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GUEST ESSAY: What everyone should know about the pros and cons of online fingerprinting

By Ebbe Kernel

When it was first introduced, device fingerprinting – or online fingerprinting in general – was meant to create a safer, more responsible internet. The idea was that by fingerprinting devices used to connect to the internet we could achieve better accountability.

Related: Why Satya Nadella calls for regulation of facial recognition systems

The concept itself is still very much relevant today. Fingerprinting is considered a necessary practice to fight challenges such as fake accounts and the misuse of internet services. However, online fingerprinting is also being used to track users. Now, fingerprinting is a tool in the marketer’s toolbox. Has it failed in its initial mission?

If you are not familiar with the concept of online fingerprinting, the principles behind it are very simple. More about it can be found on Smartproxy. Whenever you access a web server, details about your IP address, your browser information, your device information, and other information are recorded in logs. Logged online activities are easier to trace so service providers can perform the necessary security check if one is required.

Fingerprinting makes it difficult for irresponsible parties to create fake accounts or social media pages. Service providers can recognize signs of fake accounts from similarities in their fingerprints, allowing further action to be taken against those accounts. In the era of bots and fake news, fingerprinting is supposed to work seamlessly.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) recently revealed just how many details are leaked and stored when you access a web server. The number

of details that are recorded is simply staggering, with information such as your approximate location, the referrer site, and whether you have Do Not Track activated being leaked.

MY TAKE: COVID-19’s silver lining could turn out to be more rapid, wide adoption of cyber hygiene

By Byron V. Acohido

Long before COVID-19, some notable behind-the-scenes forces were in motion to elevate cybersecurity to a much higher level.

Related: How the Middle East has advanced mobile security regulations

Over the past couple of decades, meaningful initiatives to improve online privacy and security, for both companies and consumers, incrementally gained traction in the tech sector and among key regulatory agencies across Europe, the Middle East and North America. These developments would have, over the next decade or so, steadily and materially reduced society’s general exposure to cybercrime and online privacy abuses.

Then COVID-19 came along and obliterated societal norms and standard business practices. A sweeping overhaul of the status quo – foreshadowed by the sudden and acute shift to a predominantly work-from-home workforce – lies ahead.

One thing is certain, as this global reset plays out, cyber criminals will seize upon fresh opportunities to breach company and home networks, and to steal, defraud and disrupt, which they’ve already commenced doing.

Yet there are a few threads of a silver lining I’d like to point out. It is possible, if not probable, that we are about to witness an accelerated rate of adoption of cyber hygiene best practices, as well as more intensive use of leading-edge security tools and services. And this positive upswing could be reinforced by stricter adherence to, not just the letter, but the spirit of data security laws already on the books in several nations.

There is an urgency in the air to do the right thing. Several key variables happen to be tilting in an advantageous direction. Here’s a primer about how cyber hygiene best practices – and supporting security tools and services – could gain significant steam in the months ahead, thanks to COVID-19.

MY TAKE: Why COVID-19 ‘digital distancing’ is every bit as vital as ‘social distancing’

By Byron V. Acohido

As coronavirus-themed cyber attacks ramp up, consumers and companies must practice digital distancing to keep themselves protected.

Related: Coronavirus scams leverage email

As we get deeper into dealing with the coronavirus outbreak, the need for authorities and experts to communicate reliably and effectively with each other, as well as to the general public, is vital.

That, of course, presents the perfect environment for cybercrime that pivots off social engineering. Sadly, coronavirus phishing and ransomware hacks already are in high gear.

“There’s a special ring of hell reserved for those who take advantage of a public health crisis to make money,” says Adam Levin, founder and chairman of CyberScout, a Scottsdale, AZ-based  supplier of identity and data theft recovery services. I agree wholeheartedly with Levin on this, as I imagine most folks would.

Social engineering invariably is the first step in cyber attacks ranging from phishing and ransomware to business email compromise (BEC) scams and advanced persistent threat (APT) hacks.

“While this kind of fraud is the new normal, often fine-tuned for specific holidays and big news stories, a global health disaster creates an even more fertile field than usual for fraudsters,” Levin observes.

SHARED INTEL: New book on cyber warfare foreshadows attacks on elections, remote workers

By Byron V. Acohido

It’s difficult to convey the scope and scale of cyber attacks that take place on a daily basis, much less connect the dots between them.

Related: The Golden Age of cyber spying

A new book by Dr. Chase Cunningham —  Cyber Warfare – Truth, Tactics, and Strategies —   accomplishes this in a compelling, accessible way. Cunningham has the boots-on-the-ground experience and storytelling chops to pull this off. As a  cybersecurity principal analyst at Forrester,  he advises enterprise clients on how to stay in front of the latest iterations of cyber attacks coming at them from all quarters.

Cunningham’s 19 years as a US Navy chief spent in cyber forensic and cyber analytic operations included manning security controls at the NSA, CIA and FBI. He holds a PhD and MS in computer science from Colorado Technical University and a BS from American Military University focused on counter-terrorism operations in cyberspace.

