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.

Endpoint

2/5/2018
03:54 PM
Connect Directly
Twitter
LinkedIn
Google+
RSS
E-Mail
50%
50%

Over 12,000 Business Websites Leveraged for Cybercrime

Attackers exploit trust in popular websites to launch phishing campaigns and spread malware.

More than 12,300 websites in the business category were used to launch cyberattacks or deliver malware in 2017, making company sites riskier than gambling and shopping sites. Attackers are abusing people's trust in popular sites to launch consistent and effective malware campaigns.

Forty-two percent of the top 100,000 websites ranked by Alexa are considered "risky," according to Menlo Security's State of the Web 2017. Researchers determined a website's risk based on three criteria: use of vulnerable software, history of distributing malware or launching attacks, and the occurrence of a security breach within the 12 previous months.

A site was deemed risky if it met any one of these criteria. The largest category of risk was news and media sites, 49% of which met a risk factor, followed by entertainment and arts (45%), travel (41%), personal sites and blogs (40%), society (39%), and business and economy (39%), which includes company, association, industry group, financial data and serivces, and hosted business application sites.

Business and economy sites hosted more phishing sites, ran more vulnerable software, and experienced more security incidents than any other category in 2017, researchers found. The category was hit with 23,819 incidents in 2017; the next-highest was society sites at 12,669.

Background websites: Who are you talking to?

Menlo CTO Kowsik Guruswamy explains the risk of "background radiation," which stems from the idea that much of cybercriminals' damage happens behind the scenes. Each time someone visits a website, it contacts an average of 25 background sites for different demands: grabbing ads from an ad delivery network, for example, or videos from a content delivery server.

Any of these third-party sites could be compromised and pose risk to users. Most malware prevention tools, from antivirus products to behavioral modeling systems, are designed to focus on the intended domain and often don't pick up on calls to background sites.

A major website like Bloomberg might have an IT team to update servers, Guruswamy says. However, when end users visit and are presented with videos and ads, the activity comes from other networks and may not necessarily be safe. The same applies to all major websites.

As software ages, risks grow

Many of today's websites are participating in browsing sessions, and actively servicing ads, on software riddled with vulnerabilities, Guruswamy says.

"You have this really, really old software that's full of holes that haven't been patched and are waiting to be exploited," he explains, pointing to the Equifax breach as an example of what threat actors can do if a website is running unpatched software.

Menlo analysts passively fingerprinted website software for both primary and background sites, and coordinated the documented vulnerabilities for each one. They found more than 51,000 business and economy websites are running vulnerable software.

The software supporting company websites is often old enough to have been compromised several times over the past few years. More than 32,000 websites analyzed run on Microsoft Internet Information Services (IIS) 7.5, which was released in 2009. Many sites use software that is no longer fully supported; for example, Microsoft's IIS 5 Web server, which was released in 2000 and stopped receiving mainstream support in 2005.

Tactics for tricking users

Most high-profile breaches start with a phishing or spearphishing attack. In 2017, 4,600 phishing sites used legitimate hosting services. It's easier to create a subdomain on a real hosting service than hack a popular site or set up a brand-new domain, Guruswamy says.

Companies usually whitelist legitimate domains, which give them a false sense of security while covering for a phishing website. Researchers found 15 phishing sites hosted on the world's ten most popular domains. While no evidence indicated anyone was successfully breached from any of these subdomains, it's worth noting hackers are embracing hosting services.

Guruswamy calls it "trust hacking" and says many threat actors leverage websites like DocuSign or Dropbox so when targets receive emails to open documents, they don't think it's malicious.

Typosquatting is another common way of sending users to malicious websites. Attackers set up fake domains with intentional misspellings so people accidentally access them if they mistype a website in the browser. "Wellforgo.com," "Yaoo.com," and "Yotuube.com" are examples.

"It's an attack vector that's been around for a while but now bad actors are taking the time to actively get it categorized as a good site," he explains. In the 30-day period Menlo tracked users' web activity, traffic to 78 bad sites had been misspelled to trick people trying to visit the top 1,000 domains on Alexa.

Related Content:

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
A Realistic Threat Model for the Masses
Lysa Myers, Security Researcher, ESET,  10/9/2019
USB Drive Security Still Lags
Dark Reading Staff 10/9/2019
How to Think Like a Hacker
Dr. Giovanni Vigna, Chief Technology Officer at Lastline,  10/10/2019
Register for Dark Reading Newsletters
White Papers
Video
Cartoon Contest
Current Issue
7 Threats & Disruptive Forces Changing the Face of Cybersecurity
This Dark Reading Tech Digest gives an in-depth look at the biggest emerging threats and disruptive forces that are changing the face of cybersecurity today.
Flash Poll
2019 Online Malware and Threats
2019 Online Malware and Threats
As cyberattacks become more frequent and more sophisticated, enterprise security teams are under unprecedented pressure to respond. Is your organization ready?
Twitter Feed
Dark Reading - Bug Report
Bug Report
Enterprise Vulnerabilities
From DHS/US-CERT's National Vulnerability Database
CVE-2019-4031
PUBLISHED: 2019-10-16
IBM Workload Scheduler Distributed 9.2, 9.3, 9.4, and 9.5 contains a vulnerability that could allow a local user to write files as root in the file system, which could allow the attacker to gain root privileges. IBM X-Force ID: 155997.
CVE-2019-17626
PUBLISHED: 2019-10-16
ReportLab through 3.5.26 allows remote code execution because of toColor(eval(arg)) in colors.py, as demonstrated by a crafted XML document with '<span color="' followed by arbitrary Python code.
CVE-2019-17627
PUBLISHED: 2019-10-16
The Yale Bluetooth Key application for mobile devices allows unauthorized unlock actions by sniffing Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) traffic during one authorized unlock action, and then calculating the authentication key via simple computations on the hex digits of a valid authentication request. This a...
CVE-2019-17625
PUBLISHED: 2019-10-16
There is a stored XSS in Rambox 0.6.9 that can lead to code execution. The XSS is in the name field while adding/editing a service. The problem occurs due to incorrect sanitization of the name field when being processed and stored. This allows a user to craft a payload for Node.js and Electron, such...
CVE-2019-17624
PUBLISHED: 2019-10-16
In X.Org X Server 1.20.4, there is a stack-based buffer overflow in the function XQueryKeymap. For example, by sending ct.c_char 1000 times, an attacker can cause a denial of service (application crash) or possibly have unspecified other impact.