Phishing is a common issue that businesses of all kinds can experience, whether they are a small startup or a large corporation. Hackers are always trying to extol information from your employees, including account credentials, remote access to your systems, and in some cases, funds directly from a bank account. It’s up to you to teach them how to identify and respond to phishing attacks.
Coleman Technologies Blog
You know the old phrase, “A chain is no stronger than its weakest link?”
It’s a pretty good idiom, but when it comes to cybersecurity, I think the idea is worth revisiting. It’s not that you aren’t as strong as your weakest link, or in terms of cybersecurity, it’s not that you aren’t as secure as your most vulnerable endpoint…
You are less secure the more users you have.
Phishing is a remarkably dangerous tactic used by hackers to take advantage of those who might not be quite as in-the-know about security practices. Phishing attacks can be carried out against both businesses and individuals alike, and due to the many different forms these attacks can take—including email, text message, and even fraudulent websites—they can be quite problematic.
Phishing has become one of the great problems for technology users in the 21st century. The ironic part of the whole thing is that it has taken a good old-fashioned social engineering scam to make today’s robust information systems less secure. Phishing is the predominant way that hackers and scammers gain access to the systems they target. Today, we’re going to spell out what to train your employees on to help them identify phishing attacks.
Tip of the Week: How to Spot Various Forms of Phishing
It doesn’t take much to get us to start ranting about the dangers of phishing, and it’s a topic that we won’t stop talking about for some time. Unfortunately, phishing comes in enough forms that it isn’t always so simple to spot. For this week’s tip, we just wanted to run through the different formats phishing can take, focusing on how to identify each type.
It’s the holiday season, and you know what that means: lots of gift-giving and online shopping. Regardless of what you and your family celebrate this holiday season, you should be prepared to handle the influx of phishing attacks which always surface around this time every year, including both the usual methods and the more sophisticated ones.
These Link Checking Tools Might Save Your Bacon
We often talk about scams and cyberthreats, and lately our advice for dealing with a potential phishing threat is to simply avoid it altogether.
Phishing Gets Around Normal Cybersecurity Protection
How often do you get emails from individuals claiming to be working with a business who wants to do business with yours or sell you a product, completely unsolicited and even perhaps a bit suspicious? These types of messages can often land small businesses in hot water, as it only takes one phishing email landing in the wrong inbox at the wrong time to put your business in jeopardy.
You Even Need To Worry About Phishing In Your Text Messages
What is Smishing?
When cybercriminals use phishing scams, they aren’t using advanced technologies to crack their target’s digital defenses. Instead, they hack users by exploiting the assumptions, bad habits, and ignorance of the target to get them to release sensitive information.
Attackers circumvent cybersecurity measures by sending messages purporting to be from an authority figure or trusted contact, thereby convincing the user to undermine their protection. A notorious example of phishing is the email from the persecuted royal family, known as the "Nigerian Prince scam."
How Ransomware Works
Imagine for a second the surprise you would have if you tried to log into your computer and you were presented with a message telling you that your files have been encrypted and that you need to pay in Bitcoin before the clock runs out or you will lose those files forever. Then you noticed the clock clicking down. Would you panic? You probably would. That is ransomware, a particularly ugly malware that could cost you everything.
COVID-19 Vaccine Attacks Teach an Important Cybersecurity Lesson
The Cozy Bear Threat
According to the National Cyber Security Centre, a government security organization based in the United Kingdom, a hacking group known as “APT29” (also referred to as “the Dukes” or “Cozy Bear”) has actively targeted the research centers conducting research into developing a COVID-19 vaccine. These claims have been supported by both the United States’ National Security Agency and Canada’s Communications Security Establishment.
You would think that since millions of phishing attacks are ignored, set to spam, and actively mitigated each month, that there wouldn’t be such a desperate effort to educate people about the signs of phishing attacks, but the fact remains that it only takes one successful phishing attack to compromise an entire workstation, network, or computing infrastructure.
Today, everyone that works for your company will need to be able to spot and report a phishing attack. Doing so can sometimes be extremely difficult if the spammer does his/her homework. Consider using and teaching these tips to keep your business from being a victim of a phishing attack.
First, it will help to briefly review how each attack works.
