A phishing campaign that appears to have hit UK small and midsized businesses hard in a ploy to pilfer their online banking credentials serves as yet another reminder that a company need not be the size of Target to be a cybercrime target.
The "Peter Pan" attack -- using emails purporting to contain tickets to a theatrical performance of the classic story -- has been blanketing SMBs in the UK. The "ticket" attachment contains a banking Trojan that gathers user credentials to specific websites (many of them online banking sites) and social media accounts. The malware also spreads to other devices on the infected machine's network, sending the stolen information to a server that appears to be located in Eastern Europe.
"It seems this was a deliberate attack targeting small businesses in the UK," says Paul Lipman, CEO at iSheriff, which has been analyzing the attack and the malware. "SMBs for a long time have viewed themselves as impervious. But the reality is cyber criminals know that these guys are not well protected" and thus make easy targets.
The attackers used a real theater performance and a real website to make the phish appear more realistic, Lipman says. The malware uses a Windows executable and appears to behave like a classic banking Trojan. "It looks quite similar to the Zeus banking Trojan… This isn't a new class of malware."
The security firm Comodo has identified the malware as Dridex (a.k.a. Cridex/Feodo/Bugat) and says a similar campaign hit German companies a couple of months ago. The Peter Pan attack looks for URLs for commercial banking. Egemen Tas, vice president of engineering at Comodo, says the targeted UK banking sites include Bank of Scotland, Barclays, HSBC, and Yorkshire Bank.
"These are not consumer bank websites… It looks specifically for banking websites" used by SMBs, Tas says. "The scene is changing," and SMBs are targets just as large organizations are.
But not everyone believes that the Peter Pan attacks were targeting SMBs. According to Sophos, the attack was more of a typical mass phishing spam campaign, and SMBs are among the casualties.
"I completely disagree" that the attack was targeting SMBs, says Chester Wisniewski, senior security adviser at Sophos. "This is another spam campaign just like we've seen" before. "There's nothing particularly unique about this."
Sophos first detected the attacks landing in its spam traps on Sunday evening, and there were Peter Pan emails going, not only to UK targets, but also to targets in Asia, Canada, and the US. "There's a preponderance of British addresses," Wisniewski says, but it's just another "spray and pay" phishing attack commonly used by cyber criminals.
SMBs are juicy targets mainly because many don't have email security tools in place to detect the attacks, and they rely mainly on endpoint antivirus. "No victim is too small," he says. "The bottom line is not every criminal has the skills to breach Home Depot and Target." Most would prefer casting a wider net and easily snaring the local hair salon or flower shop. And there's always the chance that a Target or other large company endpoint will end up in the net, as well.
Wisniewski says he and his team see cyber criminals regularly divvying up compromised machines by category, selling off consumer bundles while keeping the business victims for their own use. "They can sit there and wait, because the accounting machine at a small business is worth" a lot. The criminals await payroll processing and then siphon $50,000 or more from the SMBs' bank accounts.
Targeting SMBs specifically takes a lot of effort, he says, so any attackers that are willing to do that and have the skills to do so are more likely to go "upscale" and go after the big businesses.