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Phishing and Scam Hit the Roof in UAE with 230% Increase in Q2 2022: Kaspersky

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Kaspersky analysis has revealed that attacks related to data loss threats (phishing and scam/social engineering) increased significantly in Q2 2022 at 230% in comparison with the previous quarter in the UAE – the company’s security solutions have detected 3,481,419 phishing attacks in the UAE in Q2.

Social engineering which is sometimes called “human hacking” scams is used in many ways, and for different purposes, to lure unwary users to the site and trick them into entering personal information. The latter often includes financial credentials such as bank account passwords or payment card details, or login details for social media accounts. In the wrong hands, this opens doors to various malicious operations, such as money being stolen or corporate networks being compromised.

Phishing is a strong attack method because it is done on a large scale. By sending massive waves of emails under the name of legitimate institutions or promoting fake pages, malicious users increase their chances of success in their hunt for innocent people’s credentials. Phishers deploy a variety of tricks to bypass e-mail blocking and lure as many users as possible to their fraudulent sites. A common technique is HTML attachments with partially or fully obfuscated code. HTML files allow attackers to use scripts and obfuscate malicious content to make it harder to detect and send phishing pages as attachments instead of links.

According to Kaspersky data, most of Middle East countries saw a staggering increase in attacks related to data loss threats by 159% in the second quarter of 2022 with 15,012,880 phishing scam detections. The highest targeted country was Saudi Arabia with 5,808,946 phishing attacks (a growth by 168%). In particular, while vacation season is high, scammers are trying to lure travellers who are looking for interesting places to go, cheap places to stay and reasonably priced flights. Kaspersky researchers have observed intensified scamming activities, with numerous phishing pages distributed under the guise of airline and booking services. The number of attempts to open phishing pages related to booking and airline services in the first half of 2022 was 4,311 in the META region.

“Planning a vacation is not easy. People can spend weeks, even months, looking for the perfect place to stay and the tickets to get them there. Fraudsters use this to lure users that have grown tired of searching for great deals. After two years of flight restrictions imposed by the pandemic, travelling is back. But so are travel scams – with intensified scamming activity targeting users through fake booking and rental services. Such attacks are totally preventable, which is why we urge users to be sceptical about overly generous offers. If an offer seems too good to be true, it probably is,” comments Mikhail Sytnik, a security expert at Kaspersky.

To keep yourself protected, Kaspersky experts recommend:

  • Carefully look at the address bar before entering any sensitive information, such as your login details and password. If something is wrong with the URL (i.e. spelling, it doesn’t look like the original or it uses some special symbols instead of letters) don’t enter anything on the site. If in doubt, check the certificate of the site by clicking on the lock icon to the left of the URL.
  • Not clicking on links that come from unknown sources (either through e-mails, messaging apps or social networks).
  • Visit the business’ official website if you see a giveaway offered in e-mail or on social media by a travel company or an airline to confirm the giveaway exists. You should also carefully check the links the giveaway ad leads you to.
  • Using a good security solution that can protect you from spam emails and phishing attacks.

Cyber Security

FortiGuard Labs Contributes to INTERPOL Multinational Cybercrime Suppression Operation in Africa

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Sharing threat intelligence and working with other threat intelligence organizations improves protections for customers and enhances the effectiveness of the entire cybersecurity industry.

Recently, FortiGuard Labs provided evidentiary support to INTERPOL and African Member countries as part of the Africa Cyber Surge Operation (ASCO) to help detect, investigate, and disrupt cybercrime through coordinated law enforcement activities, utilizing INTERPOL platforms, tools, and channels in close cooperation with AFRIPOL.

The ACSO is a multinational cybercrime suppression operation focused on identifying cybercriminals and compromised infrastructure in the African region. The INTERPOL Cybercrime Directorate and INTERPOL Support Program for the African Union (ISPA) collaborated with AFRIPOL and 27 INTERPOL member countries to leverage this intelligence and combat the growing threat of cybercrime across the continent.

