September 15, 2016/Alert Number I-091516-PSA
RANSOMWARE VICTIMS URGED TO REPORT INFECTIONS TO FEDERAL LAW ENFORCEMENT
The FBI urges victims to report ransomware incidents to federal law enforcement to help us gain a more comprehensive view of the current threat and its impact on U.S. victims.
What Is Ransomware?
Ransomware is a type of malware installed on a computer or server that encrypts the files, making them inaccessible until a specified ransom is paid. Ransomware is typically installed when a user clicks on a malicious link, opens a file in an e-mail that installs the malware, or through drive-by downloads (which does not require user-initiation) from a compromised Web site.
Why We Need Your Help
New ransomware variants are emerging regularly. Cyber security companies reported that in the first several months of 2016, global ransomware infections were at an all-time high. Within the first weeks of its release, one particular ransomware variant compromised an estimated 100,000 computers a day.
Ransomware infections impact individual users and businesses regardless of size or industry by causing service disruptions, financial loss, and in some cases, permanent loss of valuable data. While ransomware infection statistics are often highlighted in the media and by computer security companies, it has been challenging for the FBI to ascertain the true number of ransomware victims as many infections go unreported to law enforcement.
Victims may not report to law enforcement for a number of reasons, including concerns over not knowing where and to whom to report; not feeling their loss warrants law enforcement attention; concerns over privacy, business reputation, or regulatory data breach reporting requirements; or embarrassment. Additionally, those who resolve the issue internally either by paying the ransom or by restoring their files from back-ups may not feel a need to contact law enforcement.
The FBI is urging victims to report ransomware incidents regardless of the outcome. Victim reporting provides law enforcement with a greater understanding of the threat, provides justification for ransomware investigations, and contributes relevant information to ongoing ransomware cases. Knowing more about victims and their experiences with ransomware will help the FBI to determine who is behind the attacks and how they are identifying or targeting victims.
Threats to Users
All ransomware variants pose a threat to individual users and businesses. Recent variants have targeted and compromised vulnerable business servers (rather than individual users) to identify and target hosts, thereby multiplying the number of potential infected servers and devices on a network. Actors engaging in this targeting strategy are also charging ransoms based on the number of host (or servers) infected. Additionally, recent victims who have been infected with these types of ransomware variants have not been provided the decryption keys for all their files after paying the ransom, and some have been extorted for even more money after payment.
This recent technique of targeting host servers and systems could translate into victims paying more to get their decryption keys, a prolonged recovery time, and the possibility that victims will not obtain full decryption of their files.
What to Report to Law Enforcement
The FBI is requesting victims reach out to their local FBI office and/or file a complaint with the Internet Crime Complaint Center, at www.IC3.gov, with the following ransomware infection details (as applicable):
- Date of Infection
- Ransomware Variant (identified on the ransom page or by the encrypted file extension)
- Victim Company Information (industry type, business size, etc.)
- How the Infection Occurred (link in e-mail, browsing the Internet, etc.)
- Requested Ransom Amount
- Actor’s Bitcoin Wallet Address (may be listed on the ransom page)
- Ransom Amount Paid (if any)
- Overall Losses Associated with a Ransomware Infection (including the ransom amount)
- Victim Impact Statement
The FBI does not support paying a ransom to the adversary. Paying a ransom does not guarantee the victim will regain access to their data; in fact, some individuals or organizations are never provided with decryption keys after paying a ransom. Paying a ransom emboldens the adversary to target other victims for profit, and could provide incentive for other criminals to engage in similar illicit activities for financial gain. While the FBI does not support paying a ransom, it recognizes executives, when faced with inoperability issues, will evaluate all options to protect their shareholders, employees, and customers.
The FBI recommends users consider implementing the following prevention and continuity measures to lessen the risk of a successful ransomware attack.
- Regularly back up data and verify the integrity of those backups. Backups are critical in ransomware incidents; if you are infected, backups may be the best way to recover your critical data.
- Secure your backups. Ensure backups are not connected to the computers and networks they are backing up. Examples might include securing backups in the cloud or physically storing them offline. It should be noted, some instances of ransomware have the capability to lock cloud-based backups when systems continuously back up in real-time, also known as persistent synchronization.
- Scrutinize links contained in e-mails and do not open attachments included in unsolicited e-mails.
- Only download software – especially free software – from sites you know and trust. When possible, verify the integrity of the software through a digital signature prior to execution.
- Ensure application patches for the operating system, software, and firmware are up to date, including Adobe Flash, Java, Web browsers, etc.
