Category Archive: Cybersecurity

Start with Security: A Cybersecurity Guide for Business (even nonprofits)

Lessons from Federal Trade Commission cases

Go to the FTC Start with Security website here or click here to download a PDF copy of their full recommendations.

When managing your network, developing an app, or even organizing paper files, sound security is no accident. Companies that consider security from the start assess their options and make reasonable choices based on the nature of their business and the sensitivity of the information involved. Threats to data may transform over time, but the fundamentals of sound security remain constant. As the Federal Trade Commission outlined in Protecting Personal Information: A Guide for Business, you should know what personal information you have in your files and on your computers, and keep only what you need for your business. You should protect the information that you keep, and properly dispose of what you no longer need. And, of course, you should create a plan to respond to security incidents.

There’s another source of information about keeping sensitive data secure: the lessons learned from the more than 50 law enforcement actions the FTC has announced so far. These are settlements – no findings have been made by a court – and the specifics of the orders apply just to those companies, of course. But learning about alleged lapses that led to law enforcement can help your company improve its practices. And most of these alleged practices involve basic, fundamental security missteps. Distilling the facts of those cases down to their essence, here are ten lessons to learn that touch on vulnerabilities that could affect your company, along with practical guidance on how to reduce the risks they pose.

  1. Start with security.
  2. Control access to data sensibly.
  3. Require secure passwords and authentication.
  4. Store sensitive personal information securely and protect it during transmission.
  5. Segment your network and monitor who’s trying to get in and out.
  6. Secure remote access to your network.
  7. Apply sound security practices when developing new products.
  8. Make sure your service providers implement reasonable security measures.
  9. Put procedures in place to keep your security current and address vulnerabilities that may arise.
  10. Secure paper, physical media, and devices.
Posted in Cybersecurity

It’s National Cyber Security Awareness Month

Cyber Security is Everyone’s Responsibility

Data breaches resulting in the compromise of personally identifiable information of thousands of Americans. Intrusions into financial, corporate, and government networks. Complex financial schemes committed by sophisticated cyber criminals against businesses and the public in general.

These are just a few examples of crimes perpetrated online over the past year or so, and part of the reason why Director James Comey, testifying before Congress last week, said that “the pervasiveness of the cyber threat is such that the FBI and other intelligence, military, homeland security, and law enforcement agencies across the government view cyber security and cyber attacks as a top priority.” The FBI, according to Comey, targets the most dangerous malicious cyber activity—high-level intrusions by state-sponsored hackers and global cyber syndicates, and the most prolific botnets. And in doing so, we work collaboratively with our domestic and international partners and the private sector.

But it’s important for individuals, businesses, and others to be involved in their own cyber security. And National Cyber Security Awareness Month—a Department of Homeland Security-administered campaign held every October—is perhaps the most appropriate time to reflect on the universe of cyber threats and on doing your part to secure your own devices, networks, and data.

What are some of the more prolific cyber threats we’re currently facing?

Ransomware is type of malware that infects computers and restricts users’ access to their files or threatens the permanent destruction of their information unless a ransom is paid. In addition to individual users, ransomware has infected entities such as schools, hospitals, and police departments. The actors behind these sophisticated schemes advise the users that if they pay the ransom, they will receive the private key needed to decrypt the files. Most recently, these cyber criminals—demonstrating some business savvy—give victims the option of decrypting one file for free to prove that they have the ability to restore the locked files.

Business e-mail compromise, or BEC, scams continue to impact many businesses across the U.S. and abroad. BEC is a type of payment fraud that involves the compromise of legitimate business e-mail accounts—often belonging to either the chief executive officer or the chief financial officer—for the purpose of conducting unauthorized wire transfers. After compromising a company’s e-mail account—usually through social engineering or malware—the criminals are then able to send wire transfer instructions using the victim’s e-mail or a spoofed e-mail account. BEC scams have been reported in all 50 states and in 100 countries and have caused estimated losses of more than $3 billion worldwide. More on BEC scams.

