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Brian Pennington

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Top Concerns for 2014 from Today’s CISOs

According to Cisco’s 2014 Annual Security Report Top Concerns for 2014 from Today’s CISOs

As chief information security officers (CISOs) survey today’s threat landscape, they are faced with growing pressure to protect terabytes of data, meet stiff compliance regulations, and evaluate risks of working with third-party vendors and doing it all with shrinking budgets and lean IT teams. CISOs have more tasks than ever and sophisticated, complex threats to manage.

Principal security strategists for Cisco security services, who advise CISOs on security approaches for their organizations, offer this list of the most pressing concerns and challenges for 2014:-

Managing Compliance

The most pervasive concern among CISOs may be the need to protect data that resides throughout an increasingly porous network, while expending precious resources on compliance. Compliance alone is not equal to being secure it is simply a minimum baseline focusing on the needs of a special regulated environment. Security, meanwhile, is an all-encompassing approach that covers all business activities.

Trusting the Cloud

CISOs must make decisions on how to manage information safely with the finite budgets and time they are allotted. For example, the cloud has become a cost-effective and agile way to manage ever-growing storehouses of data, but it raises more worries for CISOs. Chief executive officers and boards of directors see the cloud as a panacea for eliminating costly hardware. They want the benefits of offloading data to the cloud, and expect the CISO to make it happen securely and quickly.

Trusting Vendors

As with the cloud, organizations tap into vendors to provide specialized solutions. The cost model for going with third parties makes sense. However, these vendors are high value targets for criminals, who know that third-party defences may not be as strong.

Bouncing Back from Security Breaches

All organizations should assume they’ve been hacked, or at least agree that it’s not a question of if they will be targeted for an attack, but when. Recent hacks such as Operation Night Dragon, the RSA breach, and the Shamoon attack against a large oil and gas company in 2012 are on the minds of many CISOs.

RSA’s August 2013 Online Fraud Report featuring a review of “phish lockers”

RSA’s August 2013 Online Fraud Report delivers the results from RSA’s fraud monitoring centre, a summary of the report is below.

RSA researchers have been increasingly witnessing the activity of highly targeted Trojans, dubbed ‘Phish Lockers’, used at the hands of cybercriminals to steal credentials. The Trojans are deployed as a means to present online users with a phishing page that is generated by malware, while locking the desktop, hence the name.

This type of malware is not defined as a banking Trojan in the traditional sense. It is basic malicious code that can manipulate certain actions on an infected PC, but it is not a rootkit or otherwise able to actively monitor online activity, keylog or perform web injections.

Phish lockers were observed attacking banks in Latin America earlier this year, where local pharming is a very common attack method. However, the lockers are now starting to show up in new regions, attacking one or more banks at a time.

Much like most banking Trojans, phish lockers are activated by trigger. When an infected user logs into a website contained on the malware’s trigger list, the Trojan becomes active. However, unlike banking Trojans, phish lockers don’t have a classic configuration file. Most of the information is hardcoded into the malware and therefore cannot be changed on the fly. The malware is compatible with all major browsers including Internet Explorer, Firefox, Chrome, and Opera.

The first visible action that the user will see is the browser window being shut down, then the desktop’s START button disappearing (a common occurrence with ransomware, for example). Based on the URL initially typed into the browser, the Trojan will pop-up a corresponding web form that looks exactly like legitimate web page, but is actually a phishing page.

The phish locker malware usually comes with a few hardcoded web forms, each requiring a relevant set of credentials from infected bank customers. Usually, the information requested by the malware corresponds with phishing attacks targeting the particular bank. For example, if the bank uses out-of-band SMS for transaction verification, the form might have a request for the user’s mobile number.

When banking Trojans infect user machines, they are present on the device and can log a user’s keystrokes and steal documents, certificates, cookies and other elements dictated by the botmaster. Banking malware regularly sends logs of stolen information to its operator, using pre-defined domains as communication resources. Phish lockers on the other hand, are not designed to carry out such complex activity and use basic methods to transmit stolen data such as email.

In order to facilitate sending emails from the infected PC, the malware’s author programmed it to use Extended SMTP, predefining a sender and a few recipients that will act as a fallback mechanism in case the data gets intercepted or the mailbox blocked/closed for some reason.

Yet another differentiator that separates banking Trojans from phish lockers is the mode of activity. While banking malware steals and listens for data at all times when the browser is open, the locker closes the browser altogether, and then does the stealing. Once the information from the locker’s web forms is sent, the malware remains inactive and does not carry out any other malicious activity on the PC, allowing the user to regain control.

RSA’s conclusion

It is rather interesting to see Trojans of this type, which are considered very basic when compared to most banking Trojans in the wild. It is even more interesting to see them appearing in geographies where banking security is considered to be very advanced.

This phenomenon may be linked with the trend towards privatization of banking Trojans. This has created a barrier for many cybercriminals as they are denied access to purchase more advanced malware kits to launch attacks. This could be perhaps be pushing some cybercriminals to write and deploy simple malicious codes that will at least get their dirty work done.

Phishing Attacks per Month

RSA identified 45,232 phishing attacks launched worldwide in July, marking a 26% increase in attack volume in the last month.

US Bank Types Attacked

National banks continue to be the most targeted by phishing within the U.S. banking sector with 74% of attacks in July while credit unions were targeted by one out of every ten attacks last month.

Top Countries by Attack Volume

The U.S. remained the country most attacked by phishing in July, targeted by 58% of total phishing volume. Germany endured the second highest volume of phishing at 9%, followed by the UK at 8%. India, France, Canada, South Africa and Italy were collectively targeted by 15% of phishing volume.

Top Countries by Attacked Brands

U.S. brands were once again most affected by phishing in July, targeted by 28% of phishing attacks. Brands in the UK, India, Italy and China together endured one-quarter of phishing attack volume.

Top Hosting Countries

The U.S. remained the top hosting country in July with 45% of global phishing attacks hosted within the country, followed by Canada, Germany, and the UK. To date, RSA has worked with more than 15,300 hosting entities around the world to shut down cyber attacks.

Previous 3 RSA Online Fraud Report Summaries

RSA’s June 2013 Online Fraud Report featuring the Bugat Trojan

RSA’s June 2013 Online Fraud Report delivers the results from RSA’s fraud monitoring centre, a summary of the report is below

RSA researchers analyzing Bugat Trojan attacks have recently learned that Bugat’s developers managed to develop and deploy mobile malware designed to hijack out-of-band authentication codes sent to bank customers via text messages.

Bugat (aka: Cridex) was discovered and sampled in the wild as early as August 2010. This privately owned crimeware’s earlier targets were business and corporate accounts, its operators attempting high-value transactions ($100K-$200K USD per day) in both automated and manual fraud schemes. It is very likely that Bugat’s operators started seeing a diminished ability to target high-value accounts due to added authentication challenges, forcing them to resort to developing a malware component that is already used by many mainstream banking Trojans in the wild.

Bugat joins the lineup of banking malware that makes use of SMS capturing mobiles apps. The first occurrences of such malware were observed in use by Zeus and SpyEye Trojan variants, which were respectively dubbed ZitMo and SPitMo (Zeus-in-the-Mobile, SpyEye-in-the-Mobile). In mid-2012, RSA coined the name CitMo to denote the Citadel breed of in-the-Mobile activity. The fourth Trojan for which malicious apps were discovered was Carberp in early 2013, and with this case, Bugat is the most recent banking Trojan to have its own SMS-forwarding app, now coined BitMo.

Among other banking Trojan features, Bugat comes with a set of HTML injections for online banking fraud and possesses Man-in-the-Browser script functionality. This very feature is what allows it to interact with victims in real time and lead them to download the BitMo mobile malware to their Android/BlackBerry/Symbian devices. iOs remains almost entirely exempt from this type of malware since the Apple policy limits app downloads from third party sites.

When Bugat infected online banking customers access their financial provider’s login page, the Trojan is triggered to dynamically pull a relevant set of injections from the remote server, displays them to the victim and leads them to the BitMo download under the guise of AES encryption being adopted by the bank.

