With apologies to Led Zeppelin fans: The (BEC) Song (Still) Remains the Same

Almost three months have passed since I last updated you on the Business Email Compromise scam, also known as the CEO Fraud scam. Though the volume of these attacks remains high, the information security community has continued to collaborate well regarding this type of fraud, preempting the transfer of millions of dollars and identifying numerous mules in control of bank accounts around the world.

Just last week, yet another phisher tried to phish PhishMe. Our CTO, Aaron Higbee, reported on early attempts in September 2015 when he also described the use of PhishMe Reporter to phish-back and collect details of the phisher’s IP address and user-agent.

Since that time, we have seen repeated attempts against our CFO, Sam Hahn, where he receives messages impersonating our CEO, Rohyt Belani. These messages seek to engage Sam in an exchange regarding an urgent request to make a wire transfer.  Of course, such wires would be fraudulent, but, amazingly, the phish-back technique almost always works.  It has resulted in the identification of as many as five mule accounts at five different banks for one potential transaction.

The Song

With this latest attempt against PhishMe, the phisher has apparently used social media and/or search engine results to identify the name and email address of a staff accountant who reports to Sam Hahn, bypassing Sam’s renowned phish-spotting skills.  But the phisher’s email message landed with another trained reporter at PhishMe, who submitted the message as Suspicious, using the PhishMe Reporter button.  The report fed into our internal PhishMe Triage where we could quickly see that the accountant has a high Reputation Score, indicating that she is good at spotting truly-suspicious messages.  We knew that we should have a look right away at her report, shown in Figure 1 below.  The subject line of the message was the accountant’s first name, and the salutation included her first name.

Figure 1  Initial message from BEC phisher

Then our incident response plan kicked in, and we asked the accountant to reply with an offer to help, as seen in Figure 2 below, where he responded right away with his plea for money to cover a secret international acquisition.  (Ah!  The Intrigue!)

Figure 2  BEC phisher makes plea for a wire transfer

In her response to that second message, our astute accountant indicated that she would need someone else to sign off on the wire transfer, “since it is an international wire.”  She actually copied our incident response team, which later provided a wire “confirmation link” to the phisher.  Figure 3 below shows the third message from the phisher, where he sent wire instructions to the accountant.

Figure 3  The BEC phisher sends wire transfer instructions

Once the mule account was revealed, it was reported to the bank, and our accountant’s associate sent a “confirmation link” that, when clicked by the phisher, revealed the phisher’s physical location.  From the phisher’s point of view, the link re-directed to the login page for the bank hosting the mule account.

The phisher must have been convinced that the wire transfer had been made because the next morning, twenty hours after the initial request, he came back for more.  In Figure 4 below, you can see where he hit up our accountant’s associate (really, our incident response team member) for a double dip.

Figure 4  The BEC phisher returns the next day to request more money

The final part of that thread included instructions for a $165,590 wire, details of an account at a second bank, and a request for a confirmation.

The Investigation

Beyond reporting this to the U.S. government’s Internet Crime Complaint Center at www.ic3.gov, our researchers wanted to dig deeper and document this phisher’s other activity.  It turns out that the lookalike domain name phislhme.com was registered at 1&1 Internet SE on December 15th –the same day as the first spam message to PhishMe, using the email address garyrabine@rabinagroup.com.  When we initially looked into whether that same email address had been used to register other domain names, we found 69 other idomain names, all registered within the previous week and all seeming to be misspellings of domain names in use by real companies.

We took the list of domain names and guessed at which real company each domain was meant to imitate.  We then notified the administrative contacts of record for those legitimate domain names.  Though there was a handful of bounced messages, four companies replied with appreciation, and, so far, one has responded that their company had also received a BEC phishing email.

We checked back again this week to see how many domain names have been registered with 1&1 by this threat actor, and now there is a total of 156 domains.  We notified 1&1 on December 19th and requested that all the names be de-activated.  (see list at this link)

Takeaways

Though the song remains the same, phishers are constantly evolving their tactics to lead to more success.  In this recent attack, the phisher did not use the word “urgent” or “wire” in the subject line of the email message.  He also opted not to try for the CFO again; he likely found our accountant’s name and email address online and contacted her instead, possibly in hopes that she would feel a sense of urgency to which our CFO has become inured.  Then, when we saw the plea for money, we knew a bit more about why the phisher may have opted to avoid our CFO—it was a secret deal that only the “CEO” could know about.

We also want you to understand that this does not just affect large companies.  Because this scam has been going on for years, some of the larger targets have already been hit, and some have learned very hard lessons.  And with over 150 companies of all sizes spoofed by this one phisher and almost a full day between the two wire requests we received, we think this phisher is very busy.

