A “Credit Profile Number” is a fake SSN, and it Works

Cyber criminals are constantly trying to stay one step ahead of the good guys, and there is now another scam out there that you should know about: synthetic identity theft. Basically, the criminals take information from someone, and then make up the rest. They also often use fake Social Security numbers, called CPNs, or “credit profile numbers,” or names.

This type of identity theft shows us that our credit system is more vulnerable than we might think. Basically, it is easy to create a credit file on these identities, and once they have that, they can get a credit card or loan.

Of course, using a CPN like this on an application for credit card or loan is illegal, but lenders currently don’t have a conclusive way of distinguishing a real Social Security number from one of these fake ones. The Social Security Administration generates SSNs randomly. This makes it difficult for a lender to notice a fake one. Technically, a lender can contact the SSA and cross-check, but most of them don’t. Why? Because the SSA requires a handwritten signature from the person who has that SSN, and this is a pain in the neck for lenders.

So, of course, the best thing to do is to create a way for lenders to instantly check to see if a Social Security number is valid or not, and as of now, they do not have the capacity to do this. Lenders do, however, use their own fraud-detection tools, but these requests for credit still fall through the cracks.

This practice also has created more open windows for fraudsters, because they know that the system is vulnerable. It’s true that many lenders won’t accept a credit application from someone with no history of borrowing, which is the case with a CPN, but some still do, and the more activity the file sees, the more likely it is that credit will be given. Once credit is approved, a full credit report is created. Though it likely won’t be a high amount of credit, many lenders take a chance on new borrowers, and at a minimum, extend a couple of hundred dollars. Some people will even get a card that has, say a $300 limit, and use the card for a time. Once they establish a good payment history, they can get a credit increase, and that’s where the fun really begins.

This is just one more scam that you should be aware of, and one more reason to keep your private and personal information safe.

Robert Siciliano personal security and identity theft expert and speaker is the author of Identity Theft Privacy: Security Protection and Fraud Prevention: Your Guide to Protecting Yourself from Identity Theft and Computer Fraud. See him knock’em dead in this Security Awareness Training video.

Be aware of all these Confidence Crimes

Criminals have a reliance on tricking victims to get access to account information, like passwords. This is known as social engineering, and is also called a “confidence crime.” These come in many forms:

Do Not Take the Bait of These Phishermen

  • A phishing email that targets a specific person is known as spear-phishing. A spear-phishing email looks like an email that might come from a legitimate company to a specific person. For example, a thief might send a fake email to a company’s employee who handles money or IT. It looks like the email is from the CEO of the company, and it asks the employee for sensitive information, such as the password for a financial account or to transfer funds somewhere.
  • Telephones are used for phishing, too, also called “vishing,” which is a combination of phishing and voicemail.
  • Fake invoices are also popular among hackers and scammers. In this case, a fake invoice is sent to a company that looks like one from a legitimate vendor. Accounting pays the invoice, but the payment actually goes to a hacker.
  • Another scam is when a bad guy leaves a random USB drive around the office or in a parking lot. His hope is that someone will find it, get nosy, and insert it into their computer. When they do, it releases malware onto the network.
  • Cyber criminals also might try to impersonate a vendor or company employee to get access to business information.
  • If someone calls, if you get an email, if the doorbell rings, or if someone enters your office, always look at it with suspicion.

Be thoughtful about security:

  • Set up all bank accounts with two-factor authentication. All web-based email accounts should have two factor authentication. This way, even if a hacker gets your password, they still can’t access your accounts.
  • Train staff to be careful about what they post on social media, such as the nickname the CEO goes by in the office.
  • Do not click any link inside of an email. These often contain viruses that can install themselves on your network.
  • Any requests for money or other sensitive data should be verified over the phone or in-person. Never just give the information in an email.
  • All money transfers should require not one, but two signatures.
  • Make sure all employees are fully trained to recognize a phishing attempt. Also, make sure to stage phishing simulation attempts to make sure they are following protocol.
  • Help people understand the importance of looking out for things like a new email address for the CEO or Kathy in accounting suddenly signing her name Kathi.
  • Also, teach staff to report any uncharacteristic behaviors with long-time vendors or even fellow coworkers.

