Throughout life, there are several things that make me smile. Warm pumpkin pie, a well-placed nyan nyan cat, and most of all – running malware online – never fail to lift my mood. So imagine my surprise to see, after running a malware sample, that the attackers were watching me. Here’s a screenshot of a phishing email we received, which contained a keylogger written in .NET.
Post Updated 9/30/2014
Several months ago, the Internet was put to a halt when the Heartbleed vulnerability was disclosed. Webservers, devices, and essentially anything running SSL were affected; as a result, attackers were able to collect passwords, free of charge.
With Heartbleed, the exploit made a splash and many attackers started to use the vulnerability. One of the more high-profile attacks of Heartbleed was the CHS attack, where the attackers siphoned 4.5 million patient records by attacking a Juniper device, then hopping onto their VPN.
So how can something be bigger than Heartbleed? I’m glad you asked.
Phishing isn’t exactly a new kid on the block. Phishing is one of the most common email-based threats. It is a tried and tested tactic that continues to deliver impressive results for cybercriminals. That’s why phishing continues to grow in popularity. In the month of June 2014 alone, phishing activities totaled $400 million in losses, which could be annualized at $102 million per year.
While it has been around for years, phishing has evolved considerably and has increased in efficiency and effectiveness. In the last six months (as compared to 2013), we’ve seen several differences in the type, size and sophistication of phishing attacks. In this post, we’ll explore the notable differences in the modern phish and discuss new phishing trends that we have seen in 2014 thus far.
#1: There has been an increase in application-targeted attacks.
One of the primary trends that we are seeing in the phishing space, are attacks directed at commonly-used applications like Google Docs, Gmail or Yahoo. In the past, we saw a lot of big brands being attacked. However, today’s criminals are now going after things that are not directly related to the target company. The reason for this is the prevalence of password reuse. While large banks have improved their phishing defenses, personal email accounts provide a channel through which cybercriminals can gain access to individual bank accounts.
This trend is not limited to email programs, however. Considering that financial institutions have increased their defenses, cybercriminals are looking elsewhere and are diversifying their attacks. File sharing websites like Dropbox are major targets, as cybercriminals are able to use bogus links to intercept usernames and passwords. There has also been an increase in attacks targeting industries such as gaming, logistics and travel.
#2: Smaller brands are now being targeted.
While large brands still get a lot of attention, small brands, such as charities, are increasingly on the radar of cybercriminals. Similarly, there are also a lot of university phish. This trend began in 2013, but it has become more prevalent this year. Again, these brands provide a gateway for password reuse that allows cybercriminals to gain access to other things.
Targeted attacks against alumni have also become common in the university space. In most cases, the phisher will attempt to gain control of a university email account in order to reach out to trusted parties (such as boards of directors).
#3: Attack frequency has increased, but size has decreased.
The number of attacks has increased, but the average size of a typical attack has dipped. While those “monster” attacks still exist, most phishing emails are now sent to a fewer number of targets than we saw last year.
#4: Phishing Emails are more believable.
Phishing emails are now much more sophisticated. We’re seeing fewer spelling mistakes and more professionalism in email design, which make the email campaigns much more believable and likely to be successful. Commoditization is driving down prices of phish kits, resulting in a much higher quality presentation.
In summary, each of these trends reflect that fact that cybercriminals are very opportunistic. Today’s cybercriminal is more professional and targeted than ever before. Not only does phishing persist as an attack method, it is increasingly more successful.
How does your organization plan to address the rise in phishing activity? Share your comments below.
Using tiny URLs to redirect users to phishing and malware domains is nothing new, but just because it’s a common delivery tactic doesn’t mean that attackers aren’t using it to deliver new malware samples. We recently received a report of a phishing email from one of our users here at PhishMe that employed a shortened google URL, and led to some surprising malware.
Through the power of user reporting, we received the report, discovered the malicious nature of the shortened URL, and reported the issue to Google – all within a span of 30 minutes. Google reacted quickly and took the link down shortly after our report.
While we have previously mentioned cyber-crime actors using Dropbox for malware delivery, threat actors are now using the popular file-sharing services to target nation-states. According to The Register, attackers targeted a Taiwanese government agency using a RAT known as PlugX (also known as Sogu or Korplug).
From an anti-forensics perspective, PlugX is a very interesting piece of malware. One of the main ways it loads is by using a technique similar to load order hijacking.
Beware of the Dyre banking Trojan! – A new malware threat that steals financial information such as login credentials. News of rhe Dyre banking Trojan has been circulating the web recently, following its discovery.