How Ransomware Works
Imagine if you tried to log into your computer, only to be presented with a message that your entire computer had been encrypted, and that (unless money is transferred to the perpetrator, often through cryptocurrency, within a period of time) the contents of your device will be wiped. This is precisely the experience of someone victimized by a ransomware attack.
How Phishing Works
Remember those old scams, where the target would receive an email from some nobility or long-lost relative that asked for a sizable loan or investment (all to be paid back with interest, of course)? These are phishing scams, known as such because the scammer responsible simply distributes a message and waits for someone to take the bait. As time has passed, these schemes have become much more effective - and harder to spot.
These Attacks Can Easily Cooperate
Cybercriminals have taken to pairing these attacks together to help them take advantage of as many targets as possible. Let’s run through a fairly typical scenario that someone using both may subject you to, and how you can spot these kinds of joint efforts.
Let’s say you open your business email to find a message that appears to come from the Microsoft Support team - which, unnoticed by you, actually reads “Micrrosoft Support” in one or two places. According to the email, there’s a hugely serious security issue affecting systems across the board, which is why Microsoft is supposedly sending out these emails, with the necessary fix bundled in as an attachment.
Trouble is, this isn’t actually a fix to an issue - it’s actually an executable file that installs ransomware when you try to apply the “security fix” and creates a huge problem.
This is exactly why these two distinct attacks combine so well… by incorporating phishing strategies into the distribution of their ransomware, a cybercriminal has the ability to boost how successfully their ransomware can infect the users that are targeted.
How to Spot Phishing to Avoid Ransomware
There are assorted warning signs that a message is a phishing attempt that you should always keep an eye out for in order to protect your business. For example:
- Details are off - In keeping with our above example, how likely do you think it is that “Micrrosoft” would send out an email in which they misspelled their own name? While this is admittedly happening less in phishing emails, the same goes for the small things that are easily overlooked. Was the email in question sent from “user at example.com”? Or, was it actually sent from “user at exarnple.com?” Tricks like this are common ways that cybercriminals will try to pull the wool over a user’s eyes.
- There’s excessive urgency - To keep users from paying too much attention to the minutiae of the email - like the “off” details we just discussed - many cybercriminals will write their phishing messages to instill a sense of urgent panic. If an email starts to make you panic, collect yourself and look at it more objectively.
- There’s a link or an attachment - As the preferred means of delivering a ransomware payload or other issue, attachments or links to websites present no small amount of risk, especially if they are received unexpectedly. If at all possible, avoid accessing these without reaching out to the sender to confirm their legitimacy through another method of communication.
There are many other steps you need to take to protect your business from these insidious threats - from keeping a comprehensive backup to user training to applying spam filtering to your email. Coleman Technologies can help you implement them - give us a call at (604) 513-9428 to get started.
The past few years have seen some of history’s greatest data breaches. For instance, the most notorious of these attacks, the Equifax breach, Yahoo, and Marriott-Starwood, resulted in a combined total of 3.5 billion accounts breached.
This means, statistically speaking, you would have a pretty good chance of picking a data breach victim of the past few years by randomly selecting two human beings from the entirety of planet Earth’s population.
Crunching the numbers, there has been an increase of security breaches of 67 percent since 2014.
What Does this Mean? Is Anything Secure Anymore?
Interestingly, there is a plus side to these enormous data breaches happening in the public eye, thanks to a few key points:
- It brings attention to these kinds of crimes - Thanks to disasters like the Equifax breach, more Canadians are aware of the impact of cybercrime. This kind of awareness is crucial to encouraging improved security.
- There is too much data for cybercriminals to practically use. This one can be chalked up to statistics… the more data that a given cache has, the less of a chance that your data is pulled up in an attack.
To clarify, we aren’t trying to sugarcoat the severity of a data breach, but having said that, the past few years’ cybersecurity threats have really given us all an example to consider. With new compliances, regulations, and other mandates being put into play, businesses are certainly considering these threats.
What About Small Businesses?
There is a tendency to overlook small businesses when discussing data breaches. After all, the ones that have struck large targets (like Yahoo, Target, eBay, Sony, and many others) almost always get a headline, along with the attacks that focus on municipalities, like the ones that targeted Wasaga Beach, Ontario and Midland, Ontario with ransomware.
