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MY TAKE: Android users beware: Google says ‘potentially harmful apps’ on the rise

By Byron V. Acohido

Even if your company issues you a locked-down smartphone, embracing best security practices remains vital

Our smartphones. Where would we be without them?

Related Q&A: Diligence required of Android users

If you’re anything like me, making a phone call is the fifth or sixth reason to reach for your Android or iPhone. Whichever OS you favor, a good portion of the key components that make up your digital life — email, texting, social media, shopping, banking, hobbies, and work duties — now route through these indispensable contraptions much of the time.

Cybercriminals know this, of course, and for some time now they have been relentlessly seeking out and exploiting the fresh attack vectors spinning out of our smartphone obsession.

Don’t look now, but evidence is mounting that the mobile threats landscape is on the threshold of getting a lot more dicey.

This is because mobile services and smartphone functionalities are rapidly expanding, and, as you might expect, cyberattacks targeting mobile devices and services are also rising sharply. Here are a few key developments everyone should know about.

Malware deliveries

Upon reviewing Android usage data for all of 2018, Google identified a rise in the number of “potentially harmful apps” that were preinstalled or delivered through over-the-air updates. Threat actors have figured out how to insinuate themselves into the processes that preinstall apps on new phones and push out OS updates.

Why did they go there? Instead of having to trick users one by one, fraudsters only have to deceive the device manufacturer, or some other party involved in the supply chain, and thereby get their malicious code delivered far and wide.

In a related development, OneSpan, a Chicago-based supplier of authentication technology to 2,000 banks worldwide, reports seeing a rise in cyber attacks targeting mobile banking patrons. “Popular forms of mobile attacks, at this point in time, include screen scrapers and screen capture mechanisms, as well as the installation of rogue keyboards,” said OneSpan security evangelist Will LaSala. (more…)

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MY TAKE: ‘Cyberthreat index’ shows SMBs recognize cyber risks — struggling to deal with them

By Byron V. Acohido

Small and midsize businesses — so-called SMBs — face an acute risk of sustaining a crippling cyberattack. This appears to be even more true today than it was when I began writing about business cyber risks at USA TODAY more than a decade ago.

Related: ‘Malvertising’ threat explained

However, one small positive step is that company decision makers today, at least, don’t have their heads in the sand. A recent survey of more than 1,000 senior execs and IT professionals, called the AppRiver Cyberthreat Index for Business Survey, showed a high level of awareness among SMB officials that a cyberattack represents a potentially devastating operational risk.

That said, it’s also clear that all too many SMBs remain ill equipped to assess evolving cyber threats, much less  effectively mitigate them. According to the Cyberthreat Index, 45 percent of all SMBs and 56% of large SMBs believe they are vulnerable to “imminent” threats of cybersecurity attacks.

Interestingly, 61 percent of all SMBs and 79 percent of large SMBs believe cyberhackers have more sophisticated technology at their disposal than the SMBs’ own cybersecurity resources.

“I often see a sizable gap between perceptions and reality among many SMB leaders,” Troy Gill a senior security analyst at AppRiver told me. “They don’t know what they don’t know, and this lack of preparedness often aids and abets cybercriminals.”

What’s distinctive about this index is that AppRiver plans to refresh it on a quarterly basis, going forward, thus sharing an instructive barometer showing how SMBs are faring against cyber exposures that will only continue to steadily evolve and intensify.

I had the chance at RSA 2019 to discuss the SMB security landscape at length with Gill. You can give a listen to the entire interview at this accompanying podcast. Here are key takeaways:

Sizable need

AppRiver is in the perfect position to deliver an SMB cyber risk index. The company got its start in 2002 in Gulf Breeze, Florida, as a two-man operation that set out to help small firms filter the early waves of email spam. It grew steadily into a supplier of cloud-enabled security and productivity services, and today has some 250 employees servicing 60,000 SMBs worldwide. …more

BEST PRACTICES: Mock phishing attacks prep employees to avoid being socially engineered

By Byron V. Acohido

Defending a company network is a dynamic, multi-faceted challenge that continues to rise in complexity, year after year after year.

Related: Why diversity in training is a good thing.

Yet there is a single point of failure common to just about all network break-ins: humans.

