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Cyber whaling rises in SA

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Whaling is much like phishing, but hackers target more lucrative targets. Also, unlike phishing, whaling involves targeting fewer individuals and with more specific attacks. SIMEON TASSEV, offers some tips to prevent a company from becoming a whaling target.

One of the largest online security threats to individuals and businesses today doesn’t come from new sophisticated malware tools, but rather from distinctly low-tech phishing and whaling campaigns. A recent survey of IT experts from the US, UK, South Africa and Australia exposed the reality that cyber threats are increasing both in volume and size, and that up to 55% of organisations have seen a rise in whaling email attacks over the last three months of 2015. What is the difference between whaling and phishing? Realistically, “whaling” is just another term for “phishing”, the difference between the two lies in the size of the fish, and thus “whaling” refers to bigger, more lucrative targets.

Whaling involves targeting fewer individuals but the attacks are more specific. Whereas phishing is based on volume, whaling is the opposite and targets a much smaller audience, which is usually an organisation’s “big phish”. These are usually high-value individuals whose credentials or access to data, if compromised, could endanger the entire business; which is why these kind of attacks are also called “Business Email Compromise” attacks. These kinds of threats are harder to detect because they are stealthier and fewer in number than widespread phishing campaigns.   Targets of choice for whalers include senior executives and high-level officials in private businesses, as well as those with privileged access to government information.

The anatomy of a whaling attack

Whaling attacks are generally directed at business executives at large organisations and the intention behind these attacks is to trick financial staff into making fraudulent wire transfers to bank accounts controlled by whalers. How do these attackers get it right? Their targeted campaigns typically involve emails that appear to be from the CEO, Chief Financial Officer or other senior executive to an individual within the company who holds the authority to make electronic transfers on behalf of the organisation.

These emails make use of compelling language that conveys a sense of urgency to get the recipient to act as quickly as possible in response to the email. An example of such an attack is where an email comes through, purportedly from the CEO, asking finance staff to rush through a payment to a supplier that the executive cannot handle because they are out of the office.

Attacks from the inside

Research shows that most whaling attacks pretend to be from the CEO (72%), while 36% had seen whaling emails attributed to the CFO, which means that this type of targeted attack relies on a significant amount of prior research into the targeted organisation to allow attackers to identify their target correctly and obtain the most successful result possible. Whalers do their research on corporate databases and make use of social networking sites like Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter to trawl for information. It is because whaling emails rely on social engineering to trick their targets into doing something, rather than tricking them to click on a hyperlink or malicious attachment, that whaling emails are harder to detect when compared to phishing emails.

Protecting your company from whaling attacks

From an organisational point of view, such attacks can be approached with the same mindset applied for corporate espionage security, as they are essentially the same. The controls are still along the lines of anti-phishing technology which is linked to email, but because of the targeted nature of the whaling attack, it can be a lot more difficult for technology to pick up, which is why it’s important to add an awareness element to preventive measures taken.

This means educating senior management, key personnel and finance teams about this specific kind of attack and asking them to be more suspicious of requests received through email. While there are technologies that can be used to confirm, for example, the originator’s email, it is incumbent on the recipient to confirm or identify the source of communication before they take action on the email and to this end, finance team procedures will need to be reviewed in order to prevent whaling, specifically how payments to external third parties are authorised.

Furthermore, senior executives need to be careful what kind of contact information is available for them in the public domain. This means that a company should have a policy in place which refers to access control to and disclosure of senior personnel contact information. Realistically, someone may not have an issue giving a contact number for the help desk, but they should have an issue giving a contact number for their senior executives and access controls should be implemented to hinder information gathering tactics.

It is also advisable to make use of various technological measures that simplify the matter. In terms of validating the source of emails, like with phishing, whaling emails can have the source of the email description and the technical structure of the email validated, using targeted threat prevention solutions integrated with email security.  Also useful is inbound email stationery that marks and alerts personnel to emails that have come from outside the corporate network. Additionally, domain name registration alerts can be used to notify an organisation when domains are created that closely resemble that corporate’s domain, making it that much harder for a whaler to launch a successful attack from within.

  • Simeon Tassev, Director and QSA, Galix Networking

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Bring your network with you

At last week’s Critical Communications World, Motorola unveiled the LXN 500 LTE Ultra Portable Network Infrastructure. It allows rescue personal to set up dedicated LTE networks for communication in an emergency, writes SEAN BACHER.

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In the event of an emergency, communications are absolutely critical, but the availability of public phone networks are limited due to weather conditions or congestion.

