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Tis the Season for eCrime



Written by Bart Lenaerts-Bergmans, Sr. Product Marketing Manager, Threat Intelligence, CrowdStrike

Financially motivated criminal activities, aka “eCrime,” happen in waves. They come and go as adversaries develop new tools and target vulnerable victims. Similar to how investors track stock market activity using various indexes, CrowdStrike monitors eCrime using multiple observables and codifies the activity in the CrowdStrike eCrime Index (ECX). While most factors that affect the stock market — such as interest rates, oil prices, and political upheaval — are common knowledge, the factors affecting eCrime are less visible. This blog explores what has affected the CrowdStrike ECX in the past 12 months, and what we can expect as we enter the holidays.

Quick Recap: The CrowdStrike eCrime Index (ECX)
|The CrowdStrike ECX was introduced in early 2021 to gauge the overall health of the digital underground economy by looking at a variety of factors, including ransom demands, cryptocurrency fluctuations, vulnerabilities and exposures, and many other observables that, when weighted and averaged, provide a sense of what’s going on in the seedy underbelly of the internet and with the criminals who profit from the misfortune of others

Trends that .influence the CrowdStrike ECX include year-end holidays (Thanksgiving to Christmas) when users’ defensive shields go down; batches of vulnerabilities that can be exploited by newly developed criminal tools; and decreases in eCriminal activity following a large-scale incident or law enforcement action.

CrowdStrike ECX Fluctuations over the Past 12 Months
CrowdStrike updates the CrowdStrike ECX weekly. Over the past 12 months, two notable peaks were seen: one in November 2021 and another in mid-March into April 2022. These peaks were generated by the overlap of multiple key observables including the following:

  • SPAM activity between low and high moments fluctuated eight times. The highest peak happened from mid-November 2021 until mid-February 2022. A second, shorter peak happened immediately after the Russian invasion of Ukraine at the end of February 2022, ending in the middle of April 2022.
  • BOTNET activity (i.e., commands received and replies sent) has been on a constant rise with an additional jump at the start of the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
  • Number of victims of big game hunting (e.g., extortion, ransomware)also fluctuated up to six times between low and high moments. The first and highest peak started September 21, 2021, and ended the week before Christmas. A second, weaker peak was observed in early March 2022 into the beginning of May 2022.

These variations may reveal some trends in how eCriminals act. The first lesson is of course that the end of the year is indeed the best time to spam, and in the next section, we delve into why people remain especially susceptible to spam and also phishing at the end of the year. A second observation is that command-and-control (C2) servers — the systems that control the bots — remain hard to conquer and are never turned off, not even during the holidays. And third, big game hunters (i.e., ransomware operators and their affiliates) had a very active campaign before last year’s holidays and then took a vacation before coming back.

The Human Mind Remains a Weak Spot
Let’s look more closely at spam’s peak at the end of 2021 and why spam remains a critical tool for adversaries. It’s no secret that there’s a direct relationship between email spam, phishing, and scams. The sender’s goal is simple: to mislead or trick the reader into revealing sensitive information, deploy malicious software, or steal money via fraudulent schemes.

A recent BBB survey revealed the following on the effectiveness of online scams and how people interact with them:

  • Running scams via online channels has become preferable and more prevalent than using other delivery methods such as the telephone, and results in a higher percentage of targeted victims losing money.
  • People are more attracted to “carrots” versus “sticks.” According to the survey, 70% of respondents said they continued the online engagement because they hoped to gain something, sell something, or were curious to learn more. That’s compared to 30% who continued the engagement because they feared they would lose something, were threatened, or thought there was an urgent situation they needed to address.
  • The most common scams leading to the monetary loss were those related to an online purchases (89%), followed by cryptocurrency (87%), romance (85%), investments (73%), employment (68%), and government grants (64%).
  • People reported being targeted by a scam most often while browsing social media (25%), followed by shopping online (24%), emailing (14%), using a search engine (10%), and searching for a job (7%).

The holiday season is the perfect time of year for phishing scams. It’s a time when humans are sensitive to at least three of the four survey findings above as we make more online purchases, receive tons of “carrots” in our inbox in the form of Black Friday or Cyber Monday savings, and spend a lot of time on social media and shopping sites.