The malware requests application permissions linked with the SMS relay, while the next injection on the PC side requests that the victim enter a code appearing on the mobile device – connecting the infected PC and the mobile handset. Once installed and deployed BitMo begins hijacking and concealing incoming text messages from the  bank, disabling the phones’ audio alerts, and forwarding the relevant messages to its operators’ drop zones. Bugat’s entrance to the mobile space only demonstrates the increasing use of SMS forwarders as part of Trojan-facilitated fraud.

Although the injection set created by Bugat’s developers, as well as the distribution mechanism designed for delivering APKs/BlackBerry OS BitMo apps are indeed sophisticated, the actual malware apps are rather basic and show no innovation. That being said, it is very clear that all banking Trojans, both commercial and privately operated codes, are increasingly making use of SMS forwarders in their criminal operation.

Phishing Attacks per Month

RSA identified 36,966 phishing attacks launched worldwide in May, marking a 37% increase in attack volume. Trending data shows that a rise in phishing attacks typically occurs in Q2.

Number of Brands Attacked

In May, 351 brands were targeted in phishing attacks, marking a 13% increase. Two new entities suffered their first attack in May.

US Bank Types Attacked

U.S. nationwide banks maintained the highest volume of phishing in May while regional banks saw a 7% increase in phishing volume, from 12% to 19%. Since February, the attack volumes targeting regional banks and credit unions have fluctuated quite a bit.

Top Countries by Attack Volume

The U.S. remained the country most targeted by phishing in May, absorbing 50% of the total phishing volume. The UK held steady, once again recording 11%  of attack volume. South Africa, the Netherlands, Canada, Australia, and India accounted for about one-quarter of attack volume.

Top Countries by Attacked Brands

U.S. brands remained the most targeted by phishing among worldwide brands, absorbing 30% of phishing volume in May. UK brands were targeted by one-tenth of phishing volume followed by India, China and Brazil.

Top Hosting Countries

The U.S. remained the top hosting country in May, hosting 47% of global phishing attacks. Germany was the second top hosting country with 8% of attacks hosted within the country, followed by the UK, the Netherlands, France, and Canada.

See Previous 3 months of RSA Online Fraud Report Summaries:

  • The RSA April 2013 Online Fraud Report Summary here.
  • The RSA March 2013 Online Fraud Report Summary here.
  • The RSA February 2013 Online Fraud Report Summary here.

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RSA’s April Online Fraud Report 2013, with a focus on the changes in Phishing tactics

Phishing still stands as the top online threat impacting both consumers and the businesses that serve them online.

In 2012, there was an average of over 37,000 phishing attacks each month identified by RSA. The impact of phishing on the global economy has been quite significant: RSA estimates that worldwide losses from phishing attacks cost more than $1.5 billion in 2012, and had the potential to reach over $2 billion if the average uptime of phishing attacks had remained the same as 2011.

This monthly highlight goes beyond the growing numbers recorded for phishing attacks and looks deeper into the evolution of attack tactics facilitating the sustained increase witnessed over the last year.

Phishing kits recently analyzed by RSA show another phish tactic increasingly used by phishers. Although this is not entirely new, it is interesting to see it implemented by miscreants planning to evade email filtering security.

The scheme includes a number of redirections from one website to another. What kit authors typically do in such cases is exploit and take over one legitimate website, hijacking it but not making any changes to it. They will be using this site as a trampoline of sorts, making their victims reach it and then be bounced from there to a second hijacked website: the actual phishing page.

What good can this serve? Simple: the first site is purposely preserved as a “clean” site so that phishers can send it as an unreported/unblocked URL to their victims, inside emails that would not appear suspicious to security filtering. The recipient will then click the link, get to the first (good) URL and be instantly redirected to the malicious one.

Another similar example is reflected in time-delayed attacks again, not new, but increasingly used by attackers. This variation uses the same clean site, sends the email spam containing the “good” URL and stalls. The malicious content will only be loaded to the hijacked site a day or two later. These are often weekend attacks, where the spam is sent on a Sunday, clears the email systems, then the malicious content is available on Monday. The same scheme is used for spear phishing and Trojan infection campaigns.

Research into attack patterns proves that Fridays are a top choice for phishers to send targeted emails to employees spear phish Friday if you will. Why Friday? When it comes to phishing, phishers make it their business to know their targets as well as possible. It stands to reason that employees may be a little less on guard on the last day of the week, clean their inbox from the week’s emails and browse the Internet more making them more likely to check out a link they received via email that day.

Typo squatting is a common way for phishers to try and trick web users into believing they are looking at a legitimate URL and not a look-alike evil twin. The basics of typo squatting is registering a website for phishing, choosing a domain name that is either very similar to the original or visually misleading. The most common ways of doing this are: –Switching letters, as in bnak or bnk for “bank”, adding a letter at the end of the word or doubling in the wrong place, as in Montterrey for “Monterrey” – Swapping visually similar letters

Phishers are creative and may use different schemes to typo squat. This phish tactic can be noticed by keen-eyed readers who actually pay close attention to the URL they are accessing, however, for more individuals on a busy day, typo squatting can end with an inadvertent click on the wrong link. This is especially important today, since fake websites look better than ever and are that much harder to tell apart.

A quick search engine search for domain iwltter.com immediately revealed that it was registered by someone in Shanghai and already reported for phishing.

But the notion plays against phishers in other aspects. Typos are one of the oldest tell-tale signs of phishing. You’d think that by now phishers would have learned that their spelling mistakes and clunky syntax impairs their success rates, but luckily, they haven’t. This could be in part due to the fact that many kit authors are not native English speakers Another phish tactic analyzed by RSA in the recent month came in the shape of a kit that selected its audience from a 3,000 strong pre-loaded list. It may sound like a long list, but is it very limiting in terms of exposure to the phishing attack itself. This case showed that phishers will use different ways to protect the existing campaign infrastructure they created and make sure strangers, as in security and phish trackers, keep out of their hijacked hostage sites while they gather credentials and ship them out to an entirely different location on the web.

Water-holing in the phishing context became a tactic employed by attackers looking to reach the more savvy breed of Internet users. Instead of trying to send an email to a security-aware individual, attempting to bypass security implemented in-house and reinventing the phish, water-holing is the simple maneuver of luring the victim out to the field and getting him there. A water-hole is thus a website or an online resource that is frequently visited by the target-audience. Compromise that one resource, and you’ve got them all. Clearly fully patched systems will still be rather immune and secured browsers that will not allow the download of any file without express permission from the user will deflect the malware.

Water-holing has been a tactic that managed to compromise users by using an exploit and infecting their machines with a RAT (remote administration tool). This is also the suspected method of infection of servers used for the handling of payment-processing data. Since regular browsing from such resources does not take place on daily basis, the other possibility of a relatively wide campaign is to infect them through a resource they do reach out to regularly.

Water-holing may require some resources for the initial compromise of the website that will reap the rewards later, but these balance out considering the attacker does not need to know the exact contacts/their email addresses/the type of content they will expect or suspect before going after the targeted organization.

RSA’s Conclusion

Although there is not much a phishing page can surprise with, one can’t forget that the actual page is just the attack’s façade. Behind the credential-collecting interface lay increasingly sophisticated kits that record user hits and coordinates, push them from one site to the next, lure them to infection points after robbing their information and always seeking the next best way to attack. According to recent RSA research into kits, changes in the code’s makeup and phish tactics come from intent learning of human behavior patterns by logging statistical information about users and then implementing that knowledge into future campaigns.

Phishing Attacks per Month

In January, RSA identified 30,151 attacks launched worldwide, a 2% increase in attack volume from December. Considering historical data, the overall trend in attack numbers in an annual view shows slightly lower attack volumes through the first quarter of the year.

Number of Brands Attacked

In January, 291 brands were targeted in phishing attacks, marking a 13% increase from December.

US Bank Types Attacked

U.S. nationwide banks continue to be the prime target for phishing campaigns – targeted by 70% of the total phishing volume in January. Regional banks’ attack volume remained steady at 15%, while attacks against credit unions increased by 9%.

Top Countries by Attack Volume

The U.S. was targeted by phishing most in January – with 57% of total phishing volume. The UK endured 10%, followed by India and Canada with 4% of attack volume respectively.

