnovo.com , a fake page that looks exactly like the real renewal page, where both the new password are requested than the existing one. The attacker, monitoring the page, hijacks the original password to – gain access to secure areas of the university network.
– The user is sent to the real password renewal page. However, while being redirected, a malicious script runs in the background to hijack the user’s session cookie. This results in a Cross Site Scripting attack, giving the author privileged access to the university network.
Logic of an attack
Email phishing is a big game . An attacker who sends thousands of fraudulent messages can obtain significant information and sums of money, even if only a small percentage of recipients fall into the scam .
Hackers go to great lengths to design messages for a phishing attack by mimicking real emails from a disguised organization. Using the same phrasing, the same typefaces, the same logos and the same signatures, the messages appear legitimate .
Also, another thing to watch out for is that attackers usually try to push users into action by creating a sense of urgency. For example, as shown above, an email could threaten account expiration and put the recipient in urgency . Applying this pressure leads the user to be less diligent and more prone to error.
Finally, the links within the messages resemble their legitimate counterparts, but typically have a misspelled domain name or extra subdomains. In the above example, the URL
myuniverist.edu/rinnovo has been changed to
myuniversita.edurinnovo.com . The similarities between the two addresses give the impression of a secure connection , making the recipient less aware that an attack is in progress.
What is spear phishing
Spear phishing targets a specific person or company , as opposed to casual users. It’s a more in-depth version of phishing that requires special knowledge of an organization, including its power structure.
An attack could take place like this:
– A hacker searches for employee names within an organization’s marketing department and gains access to the latest project invoices.
– Posing as the director of marketing , The attacker sends an email to a project manager in the department using a subject that says: Updated invoice for Q3 campaigns . The included text, style, and logo duplicate the organization’s standard email template.
– A link in the email redirects to a password-protected internal document, which is actually a forged version of a stolen invoice .
– The marketing director is required to login to view the document. The attacker steals his credentials , gaining full access to sensitive areas within the organization’s network.
By providing the attacker with valid login credentials, spear phishing is an effective way to carry out the first phase of a ransomware attack.
What is whale phishing
whale phishing , or whaling , is a form of spear phishing that targets very big fish: CEOs or other high-value targets . Many of these scams target members of a company’s board of directors, who are considered particularly vulnerable. Indeed, they have great authority within the company, but because they are not full-time employees, they often use personal email addresses for business-related correspondence , which does not have the protections offered by email business.
whale phishing , or whaling , is a form of spear phishing that targets very big fish: CEOs or other high-value targets . Many of these scams target members of a company’s board of directors, who are considered particularly vulnerable. Indeed, they have great authority within the company, but because they are not full-time employees, they often use personal email addresses for business-related correspondence , which does not have the protections offered by email business.
How to defend yourself
Protecting against a phishing attack requires action by both users and businesses.
For users, vigilance is the key . A forged message often contains subtle errors that expose its true nature. These can include misspellings or changes to domain names , as seen in the example of the preceding URL. Users should be wondering why they are receiving a certain email .
For businesses, a number of measures can be taken to mitigate both phishing and spear phishing attacks:
Two-factor authentication (2FA) is the most effective method of thwarting phishing attacks, as adds an extra layer of verification when accessing sensitive applications . 2FA is based on users having two things: something they know , like a password and username, and something they have with them , like their smartphone . Even when employees are compromised, 2FA prevents the use of their compromised credentials, as these alone are not enough to get in .
In addition to the use of 2FA, companies should apply strict password management policies . For example, employees should be required to change their passwords frequently and not be allowed to reuse a password for multiple applications .
Finally, educational campaigns can also help decrease the threat of phishing attacks by enforcing safe practices , such as not clicking on external links to emails. In this regard, I would like to mention the ethical phishing service of SOD , which has the very intent of testing the company and organizing targeted training to mitigate the risks .
It’s not enough to know what phishing is, you also need to know how to recognize it.
Estimated reading time: 8 minutes
Looking to up the ante and earn more money with the ransomware , i Cybercriminals are increasingly using a tactic known as double extortion ransomware . Not only do they encrypt data and demand a ransom from the victim to regain access. They also threaten to upload them online if their conditions are not met.
