Dark Reading is part of the Informa Tech Division of Informa PLC

This site is operated by a business or businesses owned by Informa PLC and all copyright resides with them.Informa PLC's registered office is 5 Howick Place, London SW1P 1WG. Registered in England and Wales. Number 8860726.

Attacks/Breaches

11/1/2018
05:00 PM
Connect Directly
Twitter
LinkedIn
Google+
RSS
E-Mail
50%
50%

Microsoft, Amazon Top BEC's Favorite Brands

When attackers want to impersonate a brand via email, the majority turn to Microsoft and Amazon because of their ubiquity in enterprise environments.

Nearly two-thirds of email attacks spoofing brand names impersonate Microsoft or Amazon, according to one of two studies released today on advanced emailed threats.

More than half (54%) of attacks impersonate brands in their display names (the "from" field), according to Agari's "Q4 2018 Email Fraud & Identity Deception Report." Hackers used Microsoft in 35.8% of attacks, varying their emails to mimic various units of Microsoft, such as OneDrive. Amazon came in second at 26.8%; attackers impersonated divisions including Amazon Web Services (AWS) and Amazon Prime.

Display name deception was the most common attack vector, Agari researchers found, but common trends were different for high-value targets, such as C-suite execs. For these targets, Microsoft was used in 71% of attacks; Dropbox was a distant second at 7%.

Impersonation attacks often arrive disguised as service updates, password resets, and security alerts. It's what employees expect to see, given businesses' reliance on Microsoft. Dropbox is common for malware distribution because people frequently use it to receive files.

"The brands that are being used are ones you'd expect to get emails from on a regular basis and that people trust," says Seth Knox, vice president of marketing at Agari, adding that Office 365 is a common target. "There are a lot of people migrating to Office 365, and that gives you access to a lot of material if you get into someone's corporate account."  

Cloud infrastructure is similarly vulnerable if an attacker successfully deceives someone who handles the company's AWS account. "That could be very damaging to a business," he notes.

Overall, 62% of advanced email attacks use display name deception, researchers learned. While 54% impersonate trusted brands, 8% mimic individuals. Indeed, business email compromise (BEC) is an increasingly common, dangerous, and expensive threat to the enterprise. Earlier this summer, the FBI reported BEC and email account compromise losses hit a global $12 billion.

Supporting the rise of email fraud is Proofpoint's Q3 2018 "Quarterly Threat Report," which found targeted organizations received an average of more than 36 attacks in the third quarter – marking a 77% increase year over year. Attackers are shifting their tactics as the learn what works and what doesn't in terms of who to target and how to best deceive them.

"In a targeted attack, they can see what works and what doesn't and adjust accordingly," says Chris Dawson, threat intelligence lead at Proofpoint, pointing to a prime example from the company's most recent research: "Attackers are using fewer spoofed identities."

Fewer Impersonations, More Victims
Unlike malware campaigns, which are typically designed to send thousands of messages at once, email fraud gives attackers a chance to craft specific messages to be successful. Trial and error has taught them if they want to be effective, they need to limit their impersonations.

From Q2 to Q3, Proofpoint saw a 68% reduction in the number of identities that were spoofed. In Q3, BEC attackers impersonated an average of five users, a number previously seen in 2017. However, BEC attacks increased overall in the same quarter, a sign of threat actors trying to use a smaller number of fake identities to deceive a larger pool of victims.

(Image: Twinsterphoto - stock.adobe.com)

(Image: Twinsterphoto stock.adobe.com)

Previously, Dawson says, attackers would try to spoof a range of people: CEOs, CFOs, CISOs, higher-ranking HR employees, and people in the supply chain. Now they're limiting attacks to more recognizable people, including CEOs and CFOs, and they're sending fraudulent messages to the people who have a close working relationship with those executives and will expect emails.

"They know the people who are going to be, on a regular basis, getting those emails from a CEO or CISO, asking for something to happen," he explains. "What they found is with the broader spread of spoofed identities, it's hard to do that effectively and not get caught."