Top Countries by Attacked Brands

Brands in the U.S were most targeted in January; 30% of phishing attacks were targeting U.S. organizations followed by the UK that represented 11% of worldwide brands attacked by phishers. Other nations whose brands were most targeted include India, Australia, France and Brazil.

Top Hosting Countries

In January, the U.S. remained the top hosting country, accounting for 52% of global phishing attacks, followed by Canada, Germany, the UK and Colombia which together hosted about one-fifth of phishing attacks in January.

See Previous 3 months of RSA Online Fraud Report Summaries:

  • The RSA March 2013 Online Fraud Report Summary here.
  • The RSA February 2013 Online Fraud Report Summary here.
  • The RSA January 2013 Online Fraud Report Summary here.

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RSA’s March Online Fraud Report 2013, with a focus on Email and Identity takeover

RSA’s March 2013 Online Fraud Report delivers the results from RSA’s fraud monitoring centre, a summary of the report is below.

Phishing attacks are notorious for their potential harm to online banking and credit card users who may fall prey to phishers looking to steal information from them. Compromised credentials are then typically sold in the underground or used for actual fraud attempts on that user’s bank/card account. Financial institutions have all too often been the most targeted vertical with phishers setting their sights on monetary gain, followed by online retailers and social networks.

Most understand the purpose of targeting financial institutions, but online retailers and social networking sites? Why would a fraudster target them? In most cases, they use an email address to authenticate their users’ identities, and they are not the only ones. Of course the user is made to choose a password when opening any new online account, but as research reveals, password reuse across multiple sites is a huge issue. A typical user reuses the same password an average of six times, or the same password to access six different accounts.

Access Phishing campaigns have already been targeting webmail users for years now with campaigns purporting to be Hotmail, Yahoo!, Gmail, and the spear-phishing flavor in the shape of OWA (Outlook Web Access) for business users.

Trojan operators followed suit and have not remained oblivious to the potential that lies in gaining control over victim identities through their email accounts. In fact, almost all Trojan configuration files contain triggers to webmail providers as well as to social networking sites. This is designed with the purpose of getting access in order to gain more information about potential victims in order to take over their online identities.

Since email accounts are an integral part of user identities online, they have also become the pivotal access point for many types of accounts. When it comes to online retailers and merchants, the email address is most often the username in the provider’s systems or databases. When it comes to bank accounts, the customer’s email is where communications and alerts are sent, and sometimes even serve as part of transaction verification.

Beyond the fact that email is part of customer identification and point of communication, the compromise of that account by a cybercriminal can have more detrimental effects. Email takeover may mean that a hostile third party will attempt, and sometimes succeed, to reset the user’s account information and password for more than one web resource, eventually gaining access to enough personal information to enable complete impersonation of the victim.

Although some webmail providers use two-factor authentication for account password resets (such as Gmail’s Authenticator), most don’t, thereby inadvertently making it simpler for criminals to access and sometimes attempt to reset access to accounts.

Fraudsters will typically probe the account for more information and sometimes lock it (by changing the password) in order to prevent the genuine user from reading alerts after a fraudulent transaction was processed on one of their accounts.

Since email is a convenient way for service providers to communicate with untold numbers of customers, online merchants will, in the name of ease of use, reset account credentials via email. Hence, if a cybercriminal is in control of the email account, they will also gain control over the user’s account with that merchant.

From there, the road to e-commerce fraud shortens considerably, either using that person’s financial information, or attaching a compromised credit card to that account without ever having to log into their bank account in order to access their money, and in that sense, email access equals money.

Another example is transportation companies, which are part of any online purchase and those who provide shipping service to companies as well as governmental offices. They also use email addresses as their users’ login identifiers and will reset the account via email.

A takeover of a user’s email account in this scenario will also mean takeover of that person’s/business’ service account with the transport provider. For fraudsters, this type of access translates into purchasing labels for their reshipping mules, charging shipments to accounts that don’t belong to them, and providing an easier route to reship stolen goods and even reroute existing orders.

Email account takeover may appear benign at first sight, but in fact it is an insidious threat to online banking users. The first issue with email account takeover (due to credentials theft or a password reset), is that users re-use passwords. When fraudsters steal a set of credentials, they will likely be able to use it to access additional accounts, sometimes even an online banking account.

The second issue is that fraudsters will use victim email access for reconnaissance with that person’s choice of financial services providers, bank account types, card statements (paperless reports delivered via email), recent online purchases, alert types received from the bank, contact lists (often including work-related addresses), social networking profile and more.

How Risky Is Email Account Takeover? Email account takeover can be a route to identity theft that only requires access to perhaps the least secure part of the online identity used by financial and other organizations and is perhaps one of the least evident elements that can become a potential facilitator of online fraud scenarios.

Email addresses can serve as a “glue” that binds many parts of a person’s online identity, connecting a number of different accounts that interlink. A typical online banking customer may use a Gmail address with their bank account, use that same address for a PayPal account, shop on eBay using that address, and receive their card statements at that address from their card issuer. All too often, that address is also their Facebook access email, where they have saved their phone number, stated where they work and for how long, and mentioned a few hobbies.

RSA’s Summary

Account hacks of this type happen all the time, and often make the headlines in the media. In some cases, there are a few hundred potential victims while in others, there are millions. The value of an email address to a cybercriminal should not be underestimated. This element of an online identity must be treated with added caution by all service providers that cater to consumers.

The line that crosses between ease of access and user experience always passes very close to security redlines, but sometimes very slight modifications in the weight customer email accounts can have on overall account access can turn a fraud attempt into a failed fraud attempt.

Phishing Attacks per Month

In February, RSA identified 27,463 phishing attacks launched worldwide, marking a 9% decrease from January. The overall trend in attack numbers when looking at it from an annual view shows slightly lower attack volumes through the first quarter of the year.

Number of Brands Attacked

In February, 257 brands were targeted in phishing attacks, marking a 12% decrease from January. Of the 257 targeted brands, 48% endured five attacks or less.

US Bank Types Attacked

U.S. nationwide bank brands were the prime target for phishing campaigns, with 69% of total phishing attacks, while regional banks saw an 8% increase in phishing attacks in February.

Top Countries by Attack Volume

The U.S. remained the country that suffered a majority of attack volume in February, absorbing 54% of the total phishing volume. The UK, Canada, India, and South Africa collectively absorbed about one-quarter of total phishing volume in February.

Top Countries by Attacked Brands

In February, U.S brands were targeted by 30% of phishing volume, continuing to remain the top country by attacked brands. Brands in Brazil, Italy, India, Australia, China and Canada were each respectively targeted by 4% of phishing volume.

Top Hosting Countries

In February, the U.S. hosted 44% of global phishing attacks (down 8%), while the UK and Germany each hosted 5% of attacks. Other top hosting countries in February included Canada, Russia, Brazil and Chile.

See Previous 3 months of RSA Online Fraud Report Summaries:

  • The RSA February 2013 Online Fraud Report Summary here.
  • The RSA January 2013 Online Fraud Report Summary here.
  • The RSA December 2012 Online Fraud Report Summary here.

RSA’s February Online Fraud Report 2013 including an update on Phishing activity

RSA’s February 2013 Online Fraud Report delivers the results from RSA’s fraud monitoring centre, a summary of the report is below.

Phishing still stands as the top online threat impacting both consumers and the businesses that serve them online. In 2012, there was an average of over 37,000 phishing attacks each month identified by RSA.

The impact of phishing on the global economy has been quite significant: RSA estimates that worldwide losses from phishing attacks cost more than $1.5 billion in 2012, and had the potential to reach over $2 billion if the average uptime of phishing attacks had remained the same as 2011. 

This monthly highlight goes beyond the growing numbers recorded for phishing attacks and looks deeper into the evolution of attack tactics facilitating the sustained increase witnessed over the last year. 

Phishing kits recently analyzed by RSA show another phish tactic increasingly used by phishers. Although this is not entirely new, it is interesting to see it implemented by miscreants planning to evade email filtering security. 

The scheme includes a number of redirections from one website to another. What kit authors typically do in such cases is exploit and take over one legitimate website, hijacking it but not making any changes to it. They will be using this site as a trampoline of sorts, making their victims reach it and then be bounced from there to a second hijacked website: the actual phishing page.