Let’s take a step back, ransomware is one of the most common types of malware. It targets a company every 14 seconds and it cost $ 11.5 billion in 2019 alone . Typically, hackers who carry out these attacks break into a system to steal data and delete it if the victim doesn’t pay a ransom.
Why do hackers prefer double-extortion ransomware?
The rise of double extortion ransomware proves that cybercriminals are constantly expanding their arsenal. Paolo Passeri, director of cyber intelligence at the software firm Netskope , says these attacks they have become popular because they are the easiest way for hackers to make money.
Passeri Says: “With double extortion ransomware attacks, even if a backup is available, attackers can put more pressure on the victim to pay the ransom . The increased pressure comes from the potentially serious consequences of a data leak, for example economic and reputational damage. Groups like REvil are even more creative: they don’t just leak data, they monetize it by auctioning it on the dark web and putting even more pressure on their victims. “
When conducting a double extortion ransomware attack, hackers start spending more time on the overall strategy . Sparrows warns that scammers are no longer taking an opportunistic approach. Instead, they are carefully selecting their target and method of attack to increase the ransom money they make . He explains: “ the threat actors select their victims, choosing organizations whose businesses could be affected by a data leak “.
The spear phishing is the primary means of distributing double extortion ransomware, but cybercriminals are also by exploiting vulnerabilities in on-premises devices such as VPN concentrators. “In the past few months, nearly all major VPN technologies have suffered severe vulnerabilities that have been exploited for similar attacks,” says Passeri.
“This is unfortunate given the current situation with forced telework where these remote access technologies play a crucial role in ensuring business continuity during Covid-19. These systems are directly exposed to the Internet, so threat actors can scan them and then exploit any vulnerabilities discovered “.
Risks of Doxing : diffusion of private data
Double extortion ransomware provides more opportunities for cybercriminals, allowing them to extort victims twice. They can ask for a first payment to decrypt the files and a second payment not to make them public.
This technique, also known as doxing , is been used by an increasing number of ransomware groups over the past year. The consequences of doxing are more severe for the victim, so they often come down to demands. This means more money in the pockets of cybercriminals to fund new strains of ransomware and support other criminal activities.
Improvements in malware and financial incentives for hackers have led to the growth of double extortion ransomware attacks. In the past, ransomware encrypted files and hackers stole data, but it was rare to do both.
We now have bots that can scan the web for unprotected data, steal it, encrypt it or delete it, and leave a ransom note for the owner, all in one automated attack. The hacker can then collect a ransom for the data and sell the data to other criminals, playing double-crosses with minimal effort .
There has been an influx of double extortion ransomware attacks in the past year. Hackers gained traction in late 2019 when high-profile groups like Maze began exploiting aggressively this tactic.
In these particularly aggressive cases, the hacker would extract a copy of the data before encrypting it . This way the attacker not only prevents the victim from accessing her data, but also keeps a copy of the data for himself.
To claim responsibility and put pressure on the victim during the negotiation process, the attacker often released small chunks of data online. If the deals are blocked or failed, the attacker publishes all the stolen data or sells it to third parties . This creates a significant violation against the victim.
What to do
To defend against these attacks, there are several steps companies should take . For example, keeping systems updated to ensure that known vulnerabilities are resolved. It is also imperative that organizations have a layered security approach that includes the use of data loss prevention tools . An example is the service offered by SOD Acronis Cyber Protect Cloud . The system can stop the extraction or encryption of the data which initiates these double extortion attacks.
But what can organizations do if they can’t successfully mitigate one of these attacks?
Organizations should try to include a last line of defense that isolates and stops illegitimate encryption immediately . This mitigates the risk when traditional prevention-based security has been compromised or bypassed. Robust backup processes, including air-gap backups, should also be considered to make it more difficult for criminals to encrypt or disable critical data stores.
If an organization falls victim to a double extortion ransomware attack, there are often dire consequences. Criminal groups are increasingly blatant, even dystopian names like Maze, Netwalker and REvil, are an indication of this inclination. Their pride leads them to display exfiltrated data as online trophies and even sponsor clandestine hacking contests to display their malware. In a kind of cyber show-off . < / p>
For the victims, the consequences can be devastating. Travelex, a currency exchange service, went into receivership with the loss of 1,300 jobs in the UK following a ransomware attack . During the heist, the cyber gang REvil asked the company to pay $ 6 million in 48 hours. The company has faced the threat of publishing credit card information, national insurance numbers and birth dates of its customers.
