PhishMe® Research has generally seen macro execution in PowerPoint tied to specific actions and events, such as a mouse interaction with an object or custom actions. But the “Ribbon Cutting” technique uses a different method; it runs macro code by creating a UI callback that is triggered when the file is opened. Although in the example below we use PowerPoint, the technique can be used in other Office applications that support ribbon customizations.
On July 13, 2017, the Phishing Defense Center reviewed a phishing campaign delivering Hawkeye, a stealthy keylogger, disguised as a quote from the Pakistani government’s employee housing society. Although actually a portable executable file , once downloaded, it masquerades its icon as a PDF.
A ransomware victim must have a compelling reason to go through the burdensome process of obtaining Bitcoin and paying the ransom. For many victims, the threat of permanently losing access to their files is enough. However, some ransomware authors and criminals seek to push victims harder by raising the stakes even further.
A key part of phishing threat actors’ mission is to create email narratives and leverage malware delivery techniques that reduce the likelihood of detection. By combining compelling social engineering with seemingly benign content, threat actors hope to bypass technical controls and to convince their human victims of a phishing email’s legitimacy. One method with a long history of use is the abuse of Google Docs file sharing URLs to deliver malware content to victims. Because Google Docs and other cloud services may be trusted within an enterprise, threat actors will continue to abuse file sharing services to possibly bypass firewalls and anti-virus technologies.
For the second time in as many months, networks around the world have been attacked using a worming ransomware that gains new infections by exploiting a recently-patched Windows SMB vulnerability among other proven techniques. What has been described a ransomware bearing significant similarities to the Petya encryption ransomware ravaged numerous companies and networks around the world with disproportionate impact in Ukraine and Eastern Europe but also inflicted harm to significant numbers of victims in Western Europe and North America.
Our Phishing Defense Center identified and responded to attacks leveraging a relatively new Microsoft Office vulnerability during the past few weeks. Last week, the PDC observed threat actors exploiting CVE 2017-0199 to deliver the Smoke Loader malware downloader which in turn was used to deliver the Zeus Panda botnet malware. These emails claim to deliver an invoice for an “outstanding balance” and trick the recipient to opening the attached file. In one instance, we have also seen the malicious attachment being delivered via URL.
The Zyklon HTTP Botnet malware is a tool that is readily accessible to threat actors in online criminal marketplaces and has been observed in use for various criminal activities. Among its features is the ability to log the keystrokes typed by a victim as well as to collect other private or sensitive information, and one of the most notable uses for Zyklon has been as a downloader and delivery tool for the Cerber encryption ransomware. Over a dozen unique campaigns to deliver this malware have been identified and reported by PhishMe Intelligence and it represents one of the most rapidly-growing constituents on the threat landscape. Each time the Zyklon malware is identified, it has followed a relatively-straightforward and mainstream method for infecting victims. With only one exception, Zyklon has been delivered using Microsoft Word documents with hostile macro scripting used to deliver the botnet malware payload.
Phishing scams masquerading as PayPal are unfortunately commonplace. Most recently, the PhishMe Triage™ Managed Phishing Defense Center noticed a handful of campaigns using a new tactic for advanced PayPal credential phishing. The phishing website looks very authentic compared to off-the-shelf crimeware phishing kits, but also levels-up by asking for a photo of the victim holding their ID and credit card, presumably to create cryptocurrency accounts to launder money stolen from victims.
On May 22, 2017, PhishMe® received several emails with .ISO images as attachments via the Phishing Defense Center. ISO images are typically used as an archive format for the content of an optical disk and are often utilized as the installers for operating system. However, in this case, a threat actor leveraged this archive format as a means to deliver malware content to the recipients of their phishing email. Analysis of the attachments showed that this archive format was abused to deliver malicious AutoIT scripts hidden within a PE file that appears to be a Microsoft Office Document file, which creates a process called MSBuild.exe and caused it to act as a Remote Access Trojan. AutoIT is a BASIC-like scripting language designed for automating Windows GUI tasks and general scripting. Like any scripting or programming language, it can be used for malicious purposes.