What aren’t heard about so much, unfortunately, are the attacks that lead to much smaller companies shutting their doors for good… a side effect of the limited number of victims per attack, and the relatively casual approach that many have towards security. Unfortunately, a Verizon survey shows just how misguided the assumption that a smaller business size will protect it from threats, when 43 percent of businesses breached would be classified as small.
Security Needs to Be a Priority
Fortunately, there are ways that you can reinforce your business’ cybersecurity, especially with the help of Coleman Technologies and our experienced cybersecurity professionals. Call (604) 513-9428 to get in touch with us, so we can help evaluate and fulfill your business’ needs.
What is Social Engineering?
Think of it like this: online, you have some type of social currency. Your personal information, your data, your interactions, your profiles, they all add up to your online life. If someone were to use that information to trick you into providing them access to your secure online accounts, you would be the victim of a social engineering attack.
Basically, a hacker uses what amounts to the fundamentals of human psychology to gain unauthorized access to an account. Rather than exploiting a vulnerability within a system’s technology, a social engineer will take advantage of the human resources to gain access through relatively simple psychology.
Successful social engineering can be the result of many different actions. Some include: carelessness by an individual, perceived kindness, reaction to fear, and business as usual. Let’s take a look at these actions and how social engineering schemes work as a result.
When there is a lack of diligence carried out by an individual, there are openings for a social engineering attack. This includes trash thrown out with information on it, keeping login credentials out in the open, and other careless actions. It’s important that you and your staff understand that the best practices of password protection, such as using a password manager, are crucial to maintaining the integrity of your company’s network and infrastructure.
Many people won’t think twice about helping someone that asks for help. Social engineering attackers take advantage of the better angels of our nature, by using people’s helpfulness to gain access to secure computing resources. Any person can fall for this type of attack. This is why we stress that in order to keep your digital and physical resources secure, a critical eye for potential intrusion works. That doesn’t mean you have to be a jerk, but if a situation is presented to you that’s out of the ordinary, take anyone’s helplessness with a grain of salt.
Business as Usual
When we picture a hacker, we all tend to think about them the same way. They are brooding people sitting in a dark room typing away at a computer. In social engineering attacks, this couldn’t be further from the truth. A popular social engineering tactic is to gain physical access to a large business--where there are often a lot of moving parts--and then spend time at the business looking for ways into secure digital environments. This could also include straight hatchet jobs, where your employees would help people outside of your business sabotage your access control systems.
Reaction to Fear
Finally, fear is one of the best motivators. By striking fast and threatening all types of negative consequences if a worker doesn’t help them get into a secure computing system, this kind of cyberattack can be a major problem.
Coleman Technologies Can Help Protect Your Business
If you are looking to secure your network from cyberattacks, including social engineering, the IT professionals at Coleman Technologies can help. Call us today at (604) 513-9428 to learn more about how we can help you with the training you need to keep social engineering from causing problems for you.
Tip of the Week: How to Avoid Phishing Scams
What Exactly Is Phishing?
The practice of phishing is not new. It has been used for much of the past decade. The strategy goes like this: hackers use deception to get a user to provide their own credentials, thus giving them unknowingly to the hacker. The hacker then accesses the account legitimately (as the user) and has free reign over the entire account. Sometimes they will go in and siphon data and sometimes they will hijack the entire account, but regardless of the hacker’s intentions a successful phishing attack is a successful transfer of power over an account.
What’s worse is that you can get phished in multiple mediums. Email is the predominant channel where phishing attacks are carried out, but people can (and do) get phished over social media, instant message, or via text message. There are even phone-based or snail mail phishing attacks that direct users to go to a fake website where they would provide their credentials and/or personal information.
There are even different forms of phishing based on their intended targets. The general strategy behind traditional phishing attacks is to send emails out to as many people as possible, hoping to snare unwitting recipients into their phishing nets. Today, with more personal information available about people, there is phishing that targets individual people. This is called a spear phishing attack. Then there are spear phishing attacks that are carried out against business and organizational leaders. These are called whaling attacks. The intended imagery aside, phishing attacks are getting more direct, more deceitful, and more serious.