It is clearly critical that companies do everything they can to identify and stop these attacks before they cause more damage. Preventing these attacks proactively is much better than mitigating their effects, with all the financial costs and reputational damage they entail .
Most attackers gain access through human error . For this, together with technical measures such as internal data access management and back-up, staff training and supervision are key elements in an organization’s defenses .
Victims essentially have two choices, both of which are costly: if they refuse to pay, they face a catastrophic data breach with exposure to painful regulatory fines and civil demands; if they pay the ransom, they still have no guarantee that the data will be returned.
Handle double-extortion ransomware
While getting hit by ransomware can deal a severe blow to any business, companies should be cautious when asked to pay a ransom. Doing so could involve even greater risks . There is no certainty that these hackers will not ask for more money without releasing the data anyway.
It is important for companies to secure their networks and conduct mock test < / a> to mitigate the ransomware threat . Such simulated attacks will help spot vulnerabilities within the organization without the risk of facing serious financial problems and having to answer very difficult questions from customers.
Implementing strong resilience measures is the best way to prevent double extortion ransomware. Ransomware is often a secondary infection. Threat actors seek to exploit known vulnerabilities, particularly in relation to remote access protocols and applications that are critical for working from home.
Critical to mitigating this is ensuring that vulnerabilities are patched in a timely manner and that network data logs are monitored for any unusual activity or data exfiltration. < / strong> There is therefore a potential window of opportunity to remedy any primary infection (which precedes the ransomware) and thus prevent the ransom note process from developing.
Organizations need to educate staff about the risks of double extortion ransomware and how it is executed . Individual users can also be of great help by being aware of the potential of unsafe attachments. They should also be cautious about clicking any email links received in any communication , particularly with the recent resurgence of Emotet , a known malware.
There are two defense strategies for dealing with double extortion ransomware. First, robust backups, to make sure you don’t your hands tied if hackers gain control of your data. Then, encryption, to make sure that if an attacker threatens to expose your data, it’s protected too.
These approaches should then be incorporated into a broader strategy: careful monitoring of the network that could allow attackers to be cut off, and promoting employee IT education not to fall victim to phishing attacks which are often the main cause of a ransomware incident.
The threat of double extortion ransomware is undeniable, with cybercriminals carefully targeting and creating these attacks in an attempt to increase the size of ransom.
Organizations often feel they have no choice but to pay the ransom to avoid the leak of sensitive data. But it’s actually a Russian roulette game and the stolen information can still find its way online. Therefore the focus must be on prevention and risk mitigation .
A common definition of data exfiltration is the theft, removal, or unauthorized movement of any data from a device. Data exfiltration typically involves a cybercriminal stealing data from personal or corporate devices, such as computers and cell phones, through various cyberattack methods.
Failure to control information security can lead to data loss which can cause financial and reputational damage to an organization.
How does a data exfiltration happen?
Data exfiltration occurs in two ways, through attacks from outsiders and through threats from within. Both are major risks, and organizations need to ensure their data is protected by detecting and preventing data exfiltration at all times.
An attack from outside the organization occurs when an individual infiltrates a network to steal corporate data or user credentials. This is typically the result of a cybercriminal injecting malware into a device connected to a corporate network.
Some malware strands are designed to spread across an organization’s network and infiltrate others, seeking sensitive data in an attempt to extract. Other types of malware remain dormant on a network to avoid being detected by organizations’ security systems until data is subversively extracted or information is gradually collected over a period of time.
Attacks can result from malicious insiders stealing your organization’s data and sending documents to your personal email address. Typically the data is then sold to cyber criminals. They can also be caused by inattentive employee behavior that sees corporate data fall into the hands of bad actors.
Types of Data Exfiltration
Data exfiltration occurs in various ways and through multiple attack methods, mostly on the Internet or on a corporate network.