I once presented a security awareness program to a company that was almost defrauded. They hired me because of an email accounting had received from the CEO. The CEO sent a nice proper letter to accounting requesting payment be made to a specific known vendor.

A number of things were wrong with the email. First and foremost, like I mentioned, the email was nice and proper. Apparently the CEO isn’t all that nice, is somewhat of a bully, and all his communications are laden with profanity. So the red flags, where the fact that the email was nice. Imagine.

Robert Siciliano personal security and identity theft expert and speaker is the author of Identity Theft Privacy: Security Protection and Fraud Prevention: Your Guide to Protecting Yourself from Identity Theft and Computer Fraud. See him knock’em dead in this Security Awareness Training video.

10 Internet Security Myths that Small Businesses Should Be Aware Of

Most small businesses don’t put as much focus on internet security as they probably should. If you are a small business owner or manager, not focusing on internet security could put you in a bad spot. Are you believing the myths about internet security or are you already using best practices? Here’s a few of the most common myths…take a look to see where you truly stand:

Myth – All You Need is a Good Antivirus Program

Do you have a good antivirus program on your small business network? Do you think that’s enough? Unfortunately, it’s not. Though an antivirus program is great to have, there is a lot more that you have to do. Also, keep in mind that more people than ever are working remotely, and odds are good that they are working on a network that is not secured.

Myth – If You Have a Good Password, Your Data is Safe

Yes, a strong password is essential to keeping your information safe, but that alone is not going to do much if a hacker is able to get it somehow. Instead, setting up two-factor authentication is essential. This is much safer. Also make sure that your team doesn’t write their passwords down and keep them close to the computer or worse, use the same passwords across multiple critical accounts.

Myth – Hackers Only Target Large Businesses, So I Don’t Have to Worry

Unfortunately, many small business owners believe that hackers won’t target them because they only go after big businesses. This isn’t true, either. No one is immune to the wrath of hackers, and even if you are the only employee, you are a target.

Myth – Your IT Person Can Solve All of Your Issues

Small business owners also believe that if they have a good IT person, they don’t have to worry about cybercrime. This, too, unfortunately, is a myth. Though having a good IT person on your team is a great idea, you still won’t be fully protected. Enlist outside “penetration testers” who are white-hat hackers that seek out vulnerabilities in your networks before the criminals do.

Myth – Insurance Will Protect You from Cybercrime

Wrong! While there are actually several insurance companies that offer policies that “protect” businesses from cybercrimes, they don’t proactively protect your networks, but will provide relief in the event you are hacked. But read the fine print. Because if you are severely negligent, then all bets may be off. In fact, it is one of the strongest growing policy types in the industry.

Myth – Cyber Crimes are Overrated

Though it would certainly be nice if this was false, it’s simply not. These crimes are very real and could be very dangerous to your company. Your business is always at risk. Reports show as many as 4 billion records were stolen in 2016.

Myth – My Business is Safe as Long as I Have a Firewall

This goes along with the antivirus myth. Yes, it’s great to have a good firewall, but it won’t fully protect your company. You should have one, as they do offer a good level of protection, but you need much more to get full protection.

Myth – Cybercriminals are Always People You Don’t Know

Unfortunately, this, too, is not true. Even if it is an accident, many instances of cybercrimes can be traced back to someone on your staff. It could be an employee who is angry about something or even an innocent mistake. But, it only takes a single click to open up your network to the bad guys.

Myth – Millennials are Very Cautious About Internet Security

We often believe that Millennials are very tech-savvy; even more tech-savvy than the rest of us. Thus, we also believe that they are more cautious when it comes to security. This isn’t true, though. A Millennial is just as likely to put your business at risk than any other employee.

Myth – My Company Can Combat Cyber Criminals

You might have a false bravado about your ability to combat cybercrime. The truth is, you are probably far from prepared if you are like the majority.

