Risk

10/22/2009
01:17 PM
Connect Directly
Google+
Twitter
RSS
E-Mail
50%
50%

Major Secure Email Products And Services Miss Spear-Phishing Attack

Experiment successfully slips fake LinkedIn invite from 'Bill Gates' into inboxes

A spear-phishing experiment conducted during the past few days by a researcher has netted some disturbing results: Most major enterprise email products and services were unable to detect a fake LinkedIn invitation on behalf of "Bill Gates," which landed successfully in users' inboxes.

Joshua Perrymon, CEO of PacketFocus, sent a spoofed LinkedIn email to users in different organizations who had agreed to participate in his test. He was able to get his spoofed message through 100 percent of the time and across a wide variety of major email products and services, including smartphone email tools. Perrymon won't name names yet -- he's contacting the affected vendors first -- but says he even tried it on willing vendors and was successful.

"I tested [this on] six different enterprise networks using the latest email security technology from most of the major vendors, and not a single one picked up on the spoofed email," Perrymon says. He has written a white paper on the attack and plans to reveal the vendors in the test after he has contacted them and received their responses.

Perrymon says he tested 10 different combinations of email security appliances, services, and open-source and commercial products; four major client email products; and three major smartphone brands.

The problem is that most anti-phishing technology is built to catch large-scale phishing attacks, but not the insidious and dangerous small, targeted ones. "If it's small-scale, the technology definitely can't stop it," he says. "When the attacks get into the hundreds, it starts triggering [the security]," he says.

Phishing expert Nitesh Dhanjani, who is also the author of "Hacking: The Next Generation," says it's easy for spear-phishing attacks to abuse traditional, insecure protocols. "Yet [these types of attacks] serve well in raising consciousness to how easy it is to steal information from a targeted party. It is trivial to spoof the 'from' address of an email," says Dhanjani, senior manager of advisory services at Ernst & Young. "Regardless of this, however, spear-phishing attacks are generally successful, [and] many users would fall for the bait even if the 'from' address wasn't spoofed.

"The reality is the foundation of protocols, such as SMTP, DNS, and HTTP, are often the weak link because they rely on use cases for legitimate uses that can be easily translated to abuse cases."

While Perrymon's experiment was simple and straightforward, its outcome was chilling, experts say. "The research was very cool in its simplicity and approach," says Jeremiah Grossman, CTO and founder of WhiteHat Security, who studied Perrymon's white paper. "He was trying to demonstrate just how serious and easy this is."

Perrymon says the experiment was to measure how effective email security controls actually work across various products. He performs spear-phishing assessments for clients, but wanted to see just how pervasive these attacks can be overall and across various platforms. He used his own phishing framework tool, called User Attack Framework, which automated the "attack," helped him track the success of the phish, and captured information about the "victim" once the person clicked on the "invite" and was sent to the phishing site, such as his IP address, user ID, location, browser, operating system, and other Website statistics.

"This has never been tested before on a large scale," Perrymon says. "This opened my eyes."

And because these are social engineering-driven attacks, he says, there is no real fix. Aside from deploying PGP or other email authentication technologies -- which are not widely adopted -- the only way for a vendor to stop these messages from getting through to user inboxes is to find a way to identify spoofed messages, which is difficult to do, he says.

"It's a multilayered attack that goes after a lot of different things, so you can't stop it right now," he says.

A sales rep, for instance, could get 100 messages a day, and not all from "trusted" senders, so there' s no way to realistically apply a trusted email model to this without disrupting the sales rep's operations and business, he says.

User awareness is one piece of the puzzle. "User awareness may help, but it can only go so far until it becomes an excuse to offload the burden of security to the average end user," Dhanjani says. "I feel we need to design end-point client software, such as email clients and Web browsers, to contain and act upon intelligence that is based on heuristics."

Perrymon's test email, meanwhile, looks a lot like a LinkedIn invite, except it spells the social network "LinkedIN" in the "from" field of the message. It reads: "Bill Gates has indicated you are a fellow group member of Microsoft Security. I'd like to add you to my professional network on LinkedIn. - B. Gates."

He also plans to go the next step and apply browser and other exploits to the phony phishing site. "The next part we're going to dive into is applying browser, Adobe, and JavaScript exploits," he says. "Now can we then get their credentials and exploit their client machine?"

Have a comment on this story? Please click "Discuss" below. If you'd like to contact Dark Reading's editors directly, send us a message.

Kelly Jackson Higgins is Executive Editor at DarkReading.com. She is an award-winning veteran technology and business journalist with more than two decades of experience in reporting and editing for various publications, including Network Computing, Secure Enterprise ... View Full Bio

Comment  | 
Print  | 
More Insights
Comments
Newest First  |  Oldest First  |  Threaded View
High Stress Levels Impacting CISOs Physically, Mentally
Jai Vijayan, Freelance writer,  2/14/2019
Valentine's Emails Laced with Gandcrab Ransomware
Kelly Sheridan, Staff Editor, Dark Reading,  2/14/2019
Making the Case for a Cybersecurity Moon Shot
Adam Shostack, Consultant, Entrepreneur, Technologist, Game Designer,  2/19/2019
Register for Dark Reading Newsletters
White Papers
Video
Cartoon
Current Issue
5 Emerging Cyber Threats to Watch for in 2019
Online attackers are constantly developing new, innovative ways to break into the enterprise. This Dark Reading Tech Digest gives an in-depth look at five emerging attack trends and exploits your security team should look out for, along with helpful recommendations on how you can prevent your organization from falling victim.
Flash Poll
How Enterprises Are Attacking the Cybersecurity Problem
How Enterprises Are Attacking the Cybersecurity Problem
Data breach fears and the need to comply with regulations such as GDPR are two major drivers increased spending on security products and technologies. But other factors are contributing to the trend as well. Find out more about how enterprises are attacking the cybersecurity problem by reading our report today.
Twitter Feed
Dark Reading - Bug Report
Bug Report
Enterprise Vulnerabilities
From DHS/US-CERT's National Vulnerability Database
CVE-2019-8980
PUBLISHED: 2019-02-21
A memory leak in the kernel_read_file function in fs/exec.c in the Linux kernel through 4.20.11 allows attackers to cause a denial of service (memory consumption) by triggering vfs_read failures.
CVE-2019-8979
PUBLISHED: 2019-02-21
Koseven through 3.3.9, and Kohana through 3.3.6, has SQL Injection when the order_by() parameter can be controlled.
CVE-2013-7469
PUBLISHED: 2019-02-21
Seafile through 6.2.11 always uses the same Initialization Vector (IV) with Cipher Block Chaining (CBC) Mode to encrypt private data, making it easier to conduct chosen-plaintext attacks or dictionary attacks.
CVE-2018-20146
PUBLISHED: 2019-02-21
An issue was discovered in Liquidware ProfileUnity before 6.8.0 with Liquidware FlexApp before 6.8.0. A local user could obtain administrator rights, as demonstrated by use of PowerShell.
CVE-2019-5727
PUBLISHED: 2019-02-21
Splunk Web in Splunk Enterprise 6.5.x before 6.5.5, 6.4.x before 6.4.9, 6.3.x before 6.3.12, 6.2.x before 6.2.14, 6.1.x before 6.1.14, and 6.0.x before 6.0.15 and Splunk Light before 6.6.0 has Persistent XSS, aka SPL-138827.