For all of the bad news surrounding phishing attacks, there is some undeniably good news: with a critical eye, you can tell when you are being phished. You aren’t going to fall for these types of attacks if you know what to look for. Today, we’ve put together a short guide on how to determine if you are dealing with a phishing attack and how to proceed when you are.
Look for Warning Signs
There are a litany of warning signs that will help you spot a phishing attack. Most of them are pretty obvious, and some of the more subdued ones come with telltale signs.
Does the message have spelling and grammar mistakes?
Not many businesses will send out official correspondence with grammar and spelling mistakes. This should be the first sign that something is amiss. Most phishing messages come from supposedly-reputable organizations and while a spelling or grammar mistake does happen from time-to-time, several mistakes won’t happen.
Does the message deal with curious circumstances?
One of the biggest telltale signs that you are dealing with a phishing attack is the tone of the message that is received. Does the message reference immediate situations that need to be remedied? Does it mention money or illicit a sense of fear or anxiety? If it has these elements, it’s probably not legitimate. Think about it: most organizations that need you to act immediately will have specific ways of contacting you and that correspondence will make it clear that you are dealing with a legitimate organization.
Does this message have a trusted URL?
Most phishing attacks will redirect to a website that is set up by the hacker. You probably shouldn’t be clicking on any links sent to you in an email unless you are sure who sent the email. One way to determine whether or not a link is from a reputable source is to mouse over the link and see where the link goes. If you get an email from Amazon and the link goes to amazorn.com, you are staring at a phishing email.
Protecting Your Assets
There are a couple simple ways to ensure that you or a member of your staff doesn’t fall for phishing attacks:
- Use technology. A spam blocking filter on your email will go a long way towards removing unnecessary and potentially-malicious emails from hitting employee inboxes in the first place.
- Training. Make sure your employees are trained to spot and properly handle attempts that may come through. By starting with the end user, you’re taking away a lot of the power that phishing has.
At Coleman Technologies, we appreciate the importance of secure workplace practices. If you’d like to learn more about phishing, and how we can help stop it from hurting your business, reach out to us at (604) 513-9428.
Tip of the Week: 3 Signs of a Phishing Attempt
1. There’s an Unexpected Attachment or Link
It’s one thing to get an unexpected email from someone, it’s completely another thing entirely to get an email from someone that includes an unexpected attachment or link. Neither of these is a good thing. Attachments can easily contain hidden malware files, and links can be disguised with very little effort.
Don’t believe me? Try visiting google.com. Go ahead!
Not exactly what you were expecting, eh? Keep in mind that you can double-check links by hovering your cursor over them, and if you weren’t anticipating an attachment, don’t click it unless you have confirmed its legitimacy through some other means.
2. The Sender’s Email Seems Off
It isn’t uncommon for scammers to disguise a fraudulent email address by making it look at lot like a legitimate one would. For instance, let’s say that you normally worked with a business vendor, hypothetically named “Super Business Supplies.” A scammer might send you an email from “sales (at) superbusinessupplies.com.” Looks pretty okay, until you notice that there’s one fewer ‘s’ than there should be. Scammers can get downright devious with these replacements, replacing “Amazon” with “Arnazon” and other blink-and-you’ll-miss-it tricks.
In short, read carefully.
3. There are Other Questionable Elements
While that may be a very vague tip, it is only because there is such a wide variety of warning signs that an email is actually a phishing attempt. For instance:
- Spelling and grammar errors. Look at it this way: would you anticipate a company like Microsoft, or Google, or the likes of such to send you an email riddled with mistakes? Of course not, so if you receive an email that purports to be from a company of high repute, but features these kinds of errors, red flags should be going up.
- Time-sensitivity. One of a scammer’s go-to tools is to put their target off-balance, especially by pressuring them into immediate action. If you receive an email that offers you a great deal by acting right now, or threatens to shut down your account unless you act right now, the first thing you should do is pick up the phone and call up the organization or individual that sent the email.
- Requests for personal information. Similarly to any messages that rely on cultivating a sense of urgency, you need to look at any emails that request personally identifiable information, access or financial credentials - really, any data that you and your company rely on - with a critical eye. This is another case where calling to confirm is probably your best bet.