These myths run rampant in the business world, so it is very important to make sure that you are fully prepared to handle cybercrime.

Robert Siciliano personal security and identity theft expert and speaker is the author of Identity Theft Privacy: Security Protection and Fraud Prevention: Your Guide to Protecting Yourself from Identity Theft and Computer Fraud. See him knock’em dead in this Security Awareness Training video.

Researchers Say Office of Personnel Management Hack Leads to Ransomware

In June, 2015, it was revealed by an anonymous source that the Office of Personnel Management was hacked. This office, which administers civil service, is believed to have been the target of the Chinese government. This is one of the largest hacks in history involving a federal organization.

Slowly, the motivation behind the hacking is being understood. At first, it seemed obvious, the stolen data being personally identifiable information, which is what was taken can be used for new account fraud. But in government breaches, they usually look for military plans, blueprints, and documents that deal with policy.

The question, of course, is why did the hackers focus on this information? Well, some of the data that was taken was used to launch other attackers against contractors, and this resulted in the access to several terabytes of data.

Now, those who have become victims of this attack have found themselves being the target of ransomware.

Security experts have recently noticed that the victims have been getting phishing emails, and these messages look like they are coming directly from the Office of Personnel Management. When these emails arrive, the body and subject of the message seem as if the email contains an important file. When the unsuspecting victim downloads the .ZIP file, however, they instead receive a type of ransomware called Locky.

These attacks are much more dangerous than the average phishing attack. This is mainly due to the fact that they are being received by those who have worked with the Office of Personnel Management before. Thus, they have seen the genuine emails from the office, which look remarkably similar to the fake ones. The only thing that set the two emails apart was a typo that said “king regards,” instead of “kind regards,” and a phone number that doesn’t work. These are details that many people overlook, which makes it easy for hackers to be successful with these schemes.

Who was Really Behind This Hack?

Though experts believe that the Chinese government is behind this hack, there are some facts that look a bit fishy. For instance, since personal data was taken and data has been taking hostage, this seems much more like a typical cybercrime operation instead of something that a nation would do. After all, why would China be looking for a few hundred dollars from people who want their files back?

Of course, this could be a smokescreen and someone could just be using this attack as a smokescreen…and while experts are focused on this, the real attack could be planned for the future.

Robert Siciliano personal security and identity theft expert and speaker is the author of 99 Things You Wish You Knew Before Your Identity Was Stolen. See him knock’em dead in this identity theft prevention video.

The Mind of the Misunderstood Cybercriminal

There are a number of misconceptions about cybercrime and those who engage in it. To a cybercriminal, there is no target that is special unless they have a grudge or beef with a particular entity, and as a rule, they will often cast their net wide and then move to attack the easiest prey they find.

11DSecurity specialists must never underestimate the actions of a cybercriminal. Records are easily shared and sold, and they are highly valued. This is especially the case when personal and medical information is the focus.

Any plan that the security professionals design must be focused on these types of crimes. They must also be aware of any upcoming threats and ensure that all proper backups of data are in place.

What are the Common Misconceptions Associated with Cybercrime and Cybercriminals

The most common misconception about cybercriminals that is often observed is that these people have diverse experience and skills, which allow them to initiate a huge range of cyberattacks. This would mean that they would earn a large amount of money as a result. However, the truth is, many of the cybercriminals out there use automated software, which means they don’t require much training at all. According to a recent survey, the vast majority only make from $1,000 to $2,000 a month. But as many as 20 percent of cybercriminals are making more than $20,000 a month.

Who are the Criminals Behind Cyber Crimes?

For the most part, those who commit cybercrimes have a clean criminal record and do not have any ties to any organized groups. These criminals usually also have a stable job during the day and participate in these cybercrimes in their free time. Often, these people are introduced to cybercrimes during college, and many remain active in the industry for several years after they begin.

The other cybercriminals have a bit of a different background. These people belong to cybercriminal syndicates that work within a hierarchy. There are highly skilled members of these groups, and each have certain responsibilities to ensure the success of their organization.

