Another Phish in the Sea

The rise in scamming campaigns has become a focal issue for the InfoSec world in recent years. More and more attacks have been targeting everyone from large corporates, by using specific techniques “tailored” for the target, to simple users, by spreading it to anyone available. The platforms from which the malware is spread vary from standard email messages and social networks to more complicated SMS scams.

We will attempt to describe herein the basic steps to take to determine if a suspicious email, text message or Facebook post is actually malicious – in order to stay safe from falling victim, while still being able to keep up with the latest 9GAG spam.

Source Identity

When receiving a new email or text message, check who the sender is. If the message comes from an unknown person – a source you are not expecting contact from or a strange looking email name – do not open it! Browsing social networks like Twitter can also lead you to malicious actors that will try to lure innocents and curious people.

One such example is a reservation email scam that “accidentally” sends a room reservation email to you instead of the hotel manager. The email has an attachment, purportedly containing a list of special requirements for the guests, which turns out to be a malicious element that downloads additional executable malware.

Another Phish in the Sea_1

Content

We have all heard the joke about receiving a scam email from a Nigerian prince, where the victim is asked to provide their bank account details in order to receive a large sum of money, but reality is not so far off. Attackers use sophisticated techniques to capture your attention, be it by intimidation, exploiting the latest trending topic or informing you of a transaction.

The recent iCloud hacking leak scandal has been a hot topic on the Internet, and the phishing attacks soon followed. The tweet, which tries to grab your attention by sharing a link to the alleged nude video of Jennifer Laurence, redirects visitors to a download page for a video converter. Of course, the downloaded file turned out to be adware, not to mention the fact that it forces its victims to share the malicious site on their Facebook profiles.

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Grammar

I believe that the easiest way to observe that something about a message of any kind is wrong is bad grammar. Foreign scammers who are not fluent in target audience languages encounter a barrier that they try to bypass by using online translators or just trying their luck at translating the message on their own. A poorly written letter from a formal organization or a shifty looking website should definitely raise a red flag.

Another Phish in the Sea_3

Links

Apart from the content itself, the message might also contain links. The URL that appears in the text might seem legitimate, but it is important to get a closer look at the domain name, in addition to ‘hovering’ over the link with a mouse to see if the actual web address is compatible with the one presented to you (for other fake-link-finding techniques, see our previous post).

Let’s say you received an email from the human resources department in your company – Sounds like a legitimate item to open. But what if it contains a link to download CryptoWall ransomware? In this particular situation, it is very difficult to distinguish whether this is phishing scam, but by taking a closer look at the shared link, you can notice if it redirects you to a gaming website and forces you to download a suspicious ZIP file that contains the malware.

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Attachments

Some scammers direct you to open files attached to their message. They might appear legitimate because they are Word or ZIP files, but they end up being disguised malware. Be aware of attachments you are not expecting to receive, especially executable files like .EXE, .PIF, .JAR, .BAT and .REG.

Curiosity killed the cat, and apparently also some people’s computers. An innocent-looking email suggesting that you view someone’s new photo contains an attachment called photo.zip, which unfortunately does not contain an attractive person’s selfie, but rather a Zbot Trojan.

And just like the old Japanese saying goes “Attack a man with a phish and you’ll scam him for a day; Teach a man to phish and you keep him safe for a lifetime.”

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MacroExp – a Combined Social Engineering and Exploit Attack

Combining an executable, usually malicious file with a standard Word or Excel file, unbeknownst to the user, has always been an aspiration for cyber-criminals. With such an asset, they could make the victim unwittingly install the malware, without raising his suspicions or AV vendor alerts when running an executable file. For this reason, requests for such services are frequently posted on underground forums, as cyber criminals search for easy ways to spread their malware files. Occasionally, this demand meets a supply, usually highly priced due to the opportunities it provides.

On this occasion, while monitoring Russian underground forums, we came across an advertisement for an exploit that targets Microsoft Office Word via Visual Basic Scripting for Applications feature. The exploit, referred to as MacroExp v 1.0.5 by the seller, first appeared for sale two days ago (on August 11), for $1,000. The price includes the exploit builder, as well as further updates and technical support.

According to the description on the forum, the exploit binds an executable file with a .doc file, making the .exe invisible to the victim. It is compatible with all Microsoft Office Word versions (2000-2013), as well as Windows OS x86 and x64. Since the presence of the executable file is invisible, it is not detected by AV and IPS systems, or firewalls.

The disadvantage of the method, as described by the seller, is the pop-up of a macro-enabling alert required for the actual running of the executable file. He suggests overcoming this obstacle by using social engineering methods.

A week ago, CISCO reported this attack vector, detected by its researchers, in the wild. It was used in spear-phishing attacks in such industries as banking, oil, television and jewelry. The starting point involved sending a Word file written specifically for the recipient. When clicking on the document, a macro alert popped up. Once enabled, it led to the download of an executable malicious file and launched it on the victim’s computer.

It is difficult to say if the same perpetrators are behind the both attacks, or it is just the same vector that is used in the both cases. On the one hand, one of the CnC domains discovered by CISCO was registered seven years ago, which may indicate that the threat actor has been in operation since at least 2007. On the other hand, the seller connected himself to the CISCO report, claiming that the described attack is his project. Moreover, he mentioned that more than 20 clients were already using the exploit, and that this was not the first version since its release. The matter will become clearer as more cases are identified in the wild, combined with more feedback from buyers on the forum.

Screenshots of the exploit in action uploaded by the sellerScreenshots of the exploit in action uploaded by the sellerScreenshots of the exploit in action uploaded by the seller

#OpSaveGaza Campaign – Insights from the Recent Anti-Israel Cyber Operation

The #OpSaveGaza Campaign was officially launched on July 11, 2014, as a counter-reaction to operation “Protective Edge”. This is the third military operation against Hamas since the end of December 2008, when Israel waged operation “Cast Lead”, followed by operation “Pillar of Defense” in November 2012.