What good can this serve? Simple: the first site is purposely preserved as a “clean” site so that phishers can send it as an unreported/unblocked URL to their victims, inside emails that would not appear suspicious to security filtering. The recipient will then click the link, get to the first (good) URL and be instantly redirected to the malicious one. 

Another similar example is reflected in time-delayed attacks – again, not new, but increasingly used by attackers. This variation uses the same clean site, sends the email spam containing the “good” URL and stalls. The malicious content will only be loaded to the hijacked site a day or two later. These are often weekend attacks, where the spam is sent on a Sunday, clears the email systems, then the malicious content is available on Monday. The same scheme is used for spear phishing and Trojan infection campaigns. 

Research into attack patterns proves that Fridays are a top choice for phishers to send targeted emails to employees – spear phish Friday if you will. Why Friday? When it comes to phishing, phishers make it their business to know their targets as well as possible. It stands to reason that employees may be a little less on guard on the last day of the week, clean their inbox from the week’s emails and browse the Internet more – making them more likely to check out a link they received via email that day. 

Typo squatting is a common way for phishers to try and trick web users into believing they are looking at a legitimate URL and not a look-alike evil twin. The basics of typo squatting is registering a website for phishing, choosing a domain name that is either very similar to the original or visually misleading.

The most common ways of doing this are:

  • Switching letters, as in bnak or bnk for “bank”
  • Adding a letter at the end of the word or doubling in the wrong place, as in Montterrey for “Monterrey”
  • Swapping visually similar letters 

Phishers are creative and may use different schemes to typo squat. This phish tactic can be noticed by keen-eyed readers who actually pay close attention to the URL they are accessing, however, for more individuals on a busy day, typo squatting can end with an inadvertent click on the wrong link. This is especially important today, since fake websites look better than ever and are that much harder to tell apart. 

A quick search engine search for domain iwltter.com immediately revealed that it was registered by someone in Shanghai and already reported for phishing. 

But the notion plays against phishers in other aspects. Typos are one of the oldest tell-tale signs of phishing. You’d think that by now phishers would have learned that their spelling mistakes and clunky syntax impairs their success rates, but luckily, they haven’t. This could be in part due to the fact that many kit authors are not native English speakers 

Another phish tactic analyzed by RSA in the recent month came in the shape of a kit that selected its audience from a 3,000 strong pre-loaded list. It may sound like a long list, but is it very limiting in terms of exposure to the phishing attack itself. 

This case showed that phishers will use different ways to protect the existing campaign infrastructure they created and make sure strangers, as in security and phish trackers, keep out of their hijacked hostage sites while they gather credentials and ship them out to an entirely different location on the web. 

Water-holing in the phishing context became a tactic employed by attackers looking to reach the more savvy breed of Internet users. Instead of trying to send an email to a security-aware individual, attempting to bypass security implemented in-house and reinventing the phish, water-holing is the simple maneuver of luring the victim out to the field and getting him there. 

A water-hole is thus a website or an online resource that is frequently visited by the target-audience. Compromise that one resource, and you’ve got them all. Clearly fully patched systems will still be rather immune and secured browsers that will not allow the download of any file without express permission from the user will deflect the malware.

Water-holing has been a tactic that managed to compromise users by using an exploit and infecting their machines with a RAT (remote administration tool). This is also the suspected method of infection of servers used for the handling of payment-processing data. Since regular browsing from such resources does not take place on daily basis, the other possibility of a relatively wide campaign is to infect them through a resource they do reach out to regularly. 

Water-holing may require some resources for the initial compromise of the website that will reap the rewards later, but these balance out considering the attacker does not need to know the exact contacts/their email addresses/the type of content they will expect or suspect before going after the targeted organization. 

RSA Conclusion

Although there is not much a phishing page can surprise with, one can’t forget that the actual page is just the attack’s façade. Behind the credential-collecting interface lay increasingly sophisticated kits that record user hits and coordinates, push them from one site to the next, lure them to infection points after robbing their information and always seeking the next best way to attack. According to recent RSA research into kits, changes in the code’s makeup and phish tactics come from intent learning of human behavior patterns by logging statistical information about users and then implementing that knowledge into future campaigns. 

Phishing Attacks per Month In January, RSA identified 30,151 attacks launched worldwide, a 2% increase in attack volume from December. Considering historical data, the overall trend in attack numbers in an annual view shows slightly lower attack volumes through the first quarter of the year. 

Number of Brands Attacked

In January, 291 brands were targeted in phishing attacks, marking a 13% increase from December.

US Bank Types Attacked

U.S. nationwide banks continue to be the prime target for phishing campaigns – targeted by 70% of the total phishing volume in January. Regional banks’ attack volume remained steady at 15%, while attacks against credit unions increased by 9%.

Top Countries by Attack Volume

The U.S. was targeted by phishing most in January – with 57% of total phishing volume. The UK endured 10%, followed by India and Canada with 4% of attack volume respectively.

Top Countries by Attacked Brands

Brands in the U.S were most targeted in January; 30% of phishing attacks were targeting U.S. organizations followed by the UK that represented 11% of worldwide brands attacked by phishers. Other nations whose brands were most targeted include India, Australia, France and Brazil. 

Top Hosting Countries

In January, the U.S. remained the top hosting country, accounting for 52% of global phishing attacks, followed by Canada, Germany, the UK and Colombia which together hosted about one-fifth of phishing attacks in January.

Previous 3 months of RSA Online Fraud Report Summaries:

  • The RSA January 2013 Online Fraud Report Summary here.
  • The RSA December 2012 Online Fraud Report Summary here.
  • The RSA November 2012 Online Fraud Report Summary here.

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RSA’s January Online Fraud Report 2013 including an excellent summary of Phishing in 2012

RSA’s January 2013 Online Fraud Report delivers the results from RSA’s fraud monitoring centre, a summary of the report is below.

The total number of phishing attacks launched in 2012 was 59% higher than 2011

It appears that phishing has been able to set yet another record year in attack volumes, with global losses from phishing estimated at $1.5 billion in 2012. This represents a 22% increase from 2011.

The estimated amount lost from phishing this year was affected by the industry median – the number of uptime hours per attack. The median dropped in 2012 (from 15.3 to 11.72 hours per attack, according to the Anti-Phishing Working Group), somewhat curbing the impact of losses overall. If attack medians had remained the same, estimated losses from phishing would have exceeded $2 billion.

There is no doubt phishing still continues to be a persistent threat to all organizations. The RSA Anti-Fraud Command Center is at the forefront of phishing attack shut down. To understand the magnitude of growth however, consider the following fact: at the end of 2011, RSA celebrated its 500,000th attack takedown; that number was achieved over seven years. In 2012 alone, RSA took down almost an additional 50% of that total volume!

The roster of countries most attacked by phishing throughout the year was not surprising; the same countries appeared on the shortlist of the most attacked, the UK, the U.S., Canada, Brazil and South Africa. In Latin America, Colombia and Brazil were the two most attacked countries.

There have been major increases in phishing attack volume in some countries, while slight declines were recorded for others. One of the most significant increases in 2012 phishing numbers occurred in Canada, where attacks increased nearly 400% in the first half of the year. There have been many speculations as to why the sharp increase, but the main reason is simply economics – fraudsters follow the money. With the Canadian and U.S. dollar being exchanged at nearly a 1:1 ratio, Canada has become as lucrative a target for cybercrime.

The list of top countries to have consistently hosted the most phishing attacks throughout 2012 remained nearly identical to 2011.

  1. U.S.
  2. UK
  3. Germany
  4. Brazil
  5. Canada
  6. France
  7. Russia
  8. Poland
  9. The Netherlands
  10. Japan

Phishing targets and tactics in 2012

The past year saw phishing diversify the top aims to include popular online retailers that were targeted via the usual web portals but also through the increasingly popular use of mobile apps for shopping. Other targets on phishers’ lists were airline companies, gaming platforms, mobile communication providers and webmail services.

