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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.

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.

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.

Your Ransomware Response: Prepare for the Worst

A ransomware attack is when your computer gets locked down or your files become inaccessible, and you are informed that in order to regain use of your computer or to receive a cyber key to unlock your files, you must pay a ransom. Typically, cybercriminals request you pay them in bitcoins.

binaryThe attack begins when you’re lured, by a cybercriminal, into clicking a malicious link that downloads malware, such as CDT-Locker. Hackers are skilled at getting potential victims to click on these links, such as a phony e-mail, apparently from a company you do business with, luring you into clicking on a link or opening its attachment.

And if you find your computer is being held hostage:

  • Report it to law enforcement, although it’s unlikely they can provide help. It’s just good to have it recorded.
  • Disconnect your computer from its network to prevent the infection from spreading to other shared networks.
  • You need to remove the ransomware from your computer. Remember, removal of the ransomware won’t restore access to your files; they will still be encrypted. To remove ransomware from your computer, follow the steps provided here.
  • If you already had your data backed up offline, there’s no need to even consider paying the ransom. Still, you will want to remove the ransomware and make sure your backup solution was working.
  • But what if very important files were not backed up? Prepare to pay in bitcoins. The first step is to find out what the experts say about making payments in bitcoin.
  • The crook will be essentially impossible to trace. You’ll be required to make the payment over the Tor network (anonymous browsing).
  • Finally, don’t be shocked if the crook actually provides you the decryption key—essentially a password; ransomware thieves often follow through to maintain being taken seriously. Otherwise, nobody would ever pay them. But it would not be unprecedented to not receive the key. It’s a gamble.
  • The best course of action is to prevent a ransomware attack, and that means looking for all the clues to malware and phishing scams. Don’t let threatening e-mails, saying you owe back taxes or bank fees, jolt you into hastily clicking a suspicious link or attachment. If you regularly back up your data online and to an external drive, then you’ll never feel you must pay the ransom.

Robert is a security analyst, author and media personality who specializes in personal security and identity theft and appears regularly on Good Morning America, ABC News and The TODAY Show.

Ransomware as a Service: A new threat to businesses everywhere

Cyber criminals have been attempting to extort money from individuals and companies for many years, and the latest attempt to take advantage of others is by using Ransomware as a Service, or RaaS.

4DA ransomware virus infects a computer when a user clicks a link and unknowingly download a malicious file. The ransomware virus then encrypts the computer’s files and promises to render them useless unless the victim pays a ransom. The cost varies greatly and groups sending these out can bring in hundreds of millions of dollars in profits.

RaaS makes it even easier for criminals to deploy ransomware viruses. All they have to choose a ransomware virus, set a ransom amount and deadline, and then trick their victims into downloading it onto their computer.

What to do if systems become infected with ransomware

If you have been attacked with ransomware, consider the following:

  • Tell the hacker you will pay, but that you need time to get the cash.
  • Gather all correspondence from the hacker.
  • Tell the webhosting provider, maybe call the cops, but expect little. If there is a major loss, reach out to the FBI, just know they might not see it as serious.
  • Delete all infected files and download clean versions from your backup system. Remember: If you have a quality backup system in place, you won’t need to pay the ransom.

Handling computer viruses

Ransomware isn’t the only type of virus to be on the lookout for. Symptoms of other types of virus infections include programs opening up on their own and a slow computer. Some viruses may send messages from your email account without you knowing about it. Here are some more ways to protect yourself from ransomware and other computer viruses:

  • Use both firewall and anti-virus software
  • Do not open attachments, links or programs from an email, including those from people you know, until you check for viruses.
  • Do not use public Wi-Fi connections unless on a virtual private network or using encryption software.
  • Keep security software current, use administrative rights and use a firewall.
  • Use the most recent version of your operating system and browser.
  • Back up all data.
  • Train employees on security measures for all devices.

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.

Sales Staff Targeted by Cyber Criminals

Companies that cut corners by giving cybersecurity training only to their technical staff and the “big wigs” are throwing out the welcome mat to hackers. Cyber criminals know that the ripe fruit to pick is a company’s sales staff. Often, the sales personnel are clueless about the No. 1 way that hackers “get in”: the phishing e-mail. Salespeople are also vulnerable to falling for other lures generated by master hackers.

11DIn a recent study, Intel Security urges businesses to train non-technical (including sales) employees. Sales personnel are at highest risk of making that wrong click because they have such frequent contact in cyberspace with non-employees of their company.

Next in line for the riskiest positions are call center and customer service personnel. People tend to think that the company’s executives are at greatest risk, but look no further than sales, call center and customer service departments as the employees who are most prone to social engineering.

It’s not unheard of for businesses to overlook the training of sales employees and other non-technical staff in cybersecurity. Saving costs explains this in some cases, but so does the myth that non-technical employees don’t need much cybersecurity training.

Intel Security’s report says that the most common methods of hackers is the browser attack, stealth attack, SSL attack, network abuse and evasive technologies.

In particular, the stealth attack is a beast. Intel Security has uncovered 387 new such threats per minute. IT teams have their work cut out for them, struggling to keep pace with these minute-by-minute evolving threats. This doesn’t make it any easier to train non-technical staff in cybersecurity, but it makes it all the more crucial.