Threats to Consumers and Retailers
|It’s important to note that targeted victims during the holidays are not just consumers getting tricked in online scams but also retailers or eCommerce sellers. Black Friday, Cyber Monday, Giving Tuesday and the holiday shopping season provide ample opportunities for eCrime actors to conduct malicious campaigns directed against both consumers and retailers. CrowdStrike Intelligence assesses that eCrime actors during this period are most likely to use phishing campaigns, opportunistic scams, payment-system attacks and disruptive operations in the form of data theft, ransomware campaigns or extortion to achieve their objective of financial gain.

Theft of payment data remains an ongoing threat to retailers worldwide after soaring during the COVID-19 pandemic. This threat is often conducted through “form jacking” campaigns. The stolen data, and “form jacking” exploit kits targeting common online store management systems (e.g., OpenCart plugins), are offered for sale on multiple underground forums.

Another notable and trending end-of-year threat are “refund and return” scams. For instance, adversaries may email a “purchase refund request” document to a customer service department, sales representative or consumer tricking the reader into opening a malicious document and installing a form of malware. This tactic combined with usage of cross site scripting (Java Scripting) and malicious web servers is intended to steal information such as credit card, identity and account information that can be monetized later.

Stay Ahead with Threat Intelligence and Digital Risk Monitoring
CrowdStrike continuously monitors cyber-crime activity and the underground economy using the CrowdStrike ECX. For example, big game hunters may take off a couple weeks at year’s end when businesses may be closed, while C2 infrastructure remains active. End-of-year spam creates a new funnel of phishing victims, as people are more susceptible when our online activity is different from our regular habits and Cyber Monday “carrots” are offered.

CrowdStrike’s ECX, threat intelligence and constant monitoring of the underground economy offer security risk managers early warning and help them better understand threat activities so they can be prepared.

Cyber Security

Cybersecurity on a Budget: Affordable Cybersecurity Strategies for Small Businesses



According to a survey by Statista, typically, global enterprises dedicate a minimum of 12% of their IT expenditure to information security measures. While larger companies can afford to spend a lot on building a robust cybersecurity strategy, smaller businesses cannot. So, let’s explore some affordable cybersecurity strategies for small businesses that may cost less but have a greater impact.

Train your employees
An article from Forbes found that, annually, 34% of businesses worldwide encounter incidents involving insider attacks. Whether intentional or unintentional, employees tend to be the reason for most data breaches. Per the same article, phishing emails account for 67% of accidental insider attacks.

Phishing attacks mostly instil a sense of urgency in the victim, making it harder for them to think clearly before making a decision. For example, employees may click an email announcement about a bonus that actually came from a malicious outsider impersonating your company’s CEO.

To avoid such mistakes, it’s imperative to train employees on the types of phishing attacks and the ways to identify them. Even going as far as sending a mock phishing email occasionally to test their instincts and educate them can go a long way.

Assess your vulnerabilities
One of the most important cybersecurity strategies is to assess all your risk points by periodically reviewing all your business processes. Pay more attention to teams that deal with a lot of customer data. For instance, sales and marketing teams may handle customer data on a day-to-day basis, so they are at high risk of leaking or mishandling data. Assess their daily activities, create a record of all the risk points, and find ways to mitigate them.

Encrypt your data
Encrypting your data can be an effective method to protect it in case of data leaks. Let’s say a hacker gets hold of your company’s data, but it’s encrypted. Unless the hacker gets the encryption key from you, they cannot access your company’s data. This adds another layer of protection in addition to the everyday cybersecurity best practices that you should be following in your company. So make it a point to encrypt all your data, especially sensitive and critical data.

Limit access to critical data
Not everyone requires access to all data. Try to limit access to critical and sensitive data to fewer employees by basing access on work duties or requiring approval for access, making it a multi-step process to access it. Additionally, periodically review who has access to what data to ensure there aren’t any misallocations of access.

Secure your Wi-Fi
A secure network will reduce the chances of a hack or unauthorized access to your sensitive data. So switch your Wi-Fi to WPA2 or later, as it offers more security. Your business might already be using it, but it’s best to be sure. Additionally, change the name of your SSID and have a strong pre-shared key to keep your Wi-Fi safe from hackers.

Prevent physical theft
Through April 2023, there were 3,785 robberies in London, and 1,765 were of mobile phones. This highlights how important it is to secure your physical assets, as they might contain critical and sensitive information about your organization.