Intellectual property theft involves robbing individuals or companies of their ideas, inventions, and creative expressions—often stolen when computers and networks are accessed by unscrupulous competitors, hackers, and other criminals. Intellectual property can include everything from trade secrets and proprietary products and parts to movies, music, and software. And the enforcement of laws protecting intellectual property rights (IPR)—which are critical to protecting the U.S. economy, our national security, and the health and safety of the American public—is an FBI criminal priority. The Bureau’s IPR focus is the theft of trade secrets and infringements on products that can impact consumers’ health and safety, including counterfeit aircraft, automotive, and electronic parts.

“The FBI is doing everything we possibly can, at every level, to make it harder for cyber criminals to operate,” says Associate Executive Assistant Director David Johnson, “and I believe many of them are now starting to think twice before they put fingers to keyboard. But we also ask that the public do its part by taking precautions and implementing safeguards to protect their own data.”

Check back on our website during the month of October for information on protecting your data and devices and on FBI efforts to combat the most egregious cyber criminals.

Ransomware victims urged to report infections

FBI

 

 

 

September 15, 2016/Alert Number I-091516-PSA

RANSOMWARE VICTIMS URGED TO REPORT INFECTIONS TO FEDERAL LAW ENFORCEMENT

FBI says “don’t be a victim”: Ransomware on the rise

Posted on May 01, 2016

Graphic of Tablet Screen with Lock and Key (Stock Image)From the FBI’s Cyber Division: Incidents on the rise, protect yourself and your organization

Hospitals, school districts, state and local governments, law enforcement agencies, small businesses, large businesses—these are just some of the entities impacted recently by ransomware, an insidious type of malware that encrypts, or locks, valuable digital files and demands a ransom to release them. See a New York Times article here.

The inability to access the important data these kinds of organizations keep can be catastrophic in terms of the loss of sensitive or proprietary information, the disruption to regular operations, financial losses incurred to restore systems and files, and the potential harm to an organization’s reputation.

And, of course, home computers are just as susceptible to ransomware, and the loss of access to personal and often irreplaceable items—including family photos, videos, and other data—can be devastating for individuals as well.

Ransomware has been around for a few years, but during 2015, law enforcement saw an increase in these types of cyber attacks, particularly against organizations because the payoffs are higher. And if the first three months of this year are any indication, the number of ransomware incidents—and the ensuing damage they cause—will grow even more in 2016 if individuals and organizations don’t prepare for these attacks in advance.

While the below tips are primarily aimed at organizations and their employees, some are also applicable to individual users.

Tips for Dealing with the Ransomware Threat

Prevention Efforts

  • Make sure employees are aware of ransomware and of their critical roles in protecting the organization’s data.
  • Patch operating system, software, and firmware on digital devices (which may be made easier through a centralized patch management system).
  • Ensure antivirus and anti-malware solutions are set to automatically update and conduct regular scans.
  • Manage the use of privileged accounts—no users should be assigned administrative access unless absolutely needed, and only use administrator accounts when necessary.
  • Configure access controls, including file, directory, and network share permissions appropriately. If users only need read specific information, they don’t need write-access to those files or directories.
  • Disable macro scripts from office files transmitted over e-mail.
  • Implement software restriction policies or other controls to prevent programs from executing from common ransomware locations (e.g., temporary folders supporting popular Internet browsers, compression/decompression programs).

Business Continuity Efforts

  • Back up data regularly and verify the integrity of those backups regularly.
  • Secure your backups. Make sure they aren’t connected to the computers and networks they are backing up.

How does it work?

In a ransomware attack, victims—upon seeing an e-mail addressed to them—will open it and may click on an attachment that appears legitimate, like an invoice or an electronic fax, but which actually contains the malicious ransomware code. Or the e-mail might contain a legitimate-looking URL, but when a victim clicks on it, they are directed to a website that infects their computer with malicious software.

One the infection is present, the malware begins encrypting files and folders on local drives, any attached drives, backup drives, and potentially other computers on the same network that the victim computer is attached to. Users and organizations are generally not aware they have been infected until they can no longer access their data or until they begin to see computer messages advising them of the attack and demands for a ransom payment in exchange for a decryption key. These messages include instructions on how to pay the ransom, usually with bitcoins because of the anonymity this virtual currency provides.

Ransomware attacks are not only proliferating, they’re becoming more sophisticated. Several years ago, ransomware was normally delivered through spam e-mails, but because e-mail systems got better at filtering out spam, cyber criminals turned to spear phishing e-mails targeting specific individuals.