Email can be an extremely helpful business tool, but it can also be an equally useful tool for cybercriminals looking to victimize your business. Coleman Technologies can help you secure it, with best practices and practical solutions to lock it down. To learn more, reach out to us at (604) 513-9428.
How Cybercriminals Can Add “Be Scammed” to Your Google Calendar
Here, we’ll review the basic experiences that this scam subjects a user to as it sets the trap… and, of course, what your business can do to avoid these threats.
How Users Can Be Scammed
Put yourself in the shoes of a targeted user for a moment: just like any other day, you access your Gmail account and discover what looks like a Google Calendar invite. The invite is apparently for some kind of company-wide meeting (probably to discuss the company’s trajectory, policy changes, or something like that) to take place at the end of the workday. The message includes a link to the complete agenda, which can be accessed once a user confirms their credentials. You do so… and in doing so, fall for a scam.
This scam can be pretty safely categorized as “brilliant in its simplicity,” much like other phishing attacks can be nowadays. By using Google’s own convenience-based features, a fraudulent calendar event can be automatically added to a user’s Google Calendar, notifying the user. Fraudulent links send the user to a faked Google login page, where the user’s credentials are stolen as they attempt to log in. Alternatively, the link just begins installing malware directly to the targeted system. This scam has also proved effective against private users - informing them of some fabulous cash prize they’ve “won” through these fake Calendar entries.
How the Scam Was Uncovered
As it turns out, the details of this scam were reported to Google by an IT security firm in 2017, but Google has not made any steps to resolve it until recently.
The firm stumbled upon this discovery when a coworker’s flight itinerary appeared in an employee’s Google Calendar. From there, the researcher realized the implications of this accidental discovery, and quickly determined that users just don’t anticipate phishing attacks to come in through their Calendar application.
Can This Scam Be Stopped?
Now that Google has acknowledged the issue, a fix is currently being developed as of this writing. Until the point that a successful fix is deployed, you need to make sure your users are protected against this vulnerability.
The first thing they need to do is ensure that no Gmail events are automatically added to their Google Calendar. Under Settings in the Google Calendar application, they need to access their Event settings. From there, they need to deselect the option to Automatically add events to my calendar from their Events from Gmail.
To disable invitations to events from automatically adding themselves to the Google Calendar, a user needs to go through the same process, this time switching the Automatically add invitations option to the much safer “No, only show invitations to which I have responded.”
With any luck, this - combined with a little vigilance from your users - will protect your business from a phishing attack via its schedule. To learn more about how to protect your business against a variety of threats, subscribe to our blog, and give Coleman Technologies a call at (604) 513-9428.
Any data you collect, you must protect. You might not think your business is big enough (or noteworthy enough) to be targeted by hackers, but the truth is, those are the reasons you are a target. It is estimated that by 2020, more than 24 billion devices will be connected to the Internet, so it is imperative that you follow simple, yet crucial, steps to ensure your data and information are kept safe.
Here are some variables you--and the other people on your network--need to be aware of.
Phishing attacks are some of the most prevalent attacks being made in 2019. Basically, users will send you an email that seems to be from a user the recipient might know. If a user interacts with that email by clicking on a link or downloading an attachment, the phishing scam is a success. A successful phishing scam is a huge problem for your business.
You will want to train your staff on how to spot and avoid phishing attacks. Phishing attacks have been developed to be subtle and admittedly easy to miss. There are, however, several tell-tale signs that an email is legitimate. Hackers know that the weakest link in any business or organization is the employees. Do your employees know how to recognize an out of place email? It is crucial that you take the time to train your employees the art of phishing identification.
Passwords are the standard in which most people use to keep files secure and to authenticate access to devices, platforms, programs, etc. Understanding what makes a strong password can go a long way toward securing your IT resources. Some best practices include:
- Creating strong, unique passphrases
- Changing passwords frequently
- Using Upper and Lowercase letters, numbers, and symbols
Multi-factor authentication, often rolled out as two-factor authentication, puts an additional step between you, and potential threats to your network or data. You use a password to unlock a 2FA/MFA platform that requires you to get a randomly-generated code from a third-party device to gain access. Since you need a third-party device/account to open the application, account, or device protected by 2FA/MFA, that account is more than twice as secure.