Here are some ways to protect your physical assets, such as PCs, laptops, scanners, and printers:

  1. Restrict unauthorized access to assets.
  2. Install a physical tracker on all devices to track down lost items.
  3. Enable remote wiping of data to erase information if a device is lost.

Cybersecurity strategies are seldom drafted with affordability in mind. However, it is crucial to consider them from a financial perspective, as small businesses are also increasingly susceptible to cyberattacks. These tips can help you take the first step toward creating a secure IT environment. Learn more about cybersecurity solutions for your business.

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Cyber Security

Managed Security Service: Right Choice for Your Company?



Written by Lev Matveev, SearchInform Founder and Chairman of the Board of Directors

75% of information security experts consider insider threats more dangerous than hacker attacks. This is proven by the SearchInform survey conducted annually. Insider threats include data loss, fraud, theft, kickbacks, business on the side, etc. These are serious risks for any business, resulting in major financial losses, reputational damage and fines from law enforcement agencies. Nevertheless, many companies still do not ensure reliable protection against insider threats.

The reasons are the following:

  • Hardware and software for data protection are costly
  • The market lacks data security experts
  • SMEs cannot compete with large enterprises to engage professionals.

According to our 2022 survey, one-third of companies recognize an acute shortage of information security experts and cannot ensure protection in-house. Therefore, in 2019 we decided to launch a managed security service based on our protection solutions, which gives the opportunity to use them without hiring security specialists.

The SearchInform service provides protection against data breaches, internal fraud, document forgery and other violations by employees. It solves the tasks of monitoring employee working hours, compliance with legal and regulatory requirements, and many more.

We take on all tasks that are usually handled by in-house security staff. Our experts install and maintain security software, customize security policies for effective control, constantly monitor the situation in the company, detect incidents and investigate them. The client receives detailed and visual reports, as well as emergency alerts if it is required to take urgent measures and prevent an incident.

Availing the service, the client does not need to hire a security expert and therefore does not need to spend on social benefits, vacations or sick leaves. The client’s business remains protected if a security employee resigns or takes an unpaid leave. At the same time, our analyst has diverse work experience, knows the solutions well and has all the necessary competencies to work with them.  Since we are unacquainted with the client’s employees, our expert will be impartial and will not take anyone’s side. All this allows the clients to save time and money.

When do companies really need MSS?
According to our observations, the service is the best choice for companies with 30-500 employees and without an in-house IS department.  When the staff number increases, top managers can no longer control everything and face a high risk of incidents.

Here are a few common situations when you should choose managed security service.

  1. A company does not have internal security officers or lacks the budget to form a security department. Our service was originated to make data security more affordable. It significantly reduces the company’s costs, as there is no need to purchase software licenses, hardware, or hire a full-time information security officer. 
  2. Full-scale protection is required immediately. Companies often turn to managed security services after an incident has already occurred. It becomes clear that to prevent this in future, it is necessary to implement special security software, purchase additional equipment, and hire a data security officer. These steps will take a lot of time. The service will start protecting your business within 1-2 days.
  3. A company is not sure that the purchase of security systems will pay off eventually. Our service is an opportunity to test them in real conditions and assess whether they are worth purchasing in each specific case. One first month of the service is free.
  4. A company wants to conduct a security audit and get a complete picture of the corporate security. The service allows you to quickly find out what data is stored, where exactly it is stored and whether there are access rights violations. As far as the first month, our expert detects cases of corporate fraud, document forgery and other violations, as well as cases of idleness, business on the side or work for competitors. 
  5. For compliance with regulatory requirements. More and more regulations are being adopted or waiting to be adopted. SAMA, GDPR, and DCC incentivize companies to take measures to ensure data security. Some regulations, such as the UAE Information Security Regulation issued by the United Arab Emirates Telecommunications and Digital Technology Authority, even stipulate the use of DLP as a means of preventing data loss. To avoid the risk of hefty fines or lawsuits for non-compliance, you can use our managed security service.

I believe that outsourced data security should soon become as widespread as outsourced accounting or IT services. It is just a matter of time.

SearchInform offers a free trial version for one month! 