Generally, these groups are controlled by a “boss,” who is the mastermind. They are typically highly educated, intelligent, and some are often connected with the banking industry, as they must arrange for things like money laundering. Additionally, these groups often include people who are professional forgers, as they often require fake documents to serve as paperwork to “prove” their schemes, and then the group needs those skilled in hacking, software engineering, and other technical operations. Some of the groups also include those familiar with law enforcement, as they are skilled with things such as gathering information and counter-intelligence.

What is often so surprising is that members of these groups are often highly respected members of their communities, and many are seen as successful people in business. These people are also often connected to hospitality, real estate, or the automotive industry.

These people do not think of themselves as regular criminals, and they rarely cross paths with others whom the general public might deem as “criminal.” They usually hide in the shadows and avoid any actions that might bring attention to them.

To avoid all of this, it is best to use the assistance of a professional. They are familiar with how these communities run and how they react to certain actions. There are a number of way to research the dark web in a secure and safe manner without risking the integrity of your organization, but the professionals are best for this job. It is also important for businesses to utilize security teams. This ensures that they are capable of obtaining the data and stimulating the environment.

Robert Siciliano personal security and identity theft expert and speaker is the author of 99 Things You Wish You Knew Before Your Identity Was Stolen. See him knock’em dead in this identity theft prevention video.

How to Make $5 Million a Day in Cybercrime

This post isn’t exactly a “how to” but if your current employment isn’t bringing in the bacon, I’m sure your criminal mind can figure it out. In the biggest digital advertising fraud in the history of the U.S., it was recently found that a group of hackers is bringing in from $3 million to $5 million a day from media companies and brands. That’s some scratch!

11DWhite Ops, an online fraud-prevention firm, uncovered this campaign, which they have called “Methbot,” and the firm found that the campaign is generating more than 300 million video ad impressions each day.

AFT13, which is a cyber criminal gang, has worked to develop the Methbot browser, which spoofs all of the interactions that are necessary to initiate and carry out these ad transactions.

The hackers, which are allegedly Russia-based, have registered more than 250,000 distinct URLs and 6,000 domains, all of which impersonate US brand and companies, including Vogue, ESPN, Fox News, Huffington Post, and CBS Sports. They then take these sites and sell fake ad slots.

The cybercriminals that are behind Methbot are using their servers, which are hosted in Amsterdam and Texas, to give power to almost 600,000 bots. These have fake IP addresses, most of which belong to the US, and this makes it look like the ads are being viewed by visitors in the US. The criminals then get video-ad inventory, which they display on the fake media website that they have created. They get top dollar for this, and they trick the marketplace into believing that this content is being seen by legitimate visitors. In reality, however, these ads are being “viewed” by fake viewers thanks to an automated program that mimics a user watching an ad.

To make the bots look even more real, the group also uses methods such as fake clicks, mouse movements, and even social network login info. White Ops has also found that this fake army of viewers has amassed about 300 million ad views each day, and it has an average payout of about $13 per every 1000 views. If you multiply this by the compromised IP addresses out there, the money is rolling in.

White Ops believes that the Methbot empire has created from 200 to 300 million fake video ad impressions each day, which targets about 6,000 publishers. In a 24-hour period, this is generating somewhere between $3 and $5 million in each 24-hour period.

While the operation has its headquarters in Russia, White Ops can’t say for sure that Methbot has Russian origins. The good guys have been in contact with the FBI, and together, they have been working towards stopping this scam for several weeks.

Robert Siciliano personal security and identity theft expert and speaker is the author of 99 Things You Wish You Knew Before Your Identity Was Stolen. See him knock’em dead in this identity theft prevention video.

Small Business a favorite Attack Vector

Small businesses are hardly immune to attacks by hackers.

  • The illusion of low attack risks comes from the publicity that only huge corporations get when they are breached, like Target, Sony and Anthem. These are giants, so of course it makes headline news.
  • But when a “ma and pa” business gets attacked, it’s not newsworthy.

11DIf you own a small business, ask yourself just how the mega-giant Target got infiltrated by cybercriminals in the first place. Answer: a ma and pa HVAC vendor of Target’s!