It appears that malware writers are strong players in the world of phishing kit coding, responding to the demand in the underground and servicing phishers looking for off-the-shelf kit templates or custom written specialty kits. The top requests for phishing kit writers were, unsurprisingly, the login pages of U.S. based banks, credit card issuers and the dedicated login pages for business/corporate users of online banking/investments.

In terms of the tactics used by cybercriminals to launch their attacks, 2012 saw the use of rather simple hosting methods, mainly taking advantage of hijacked websites.

The most prominent trends noted came in the shape of using web shells and automated toolkits to hijack massive numbers of websites and smarter phishing kits containing custom plug-ins such as web-analytics tools. A proliferation of off-the-shelf codes written by black hat programmers, and the use of combined attack schemes to phish users and then redirect them to subsequent malware infection points were noted by RSA forensics analysts.

Global Phishing forecast for 2013

Phishing via Mobile The most prominent market trends relevant to the mobile channel have to do with the growth in mobile device usage in both our personal and work life and the pivotal role of mobile apps. RSA expects to see more phishing directed at mobile device users, particularly smartphones, as we move into 2013. Varying social engineering schemes will target users by voice (vishing), SMS (smishing), app-based phishing (rogue apps), as well as classic email spam that users will receive and open on their mobile devices.

Phishing via Apps Applications are the central resource for smartphone users, and that overall popularity of apps will become just as trendy with cybercriminals.

Nowadays, users download apps designed for just about any day-to-day activity, with the most prominent of those being gaming, social networking and shopping apps. To date, both Apple and Google have surpassed 25 billion app downloads each from their respective stores. In fact, according to research firm Gartner, this number will grow to over 185 billion by 2015.

In 2013 organizations will continue to aggressively tap into this growing market and respond by further moving products and services to this channel, delivering specialized small-screen adaptations for Web browsing, and developing native apps that supply mobile functionality and brand-based services to enable customers anywhere-anytime access.

Following user behavior trends (and money) in 2013, criminals will drive underground demand for threats and attack schemes designed for the mobile. Cybercriminals will focus on apps in order to deliver phishing, conceal malware, infect devices, and steal data and money from users of different mobile platforms.

Phishing via Social Media In 2008, slightly more than 20% of online users in the U.S. were members of a social network. That number has since more than doubled and stands at around 50% today.

Data collected last year from Fortune’s Global 100 revealed that more than 50% of companies said they have Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube accounts. Facebook membership, for example, has increased nearly 10 times since 2008, with over 7 billion unique visitors per month worldwide. Twitter shows that the number of members increased by a factor of five over the same period, boasting over 555 million regular users.

With the world turning into a smaller and more ‘social’ village than ever, cybercriminals are by no means staying behind. They follow the money, and so as user behavior changes, RSA expects cybercriminals to continue following their target audience (future victims) to the virtual hot-spots. According to a Microsoft research study, phishing via social networks in early 2010 was only used in 8.3% of attacks by the end of 2011 that number stood at 84.5% of the total. Phishing via social media steadily increased through 2012, jumping as much as 13.5% in one month considering Facebook alone.

Another factor affecting the success of phishing via social media is the vast popularity of social gaming; an activity that brought payments into the social platform. Users who pay for gaming will not find it suspicious when they are asked for credit card details and personal information on the social network of their choice.

Social media is definitely one way by which criminals get to their target audience, phishing them for access credentials (which are used for webmail at the very least and for more than one site in most cases), as well as stealing payment details they use online.

RSA’s Conclusion

Phishing attack numbers have been increasing annually, and although phishing is one of the oldest online scams, it seems that web users still fall for it which is why it still remains so popular with fraudsters.

With the heightened availability of kits, cybercriminals’ awareness of the latent potential in stolen credentials, and the enhanced quality of today’s attacks, the forecasted outlook for 2013 calls for yet another record year riddled with hundreds of thousands of phishing attacks worldwide.

As of January 1, 2013, the RSA Anti-Fraud Command Center has shut down more than 770,000 phishing attacks in more than 180 countries.

Phishing Attacks per Month

In December, RSA identified 29,581 attacks launched worldwide, marking a 29% decrease in attack volume from November, but a 40% increase year-over-year in comparison to December 2011.

The overall trend in attack numbers showed a steady rise in volume throughout the year, reaching an all-time high in July, with 59,406 attacks detected in a single month, 52% more than 2011’s peak of 38,970 attacks.

Number of Brands Attacked

In December, 257 brands were targeted in phishing attacks, marking a 10% decrease from November. Of the 257 targeted brands, 49% endured five attacks or less.

US Bank Types Attacked

U.S. nationwide banks continued to be the most targeted, absorbing 79% of total attack volume in December. It is not surprising that fraudsters prefer large financial institutions over smaller ones as the potential “victim rate” rises in conjunction with the size of the bank’s customer base. Moreover, information regarding security procedures at larger institutions can be more easily located in open-source searches.

Top Countries by Attack Volume

The U.S. was targeted by the majority of, or 46%, of total phishing volume in December. The UK accounted for 19% of attack volume, while India and Canada remained third and fourth with 8% and 5% of attack volume.

Top Countries by Attacked Brands

U.S. brands were the most targeted again in December, with 28% of total phishing attack volume, followed by UK brands which were targeted by 10% of attacks. Brands in Canada, Australia, India and Brazil were each targeted by 5% of phishing volume.

Top Hosting Countries

In December, the U.S. remained the top hosting country for phishers, hosting 53% of global phishing attacks. Germany and the UK were the second top hosting countries accounting for 5% of hosted attacks.

Previous 3 months of RSA Online Fraud Report Summaries:

  • The RSA December 2012 Online Fraud Report Summary here.
  • The RSA November 2012 Online Fraud Report Summary here.
  • The RSA October 2012 Online Fraud Report Summary here.

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RSA’s December Online Fraud Report 2012 including an excellent piece on Ransomware

RSA’s December Online Fraud Report delivers the results from RSA’s fraud monitoring centre, a summary of their report is below. 

Ransomware is a type of Trojan/malware that can lock files on an infected machine and restrict access to the computer unless the user pays a “ransom” for the restrictions to be removed

Infection campaigns and methods used by Ransomware are identical to those used for any other malware/Trojan infection. For example, recent Ransomware campaigns infected users via the Blackhole exploit kit; another campaign relied on drive-by-downloads via malicious tags in news sites and forums. 

Ransomware campaigns can take on a variety of forms. One of the most common scams is using fake anti-virus programs, making a user believe their computer is infected with unwanted software that can only be removed by purchasing the attacker’s special anti-virus program. However, Ransomware campaigns can take on a number of forms including bogus messages from law enforcement or even a recent example in Australia where a medical clinic’s patient records were targeted unless the clinic paid the attackers $4,200. 

Although victims are promised their files will be unlocked once they pay the “fine”, in most cases the botmaster cannot control the infected bot and the files/computer will remain locked (depending on the malware’s function). 

In order for criminals to remain untraceable, Ransomware payments must be kept anonymous and these Trojans’ operators prefer prepaid payment cards/vouchers (available at retail locations in the US, Europe and now in Arabic-speaking countries as well). It appears that Ransomware is a flourishing business in the cybercrime arena since this type of malware has been proliferating, and attack numbers are on the rise. Ransomware is so popular that although this Winlock type malware can come as a standalone piece, nowadays it is often coupled with other Trojan infections to add monetization schemes to new and existing botnets. Ransom components are sold as ‘plugins’ for some of the well-known banking Trojans including Citadel, Carberp, ICE IX, Zeus, and SpyEye. 

New commercial Ransomware

A recent variant analyzed by RSA researchers revealed a new type of Ransomware, dubbed “Multi-Locker” by its operators. This malware appears to be a commercial creation, destined for sale to cybercriminals interested in launching infection campaigns to spread it. The Multi-Locker ransom and botnet administration control panel were written by a Russian-speaking blackhat, based on a peer’s existing code (the “Silent locker” Trojan). Much like other known Ransomware codes, the malware comes with adapted HTML lock pages designed to appear per each user’s IP address’ geo-location. The pages display in the corresponding language, naming the local national police and demanding ransom in the local currency ($/€/£/other) via prepaid cards/vouchers available in that country.