These military operations were accompanied by cyber campaigns emanating from pro-Palestinian hacker groups around the world. #OpSaveGaza was not the only recent cyber campaign against Israel, but it is the most organized, diverse and focused. During this campaign, hacker groups from Malaysia and Indonesia in the East to Tunisia and Morocco in the West have been participating in cyber attacks against Israel.

The Use of Social Networks

Hacktivist groups recruit large masses for their operations by means of social networks. Muslim hacker groups use mostly Facebook and Twitter to upload target lists, incite others to take part in cyberattacks and share attack tools.

The #OpSaveGaza campaign was planned and organized using these two social media platforms. The organizers of the campaign succeeded in recruiting tens of thousands of supporters to their anti-Israel ideology.

OpSaveGaza - Facebook Event

Attack Vectors

When examining the types of attacks perpetrated against Israeli cyber space, it appears that this campaign has been the most diverse in terms of attack vectors. It not only includes simple DDoS, defacement and data leakage attacks, but also phishing (even spear-phishing based on leaked databases), SMS spoofing and satellite hijacking (part of the Hamas psychological warfare), in addition to high-volume/high-frequency DDoS attacks.

Hackers targeting Israeli ISPs
Hackers targeting Israeli ISPs

Furthermore, these attacks have been much more focused as the attackers attempt to deface and knock offline governmental websites, defense contractors, banks and energy companies. Simultaneously, a large number of small and private websites were defaced (over 2,500) and several databases were leaked online.

Pro-Palestinian hackers defacing Israeli websites
Pro-Palestinian hackers defacing Israeli websites

Motivation and the Involvement of other Threat Actors

The motivation for waging cyberattacks against Israel during a military operation is clear. This is not the first time that a physical conflict has had implications on the cyber sphere. However, we believe that other factors are contributing to the cyber campaign. In July 2014, the Muslim world observed the month of Ramadan, a holy month in Muslim tradition. There are two significant dates in this month – “Laylat al-Qadr” (the Night of Destiny), the night the first verses of the Quran were revealed to the Prophet Muhammad; and “Quds Day” (Jerusalem Day), an annual event held on the last Friday of Ramadan and mentioned specifically by Iran and Hezbollah. We identified an increase in the number of attacks, as well as their quality, surrounding these dates.

Last year, several days before “Quds Day” a hacker group named Qods Freedom, suspected to be Iranian, launched a massive cyber operation against Israeli websites. In other words, we believe that not only hacktivist elements participated in this campaign but also cyber terrorism units and perhaps even state-sponsored groups from the Middle East.

The Islamic Cyber Resistance (ICR) leaking an internal database
The Islamic Cyber Resistance (ICR) leaking an internal database

To summarize, this campaign was far better organized than the recent cyber operations we experienced in 2009 and 2012 alongside physical conflicts with Hamas. We have seen changes in several aspects:

  • Improvement in attack tools and technical capabilities
  • Information-sharing between the groups (targets, attack tools, tutorials)
  • The involvement of hacker groups from Indonesia in the East and Morocco in the West.
  • Possible involvement of cyber terrorism groups
  • Well-managed psychological warfare and media campaign by the participating groups

The scope and manner in which this campaign was conducted shows improved capabilities of the perpetrators, which is in-line with Assaf Keren’s assessment of the evolution of hacktivist capabilities.

“Mega Breach” – So What?

We’ve all heard that the software company Adobe (maker of Flash, Acrobat and many more) was hacked and details of 150+ million users were stolen and then circulated on Russian Darknet forums.

yourdata

So you ask yourself – so what?  How does this affect me and my organization? Do I even have an Adobe account?

Well, thechances are that your organization is using Adobe products and many have either opened an account when downloading a sample product or had one created for them by their procurement division when purchasing an Adobe license for them to use (usually without their knowledge).

First of all, let’s review what was actually stolen – a list containing (per each user) a serial number (not interesting), the user’s email (very interesting), an encrypted password (which is easy to break if you know how) and the retrieval question.

So the main risk here appears to be that a hacker will break into the account (by guessing or cracking the password), steal the credit card details and use them. Right?

Well, this is certainly possible (and happens more often than most of us think), but the real risk is email address exposure.

A large percentage of all intrusion into large organizations occur through the use of “spear-phishing”, meaning a targeted email sent to a person within the organization.  

The employee receives a credible-looking email, appearing to be sent from a business partner, conference organizer etc.

The email contains an attachment (most likely a PDF file, Excel sheet or Word doc) or a link.

Opening/clicking the link runs a malicious code that secretly installs itself, and from that moment forth, the network is open to the intruder.

Creating a spear-phishing email is easy. What was difficult until now was obtaining corporate email addresses (previously, hackers had to use social engineering to obtain these). No more! Literally millions of these addresses are now visible to all, making employees whose details have been leaked easy targets. So what needs to be done (because the breach and subsequent exposure can’t be undone)? Here are our actionable recommendations:

  • Cancel the credit card which was used to make the purchase on the site
  • Change the password of users of the Adobe site
  • Conduct a full scan of the computers for malicious files
  • Brief all employees that have leaked Adobe accounts/emails about this breach and the potential spear-phishing attempts that can follow it, and avoid opening any attachments from suspicious and unknown email addresses.

As the (even more recent) Target breach proves, we have not seen the last of these “mega information breaches”, so whenever such an incident is made public, we all need to ask ourselves – does this affect me? And, if so – what do I need to do? Remember, cyber security is not “the IT department’s problem”. We are all an important part of the solution.