The successful Cyber Surge operation and transfer of knowledge to multiple law enforcement agencies in the African region is the result of continued threat information sharing and trusted cooperation between INTERPOL, FortiGuard Labs, and other INTERPOL private partners.

FortiGuard Labs provided actionable threat intelligence over a six-month period, which consisted of botnet, command, and control (C2), and malware infrastructure research, including C2 and malware and botnet victims located within the African continent.

“The Africa Cyber Surge Operation, launched in July 2022, has brought together law enforcement officials from 27 countries, working together for almost four months on actionable intelligence provided by INTERPOL private partners,” Craig Jones, Director of the Cybercrime Directorate with INTERPOL comments. “This intelligence focused on opportunities to prevent, detect, investigate and disrupt cybercrime through coordinated LE activities utilizing INTERPOL platforms, tools, and channels. This operation focused both on cybercriminals and compromised network infrastructure in Africa, allowing member countries to identify more than 1,000 malicious IP addresses, dark web markets, and individual threat actors, enhancing cooperation between INTERPOL, AFRIPOL, and the member countries, and contributing to connecting policing for a safer world.”

“The Africa Cyber Surge Operation is a shining example of how shared threat intelligence on threat actors and joint operations across trusted partners can increase the cyber resilience of an entire region,” highlights Derek Manky, Chief Security Strategist & VP Global Threat Intelligence, FortiGuard Labs. “It also shows how valuable cybersecurity training and education is to help close the cyber skills gap and effectively disrupt cybercrime at scale. We will continue to work with our private and public sector partners such as INTERPOL around the world to help make our digital world a safer place.”

For more than a decade, FortiGuard Labs has helped inform and protect customers, partners, and governments around the world. As a leader in the threat intelligence community, its mission is to provide the best threat intelligence designed to protect customers from malicious activity and sophisticated cyberattacks. The team is composed of some of the most knowledgeable threat hunters, researchers, analysts, engineers, and data scientists in the industry, working in dedicated threat research labs all around the world.

Fortinet has been an active member of the Global Cybercrime Expert Group and trusted partner to INTERPOL dating back to 2015 and became an INTERPOL Gateway partner in 2018. This ongoing collaboration has resulted in greater threat intelligence standards and protocols across the industry as well as impactful global cybercriminal takedowns.

In addition to INTERPOL, FortiGuard Labs is committed to partnership and cooperation with global law enforcement, government organizations, and industry organizations. Some of the global partnerships include being a founding member and regular contributor of the World Economic Forum’s (WEF) Centre for Cybersecurity as part of its Partnership Against Cybercrime (PAC), serving as a long-standing member of the NATO Industry Cyber Partnership (NICP), contributing to the development of STIX/TAXII protocols with MITRE & OASIS​, being an official Research Partner with MITRE Engenuity’s Center for Threat-Informed Defense (Center), co-founding the Cyber Threat Alliance (CTA), working in partnership with the computer incident response organization FIRST, and more.

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Cyber Security

Lookout Threat Lab Discovers Predatory Loan Apps on Google Play and Apple App Store

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Lookout, Inc. has announced the discovery of nearly 300 loan apps that exhibit predatory behavior such as exfiltrating excessive user data from mobile devices and harassing borrowers for repayment. These apps, which were found in Africa and Southeast Asia, as well as India, Colombia, and Mexico, purportedly offer quick, fully-digital loan approvals with reasonable loan terms. In reality, they exploit victims’ desire for quick cash in an attempt to ensnare borrowers into predatory loan contracts and require them to grant access to sensitive information on their devices such as contacts, phone history, and SMS messages — information that would not be required in a valid loan application process.