Multi-Locker is available to cybercriminals through a vendor in underground fraud communities. The malware was announced in the underground in the beginning of October 2012 and offered for sale at USD $899 per kit. In the ad, the vendor guarantees the locking of files on Windows-based machines running any version of Windows, from 2003 to Windows 8. 

Most ransom Trojans to date have been designed to accept prepaid cards or vouchers issued in the US and Europe. Multi-Locker’s vendors are adding their research regarding prepaid media used in Arabic-speaking countries and assure buyers that they will enrich their knowledge to enable them to easily cash out the funds at the end of the line. 

Multi-locker Botnet and control panel

Unlike the majority of ransom Trojans, the Multi-Locker Ransomware was designed with a main point of control that can manage some of the activity of infected bots. The basic control interface shows botmasters some basic statistics such as the total number of bots on that botnet and the payments that come in from each bot. The botnet interface parses each payment made according to the prepaid card type the victim provides.

The panel also displays the botnet’s conversion rate (how many successful infections/ locks out of the entire campaign) at any given moment by showing the total number of lock pages loaded versus the number of bots (that ratio hovering around 20%). 

New features coming soon: DNS-Locker

The most interesting module this Trojan offers is apparently yet to come: DNS Internet Locker. The DNS Locker will be a restriction that will take over the Internet browser, forcing to only display the Ransomware Operator’s HTML lock page, demanding payment for the browser to be released. 

The vendor is very boastful about having researched solutions online and having found none that can help infected users find a way to rid their machines from the malware, adding that even starting the computer in sage mode will not remedy the lock, guaranteeing the future DNS Locker will work on even the newest versions of Windows. 

RSA’s Conclusion

Ransomware were first seen coming from Russia 2005-6 and have since evolved in terms of tactics and scope. Ransomware Malware is particularly lucrative to botmasters operating out of Eastern Europe as almost all were written by Russian-Speaking coders and sold by Russian-Speaking vendors in the Fraud Underground.

Ransomware’s success rate may differ in each country/geography, according to the number of users who decide for the unlocking of the PC. Unfortunately the numbers for this type of attack continue to grow as online users are not very aware of the threat and may attempt to resolve the issue on their own by providing payment to the botmasters.

Phishing Attacks per Month

In November, RSA identified 41,834 unique phishing attacks launched worldwide, making a 24% increase in attack volumes from October. The growth in attacks in November is mostly attributed to the online holiday shopping season as fraudsters try to leverage this time of year to lure victims.

Number of Brands Attacked

In November, 284 brands were targeted in phishing attacks, marking a 6% decrease from October. Of the 284 brands attacked 45% endured 5 attacks or less.

US Bank Types Attacked

Nationwide banks continued to be the most targeted by phishing in November, experienced nearly 80% of all attack volumes.

Top Countries by Attack Volume

In November the US was targeted by 42% of total phishing volume. The U.K accounted for 20% of the attack volume, with India emerging as the third most targeted by volume with 7% of all global attacks. India replaced Canada who saw a significant decrease, from 27% of total attack volumes in October to just 4% in November.

Top Countries by Attacked Brands

In November, the countries that featured the greatest number of targeted brands were the U.S. (30%), still leading by a wide margin, followed by the UK with 11%. Though absorbing a relatively small number of attacks in November, Brazilian brands ranked third of the most targeted with 6%, attesting to the diversity of attacked brands in the country.

Top Hosting Countries

Despite a 6% drop in the month prior, the U.S. continues to be the top hosting country for phishing attacks; one out of every two attacks in November was hosted in the U.S. France was the second top host, accounting for 7% of phishing attacks in November, most of which were hosted by a single ISP.

You might also want to read “What will fraud look like in 2013?”

Previous RSA Online Fraud Report Summaries:

  • The RSA November 2012 Online Fraud Report Summary here.
  • The RSA October 2012 Online Fraud Report Summary here.
  • The RSA September 2012 Online Fraud Report Summary here.
  • The RSA August 2012 Online Fraud Report Summary here.
  • The RSA July 2012 Online Fraud Report Summary here.
  • The RSA June 2012 Online Fraud Report Summary here.
  • The RSA April 2012 Online Fraud Report Summary here.
  • The RSA March 2012 Online Fraud Report Summary here.
  • The RSA February 2012 Online Fraud Report Summary here.
  • The RSA January 2012 Online Fraud Report Summary is here.
  • The RSA December 2011 Online Fraud Report Summary is here.
  • The RSA November 2011 Online Fraud Report Summary is here.
  • The RSA October 2011 Online Fraud Report Summary is here.
  • The RSA September 2011 Online Fraud Report Summary is here.

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RSA’s November Online Fraud Report 2012 including advice on avoiding fraud

RSA’s November Online Fraud Report delivers the results from RSA’s fraud monitoring centre, a summary of their report is below.

In 2011, RSA’s e-commerce authentication technology was used by many of the top card issuers around the globe to protect nearly a half a billion e-commerce transactions and their statistics for 2011 (2012 will be posted when available) are;

  • Over the course of 2011, 7% of all e-commerce transactions were identified as fraudulent, an increase of 2% in 2010
  • During the 2011 holiday shopping season (November 1 – December 31), U.S. consumers spent over $1.4 billion online, an increase of 18% from 2010
  • Identified fraudulent transactions during this same time totaled more than $82 million, an increase of 219% from 2010. Cyber Monday accounted for $2.5 million
  • Top online retailers based on e-commerce transaction volume and amounts in 2011 included three major airlines
  • The top five cities where e-commerce fraud originated over the holiday season include New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Washington DC and Houston

Fraud is always lurking around every corner, but is especially prolific at this time of year with so many people shopping online. Consumers can follow some very simple tips to stay safe online:

  • Tune up defenses for ALL devices. Just like you would tune up your car before driving to visit relatives during the holidays, you should ensure that any device you plan to shop with (computers, tablets, smartphones and even gaming systems) gets a tune up with the latest browsers and security patches.
  • Shop with retailers that take security seriously. Before entering any personal or payment information, you should look for the closed padlock on your web browser’s address bar and ensure the web address starts with “https” – the “s” standing for secure. Also, look for protection beyond just passwords. For example, many merchants now support the Verified by Visa / MasterCard SecureCode standards which will provide you with additional security. Finally, always make sure there is a phone number or physical address for the merchant in case there is an issue with your purchase.
  • Avoid advertisements, coupons or deals that seem too good to be true. Fraudsters use many scams to try to direct you to a malicious website to download a Trojan onto your computer.
  • Be on the lookout for phishing emails. Fraudsters will be launching countless phishing attacks this time of year trying to secure your payment account information so be on high alert. When the emails start coming in with subject lines screaming “Account Alert” or “Reactivate your account” and making claims such as “invalid login attempts into your account online from an unknown IP address have been identified,” ensure you delete it right away.

Phishing Attacks per Month

In October, RSA identified 33,768 unique phishing attacks launched worldwide, a 5% decrease from September. While attack volume has been decreasing over the last three months, total phishing attack numbers for the second half of 2012 already represent a 9% increase over first half numbers with November and December still to go.

Number of Brands Attacked

In October, 269 brands were subject to phishing attacks, marking a 14% decrease from September. A decrease in the number of targeted brands is likely the result of an increased focus of attacks on several familiar brands.

US Bank Types Attacked

Nationwide banks in the U.S. experienced a slight decline in attacks, down 3%, while U.S. credit unions saw a 5% increase in phishing attacks in October.

Top Countries by Attack Volume

In October, the U.K continued to be the country targeted by the most volume of phishing, with a total of 34%, despite a 14% drop from September’s number. Canada and the U.S. together were targeted by 51% of phishing volume in October. South Africa made a surprising appearance in October, targeted by 4% of phishing volume throughout the month.

Top Countries by Attacked Brands

In October, U.S. brands were targeted the most by phishing,– representing 34% of targeted brands, followed by brands in the UK (12%), and Australia and Canada (both 6% respectively)

Top Hosting Countries

The U.S. continued to host the majority of phishing attacks in October – with three out of every four attacks during the month being hosted in the U.S. Other top hosting countries in October included the UK, Germany, and Canada.

You might also want to read “What will fraud look like in 2013?”