During this month, clients can assess whether the service really meets their needs. According to our experience, 100% of companies discover some kind of problems during the trial, ranging from the idleness of their employees to corporate fraud and confidential data leakage. 70% of companies that request a free trial continue to work with us.

Request a free trial of the service for one month!

Contact us for more information:
Office Address: 10C-15, I-Rise Tower, Hessa Street, Barsha Heights, Dubai, UAE.

– Sponsored Content

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Expert Speak

Five Tips to Stay Out of the Phishing Trap



Written by Bashar Bashaireh, Managing Director, Middle East & Turkey, Cloudflare

Email is the most exploited business application. It is the primary initial attack vector for cybersecurity incidents and contains vast amounts of trade secrets, PII, financial data, and other sensitive matters of value to attackers.

On top of that, email is one of the hardest applications to secure. If it were simple, there would be fewer headlines about business email compromise (BEC) losses topping $50 billion, and fewer breaches resulting from someone falling for a phish. Once an attacker has infiltrated one email account, they can move laterally and impact a wide range of internal systems. Phishing is as common in the public sector as it is in the private sector and besides the obvious financial implications, there is also the issue of damage to the reputation of the enterprise.

Cloudflare recently published its 2023 Phishing Threats Report. The three key takeaways are:

  • Attackers use links as the #1 phishing tactic— and are evolving how they get you to click and when they weaponize the link.
  • Identity deception takes multiple forms and can easily bypass email authentication standards.
  • Attackers may pretend to be hundreds of different organizations, but they primarily impersonate the entities we trust (and need to get work done).

Below are some recommendations that will help organizations stay out of the Phishing trap:

  • Secure email with a Zero Trust approach – Despite email’s pervasiveness, many organizations still follow a “castle-and-moat” security model that trusts messages from certain individuals and systems by default. With a Zero Trust security model, you trust no one and nothing. No user or device has completely unfettered, trusted access to all apps — including email — or network resources. This mindset shift is especially critical if you have multi-cloud environments and a remote or hybrid workforce. Don’t trust emails just because they have email authentication set up, are from reputable domains, or “from” someone with whom you have a prior communication history. Choose a cloud email security solution rooted in the Zero Trust model and make it more difficult for attackers to exploit existing trust in “known” senders.
  • Augment cloud email with multiple anti-phishing controls – A multi-layered defence can preemptively address high-risk areas for email exposure, including:
    • Blocking never-before-seen attacks in real-time, without needing to “tune” a SEG or wait for policy updates
    • Exposing malware-less financial fraud such as VEC and supply chain phishing
    • Automatically isolating suspicious links or attachments in email
    • Identifying and stopping data exfiltration, particularly via cloud-based email and collaboration tools
    • Discovering compromised accounts and domains attackers use to launch campaigns

More organizations are choosing a layered approach to phishing protection. As noted in The Forrester Wave: Enterprise Email Security, Q2 2023, “The email security vendors you work with should demonstrate an ability to connect and share data with each other and with key tools in your security tech stack.

  • Adopt phishing-resistant multi-factor authentication – Any form of multi-factor authentication (MFA) is better than none, but not all MFAs provide the same level of security. Hardware security keys are among the most secure authentication methods for preventing successful phishing attacks; they can protect networks even if attackers gain access to usernames and passwords. Consider replacing MFA methods like SMS or time-based OTP with more proven methods like FIDO-2 compliant MFA implementations.Applying the principle of least privilege can also ensure hackers who make it past MFA controls can access only a limited set of apps, and partitioning the network with micro-segmentation can prevent lateral movement and contain any breaches early.
  • Make it harder for humans to make mistakes – The larger your organization, the more each of your teams will want to use their own preferred tools and software. Meet employees and teams where they are by making the tools they already use more secure and preventing them from making mistakes.For example, email link isolation, which integrates email security with remote browser isolation (RBI) technology, can automatically block and isolate domains that host phishing links, instead of relying on users to stop themselves from clicking.
  • Establish a paranoid, blame-free culture– Encouraging an open, transparent “see something, say something approach” to collaborating with your IT and security incident response teams 24/7 helps get everyone on “team cyber.”Minutes matter during attacks. Establishing a paranoid but blame-free culture that reports suspicious activity — as well as genuine mistakes — early and often helps ensure incidents (no matter how rare) are reported as soon as possible.
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