Cunningham sets the table in Cyber Warfare by relating detailed anecdotes that together paint the bigger picture. Learning about how hackers were able to intercept drone feed video from CIA observation drones during the war in Iraq, for instance, tells us a lot about how tenuous sophisticated surveillance technology really can be, out in the Internet wild.

And Cunningham delves into some fascinating, informative nuance about industrial systems attacks in the wake of Stuxnet. He also adds historical and forward-looking context to the theft and criminal deployment of the Eternal Blue hacking tools, which were stolen from the NSA, and which have been used to cause so much havoc, vis-à-vis WannaCry and NotPetya. What’s more, he comprehensively lays out why ransomware and deep fake campaigns are likely to endure, posing a big threat to organizations in all sectors for the foreseeable future.

SHARED INTEL: How attacks on web, mobile apps are being fueled by rising API vulnerabilities

By Byron V. Acohido

Application programming interface. API. It’s the glue holding digital transformation together.

Related: A primer on ‘credential stuffing’

APIs are the conduits for moving data to-and-fro in our digitally transformed world. APIs are literally everywhere in the digital landscape, and more are being created every minute. APIs connect the coding that enables the creation and implementation of new applications.

However, APIs also manifest as a wide open, steadily expanding attack vector. Many organizations caught up in the frenzy of digital transformation don’t fully appreciate the gaping exposures APIs have come to represent.

I had the chance to discuss this with Matt Keil, director of product marketing at Cequence Security, a Sunnyvale, Calif.-based application security vendor that’s in the thick of helping businesses mitigate web application exposures. We spoke at RSA 2020. For a full drill down, please give the accompanying podcast a listen. Here are key takeaways:

Romance scams

Like many modern companies, Zoosk, the popular San Francisco-based dating site, rests on infrastructure that’s predominantly cloud-based. Zoosk’s core service is delivered via a mobile app that has 20 different registration and/or login pages – all are API driven.

Thus, it was well worth it for a hacking group to study Zoosk’s IT stack to reconnoiter its weak points.  Here’s how Keil breaks down what happened:

BEST PRACTICES: Mock attacks help local agencies, schools prepare for targeted cyber scams

By Byron V. Acohido

Cyber criminals who specialize in plundering local governments and school districts are in their heyday.

Related: How ransomware became a scourge

Ransomware attacks and email fraud have spiked to record levels across the U.S. in each of the past three years, and a disproportionate number of the hardest hit organizations were local public agencies.

Lucy Security, a security training company based in Zug, Switzerland that works with many smaller public entities, has been in the thick of this onslaught. The company’s software is used to run public servants and corporate employees through mock cyberattack training sessions. There’s an obvious reason smaller public entities have become a favorite target of cybercriminals: most are run on shoestring budgets and corners tend to get cut in IT security, along with everything else operationally.

I had a chance to discuss this with Lucy Security Inc. CEO Colin Bastable at RSA 2020. Another factor I never thought about, until meeting with Bastable, is that public servants typically possess a can-do work ethic. This can make them particularly susceptible to social engineering trickery, the trigger for online extortion and fraud campaigns, Bastable told me.

For a drill down on my full interview with Bastable, give the accompanying podcast a listen. Here are the key takeaways:

Simple, lucrative fraud

What happened in the state of Texas earlier last January is a microcosm of intensifying pressure all local agencies face from motivated hackers and scammers.

Fraudsters did enough online intelligence gathering on the Manor Independent School District, in Manor, Texas, to figure out which vendors were in line to receive large bank transfers as part of the school district spending the proceeds of a large school bond. They also studied the employees who handled the transactions.

SHARED INTEL: Bogus Coronavirus email alerts underscore risk posed by weaponized email

By Byron V. Acohido

It comes as no surprise that top cyber crime rings immediately pounced on the Coronavirus outbreak to spread a potent strain of malware via malicious email and web links.

Related: Credential stuffing fuels cyber fraud

IBM X-Force researchers shared details about how emails aimed at Japanese-speaking individuals have been widely dispersed purporting to share advice on infection-prevention measures for the disease. One of the waves of weaponized emails actually is designed to spread a digital virus: the notorious Emotet banking Trojan designed to steal sensitive information.

One cybersecurity company, Tel Aviv-based Votiro, is taking a different approach to strengthen protection against such weaponized documents, using technology that disarms files before they are delivered to the recipient’s inbox.   I had the chance to visit with Votiro CEO and founder Aviv Grafi at RSA 2020. For a full drill down give a listen to the accompanying podcast. Here are a few key takeaways:

Filtering falls short

As a former penetration tester who specialized in testing employees aptitude for resisting email lures, Grafi saw time-and-again how – and why – attackers leverage timely events, such as celebrity deaths, holidays or tax deadlines to lure email recipients to click on corrupted Word docs or PDF attachments.

Votiro introduced their ‘Disarmer’ technology, called CDR, for “content, disarm and reconstruction” to the U.S. market in 2019. CDR takes a prevention, instead of detection, approach to disarming weaponized email and deterring document-delivered malware.