4 ways CSOs can protect users from Covid-19-targeted attacks

4 ways CSOs can protect users from Covid-19-targeted attacks

Remote users in particular are vulnerable to coronavirus-themed phishing attempts, malicious domains and repurposed malware

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Attackers are using this time of crisis to go after victims with targeted campaigns. The biggest threats are phishing attacks related to Covid-19. Attackers are also setting up Covid-19-related domain names and enticing people to click on them.

Anomali recently released a report that identified at least 15 distinct pandemic-related campaigns associated with 11 threat actors distributing 39 different malware families and employing 80 MITRE ATT&CK techniques.

In January, the attacks typically were malicious emails that appeared to be notifications from welfare providers and public health sectors. Meanwhile in February, the attacks shifted to include remote access trojans (RATS).

CheckPoint reported in March an increase of fraudulent Covid-19-themed domains. In mid-March, researchers noted that attackers were mimicking the Johns Hopkins coronavirus map.

Recently, Microsoft noted several themed attack trends on the networks that it monitors, claiming that every country is seeing at least one pandemic-themed threat with China, the US and Russia the most targeted.

In addition, Trickbot and Emotet malware are re-bundling and rebranding themselves to take advantage of the threats through reusing various lures, with roughly 60,000 emails including Covid-19-related malicious attachments or malicious URLs.

Attackers are also impersonating official organisations to wiggle into user inboxes, while SmartScreen tracked more than 18,000 malicious Covid-19 themed URLs and IP addresses.

Microsoft Office 365 Advanced Threat Protection (ATP) prevented a big phishing attack that intended to use a fictitious Office 365 sign-in page to harvest credentials. Furthermore, attackers have targeted health care businesses, prompting Microsoft to make its AccountGuard threat notification service available at no cost to healthcare providers and human rights and humanitarian organisations.

Phishlabs reported that cyber criminals are using Covid-19 related voicemail notifications to trick people to log in and steal credentials. Trustwave reported that Covid-19-themed business email compromise (BEC) scams are increasing. The UK's National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) indicates that attackers also target remote access and home user entry points.

Protecting remote employees from Covid-related attacks

What actions can CSOs take to ensure that employees and the network won’t be targeted? Plenty:

Protect endpoints: Enable Microsoft Defender ATP, which is available with a Windows 10 E5 license or Microsoft 365 Enterprise licence, or a third-party endpoint protection tool. This includes home machines.

Enable multi-factor authentication (MFA) for online Exchange and email: Microsoft recently pushed off disabling basic authentication as a result of the Covid-19 impact on organisations, a decision I disagree with. Attackers go after POP, IMAP and basic authentication on Office 365 targets. They will use password spray attacks and password reuse to break into the network.

This is why CSOs should disable basic or legacy authentication and support modern authentication. Also, security leaders must use conditional access policies to block older vulnerable authentication methods.

Having MFA on email ensures that attackers can’t use the easy attacks on an organisation. CSOs can set a rule that anyone logging in from the static IP addresses of the office locations are not prompted by MFA prompts, ensuring that this protection is focused on remote entry points that attackers target the most. Also, security leaders must consider adding geographic log in limitations via conditional access rules to better protect your network as well.

Have email filtering or hygiene between internal mailboxes and the outside world: Whether it’s Office ATP or another filtering service, ensure that the business is protecting what is increasingly a huge targeted attack surface: phishing attacks in the inbox.

Reach out to other resources to learn and share insights: A group of security researchers have banded together to share risks and threats under the banner of the Covid-19 Cyber Threat Coalition. Review its weekly recap or sign up for its Slack channel to share information and resources.

The coalition has provided a master listing of malicious domains and URLs that CSOs can use in network firewall rules.

Credit: Susan Bradley

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