The techniques cybercriminals use to extract data from organizations’ networks and systems are becoming increasingly sophisticated. These include: anonymous connections to servers, Domain Name System (DNS) attacks, Hypertext Transfer Protocol (HTTP) tunneling, Direct Internet Protocol (IP) addresses, fileless attacks, and remote code execution.
Let’s see in detail some attack techniques to know what we are talking about specifically.
1. Social engineering and phishing attacks
Social engineering attacks and phishing attacks are popular network attack vectors. They are used to trick victims into downloading malware and entering their account credentials.
Phishing attacks consist of emails designed to appear legitimate and often appear to come from trusted senders. They usually contain an attachment that injects malware into the device. Other types contain a link to a website that appears legitimate but is forged to steal the login credentials entered. Some attackers even launch targeted phishing attacks to steal data from a specific user. Often the targets are the executives of a company or known individuals.
To defend against these types of attacks, it’s best to recognize them immediately and trash the emails. In a company it is possible to help the process through an ad hoc training course, based on data collected internally by the company through a controlled test. SOD also offers this service, if you are interested, you will find more information on the page of the service itself.
2. Outgoing email
Cybercriminals check e-mails to retrieve any data coming out of organizations’ e-mail systems. The recovered data can be calendars, databases, images and planning documents. These provide sensitive information of value or information that is useful for recovering valuable data.
3. Download to unsafe devices
This method of data exfiltration is a common form of accidental insider threat. The attacker accesses sensitive corporate information on his trusted device, then transfers the data to an insecure device. The insecure device could be an external drive or smartphone that is not protected by corporate security solutions or policies, which puts it at risk of data exfiltration.
Smartphones are also susceptible to data exfiltration. Android devices are vulnerable to the installation of malware that take control of the phone to download applications without the user’s consent.
4. Upload to external devices
This type of data exfiltration typically comes from bad guys. The internal attacker can extract data by downloading the information from a secure device, then uploading it to an external (insecure) device. This external device could be a laptop, smartphone, tablet or USB stick.
5. Human error and unsafe behavior on the network
The cloud provides users and businesses with a multitude of benefits, but together there are significant risks of data exfiltration. For example, when an authorized user accesses cloud services in an insecure way, it allows an attacker an access route from which he can retrieve data and take it off the secure network. Human error also plays a role in data mining, because appropriate protection may no longer be in place.
How to spot a data exfiltration attack
Depending on the type of attack method used, detecting data exfiltration can be a difficult task. Cybercriminals using more difficult-to-detect techniques can be mistaken for normal network traffic. This means that they can lurk in networks unnoticed for months and even years. Data exfiltration is often only discovered when the damage has already been caused.
To detect the presence of at-risk users, organizations must use tools that automatically discover malicious or unusual traffic in real time.
One tool with this capability is SOC (also offered as a service: SOCaaS) which implements an intrusion monitoring system, as well as an automatic system that verifies user behavior. When the SOC detects a possible threat, it sends an alert to the organization’s IT and security teams who can take action and investigate the situation.
SOC works by searching for and detecting anomalies that deviate from regular network activity. They then issue an alert or report so administrators and security teams can review the case.
In addition to detecting automatic threats, organizations can also construct the entire sequence of an event as it occurred, including mapping to a known kill chain or attack framework.
Using a SOCaaS, for a company that manages sensitive data, is an advantage from many points of view. Being offered as a service, the company will not have to invest in setting up a specialized IT department for its SOC, will not have to hire additional personnel and will be able to count on security systems that are always updated with qualified and always available operators.
For more information, do not hesitate to contact us.
ICON_PLACEHOLDEREstimated reading time: 6 minutes Out of nowhere, someone replies to an email conversation dated… https://t.co/kXIx3FPWfm
L'hacking etico e la salvaguardia del patrimonio aziendale https://t.co/SLncmaZ1ci
ICON_PLACEHOLDERTempo di lettura: 5 minutes Le ransomware gang hanno preso di mira le aziende negli ultimi tempi,… https://t.co/3hF62deo6S
ICON_PLACEHOLDEREstimated reading time: 10 minutes Ingegneria sociale è il termine usato per una vasta gamma di a… https://t.co/gj1hMDdfjn
Enterprise e piccole aziende, l'importanza di un Next Generation SIEM https://t.co/qT4PxR13Li