In addition to predatory requests for excessive permissions, many of the loan operators display scam-like actions. Victims have reported that their loans came with hidden fees, high-interest rates, and repayment terms that were much less favorable than what was posted on the app stores. Lookout Threat Lab also found evidence that the data exfiltrated from devices were sometimes used to pressure the customer for repayment – a common threat tactic to disclose a borrower’s debt or other personal information to their network of contacts.

In total, Lookout researchers uncovered 251 Android apps on the Google Play Store with more than 15 million collective downloads. The team also identified 35 apps on the Apple App Store that were in the top 100 finance apps in their regional stores. Lookout has been in contact with Google and Apple about these apps and, at the time of publishing, none of them are available for download.

“Mobile apps have made managing our lives a lot easier and are a convenient way to interact with businesses such as financial institutions. However, when entrusting any app with sensitive personal information, it is extremely important to stop and ask yourself if the information being requested makes sense and if the business behind the app is a trusted entity,” said Ruohan Xiong, senior security intelligence researcher, Lookout. “As these predatory loan apps have demonstrated, app permissions could easily be abused if users are not careful. While there are likely dozens of independent operators involved, all of these loan apps have a very similar business model – to trick victims into unfair loan terms and then extort payment.”

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Cyber Security

Dragos Participates in Global Security Forum in Riyadh

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Dragos, Inc. announced that it participated in the Global Cybersecurity Forum, held in Riyadh recently. The two-day event attracted cybersecurity experts and leaders from all over the world. Ben Miller, who represented Dragos as its Vice President of Services, spoke on the concluding day of the forum, about the threat of supply chain and third-party attacks. In his session, titled, “Pervasive and Insecure,” he discussed supply chain risk in critical infrastructure, examining the complex reality of third-party and supply chain attacks and sharing perspectives on the unseen vulnerabilities and how to address them.

Miller highlighted the complex nature of supply chain attacks, which potentially contain widespread vulnerabilities in the OT and industrial control systems (ICS). He outlined Dragos’ specific focus on the Kingdom’s supply chain risk in critical infrastructure including refineries and water treatment plants, as “Energy and water are specific focuses of ours in the region as they are critical not just to the economy but also to every person who lives here,” he said.

Giving an outline of the Dragos plan to help organizations detect and respond to the threat challenges posed to critical infrastructure in Saudi Arabia, he said, “We need to focus on educating the workforce, building a new understanding of how OT is different from IT, and gaining visibility and insights into what is happening in our critical infrastructure.” OT cybersecurity is in many ways a new field, he said.

“We need to communicate the needs of OT security as right now the concern exists but the specific needs aren’t well understood by asset owners. They do understand that digital transformation is happening and they need to secure it. I would focus on this business case and speak to the need for OT-specific monitoring, defensible architectures, and OT-specific incident response plans,” the Dragos official said.

Miller said supply chain attacks in critical infrastructure are complex with many suppliers, vendors, integrators, and long lifecycles that measure in decades. Commenting on the need to build industrial cyber resilience to keep such threats in check, he said: “The first challenge in the OT space is gaining visibility into what assets one has. You can’t defend something if you don’t know it exists.”

When it comes to safeguarding cyberspace, he had a few words of advice for Saudi Arabia, “The Kingdom should realize the potential challenges as early as possible. Commending the country’s efforts in cybersecurity. Over the last few years, Saudi Arabia has focused heavily on cybersecurity by investing in key programs and events such as the Global Cybersecurity Forum. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has impressed many by taking one of the world’s leading positions in developing and maintaining a cyber ecosystem. Therefore, the Kingdom now has a vantage point to bridge global cyber divides and ensure that cybersecurity benefits all societies in the region.”

A global expert in industrial cybersecurity himself, Miller joined other renowned thought leaders in the field, including Dr. Albert Antwi-Boasiako, Directory-General of the Cyber Security Authority, Ghana; Mary O’Brien, General Manager, IBM Security; Lothar Renner from Cisco Security; and Dr. Victoria Coates, Former Senior Advisor to the US Secretary of Energy.

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