Social engineering, especially phishing, continues to trigger the vast majority of breach attempts. Despite billions of dollars spent on the latest, greatest antivirus suites, firewalls and intrusion detection systems, enterprises continue to suffer breaches that can be traced back to the actions of a single, unsuspecting employee.

In 2015, penetration tester Oliver Münchow was asked by a Swiss bank to come up with a better way to test and educate bank employees so that passwords never left the network perimeter. He came up with a new approach to testing and training the bank’s employees – and the basis for a new company, LucySecurity.

Lucy’s’s software allows companies to easily set-up customizable mock attacks to test employees’ readiness to avoid phishing, ransomware and other attacks with a social engineering component. I had the chance at RSA 2019 to sit down with Lucy CEO Colin Bastable, to discuss the wider context. You can listen to the full interview via the accompanying podcast. Here are key takeaways: …more

NEW TECH: Alcide introduces a “microservices firewall” as a dynamic ‘IaaS’ market takes shape

By Byron V. Acohido

As a tech reporter at USA TODAY, I wrote stories about how Google fractured Microsoft’s Office monopoly, and then how Google clawed ahead of Apple to dominate the global smartphone market.

Related: A path to fruition of ‘SecOps’

And now for Act 3, Google has thrown down the gauntlet at Amazon, challenging the dominant position of Amazon Web Services in the fast-emerging cloud infrastructure global market.

I recently sat down with Gadi Naor, CTO and co-founder of Alcide, to learn more about the “microservices firewall” this Tel Aviv-based security start-up is pioneering. However, in diving into what Alcide is up to, Gadi and I segued into a stimulating discussion about this latest clash of tech titans. Here are key takeaways:

Google’s Kubernetes play

First some context. Just about every large enterprise today relies on software written by far-flung  third-party developers, who specialize in creating modular “microservices” that can get mixed and matched and reused inside of software “containers.” This is how companies have begun to  scale the delivery of cool new digital services — at high velocity.

The legacy ‘on-premises’ data centers enterprises installed 10 to 20 years ago are inadequate to  support this new approach. Thus, digital infrastructure is being shifted to “serverless” cloud computing services, with AWS blazing the trail and Microsoft Azure and Google Cloud in hot pursuit.

Microservices and containers have been around for a long while, to be sure. Google, for instance, has long made use of the equivalent of microservices and containers, internally, to scale the development and deployment of the leading-edge software it uses to run its businesses. …more

BEST PRACTICES: The case for ‘adaptive MFA’ in our perimeter-less digital environment

By Byron V. Acohido

One of the catch phrases I overheard at RSA 2019 that jumped out at me was this: “The internet is the new corporate network.”

Related: ‘Machine identities’ now readily available in the Dark Net

Think about how far we’ve come since 1999, when the Y2K scare alarmed many, until today, with hybrid cloud networks the norm. There’s no question the benefits of accelerating digital transformation are astounding.

Yet the flip side is that legacy security approaches never envisioned perimeter-less computing. The result, not surprisingly, has been a demonstrative lag in transitioning to security systems that strike the right balance between protection and productivity.

Take authentication, for example. Threat actors are taking great advantage of the lag in upgrading authentication. The good news is that innovation to close the gap is taking place. Tel Aviv-based security vendor Silverfort is playing in this space, and has found good success pioneering a new approach for securing authentication in the perimeterless world.

Founded in 2016 by cryptography experts from the Israeli Intelligence Corps’ elite 8200 cyber unit, Silverfort is backed by leading investors in cybersecurity technologies.

I had the chance to catch up with Dana Tamir, Silverfort’s vice president of market strategy, at RSA 2019. For a full drill down of the interview, please listen to the accompanying podcast. Here are the key takeaways:

Eroding effectiveness

Compromised credentials continue to be the cause of many of today’s data breaches. The use of multi-factor authentication, or MFA, can help protect credentials, but even those solutions have lost much of their effectiveness. The problem is that most MFA solutions are designed for specific systems, rather than today’s more dynamic environments. Traditional MFA may have hit its limitations due to dissolving perimeters.