Applications and Software Updates
In order to say ahead of security attacks, the software you use cannot have vulnerabilities. As a result, patching and updating software is essential to comprehensive security. If you are going to remain secure you will want to be sure to stay up-to-date on your updates.
How Do I Know If My Systems are Safe?
So, you want to know if you are safe from a cyberattack? To put it lightly: nobody is. By associating security preparedness with cybersecurity and routinely taking proactive, preventative measures to enhance your security position, you reduce the chance that your organization will have to suffer from downtime, data loss, and reputation damage that a data breach would bring your company.
If you would like more tips; or, if you would like to talk to one of our experts about network security, call us today at (604) 513-9428.
Think Before You Click: Spotting a Phishing Attempt
Give Me the Short Answer - What’s Phishing?
Phishing is where you get an email that looks like an actual legit email. The goal that a cybercriminal has is to trick you into giving them a password or access to an account (like to PayPal, Facebook, or your bank) or to get you to download malware.
The problem with phishing emails is how real they can seem. A phishing attempt for your PayPal information can look just like an everyday email from PayPal.
Even worse, often phishing emails try to sound urgent. They make you feel like you have to take action quickly, or that a bill is overdue, or that your password has been stolen. This can lower the user’s guard, and force them into a sticky situation.
How to Spot a Phishing Attack
Like I said, it’s not always going to be obvious when you get phished. Even careful, security-minded, technical people can fall victim because phishing is just as much of a psychological attack as it is a technical one.
Still, there are some practices you and your staff should use:
Always Use Strong, Unique Passwords
This can solve a lot of problems from the get-go. If your PayPal account gets hacked, and it uses the same password as your email or your bank account, then you may as well assume that your email and bank account are infiltrated too. Never use the same password across multiple sites.
Check the From Email Address in the Header
You’d expect emails from Facebook to come from , right? Well, if you get an email about your password or telling you to log into your account and it’s from , you’ll know something is up.
Cybercriminals will try to make it subtle. Amazon emails might come from or emails from PayPal might come from . It’s going to pay off to be skeptical, especially if the email is trying to get you to go somewhere and sign in, or submit sensitive information.
Don’t Just Open Attachments
This is nothing new, but most malware found on business networks still comes from email attachments, so it’s still a huge problem. If you didn’t request or expect an email attachment, don’t click on it. Scrutinize the email, or even reach out to the recipient to confirm that it is safe. I know it sounds silly, but being security-minded might build security-mindfulness habits in others too, so you could inadvertently save them from an issue if they follow your lead!
Look Before You Click
If the email has a link in it, hover your mouse over it to see where it is leading. Don’t click on it right away.
For example, if the email is about your PayPal account, check the domain for any obvious signs of danger. Here are some examples:
- Paypal.com - This is safe. That’s PayPal’s domain name.
- Paypal.com/activatecard - This is safe. It’s just a subpage on PayPal’s site.
- Business.paypal.com - This is safe. A website can put letters and numbers before a dot in their domain name to lead to a specific area of their site. This is called a subdomain.
- Business.paypal.com/retail - This is safe. This is a subpage on PayPal’s subdomain.
- Paypal.com.activecard.net - Uh oh, this is sketchy. Notice the dot after the .com in PayPal’s domain? That means this domain is actually activecard.net, and it has the subdomain paypal.com. They are trying to trick you.
- Paypal.com.activecardsecure.net/secure - This is still sketchy. The domain name is activecardsecure.net, and like the above example, they are trying to trick you because they made a subdomain called paypal.com. They are just driving you to a subpage that they called secure. This is pretty suspicious.
- Paypal.com/activatecard.tinyurl.com/retail - This is really tricky! The hacker is using a URL shortening service called TinyURL. Notice how there is a .com later in the URL after PayPal’s domain? That means it’s not PayPal. Tread carefully!
Keep in mind, everyone handles their domains a little differently, but you can use this as a general rule of thumb. Don’t trust dots after the domain that you expect the link to be.
Training and Testing Go a Long Way!
Want help teaching your staff how to spot phishing emails? Be sure to reach out to the IT security experts at Coleman Technologies. We can help equip your company with solutions to mitigate and decrease phishing attempts, and help educate and test your employees to prepare them for when they are threatened by cybercriminals.