Training non-technical staff, particularly those who have frequent online correspondence and have the gift of cyber gab, is the meat and potatoes of company security.

Robert Siciliano is an identity theft expert to BestIDTheftCompanys.com discussing identity theft prevention

Dept. of Homeland Security Computers Vulnerable

There’s a problem on the home front: security lapses in the computers of the Secret Service and Immigration and Customs Enforcement, says a report on townhall.com. These departments were recently audited, and weaknesses were revealed.

1DRecently, hackers got into the White House, State Department and the Office of Personnel Management, among other entities. And this has caused the public to wonder about just how strong cybersecurity is for the U.S. government. So thus, the audit was carried out.

The root of the problem may be inadequate training of the investigators and analysts for the Department of Homeland Security. This seems to have stemmed from Congress cutting corners with the training budget. The internal websites for the Secret Service and ICE were shown to be deficient.

How many employees are in the Department of Homeland Security? 240,000. That’s a lot of potential for inadequate training to result in the accidental opening of a back door for hackers.

The audit made nine recommendations to the DHS. The DHS has reported that it’s been making efforts to address these recommendations.

  • The Secret Service and ICE are responsible for coming down on financial fraud, money laundering, identity theft and fraud involving banks and credit cards.
  • The National Protection and Programs Directorate (NPPD) was also audited, and this entity is responsible for the security of government computers.
  • ICE, the Secret Service and the NPPD blame Congress for the security lapses. They point out that Congress has a stop-and-go style of funding for cybersecurity, because Congress will not authorize ongoing funding throughout the year.
  • In fact, an ICE analyst revealed that he had to pay out of pocket for cybersecurity training, and thanks to the limited budget for this, was not able to attend formal training in four years.

The report states that employees may not be able to perform assigned incident responses to a cyber attack, nor efficiently investigate such an incident, as long as training was come-and-go and only peppered throughout the DHS instead of being department-wide.

Robert Siciliano is an identity theft expert to TheBestCompanys.com discussing  identity theft prevention.

Opportunities in Government for Skilled Security Personnel

As recent data breaches have shown, cyber attacks are particularly threatening to government entities handling sensitive data like Social Security numbers. Unfortunately, state agencies struggle to hire cybersecurity professionals.

The cause of this staffing shortage? There simply aren’t enough qualified people for the job[i]. Thankfully, change is in the air.

To attract skilled cybersecurity experts, some state governments are expanding IT internships for high school and college students. Many are offering more money, telecommuting jobs and flexible hours in hopes of landing the right candidates.

Some challenges states face in the hiring of skilled IT staff include:

  • Recruiting new workers to fill vacant IT slots
  • Offering competitive salaries to entice skilled professionals from the private sector
  • Filling senior-level IT positions quickly
  • Retaining skilled employees and minimizing turnover

One novel approach is “cross-training” talent: state governments have begun rotating cybersecurity employees through different positions to improve skills quickly. Like an endurance athlete cross-training with weight lifts and short sprints, exposure to different kinds of threats, networks, technologies and security strategies rapidly builds expertise among IT professionals and provides meaningful training for young hires. Cross-training can help improve retention while bolstering a state’s digital security apparatus.

Aspiring cybersecurity professionals should explore options in the public sector. Government employment offers a meaningful, multidisciplinary approach to continuing your cybersecurity journey.

I’m compensated by University of Phoenix for this blog. As always, all thoughts and opinions are my own.

[i]  http://www.bls.gov/opub/btn/volume-2/careers-in-growing-field-of-information-technology-services.htm

Very Bad People for hire online

The Deep Web is not a nice place. Here, people can hire assassins, take ransomware payments, purchase U.S. citizenship without revealing their identity, among other things, says an article on darkreading.com.

6DThis information comes from Trend Micro, which used a tool called the “Deep Web analyzer,” something of a web crawler, that collected URLS that were linked to TOR- and I2P-hidden sites, domains with nonstandard TLDs and Freenet resource identifiers, says darkreading.com.

The Deep Web is that portion of cyberspace that’s not indexed by the search engines. The Dark Web is part of the bigger Deep Web, accessible only via special tools.

A Dark Web user could literally hire a rapist or assassin. In fact, assassins even advertise, such as the group C’thulhu. Pay them their fee and they’ll maim, cripple, bomb and kill for you.

$3,000 will get you a “simple beating” to a “low-rank” target. $300,000 pays for the killing of a high-ranking political figure, staged to look like an accident.

Users can also hire (and do so much more commonly than the above) cybercriminals and child exploitation services.

The article points to additional research of the Deep Web, that cybercrooks use anonymization tools in creative ways. In fact, they are using TOR for the hosting of their command-and-control infrastructure. TorrentLocker is a type of malware, and it uses TOR to accept Bitcoin payments and host payment sites.

In other words, cybercriminals are using the Deep Web/Dark Web more and more commonly these days. TOR is being used for cybercriminals to receive payments for their hacking services.

But that’s not the biggest problem of the deep, dark Web, is it? As mentioned, it can be used to hire someone to murder. Just what will all of this eventually evolve into in the next 10 years?

Robert Siciliano personal and home security specialist to BestHomeSecurityCompanys.com discussing burglar proofing your home on Fox Boston. Disclosures.