In the past, Tamir explained, you had a solid perimeter around your network, with one entry point and you added the MFA to that single entry for the extra layer of protection. But that single-entry perimeter doesn’t exist today. We don’t even have a real perimeter anymore. …more

GUEST ESSAY: How stealth, persistence allowed Wipro attacker to plunder supply chain

By Chris Gerritz

The recent network breach of Wipro, a prominent outsourcing company based in India, serves as a stunning reminder that digital transformation cuts two ways.

Our rising dependence on business systems that leverage cloud services and the gig economy to accomplish high-velocity innovation has led to a rise in productivity. However, the flip side is that we’ve also created fresh attack vectors at a rapid rate – exposures that are not being adequately addressed.

Related: Marriott suffers massive breach

We now know, thanks to reporting from cybersecurity blogger Brian Krebs, that the Wipro hack was a multi-month intrusion and likely the work of a nation-state backed threat actor. What’s more, the attackers reportedly were able to use Wipro as a jumping off point to infiltrate the networks of at least a dozen of Wipro’s customers.

Wipro issued a media statement, via its Economic Times division, acknowledging “potentially abnormal activity in a few employee accounts on our network due to an advanced phishing campaign . . . Upon learning of the incident, we promptly began an investigation, identified the affected users and took remedial steps to contain and mitigate any potential impact.”

Wipro did not provide many additional details. However, one has to wonder whether, beyond its customers, …more

Q&A: Here’s why Android users must remain vigilant about malicious apps, more so than ever

By Byron V. Acohido

Android users – and I’m one – are well-advised to be constantly vigilant about the types of cyberthreats directed, at any given time, at the world’s most popular mobile device operating system.

Related: Vanquishing BYOD risks

Attacks won’t relent anytime soon, and awareness will help you avoid becoming a victim. It’s well worth it to stay abreast of news about defensive actions Google is forced to take to protect Android users. Just recently, for instance, the search giant removed 50 malicious apps, installed 30 million times, from the official Google Play Store, including fitness, photo-editing, and gaming apps.

And earlier this year, three popular “selfie beauty apps”– Pro Selfie Beauty Camera, Selfie Beauty Camera Pro and Pretty Beauty Camera 2019 – accessible in Google Play Store were revealed to actually be tools to spread adware and spyware. Each app had at least 500,000 installs, with Pretty Beauty Camera 2019 logging over 1 million installs, mainly by Android users in India.

Instructive details about both of these malicious campaigns come from malware analysts working on apklab.io, which officially launched in February. Apklab.io is Avast’s mobile threat intelligence platform designed to share intelligence gathered by analyzing samples collected from 145 million Android mobile devices in use worldwide.

I had the chance to sit down with Nikolaos Chrysaidos (pictured), head of mobile threat intelligence and security at Avast, to drill down on the wider context of the helpful findings apklabl.io has begun delivering. Here are excerpts of our discussion, edited for clarity and length:

Acohido: What was distinctive about the 50 malicious Android apps your analysts recently discovered?

Chrysaidos: The installations ranged from 5,000 to 5 million installs, and included adware that persistently displayed full screen ads, and in some cases, tried to convince the user to install further apps. The adware applications were linked together by the use of third-party Android libraries, which bypass the background service restrictions present in newer Android versions.

The bypassing itself is not explicitly forbidden on Play Store. However, our analysts were able to detect it because apps using these libraries waste the user’s battery and make the device slower. In this instance, the libraries kept displaying more and more ads, which does violate the Google Play Store rules. …more

NEW TECH: DataLocker extends products, services to encrypt data on portable storage devices

By Byron V. Acohido

No matter how reliant we ultimately become on cloud storage and streaming media, it’s hard to image consumers ever fully abandoning removable storage devices.

There’s just something about putting your own two hands on a physical device, whether it’s magnetic tape, or a floppy disk, or a CD. Today, it’s more likely to be an external drive, a thumb drive or a flash memory card.

Related: Marriott reports huge data breach

Ever thought about encrypting the data held on a portable storage device? Jay Kim, co-founder and CEO DataLocker, did.

Launched as a one-man operation in 2007, DataLocker has grown into a leading manufacturer of encrypted external drives, thumb drives, flash drives and self-encrypting, recordable CDs and DVDs.