Previous RSA Online Fraud Report Summaries:

  • The RSA October 2012 Online Fraud Report Summary here.
  • The RSA September 2012 Online Fraud Report Summary here.
  • The RSA August 2012 Online Fraud Report Summary here.
  • The RSA July 2012 Online Fraud Report Summary here.
  • The RSA June 2012 Online Fraud Report Summary here.
  • The RSA April 2012 Online Fraud Report Summary here.
  • The RSA March 2012 Online Fraud Report Summary here.
  • The RSA February 2012 Online Fraud Report Summary here.
  • The RSA January 2012 Online Fraud Report Summary is here.
  • The RSA December 2011 Online Fraud Report Summary is here.
  • The RSA November 2011 Online Fraud Report Summary is here.
  • The RSA October 2011 Online Fraud Report Summary is here.
  • The RSA September 2011 Online Fraud Report Summary is here.

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RSA’s June Online Fraud Report 2012

In their June Online Fraud Report RSA reports on the activity of online fraudsters, full summary below.

RSA researchers have been following Ransomware campaigns and Ransomware Trojan attack waves and have recently analyzed a new variant that holds infected PCs hostage until their owners make a €100 payment to the botmaster.

Ransomware is the type of malware that can infect a PC and then lock the user’s data most commonly by encrypting files or by injecting a rogue MBR (master boot record) to the system’s start-up routine.

Ransomware can come as standalone malicious code or coupled with other malware. This type of malicious campaign has been on the rise and are ever popular, with many recent cases combining banking Trojans with Ransomware. While the user’s files are typically locked until the ransom is paid, the victim is still free to browse the Internet, thus allowing the banking Trojan to continue collecting information on the victim uninterrupted.

The Trojan involved in the cases studied by RSA is a Ransomware that begins by checking for the future victim’s geo-location and adapting a ransom page to the local language for thirteen different countries. The fact that this malware aims at 13 specific countries may seem targeted enough at first sight, but it is only the case of one variant – if this malware is shared or sold with other criminals, they could easily adapt it to their own targets.

RSA researchers were able to recognize 13 different ransom kits available for this Trojan. All kits are located in the same folder, where some countries have two different types of images that can be downloaded and used by the Ransomware (in cases when more than one language is spoken in that country, such as Belgium).

After the Ransomware kit infected the PC, it was downloaded and unpacked locally. This is the point at which the Trojan begins its primary communication with the botmaster’s remote server.

The communication includes three main purposes:

  1. Inform the botmaster of the addition of a new bot, send infected machine’s IP address (and then used to define the infected PC’s physical location)
  2. Obtain a blacklist of potentially fake prepaid card/voucher numbers defined by the botmaster
  3. Ping the botmaster to use the C&C as a drop for the coming ransom payment (in the shape of a card PIN/voucher number)

This Trojan also makes a few copies of itself and saves them under different names locally on the infected PC.

Much like other Trojans, this Ransomware is managed via server side scripts on the botmaster’s resources. The variant analyzed in this case used four resources, all of which were located on the same physical server, using two different IP addresses held with a Russian-based ISP – typical for the vast majority of Ransomware.

RSA was able to deduce that the Ransomware analyzed is actually part of a larger cybercrime operation. The botmasters behind this malware variant are clearly bot-herding and monetizing their botnets using a loader Trojan, banking Trojans and Ransomware variants. The server hosting the Ransomware has proven to also be a drop zone for stolen credentials amounting to well over €80,000.

RSA Conclusion

Ransomware has been gaining speed among cybercriminals and bot-herders, likely because this extortion method works and keeps paying off, as victims believe that if they pay, their system will be unlocked.

With ransom amounts averaging €100, it seems as though botmasters behind these scams keep the fee relatively low, possibly so that the victim may prefer to pay it in hopes of releasing the hold on their PC rather than contact a support professional. Another factor keeping victims quiet are typical Ransomware accusations, including things such as software and music infringement. It is very possible that users do not know they were infected by malware and are not keen on contacting someone about it, thus allowing this type of malware to enjoy its continued popularity.

Phishing Attacks per Month

In May 2012, phishing volume increased by 7%, with a total of 37,878 global attacks identified by RSA. The bulk of the increase observed in the past two months is a result of highly targeted phishing campaigns launched against a small number of financial institutions.

Number of Brands Attacked

The number of brands targeted by phishing attacks throughout May increased by 4%, and 50% endured less than five attacks.

Types Attacked

Phishing attacks against U.S. nationwide bank brands decreased by 20% while credit unions saw a 13% increase in phishing volume in May.

Top Countries by Attack Volume

After being targeted by 28% of worldwide attacks in April, Canada saw a huge drop in attack volume in May to just 3%. The UK remains the most heavily targeted country for the third consecutive month, enduring more than 60% of global phishing volume in May.

Top Countries by Attacked Brands

The countries with the most attacked brands in May were the U.S., UK, and Australia, accounting for 47% of all phishing attacks. Brands in Brazil, India, Canada, China, France and Italy also continue to remain highly targeted by phishing.

Top Hosting Countries

The U.S. saw an increase of10% in the number of phishing attacks it hosted in May – increasing to 66%, or two out of every three attacks. Brazil also remained a top host with 9% and Germany with 4%.

Previous RSA Online Fraud Report Summaries:

  • The RSA April 2012 Online Fraud Report Summary here.
  • The RSA March 2012 Online Fraud Report Summary here.
  • The RSA February 2012 Online Fraud Report Summary here.
  • The RSA January 2012 Online Fraud Report Summary is here.
  • The RSA December 2011 Online Fraud Report Summary is here.
  • The RSA November 2011 Online Fraud Report Summary is here.
  • The RSA October 2011 Online Fraud Report Summary is here.
  • The RSA September 2011 Online Fraud Report Summary is here.

RSA’s April Online Fraud Report 2012

In their April Online Fraud Report RSA reports on the activity of online fraudsters, full summary below.

As well as the usual interesting statistics on fraudulent activity this report sheds light on the changes to the Citadel Trojan.

Citadel Trojan hooks system processes to isolate bots from AV and security.

The Citadel Trojan was first introduced for sale to cybercriminals in the Russian-speaking underground in February 2012. The Trojan, which was initially based on the Zeus Trojan’s exposed source code, is already at its second upgrade release, version 1.3.3.0, which was shared with its customer-base on March 15th.

One of the features included in the initial report and communicated by Citadel’s developers in late February related to a Trojan feature they have apparently implemented: DNS Redirection. Per the feature list, the developer claimed that unlike other Trojans, Citadel does not modify the “Hosts” file on the infected PC (all too often used for local Pharming), but rather allows the botmaster to block or redirect any URL they wish to prevent the bot from reaching.

To add value for their customers, the developers went the extra mile to add a list of AV software providers and security scans to the DNS redirection lists embedded into the configuration. On a change-log posting from the team, the developer specified that at least 104 different security-vendor URLs were added to this feature.

RSA researchers were able to confirm that the DNS-redirection method embedded into the Citadel configuration file was not a feature available in the original Zeus Trojan; it is new programming, courtesy of the Citadel team.

The Citadel Trojan’s configuration contained more than 650 different URLs of a large variety of AV-providers and security scanning services based out of different countries (USA, DE, RU and more). Each ‘forbidden’ URL was followed by a “=” mark and the IP mask address to which the botmaster wants the victim rerouted.

Another interesting feature analyzed by RSA researchers appeared in a Citadel variant, raising questions as to redirection scheme to Citadel resources. At first sight, the analysis result seemed somewhat peculiar, showing that Citadel was using legitimate URLs as its C&C’s drop point as well as the configuration update point (Google, CNET).

Phishing Attacks per Month

After a brief peak in phishing that came in the beginning of the year, the two months which followed have shown a slight decrease. February marked a 30% drop in worldwide phishing volume and March followed with another 9% drop with 19,141 unique phishing attacks identified by RSA in March. When compared year over year, March 2012 saw a 9% increase from the phishing volume in March 2011.

Number of Brands Attacked

The number of brands targeted through March increased 8% compared to February, standing at a total of 303 brands targeted by phishing attacks.