PhishMe also wants everyone to understand how simple but effective these scams can be.  Learn how to spot them, and make sure your employees are great reporters.  Your staff needs to know that raising a red flag to the appropriate team can make all the difference in the world to your company, preventing the loss of hundreds of thousands of dollars and helping us stamp out this fraud.

Fortifying Defenses with Human-Verified Phishing Intelligence

Mining Phish in the IOCs

PhishMe® and Palo Alto Networks® are providing security teams with the ability to ingest human-verified phishing intelligence in a standard format that can be automatically enforced as new protections for the Palo Alto Networks Next-Generation Security Platform through the MineMeld application. Through this integration, PhishMe and Palo Alto Networks are providing a powerful approach to identifying and preventing potentially damaging phishing attacks.

The challenge of operationalizing threat intelligence

Ransomware, business email compromise (BEC), malware infections, and credential-based theft all primarily stem from a single vector of compromise – phishing. Operationalizing threat intelligence, especially when it comes to phishing, continues to weigh on the minds of businesses regardless of size. Security teams require the ability to ingest, verify and enforce new protections for potential phishing attacks, all within their existing infrastructure.

Where are the Phish?

PhishMe extends beyond a traditional data feed. Customers receive phishing intelligence. What’s the difference? Intelligence, vs. traditional data.

Information without context is data. Intelligence is information with context, and context is what security teams require in order to have confidence in their decisions.

Intelligence customers receive indicators specific to phishing and their criminal command and control (C2) and botnet infrastructure associated with malware families like Locky, Dyre, and Cerber. This is then backed up by threat intelligence reports with verbose context that provides security teams with insight into attacker TTPs.

PhishMe identifies what is nefarious, but more importantly, why, and what it means.

Integration Tackle Box for PhishMe and Palo Alto Networks

Security teams who wish to easily complement their Palo Alto Networks Next-Generation Security Platform’s security policies with PhishMe Intelligence will need an instance of MineMeld (version 0.9.26 and above) and PhishMe Intelligence API credentials (contact PhishMe for trial access https://phishme.com/product-services/live-demo). MineMeld will ingest intelligence from PhishMe, and can automatically feed new prevention controls to Palo Alto Networks devices, without adding heavy operational burden.

Configuring MineMeld with PhishMe

The following is a step-by-step guide to configure MineMeld in order to ingest PhishMe Intelligence phishing URLs, aggregate them, and construct into an output capable of preventing malicious URLs in security policies within PAN-OS devices. Before we dive into the configuration of MineMeld, it is important to review the three key concepts behind the application:

  • Miners: responsible for retrieving indicators from configured sources of intelligence and data feeds. Miners will bring in new indicators on a configurable, periodic basis, and also age-out any indicators that are no longer needed.
  • Processor: The processor node will aggregate the data obtained by the Miner and conforms the data to IPv4, Ipv6, URLs, or domains. Once aggregated, the data is sent to the output nodes.
  • Output: The output nodes gather data from the processor node and convert the data into a format that is capable of being consumed by PAN-OS (and other non-PAN-OS external services)

PhishMe Intelligence Miner Node

(Image of Miner Node with API credential example and phishme.intelligence prototype)

Processor Node

(Image of Processor Node using the stdlib.aggregatorURL prototype and the PM_Intel input from the configured Miner)

Output Node

(Image of Output Node using the stdlib.feedHCRedWithValue prototype and the agg_URL_all input from the configured Processor)

Configuration Graph Summary

The configuration graph is a summary exhibiting the flow of PhishMe Intelligence. The miner collects intelligence, aggregates, and the output node structures the data to be usefully applied to prevent phishing.

(Example of PhishMe Intelligence aggregated and with output URL data for PAN-OS)

Log Detail with URL Indicator and High Confidence rating of 100

The image below represents an example of URL intelligence received in the MineMeld log. This snippet specifies a malware payload from an OfficeMacro and TrickBot (similar to Dyre) family. If they choose to, analysts can then use the URL to the Threat Report with executive and technical details that explain more about the malware.

The above summarization of the MineMeld setup portrays how easy it is to take very relevant and useful information and structure it so that it can be operationalized with other security investments. Far too often teams have underutilized technical resources or processes that place a strain on the workforce. MineMeld reduces the human burden and provides security teams with the ability to create actionable prevention-based controls.

Phishing Intelligence Operationalized = PhishOps!

Let’s review an example of how to operationalize these indicators of phishing (IoPs) and apply them to a Palo Alto Networks security policy to deny egress traffic to these phishing URLs.

Create New Object in PAN-OS

From the Objects tab, select External Dynamic Lists from the navigational pane. Analysts just need to provide the relevant information to pull in the list of URLs from MineMeld.