DataLocker today has 40 employees and last year moved into a larger facility in Overland Park, Kansas, with room to grow. I had the chance at RSA 2019 to visit with Shauna Park, channel manager at DataLocker, to discuss what’s new in  the encrypted portable drive space. For a full drill down please listen to the accompanying podcast. Key takeaways:

Protected backup

Even with increased adoption of cloud computing, external storage devices, like USB thumb drives and external hard drives, still have a major role in organizations of all sizes. These drives still serve a purpose, such as transporting data from one computer to another, accessing presentations outside of the office, or as an additional backup solution. …more

NEW TECH: SlashNext dynamically inspects web page contents to detect latest phishing attacks

By Byron V. Acohido

Humans are fallible. Cyber criminals get this.

Human fallibility is the reason social engineering has proven to be so effective – and why phishing persists. Consider these metrics from messaging security firm Proofpoint:

•Email-based corporate credential phishing attacks quadrupled in Q3 2018 vs. the previous quarter.

•Web-based social engineering attacks jumped 233% vs. the previous quarter.

•99% of the most highly targeted email addresses in the quarter didn’t rank as such in the previous report, suggesting that attackers are constantly shifting targets.

What’s more, a study by antivirus vendor Webroot informs that more than 46,000 new phishing sites go live each day, with most disappearing in a few hours. And a recent survey conducted by SlashNext, a Pleasanton, CA-based supplier of advanced antiphishing systems, revealed that 95% of IT professionals underestimate phishing attack risks. This holds true even though nearly half the respondents reported their organizations experience 50 or more phishing attacks per month, with 14% experiencing 500 phishing attacks per month.

It’s not as if companies and cybersecurity vendors have been sitting on their hands. Vast resources have been directed at filtering emails – the traditional delivery vehicle for phishing campaigns – and at identifying and blacklisting webpages that serve as landing pages and payload delivery venues.

So quite naturally, cyber criminals have shifted their attack strategies. They are pursuing fresh vectors and honing innovative payload delivery tactics. The bad guys are taking full advantage of the fact that many companies continue to rely on legacy defenses geared to stop tactics elite phishing rings are no longer using.

I recently had an eye-opening discussion about this with Jan Liband, SlashNext’s chief marketing officer. Here are the key takeaways from that interview:

Unguarded vectors

By now, most mid-sized and large enterprises have a secure email gateway that’s highly effective at filtering out 80%-95% of phishing emails. So phishers have moved on to comparatively unguarded vectors: social media channels, SMS (text), ads, pop-ups, chat apps, IM, malvertising and rogue browser extensions, Liband told me.

Platforms like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram are wide open for intelligence gathering. With knowledge of our friends, families and preferences, phishers are able to craft postings and messages targeting groups of victims, or specific individuals. The end game is to funnel victims to landing pages. …more

Q&A: The drivers behind the stark rise — and security implications — of ‘memory attacks’

By Byron V. Acohido

A distinctive class of hacking is rising to the fore and is being leveraged by threat actors to carry out deep, highly resilient intrusions of well-defended company networks.

Related: Memory hacking becomes a go-to tactic

These attacks are referred to in the security community as “fileless attacks” or “memory attacks.” The latter conveys a more precise picture: memory hacking refers to a broad set of practices, which can include fileless attacks, that constitute this go-deep form of network break-ins.

I had the chance at RSA 2019 to discuss memory hacking with Willy Leichter, vice president of marketing, and Shauntinez Jakab, director of product marketing, at Virsec, a San Jose-based supplier of advanced application security and memory protection technologies.

They walked me through how threat actors are cleverly slipping snippets of malicious code past perimeter defenses and then executing their payloads  – undetected while applications are live, running in process memory.

For a long time, memory hacking was the exclusive province of nation-state backed operatives. But over the past couple of years, memory attacks have come into regular use by common cybercriminals. Garden-variety threat actors are now leveraging memory hacking tools and techniques to gain footholds, move laterally and achieve persistence deep inside well-defended networks.

For a comprehensive drill down, please view the accompanying YouTube video of my full interview with Leichter and Jakab at RSA 2019’s broadcast alley. Here are excerpts, edited for clarity and length:

LW: Can you frame this new class of hacking? …more