The WannaCry ransomware incident has galvanized global media coverage and dominated discussion among information security professionals since Friday, May 12. The speed with which this malware was able to spread within enterprise networks and how rapidly so many large organizations were impacted is unsettling. Yet, as the dust begins to settle, it is clear that this episode has left a number of lessons in its wake–lessons to be harnessed by defenders and their adversaries.
While this attack is an expansive topic that will continue to evolve as more discoveries are made about the impact, origin, and spread of the WannaCry ransomware, it is also important to keep in mind that WannaCry is one of three major incidents to arise in the past month. Lessons provided by WannaCry are only deepened by the additional context of the fake Google Docs malicious cloud application incident of May 4, 2017 and the introduction of the Jaff encryption ransomware on May 11, 2017. First and most obvious, both Jaff and WannaCry show that the ransomware business model is far from obsolete. There is still a great deal of value to threat actors in holding data for ransom. Second, the novel attack vectors for WannaCry and the fake Google Docs cloud application show that innovation in leveraging new attack surfaces is happening among threat actors. The challenge for defenders is to internalize these revelations and develop an agile security posture that incorporates defense against existing risks and emergent attack vectors.
The explosive growth of ransomware in 2016 marked a dramatic shift in how many threat actors monetize phishing attacks. While certain ransomware tools were delivered using other mechanisms, tools like Locky and Cerber set the tone for the ransomware business model. These ransomware tools were delivered by massive numbers of phishing email to reach the largest number of victims. This business model has been once again put into action by the Jaff encryption ransomware following its debut just one week ago on May 11, 2017. However, the worm functionality demonstrated by WannaCry puts a unique spin on that model by reducing the infrastructure and resource expenditure necessary for the threat actor to maximize their ability to infect new hosts. The goal for both Jaff and WannaCry threat actors is still to reach as many victims as possible to maximize the number of potential ransom payments, lending credence to the notion that ransomware is far from obsolete as an avenue for online crime.
While the propagation mechanisms of the fake “Google Docs” application that made headlines on May 4, 2017 and the WannaCry ransomware worm differ dramatically, both show that virulence is an important aspect of their overall strategy. Furthermore, each of these incidents shows a significant level of innovation by harnessing relatively new attack vectors. The fake “Google Docs” incident took advantage of users’ reliance on cloud services to propagate while WannaCry leveraged a vulnerability only recently disclosed and made public. However effective these attacks were in their own right, the long-term impact will be the future attacks inspired by these innovations. Whether the payload is a ransomware or some other category of malware, threat actors are watching and learning from these attacks. Furthermore, neither innovation is exclusive of the use phishing email as a means for making a “first contact” with a victim as was the case with the fake “Google Docs” application. By combining these promising innovations with a tried-and-trusted attack vector, threat actors will continue to gain access to enterprise data and hold it for ransom.
The high profile events of the past month have provided some indication that threat actors are quickening the pace of innovation and looking to combine these innovations with existing attack models. Both phishing and the ransomware tools delivered via phishing emails have proven very successful for threat actors and continued use of both can be expected. However, as threat actors learn from events like those from the past month it can be expected that they will attempt to implement their own versions using creative re-combinations of these techniques to launch attacks of their own.
To anticipate and mitigate these new attack vectors, those tasked with defending enterprises must adapt their security posture to changing paradigms. It is important to ensure there are agile defense and response processes that incorporate protections for multiple attack surfaces and at various stages of the attack life cycle. This effort begins with the basics of regular patching and network hygiene. It also requires the anticipatory education and empowerment of email users to engage with messages critically and act on suspicions, reporting potentially-malicious emails to the enterprise’s defenders. These internal reports can then be compared to external observations and intelligence reporting to identify the most immediate risks to an organization. The threat landscape is evolving, but in the face of robust, holistic, and human-centered defense strategies, attackers can be overcome.
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