US Bank Types Attacked

There was a considerable increase in the phishing volume experienced by U.S. regional banks last month – increasing from just 7% in February to 30% in March. Meanwhile, attacks against U.S. nationwide banks decreased 24%. This isn’t surprising as phishers tend to alternate their cashout schemes by aiming at the small and regional institutions as well.

Top Countries by Attack Volume

The most prominent change in March in attack volume was the 23% increase for the UK and a 24% decrease for Canada. Overall, the countries that are consistently targeted most by phishing attacks include the U.S., UK, Brazil, Canada, the Netherlands and South Africa.

Top Countries by Attacked Brands

In March, about three out of ten attacks were targeted at brands in the U.S and one out of ten targeted at brands in the UK. This is not surprising as these two countries also continue to see the most volume of phishing attacks overall.

Top Hosting Countries

The U.S. hosted just slightly over half of the phishing attacks identified in March. 8% of attacks were hosted in Brazil, showing a 5% increase from February. Sixty other countries were responsible for hosting 17% of phishing volume in March.

Previous RSA Online Fraud Report Summaries:

  • The RSA March 2012 Online Fraud Report Summary here.
  • The RSA February 2012 Online Fraud Report Summary here.
  • The RSA January 2012 Online Fraud Report Summary is here.
  • The RSA December 2011 Online Fraud Report Summary is here.
  • The RSA November 2011 Online Fraud Report Summary is here.
  • The RSA October 2011 Online Fraud Report Summary is here.
  • The RSA September 2011 Online Fraud Report Summary is here.

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RSA’s November Online Fraud Report

Below is a summary of RSA’s November Online Fraud Report:-

The humble beginnings of phishing

The term ‘phishing’ was coined in 1996 by hackers who managed to steal America Online (AOL) accounts by coaxing username and passwords from unsuspecting users. At the time, hacked accounts were dubbed ‘phish’; within a year, ‘phish’ was actively being traded between hackers as a form of electronic currency that was of value to them. ‘Phishers’ used to go after compromised e-mail accounts in order to send out spam.

In its early days, phishing was not looking to steal bank account information or even financially driven for that matter. It was only when phishers realized that it was relatively easy to convince web users to divulge their passwords that they inevitably saw it as a way to monetize data. Now going beyond spam, phishers added a criminal layer to their activities and began thinking of ways to compromise more valuable credentials, especially those which afforded online access to bank accounts.

Phishing became a fraudster’s gold rush.

Phishing Attacks per Month

In October, phishing volume dropped nearly 40 percent – from 38,970 attacks in September to 24,019 attacks. This decline was mainly due to a drastic reduction in the number of phishing attacks targeting brands that were heavily attacked in September.

Number of Brands Attacked

Last month, 298 brands were targeted with phishing attacks, marking just a slight drop from September. Eleven brands endured their first attack in October while 51 percent of the brands targeted last month endured less than five attacks each.

US Bank Types Attacked

The portion of brands targeted among U.S. credit unions increased eight percent while brands targeted among U.S. regional banks saw a 13 percent decrease in October (from 25% to 12%). However, U.S. nationwide bank brands continue to endure the highest number of attacks, accounting for nearly 75 percent in October.

Top Countries by Attack Volume

In October, the UK continued to be the country that endured the most phishing attacks, just slightly ahead of the U.S. by a mere one percent. South Africa endured eleven percent of the phishing volume in October, followed by Brazil and Canada.

Top Hosting Countries

In October, the US hosted 54 percent of the world’s phishing attacks, followed by Germany with seven percent and the UK with four percent. Since October 2010, the only countries that have consistently hosted the highest portions of phishing attacks have been the US, UK, Germany, France and Russia.

The full RSA Report can be found here.

The RSA October Online Fraud Report Summary is here.

The RSA September Online Fraud Report Summary is here.

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RSA’S October Online Fraud Report

Below is a summary of RSA’s October Online Fraud Report.

October was Cyber Security Awareness Month. A public relations effort made by several US-based government bodies to increase security-literacy across the tiers that make up our digital society. By encouraging each and every Internet user to “Stop, Think, Connect,” the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the National Cyber Security Alliance (NCSA), and the Multi-State Information Sharing and Analysis Center (MS-ISAC) hope to increase security within the home, business environment, and ultimately within the entire nation. While this effort was founded in the U.S., its aspirations of increasing security literacy among the general public could easily be embraced across the globe.

Ironically, October also marks a major milestone for RSA, reaching the official shut down of over 500,000 phishing attacks around the globe. Sometimes viewed as one of the oldest scams in the book, phishing is still a very popular method among cybercriminals.

RSA recently estimated that worldwide losses from phishing attacks alone during H1 2011 amounted to over $520 million, and losses incurred from phishing attacks during the 12-month period of H2 2010 through H1 2011 reached nearly $1 billion.

Phishing Attacks per Month

The number of phishing attacks identified by RSA in September increased by 45%, setting a new all-time high of 38,970 attacks. As in the month prior, this increase was largely attributed to repeated attacks on a handful of large financial institutions which have been heavily targeted throughout the past few months.

Number of Brands Attacked

The total number of brands attacked decreased 15%, dropping from 351 targeted brands in August to 300 brands in September. Last month, no new brands endured their first phishing attack, compared to seven newly-targeted brands in August. Monthly counts of newly-targeted brands last year hovered around 20 to 25 entities per month indicating a slowdown in the trend of attacks on new targets.

US Bank Types Attacked

In September, the portion of targeted brands among U.S. credit unions dropped from 19% to 6%. In contrast, the portion of targeted brands among regional U.S. banks increased 5%, while attacks against nationwide U.S. banks increased 8%. Nationwide banks continue to be the most lucrative target among phishers likely because their customer bases are large and geographically dispersed.

Top Hosting Countries

The U.S. hosted two out of three worldwide phishing attacks in September. Since September 2010, the only countries that have consistently hosted the highest portions of phishing attacks have been the U.S., UK, and Germany.

Top Countries by Attack Volume

The U.S. and UK continue to remain the top two countries targeted by the highest volume of phishing attacks. In September, they endured 79% of the world’s phishing attacks. Brazil, Canada, and South Africa remained among the top five countries in September in terms of phishing attack volume.

Top Countries by Attacked Brands

U.S. and UK brands accounted for 43% of all the brands targeted worldwide by phishing in September.

The full report can be found here.

The RSA September Online Fraud Report Summary is here.

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RSA’s September Online Fraud Report

At bit of a catch up on the excellent RSA Fraud Reports. The results from their September report are below.

At the bottom of the post is the August Report Summary link.

Phishing Attacks per Month

The number of phishing attacks identified by RSA in August increased by 7%, setting a new all-time high of 26,907 attacks. This increase can be mostly attributed to repeated attacks on a number of large financial institutions which have been heavily targeted through the past few months.

Number of Brands Attacked

The total number of brands attacked increased 9% in August, climbing from 321 targeted brands in July to 351 brands in August. Last month, seven brands endured their first phishing attack. Last year, monthly counts of newly-targeted brands hovered around 20 to 25 per month, indicating a slowdown in the attack rate of new targets.

US Bank Types Attacked

The number of phishing attacks targeting U.S. credit unions in August nearly doubled, from 10% to 19%. The portion of attacked brands among the other two sectors decreased – regional U.S. banks decreased 3% and nationwide banks decreased 6%. August 2011 marked a two-year high for U.S. credit union brands being targeted since hitting the 24% mark in August 2009.

Top Countries by Attack Volume

The US and UK remained the top two countries most targeted by phishing in August, accounting for 73% of the world’s attacks. Brazil, Canada, and South Africa all remained in the top half.

Top Hosting Countries

The U.S. hosted 63% of all phishing attacks identified in August. The UK and Germany both accounted for hosting 4% of global phishing attacks followed by France, Canada, the Netherlands, Brazil, Russia, and Australia. In the last year, the countries that have consistently hosted the highest portions of phishing attacks have been the U.S., UK, and Germany.

Top Countries by Attacked Brands

The top five countries whose brands were most targeted by phishing in August, the U.S., UK, Australia, India, and Canada – accounted for 60% of attacks. U.S.

The full report can be found here.

See the RSA August Report Summary here.

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