Cybercriminals thrive on the myth that only big companies get attacked. They know that many small outfits have their guards down; have only rudimentary security measures in place. Never assume you know everything that a hacker wants—or doesn’t want.

Think of it this way: Which burglar is more likely to make off like a bandit? One who attempts to infiltrate a palace that has a 10-foot-high stone wall, surrounding a moat that surrounds the palace, with motion sensors everywhere that set off piercing alarms; an army of Dobermans; and a high tower where guards are keeping a lookout?

Or the burglar who tries to break into a small townhome with only a deadbolt and window screens for security? Sure, the palace has millions of dollars worth of wall art alone, but what chances does the burglar have of getting his hands on it? The little townhome just might have some electronics and jewelry he can sell underground.

No business is too small or its niche too narrow to get a hacker’s attention; just like any burglar will notice an open ground floor window in that little townhome at 3 a.m.

  • Never use lack of funds as an excuse to cut corners on security.
  • Share security information with competitors in your niche.
  • Consider the possibility that a cyber attack can be an inside job in your little company—something relatively easy to pull off (e.g., every employee probably knows the direct e-mail to the company owner).
  • Get cyber attack insurance. A halfway-sized cyber attack could cripple any small company and have tangential fallout.

Robert Siciliano CEO of IDTheftSecurity.com, personal security and identity theft expert and speaker is the author of 99 Things You Wish You Knew Before Your Identity Was Stolen. See him knock’em dead in this identity theft prevention video.

What is Malvertising?

Malevolent advertising is called malvertising. The “ad” is placed on a website by cybercriminals who want control of your computer for financial gain.

11DAnd the real scary thing about malvertising is that these trick-ads have appeared on trusted, popular websites like the Weather Network, BBC, NFL and the New York Times.

Oh, and it gets worse: The malicious ad can be hidden, unseen by the site visitor, thanks to a special html code that allows the bad ad to be inside legitimate content. This trick-code is usually hidden in what are called iframes—without affecting the rest of the site appearance.

The type of cybercriminal who succeeds at this needs to be patient and clever.

  • Legitimate advertisers place their ads with ad networks, bidding for ad placement.
  • Ad networks, which handle the bidding, serve the ads to websites.
  • Crooks may place legitimate ads with these networks to gain a good reputation, or, crooks run networks.
  • After building trust with placement of legit ads, the crooks graduate to ad placement on high traffic sites, and then they put in their malicious code in the iframes: malvertisements.
  • When you’re on one of these infected pages, the ad will release malware to your computer that can do a whole host of damage.

What to do?

  • Keep all your software and systems up to date.
  • Install an ad blocker, but be judicious, because ad blockers can disrupt the presentation of some sites, e.g., blocking some content, not just the ads. You may not mind this inconvenience, but also realize that an ad blocker will not block every malvertisement, either.
  • Install antivirus software or an anti-exploit kit that will snuff out exploit kits, a favorite tool of the malvertiser.
  • Exploit kits prowl your computer for vulnerabilities, and the right software will detect and neutralize them.
  • Uninstall browser plugins you have no use for, especially if they’re the vulnerable Adobe Flash and Java.
  • Set the remaining plugins to click to play, which will give you the option to run a plugin when a site you’re visiting wants to load one.

Robert Siciliano CEO of IDTheftSecurity.com, personal security and identity theft expert and speaker is the author of 99 Things You Wish You Knew Before Your Identity Was Stolen. See him knock’em dead in this identity theft prevention video.

Viruses as Cyberweapons for sale

It’s all about code—the building blocks of the Internet. Software code is full of unintentional defects. Governments are paying heavy prices to skilled hackers who can unearth these vulnerabilities, says an article at nytimes.com.

6DIn fact, the FBI director, James B. Comey, recommended that the FBI pay hackers a whopping $1.3 million to figure out how to circumvent Apple’s iPhone security.

So driven is this “bug-and-exploit trade market,” that a bug-and-exploit hacking company, Hacking Team, ended up being hacked last summer.