Dyre or Dyreza as it is also known exhibits classic banking Trojan behaviors such as using “man-in-the-middle” attacks to steal private information from victims. It is also being used on customers of certain banks in targeted attacks.
PhishMe identified this new malware on June 11, 2014. The Trojan is distributed via spam email messages that used similar email templates to other banking Trojan and malware distribution campaigns. Rather than infection occurring via a malicious attachment, the messages contained a link to a file hosted on Cubby.com: A free cloud storage provider. This campaign follows a recent trend in which cloud-hosting providers such as Cubby.com and Dropbox are used to host the malicious payloads.
As others within the blogosphere have noted, the Dyre banking Trojan is unique and represents a new type of malware being used by cybercriminals to steal banking credentials. Despite this novelty, its basic functionalities follow those that have long been employed by malware authors to exfiltrate private information from compromised systems. It’s a case of “the more things change, the more they stay the same.”
The Dyre banking Trojan works by ensuring that its hostile code is linked to the code of the victim’s web browser. As victim’s browse the Web, their web browser is effectively turned against them. This is part of the classic “man-in-the-middle” attack used by many malware types, including the prolific and notorious Zeus banking Trojan. As seen below, the binary data from this hostile code references browsers by name.
Part of the functionality is provided by “hooking” this malicious code into the browser’s runtime. Malicious actions then occur when the victim visits specific URLs or domains. This method has been seen before. Zeus Trojan variants and other banking Trojans such as Cridex use similar tactics. This can be seen in the malicious code itself as a list of URLs for popular banking websites, including the following:
- businessaccess .citibank .citigroup .com/assets/
- cashproonline .bankofamerica .com/assets/
- www .bankline .natwest .com/
- www .bankline .rbs .com/
- www .bankline .ulsterbank .ie/
The “hooking” and the focus on a set of banks are examples of ways in which this new banking Trojan reuses methods common to many other types of malware. These methods are expected of many modern banking Trojans and are not out of the ordinary.
How is this threat actor likely to attack your organization? The source code of the malware provides a clue—in fact, it is the source of the name “Dyre”.
The hostile code “hooked” to browser processes by the malware contains a reference to the location of a “.pdb” or program database file. Compilers store data for debugging using this file type. More important to those seeking threat intelligence, it provides some information about how the malware writer or writers created this malicious software.
In the fight against malware distributors, knowledge is a powerful weapon. Leveraging actionable threat intelligence gives you the opportunity to identify the source of the infection. Armed with that information it is easier to mitigate the threat. PhishMe analyses these and other threats and uses the information to deliver active threat reports to help organizations take fast action to prevent malware attacks.
Machine-readable threat intelligence (MRTI) is provided in multiple formats to ensure that organizations are better prepared for malware and phishing attacks, thus preventing them from disrupting business processes and causing financial harm. Of course, not all organizations require threat intelligence to be fed through other systems. We also provide human-readable reports on the latest threats, allowing deeper analysis of the latest, and most serious threats. After all, being forewarned is being forearmed.
When analyzing tools, tactics, and procedures for different malware campaigns, we normally don’t see huge changes on the attackers’ part. However, in the Dropbox campaign we have been following, not only have the attackers shifted to a new delivery domain, but they have started to use a new malware strain, previously undocumented by the industry, named “Dyre”. This new strain not only bypasses the SSL mechanism of the browser, but attempts to steal bank credentials.
While the full implications from yesterday’s DoJ indictment of five Chinese hackers on charges of cyber crime are yet to be fully seen, these charges have already succeeded in elevating cyber crime from a niche discussion to an important debate in society at-large.
Furthermore, just as last year’s APT1 report did, the court documents provide a detailed glimpse at the tactics China is using to steal trade secrets from the world’s largest corporations (not surprisingly, phishing continues to be the favored attack method).
There has been a lot of media attention on this story, so we’ve put together a list of some of the most interesting content we’ve seen so far:
Pittsburgh Tribune-Review: Cybercrime case names U.S. Steel, Westinghouse, Alcoa as victims
The Wall Street Journal: Alleged Chinese Hacking: Alcoa Breach Relied on Simple Phishing Scam
The Los Angeles Times: Chinese suspects accused of using ‘spearphishing’ to access U.S. firms
Pittsburgh Business Times: Hackers posed as Surma on email to access U.S. Steel’s computers
Ars Technica: How China’s army hacked America
The New York Times: For U.S. Companies That Challenge China, the Risk of Digital Reprisal
The Wall Street Journal: U.S. Tech Firms Could Feel Backlash in China After Hacking Indictments
The Washington Post: China denies U.S. cyberspying charges, claims it is the real ‘victim’