Dawson points out that researchers found an increase in the number of attacks originating from addresses spoofed within the company. Nearly 50% will pretend to be from a colleague.

When they write malicious emails, researchers found attackers are conveying a greater sense of urgency. Their requests now come with timelines and warn recipients of consequences for delays. Further, they saw payroll-related scams increase 549% - a small percentage of the total but a reminder that subject lines don't necessarily need to be related to specific events.

The Step You Should Take
Both Knox and Dawson advise businesses to protect all variations of their domains that could potentially be used to trick employees. If they're registered, attackers can't use them.

"I'd recommend companies proactively register all of those potential look-alike domains," Dawson says. "Companies are less likely to do that than the bad guys are."

Knox recommends implementing Domain-based Message Authentication, Reporting and Conformance (DMARC), an open email authentication standard that prevents domain names from being spoofed in phishing or spam emails. In an analysis of more than 280 million domains in Q3 2018, Agari saw DMARC adoption increase from 3.5 million domains in July to 5.3 million in October.

Related Content:

 

Black Hat Europe returns to London Dec 3-6 2018  with hands-on technical Trainings, cutting-edge Briefings, Arsenal open-source tool demonstrations, top-tier security solutions and service providers in the Business Hall. Click for information on the conference and to register.

Kelly Sheridan is the Staff Editor at Dark Reading, where she focuses on cybersecurity news and analysis. She is a business technology journalist who previously reported for InformationWeek, where she covered Microsoft, and Insurance & Technology, where she covered financial ... View Full Bio

Comment  | 
Print  | 
More Insights
Comments
Newest First  |  Oldest First  |  Threaded View
Windows 10 Migration: Getting It Right
Kevin Alexandra, Principal Solutions Engineer at BeyondTrust,  5/15/2019
Artist Uses Malware in Installation
Dark Reading Staff 5/17/2019
Baltimore Ransomware Attack Takes Strange Twist
Kelly Jackson Higgins, Executive Editor at Dark Reading,  5/14/2019
Register for Dark Reading Newsletters
White Papers
Video
Cartoon Contest
Write a Caption, Win a Starbucks Card! Click Here
Latest Comment: This comment is waiting for review by our moderators.
Current Issue
Building and Managing an IT Security Operations Program
As cyber threats grow, many organizations are building security operations centers (SOCs) to improve their defenses. In this Tech Digest you will learn tips on how to get the most out of a SOC in your organization - and what to do if you can't afford to build one.
Flash Poll
Twitter Feed
Dark Reading - Bug Report
Bug Report
Enterprise Vulnerabilities
From DHS/US-CERT's National Vulnerability Database
CVE-2019-12184
PUBLISHED: 2019-05-19
There is XSS in browser/components/MarkdownPreview.js in BoostIO Boostnote 0.11.15 via a label named flowchart, sequence, gallery, or chart, as demonstrated by a crafted SRC attribute of an IFRAME element, a different vulnerability than CVE-2019-12136.
CVE-2019-12173
PUBLISHED: 2019-05-18
MacDown 0.7.1 (870) allows remote code execution via a file:\\\ URI, with a .app pathname, in the HREF attribute of an A element. This is different from CVE-2019-12138.
CVE-2019-12172
PUBLISHED: 2019-05-17
Typora 0.9.9.21.1 (1913) allows arbitrary code execution via a modified file: URL syntax in the HREF attribute of an AREA element, as demonstrated by file:\\\ on macOS or Linux, or file://C| on Windows. This is different from CVE-2019-12137.
CVE-2019-12168
PUBLISHED: 2019-05-17
Four-Faith Wireless Mobile Router F3x24 v1.0 devices allow remote code execution via the Command Shell (aka Administration > Commands) screen.
CVE-2019-12170
PUBLISHED: 2019-05-17
ATutor through 2.2.4 is vulnerable to arbitrary file uploads via the mods/_core/backups/upload.php (aka backup) component. This may result in remote command execution. An attacker can use the instructor account to fully compromise the system using a crafted backup ZIP archive. This will allow for PH...