Motorola realised that this caused a problem when trying to get rescue personnel to those in need and so developed its LXN 500 LTE Ultra Portable Network Infrastructure. The product is the smallest and lightest full powered broadband network to date and allows the first person on the scene to set up an LTE network in a matter of minutes, allowing other rescue team members to communicate with each other.

“The LXN 500 weighs six kilograms and comes in a backpack with two batteries. It offers a range of 1km and allows up to 100 connections at the same time. However, in many situations the disaster area may span more than 1km which is why they can be connected to each other in a mesh formation,” says Tunde Williams, Head of Field and Solutions Marketing EMEA, Motorola Solutions.

The LXN 500 solution offers communication through two-way radios, and includes mapping, messaging, push-to-talk, video and imaging features onboard, thus eliminating the need for any additional hardware.

Data collected on the device can then be sent through to a central control room where an operator can deploy additional rescue personnel where needed. Once video is streamed into the control room, realtime analytics and augmented reality can be applied to it to help predict where future problem points may arise. Video images and other multimedia can also be made available for rescuers on the ground.

“Although the LXN 500 was designed for the seamless communications between on ground rescue teams and their respective control rooms, it has made its way into the police force and in places where there is little or no cellular signal such as oil rigs,” says Williams.

He gave a hostage scenario: “In the event of a hostage situation, it is important for the police to relay information in realtime to ensure no one is hurt. However the perpetrators often use their mobile phones to try and foil any rescue attempts. Should the police have the correct partnerships in place they are able to disable cellular towers in the vicinity, preventing any in or outgoing calls on a public network and allowing the police get their job done quickly and more effectively.”

By disabling any public networks in the area, police are also able to eliminate any cellular detonated bombs from going off but still stay in touch with each other he says.

The LXN 500 offers a wide range of mission critical cases and is sure to transform communications and improve safety for first responders and the people they are trying to protect.

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Kaspersky moves to Switzerland

As part of its Global Transparency Initiative, Kaspersky Lab is adapting its infrastructure to move a number of core processes from Russia to Switzerland.

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This includes customer data storage and processing for most regions, as well as software assembly, including threat detection updates. To ensure full transparency and integrity, Kaspersky Lab is arranging for this activity to be supervised by an independent third party, also based in Switzerland.

Global transparency and collaboration for an ultra-connected world

The Global Transparency Initiative, announced in October 2017, reflects Kaspersky Lab’s ongoing commitment to assuring the integrity and trustworthiness of its products. The new measures are the next steps in the development of the initiative, but they also reflect the company’s commitment to working with others to address the growing challenges of industry fragmentation and a breakdown of trust. Trust is essential in cybersecurity, and Kaspersky Lab understands that trust is not a given; it must be repeatedly earned through transparency and accountability.

The new measures comprise the move of data storage and processing for a number of regions, the relocation of software assembly and the opening of the first Transparency Center.

Relocation of customer data storage and processing

By the end of 2019, Kaspersky Lab will have established a data center in Zurich and in this facility, will store and process all information for users in Europe, North America, Singapore, Australia, Japan and South Korea, with more countries to follow. This information is shared voluntarily by users with the Kaspersky Security Network (KSN) an advanced, cloud-based system that automatically processes cyberthreat-related data.

Relocation of software assembly

Kaspersky Lab will relocate to Zurich its ‘software build conveyer’ — a set of programming tools used to assemble ready to use software out of source code. Before the end of 2018, Kaspersky Lab products and threat detection rule databases (AV databases) will start to be assembled and signed with a digital signature in Switzerland, before being distributed to the endpoints of customers worldwide. The relocation will ensure that all newly assembled software can be verified by an independent organisation and show that software builds and updates received by customers match the source code provided for audit.

Establishment of the first Transparency Center

The source code of Kaspersky Lab products and software updates will be available for review by responsible stakeholders in a dedicated Transparency Center that will also be hosted in Switzerland and is expected to open this year. This approach will further show that generation after generation of Kaspersky Lab products were built and used for one purpose only: protecting the company’s customers from cyberthreats.

Independent supervision and review

Kaspersky Lab is arranging for the data storage and processing, software assembly, and source code to be independently supervised by a third party qualified to conduct technical software reviews. Since transparency and trust are becoming universal requirements across the cybersecurity industry, Kaspersky Lab supports the creation of a new, non-profit organisation to take on this responsibility, not just for the company, but for other partners and members who wish to join.

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