(Example of External Dynamic List linking to URL list from MineMeld)

Apply to PAN-OS Security Policy

With the External Dynamic List defined, security policies can now be created based on acceptable criteria. In the case below, inside sources browsing externally and matching the PhishMe Intelligence URLs will be denied.

(Example policy to deny inside to outside web-browsing against PhishMe Intelligence URLs)

FINito! Wrapping up

A similar process can be repeated like the above, with IP lists and domains, and applied according to phishing threats facing the business. The way MineMeld handles the data received makes applying it to Palo Alto Networks Next-Generation Security Platform very effective. Security teams will need to determine where they want to apply the policies once MineMeld has compiled the data.

The phishing threat is alive and very well and the ability for security teams to maximize their investments and operationalize with low administrative overhead should be enticing to tackle the threat.

 

More about MineMeld:

MineMeld, by Palo Alto Networks, is an extensible threat intelligence processing framework and the ‘multi-tool’ of threat indicator feeds. Based on an extremely flexible engine, MineMeld can be used to collect, aggregate and filter indicators from a variety of sources and make them available for consumption to peers or to the Palo Alto Networks Next-Generation Security Platforms.

To learn more about the Palo Alto Networks Next-Generation Security Platform, visit: https://www.paloaltonetworks.com/products/designing-for-prevention/security-platform

To learn more about the PhishMe Intelligence, visit:  https://phishme.com/product-services/phishing-intelligence/.  

 

Employee reporting of suspicious emails substantially outweighs susceptibility to attacks

Following a thorough analysis of 40 million phishing simulation emails, PhishMe’s latest research measures global susceptibility and resilience to phishing threats

 LEESBURG, VA December 13th, 2016: PhishMe Inc., the leading provider of human phishing defense solutions, today released its 2016 Enterprise Phishing Susceptibility and Resiliency Report, which illustrates employee susceptibility to phishing emails and resilience improvements when engaged in security reporting. With phishing still the most common cyber-attack vector leading to data breach, the report analyzes the most successful triggers, themes and emotional motivators leading employees to fall for phishing emails, as well as how reporting can drive a decrease in time to attack detection from days to minutes.

The PhishMe research teams analyzed data compiled from over 40 million phishing simulations performed between January 2015 and July 2016. Responses were gathered from a sample of over 1,000 PhishMe customers across the globe, including Fortune 500 and public sector organizations from 23 industry verticals. Published today, PhishMe’s 2016 Enterprise Phishing Susceptibility and Resiliency Report identified the following insights:

  • Business context phishing simulation emails still the most challenging: Office communications and finance-related themes generated the highest susceptibility rates, with 19.9 percent and 18.6 percent respectively, driven by sentiments of curiosity, fear and urgency.
  • Reporting outweighs susceptibility to phishing: Over a relatively short amount of time, reporting rates bypass susceptibility rates when at least 80% of the company has been conditioned to identify and empowered to report suspicious emails.
  • Active reporting can significantly decrease breach detection times: Samples analyzed show reporting of suspicious emails reduced security team response time to approximately 1.2 hours over the currently industry average of 146 days to detect a security breach.

PhishMe’s analysis revealed that business or office-related phishing emails proved to be the most effective simulations, as well as the most difficult for users to recognize and report. Phishing emails with sentiments of curiosity, fear and urgency scored the highest percentage in average response rates, suggesting that employees are at risk of increased susceptibility to phishing campaigns that include an emotional pull, even at a subconscious level.

“Our analysis shows that continued exposure to simulations lowers the chance of an employee falling for a phishing email – the key being consistent exposure,” stated Aaron Higbee, Co-Founder and CTO at PhishMe. “Once employees are conditioned to identify phishing attacks, our data shows that reporting them to the IT Security team starts to outweigh organizational susceptibility.  It only takes one employee to report a targeted attack to give incident response teams a chance to stop a potential data breach. Armed with this new data, we hope that more CISOs focus their attention on the ratio of Report-To-Click instead of dwelling on susceptibility metrics.”

The 2016 Enterprise Phishing Susceptibility and Resiliency Report also analyzes variances in phishing simulation response by themes, emotional triggers, and average response rates per industry. In looking at one particular type of phishing email type, the “file from scanner” scenario generated the highest number of response rates in the transportation sector at 49 percent, followed by healthcare at 31 percent and insurance at 30 percent. On the other hand, the non-profit sector scored the lowest response rate, at a 5 percent.

“Understanding what motivates your employees to open or fall for a phish is a critical step in building their resiliency to attacks and enabling faster incident response” continued Higbee “At its core, a phishing simulation program allows organizations to assess, measure, educate and empower all employees about phishing threats while creating a wider net of human sensors to help reduce the risk of a full-blown data breach.”.

 

To download a full copy of the 2016 Enterprise Phishing Susceptibility and Resiliency Report, click here.