- Ensure anti-virus and anti-malware solutions are set to automatically update and regular scans are conducted.
- Disable macro scripts from files transmitted via e-mail. Consider using Office Viewer software to open Microsoft Office files transmitted via e-mail instead of full Office Suite applications.
- Implement software restrictions or other controls to prevent the execution of programs in common ransomware locations, such as temporary folders supporting popular Internet browsers, or compression/decompression programs, including those located in the AppData/LocalAppData folder.
Additional considerations for businesses include the following:
- Focus on awareness and training. Because end users are often targeted, employees should be made aware of the threat of ransomware, how it is delivered, and trained on information security principles and techniques.
- Patch all endpoint device operating systems, software, and firmware as vulnerabilities are discovered. This precaution can be made easier through a centralized patch management system.
- Manage the use of privileged accounts by implementing the principle of least privilege. No users should be assigned administrative access unless absolutely needed. Those with a need for administrator accounts should only use them when necessary; they should operate with standard user accounts at all other times.
- Configure access controls with least privilege in mind. If a user only needs to read specific files, he or she should not have write access to those files, directories, or shares.
- Use virtualized environments to execute operating system environments or specific programs.
- Categorize data based on organizational value, and implement physical/logical separation of networks and data for different organizational units. For example, sensitive research or business data should not reside on the same server and/or network segment as an organization’s e-mail environment.
- Require user interaction for end user applications communicating with Web sites uncategorized by the network proxy or firewall. Examples include requiring users to type in information or enter a password when the system communicates with an uncategorized Web site.
- Implement application whitelisting. Only allow systems to execute programs known and permitted by security policy.
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
Business Continuity Efforts
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.
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.
FBI (April 7) ISIL Defacements Exploiting WordPress Vulnerabilities. Continuous Web site defacements are being perpetrated by individuals sympathetic to the Islamic State in the Levant (ISIL) a.k.a. Islamic State of Iraq and al-Shams (ISIS). The defacements have affected Web site operations and the communication platforms of news organizations, commercial entities, religious institutions, federal/state/local governments, foreign governments, and a variety of other domestic and international Web sites. Although the defacements demonstrate low-level hacking sophistication, they are disruptive and often costly in terms of lost business revenue and expenditures on technical services to repair infected computer systems. Click here for the full alert.
Best practice. The FBI recommends the following actions be taken:
- Review and follow WordPress guidelines: http://codex.wordpress.org/Hardening_WordPress
- Identify WordPress vulnerabilities using free available tools such as
- Update WordPress by patching vulnerable plugins:
- Run all software as a non-privileged user, without administrative privileges, to diminish the effects of a successful attack
- Confirm that the operating system and all applications are running the most updated versions.
- Haaretz (April 7) Anti-Israel cyberattack a far cry from promised ‘electronic holocaust’. Hacktivists belonging to Anonymous collective release what appears to be Israelis’ private information and hijack websites.
- JTA (April 7) Hackers bring down private Israeli websites, fail to damage gov’t sites
- Jerusalem Post (April 7) Cyber terrorism triggers severe psychological, physical stress, Haifa researchers shows. “Vast majority of public are complacent and, until they are exposed to a personal cyber attack, they see cyber terrorism as nothing more than an inconvenience,” expert says.
The FBI is warning U.S. companies that cyber terrorists from the Middle East and North Africa are planning to conduct cyber-attacks against Israeli and Jewish interests next week. The Bureau stated in a security notice to U.S. industry on Sunday that, as of early March, “several extremist hacking groups indicated they would participate in a forthcoming operation, #OpIsrael, which will target Israeli and Jewish Web sites.”
“Given the perceived connections between the government of Israel and Israeli financial institutions, and those of the United States, #OpIsrael participants may also shift their operations to target vulnerable U.S.-based financial targets or Jewish-oriented organizations within the United States,” the FBI warning said.
The FBI predicts that the threat to U.S.-based infrastructure from the coming cyber attack is low for well-maintained and updated networks. So, make sure that your techies and hosts maintain and update your systems.
The FBI said members of at least two extremist hacking groups it did not identify are currently working to recruit hackers for the attacks next week. The hacker group Anonymous this week also threatened an “electronic Holocaust” in a video statement.
The FBI estimated that the threat to U.S.-based infrastructure from the coming cyber attack is low for well-maintained and updated networks. However, as part of its program to notify private industry of major cyber threats, the FBI is notifying several possible targets.