The software companies that create code don’t get to learn what the vulnerabilities are that the richly paid hackers discover. This has been going on for two decades-plus.

Here are some sizzling facts from nytimes.com:

  • Over a hundred governments have reported they have an offensive cyberwar program.
  • Iran boasts being in the No. 3 spot in the world for digital army size (trailing the U.S. and China), though this can’t be confirmed.
  • However, Iranian hackers have demonstrated their skill more than once, and it’s not pretty. For instance, they were responsible for the rash of U.S. bank hacking incidents in 2013.
  • Though Iran’s cyber power lags behind that of the U.S.’s, they’re steadily closing the big gap.
  • Most nations keep details of their cyberwar programs classified.

It has been surmised by many a security expert that WWIII will be largely digital. Imagine how crippling it would be if a nation’s grid was dismantled—affecting major networks across that country—such as healthcare, shipping and banking and other critical infrastructures such as food and water supply.

There’s not a whole ton you can do about this battle. However, you should, at a minimum, prepare your physical life for any digital disasters. Prepare the same way you would if you knew there was a severe storm coming. Store dry foods, water, extra climate appropriate clothing, and cash, preferably lots of small bills. This is just a short list. Seek out numerous resources on ready.gov to learn more.

Robert Siciliano CEO of IDTheftSecurity.com, personal security and identity theft expert and speaker is the author of 99 Things You Wish You Knew Before Your Identity Was Stolen. See him knock’em dead in this identity theft prevention video.

Businesses struggling to keep up with latest wave of malware attacks

Companies have been struggling for years to keep cyber-attacks at bay. Cyberthieves are working faster than ever before to send out their malicious attacks, and it’s become increasingly difficult for companies to keep up.

6DCNN reports that almost one million malware strains are released every day. In 2014, more than 300 million new types of malicious software were created. In addition to new forms of malware, hackers continue to rely on tried and true bugs because many companies simply haven’t found a fix or haven’t updated their systems to mitigate the threats.

In almost 90% of these cases, the bugs have been around since the early 2000s, and some go back to the late 1990s. The irony here is that companies can protect themselves and create patches for these bugs, but there tends to be a lack of effort and resources when it comes to getting the job done.

Some industries are targeted more than others. After hackers get information from these companies, such as proprietary data, they attempt to sell the information on the black market.

Cyberattacks are spreading quickly, and it takes almost no time after an email is sent for a victim to fall for the scheme. When a hacker is successful at breaking into a certain type of company, such as a bank or insurance firm, they will typically use the same exact method to quickly attack another company in the same industry.

New and improved cyber attacks

While old methods of cyber-attack can still be effective, it is the new scams that users should be nervous about. Here are some examples:

  • Social media scams
    Social media scams work and cybercriminals just love them because the people being scammed do most of the work. Cybercriminals release links, videos or stories that lead to viruses, and people share them with their friends because they are cute, funny or eye-raising. These tend to spread quickly because people feel as if they are safe.
  • Likejacking
    Hackers may also use a practice known as “likejacking” to scam people on social media. In this case, they will use a fake “like” button that tricks people into installing malware. The programs then post updates on the user’s wall or newsfeed to spread the attack.
  • Software update attacks
    Hackers are also focusing on more selective attacks. For example, a hacker may hide malware inside of a software update. When a user downloads and installs the update, the virus is set free.
  • Ransomware
    These attacks, where thieves steal or lock files on a person’s computer and then demand a ransom for access, climbed more than 110% in the last year alone. Once infected, the only way to regain access to the files is to pay a fee, usually between $300 and $500, for a decryption key.

How can you mitigate insider threats? Tune into the Carbonite webinar that I’ll be hosting live on Wednesday, March 15th at 11 am ET, to learn how. Register here: http://go.carbonite.com/security-threat/blog.

Consultant Robert Siciliano is an expert in personal privacy, security and identity theft prevention. Learn more about Carbonite’s cloud and hybrid backup solutions for small and midsize businesses. Disclosures.