And in newly identified instances of ransomware, some cyber criminals aren’t using e-mails at all. According to FBI Cyber Division Assistant Director James Trainor, “These criminals have evolved over time and now bypass the need for an individual to click on a link. They do this by seeding legitimate websites with malicious code, taking advantage of unpatched software on end-user computers.”

The FBI doesn’t support paying a ransom in response to a ransomware attack. Said Trainor, “Paying a ransom doesn’t guarantee an organization that it will get its data back—we’ve seen cases where organizations never got a decryption key after having paid the ransom. Paying a ransom not only emboldens current cyber criminals to target more organizations, it also offers an incentive for other criminals to get involved in this type of illegal activity. And finally, by paying a ransom, an organization might inadvertently be funding other illicit activity associated with criminals.”

So what does the FBI recommend?

As ransomware techniques and malware continue to evolve—and because it’s difficult to detect a ransomware compromise before it’s too late—organizations in particular should focus on two main areas:

Prevention efforts—both in both in terms of awareness training for employees and robust technical prevention controls; and
The creation of a solid business continuity plan in the event of a ransomware attack. (See sidebar for more information.)
“There’s no one method or tool that will completely protect you or your organization from a ransomware attack,” said Trainor. “But contingency and remediation planning is crucial to business recovery and continuity—and these plans should be tested regularly.” In the meantime, according to Trainor, the FBI will continue working with its local, federal, international, and private sector partners to combat ransomware and other cyber threats.

If you think you or your organization have been the victim of ransomware, contact your local FBI field office and report the incident to the Bureau’s Internet Crime Complaint Center.

Resources:

IRS Alerts Payroll and HR Professionals to Phishing Scheme Involving W-2s

Posted on March 02, 2016

WASHINGTON — The Internal Revenue Service today issued an alert to payroll and human resources professionals to beware of an emerging phishing email scheme that purports to be from company executives and requests personal information on employees.

The IRS has learned this scheme — part of the surge in phishing emails seen this year — already has claimed several victims as payroll and human resources offices mistakenly email payroll data including Forms W-2 that contain Social Security numbers and other personally identifiable information to cybercriminals posing as company executives.

“This is a new twist on an old scheme using the cover of the tax season and W-2 filings to try tricking people into sharing personal data. Now the criminals are focusing their schemes on company payroll departments,” said IRS Commissioner John Koskinen. “If your CEO appears to be emailing you for a list of company employees, check it out before you respond. Everyone has a responsibility to remain diligent about confirming the identity of people requesting personal information about employees.”

IRS Criminal Investigation already is reviewing several cases in which people have been tricked into sharing SSNs with what turned out to be cybercriminals. Criminals using personal information stolen elsewhere seek to monetize data, including by filing fraudulent tax returns for refunds.

This phishing variation is known as a “spoofing” email. It will contain, for example, the actual name of the company chief executive officer. In this variation, the “CEO” sends an email to a company payroll office employee and requests a list of employees and information including SSNs.

The following are some of the details contained in the e-mails:

  • Kindly send me the individual 2015 W-2 (PDF) and earnings summary of all W-2 of our company staff for a quick review.
  • Can you send me the updated list of employees with full details (Name, Social Security Number, Date of Birth, Home Address, Salary).
  • I want you to send me the list of W-2 copy of employees wage and tax statement for 2015, I need them in PDF file type, you can send it as an attachment. Kindly prepare the lists and email them to me asap.

The IRS recently renewed a wider consumer alert for e-mail schemes after seeing an approximate 400 percent surge in phishing and malware incidents so far this tax season and other reports of scams targeting others in a wider tax community.

The emails are designed to trick taxpayers into thinking these are official communications from the IRS or others in the tax industry, including tax software companies. The phishing schemes can ask taxpayers about a wide range of topics. E-mails can seek information related to refunds, filing status, confirming personal information, ordering transcripts and verifying PIN information.

The IRS, state tax agencies and tax industry are engaged in a public awareness campaign — Taxes. Security. Together. — to encourage everyone to do more to protect personal, financial and tax data. See IRS.gov/taxessecuritytogether or Publication 4524 for additional steps you can take to protect yourself.