Compromised business partners : How hackers catch you asleep at the wheel.

This week while on-boarding a new customer, before we could even start we needed to help them recover from a compromise they had received before coming to us.

A user had suffered a phishing attack and had their Office365 email credentials stolen. Email phishing is the act of sending emails purporting to be an entity (such as Google) or an individual (such as your CEO), often using a crafted email with graphics and text from legitimate emails included to fool users into entering login information or opening an attachment. The attacker can then use the stolen credentials to gain access to your organisation, or use malware the user clicks on to gain a control channel into your environment.

In this case, the malicious actor had utilised a common method to compromise a business; They had taken control of the email account of a trusted business partner, and had then sent our client an email with a Dropbox link purporting to contain a legitimate looking business proposal.

This method is highly successful because when we receive an email from a known or trusted user, we tend to bypass our usual scepticism and control when it comes to clicking links or opening files. In this case, our client actually replied to the email and asked if it was legitimate. He got a reply ‘Yes it is, I need you to respond to it urgently’. As the business partners email had been compromised, the hacker could reply themselves in an attempt to validate the email. The client then opened the file which prompted him to login to Office365 to access to file, and his credentials were then stolen.

So how can we better protect ourselves from these sorts of problems? Email filtering won’t always help here as the emails actually coming from a seemingly legitimate user. But secure DNS and web filtering (such as what we deliver with our DNSProtect and WebProtect portions of our protect platform), would have helped prevent the user from inputing their details into a phishing site by blocking the phishing page from displaying in the clients browser. Not reusing passwords across accounts is another good practice to limit your exposure to any compromise should it take place. Additionally if the Dropbox link had instead contained malware, ransomware or a remote access tool (commonly called a RAT to security operators), an endpoint protection agent such as MalwareProtect and EndpointProtect would keep you safe.

Learnings From The Trenches : Cyber Security Tips For Australian Businesses

We help a lot of Australian businesses out with security incidents, as well as recovering from hacks and breaches. Many of them can be attributed back to human error or poor security hygiene. I thought I would share some of my top tips to help you avoid a costly hack, or brand damaging breach.

Patch Patch Patch

This is an easy one. Operating system vendors don’t just release patches for new features, they’re also patching security vulnerabilities regularly. Keep desktops and laptops up to date and enable automatic updates wherever possible. Apply the same thinking to critical applications such as Microsoft Office (Vulnerabilities in Microsoft Office have risen 121 percent over the last 6 years ), to keep ahead of problems.

Enable Two Factor

Many successful cyber security incidents start with an account being stolen or ‘phished’. One way to help stop these attacks being escalated is to have a second factor of authentication beyond just your username and password. This means that even if an account is stolen, the attacker can have a difficult time accessing the second login which may be a token or application that runs on a users smartphone. Two factor can be enabled selectively such as when a user is outside your corporate network. Some 2fa vendors to consider are Authy https://authy.com/ and Okta https://www.okta.com/ .

Bake security into your culture and people

Cyber security is not just about technology and processes, it’s also about your people and the way they go about their day to day business. As a successful cyber attack can shut down your business or irrevocably damage your brand, It’s key that management and executive set a good example as this attitude then flows throughout the organisation. Ongoing cyber awareness training to make staff more conscious of potentially malicious behaviour will improve the cyber-hygiene of your business, with more mature organisations now also including cyber security training into staff onboarding.

Be Proactive

Accounts that are stolen or included in breaches often end up being sold on the dark web for use in other attacks. There are resources available for you to check if key staff accounts have been included in previous breaches. https://haveibeenpwned.com/ allows you to search for staff email accounts, and any that are discovered should have passwords reset and even enabling two factor authentication on.

Have a plan

There’s a common theme with many of the companies we assist with security incidents; They didn’t plan for one. They often have a health and safety plan, and even a terrorism plan! This doesn’t need to be war and peace, and can be a single pager on roles and responsibilities, as well as who to contact including any cyber security partners you work with to assist in responding to incidents. If you have any regulatory bodies or government agencies you liaise with make sure to include any reporting structures that may need to take place here. The Australian Office of the Information Commissioner has a good guide on data breach plans . Make sure you’re also familiar with the Notifiable Data Breach Scheme .

Engage a security partner

There’s lots of talk about the increasing skills shortage in cyber security. And let’s face it, cyber security is probably not part of your core business so you’re constantly going to be playing catch up with a rapidly changing landscape. By partnering with a cyber security specialist you’re also subscribing to the ongoing skills and herd intelligence to help you plan and protect your business and brand from being the next headline. Just make sure they’re a specialist and not someone who’s also trying to sell you phones systems and printers.

Australia’s emerging enterprises are facing the same security risks and suffering the same incidents the big end of town are, but with much less capability to respond and protect themselves from a rapidly changing space. By baking security into your businesses DNA, and partnering with strategic cyber security specialists, you’re setting yourself up for success.

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