Businesses warned to prepare for cyber security extortion campaigns

Directors, lawyers and doctors are the top extortion targets of cyber criminals, researchers tracking  sextortion attempts reveals.

Directors, lawyers and doctors are the top extortion targets of cyber criminals, researchers tracking  sextortion attempts reveals.

Cyber criminal groups are promising rewards of £276,300 a year on average to accomplices who help them target high-worth individuals with extortion scams research reports.

The reward promises are even higher for accomplices with network management, penetration testing and programming skills, according to researchers at risk protection firm Digital Shadows.

One threat actor, the report said, was offering £600,000 a year, with add-ons and a final salary after the second year of £840,000.

The main method of cyber security extortion where criminals deem potential victims to be particularly vulnerable is so-called “sextortion”.

Digital Shadows tracked a sample of sextortion campaigns and found that from July 2018 to February 2019 over 89,000 unique recipients faced around 792,000 extortion attempts.

An analysis of bitcoin wallets associated with these scams found that sextortionists could be reaping an average of £414 per victim.

The campaigns follow a similar pattern, the researcher found, in which the extortionist provides the target with a known password as “proof” of compromise, then claims to have video footage of the victim watching adult content online, and finally urges them to pay a ransom to a specified bitcoin address.

However, the researchers said other campaigns can be even more sinister, with one spam campaign from December 2018 claiming that recipients will be “killed” if they did not pay.

Extortion is in part being fuelled by the number of ready made extortion materials readily available on criminal forums, the researchers said, adding that these are lowering the barriers to entry for wannabe criminals with sensitive corporate documents, intellectual property and extortion manuals being sold on by more experienced criminals to service aspiring extortionists for less than £10.

In one example, seen by Digital Shadows, the guide specifically focuses on a sextortion tactic whereby the threat actor begins an online relationship with a married man and then threatens to reveal details of the affair to his partner unless a ransom is paid.

The guide claims this extortion method is the easiest for “novice”’ threat actors to start with, suggesting they could earn between £230 and £380 per extortion attempt. Dedicated subsections exist on criminal forums for this type of dating scam.

Even greater levels of sophistication could be around the corner, the researchers warn, if so-called “crowd-funding” schemes take off.

In April 2018, threat actor “thedarkoverlord” stole documents belonging to the insurance provider, Hiscox, including files related to the 9/11 attacks in the US. The threat actor hoped to play on the public’s appetite for 9/11-related controversy and encourages people to raise funds to view the documents. Currently this campaign has amassed around £8,904.

Crowdfunding models such as this, the researchers said, allow extortionists to raise funds from the general public rather than relying on victims giving in to ransom demands. Organisations dealing with inflammatory or sensational information should therefore consider how they would respond if an attacker opts for this course of action, they said.

If you want to save yourself stress, money and a damaged reputation from a cyber incident – for a cyber security incident prevention, protection and training please ring us now on 01242 521967 or email or complete the form on our contact page NOWContact Cyber 139

Making the UK the safest place to live and work online

Government, industry and individuals all have to play their part in enhancing cyber security practices

We all watched a few weeks ago as the chancellor set the new Budget, pledging an extra £1bn to boost UK defences, including cyber security. Add to that the proposed internet safety laws and new regulations around the collection and use of personal data, and in many ways we are on the right path to keeping the UK as a safe place to live and do business online.

But it is always worth reminding ourselves, whether we represent government, industry or the individual, of the key part we all have to play in creating the skills, practices and expectations of a safe online and working environment.

The objective of government should be to help create an environment in which industry and individuals are encouraged to expect and deliver good cyber security, and where the UK has the cyber skills and workforce it needs. This can be achieved through the levers available to government – legislation, policy and incentives.

One area where the government is leading on such efforts in the UK is in establishing new “secure by design” measures, encouraging manufacturers to embed security into the design of new technology rather than as a bolt-on or afterthought.

The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) says there are expected to be more than 420 million internet-connected devices in use across the UK within the next three years, with the risk of poorly secured devices leaving people exposed to large-scale cyber attacks.

Such secure-by-design codes of practice, developed by the DCMS and the National Cyber Security Centre alongside industry, are not only key in driving innovation in technology, but in creating trust between government, industry and individuals through the development of products and services that keep people safe.

The role of government is also to set an example. According to EY’s 2018-19 Global information security survey, half of all local authorities in England still rely on unsupported server software.

In the face of emerging global cyber threats, and as the gatekeepers to our essential services, effective cyber security can only be tackled with the relevant technology and training rolled out across public sector departments, agencies and bodies to protect our critical assets.

 Cyber security awareness

EY’s survey found that 77% of organisations are still operating with limited cyber security and resilience. Asked what they saw as their top vulnerability, 34% of organisations said careless or unaware employees. This underscores the importance of cyber security awareness and culture as key aspects of the defence against cyber attacks.

So what can be done? Even if the board knows that cyber attacks are on the rise, is it prepared to make the necessary investments in people, processes and technology to tackle these issues? The survey is encouraging in this respect, with 53% of organisations saying they have increased their budgets this year and 65% planning an increase next year.

Despite this, most organisations admit they would be unlikely to step up their cyber security practices or spend more money unless they were hit by a breach or cyber incident. So a breach where no harm was caused would not lead to higher spending for most organisations. The problem is that in most cases, harm has been done – it simply has not come to the surface yet.

But there is an opportunity here. Many organisations now regard emerging technologies as a high priority for business growth, which implies that cyber security could, at last, be designed in. That includes more secure cloud and mobile computing, and also enablers such as cyber security analytics, robotic process automation and machine learning, which can provide early detection, prevention and resilience in the event of an attack.

Ultimately, the role of businesses is to protect their enterprise by building effective lines of defence around their business crown jewels, optimising cyber security by leveraging suitable technologies, and embedding cyber security as an enabler, rather than a barrier, to growth.

In an age when we manage most of our lives online, educating the public to be cautious when it comes to operational security can affect individuals positively, both as employees and consumers.

Finally, it is impossible not to mention the cyber skills deficit. With 30% of surveyed organisations saying they still don’t have the skills they need, cyber security must be promoted more strongly as a growing career path.

Government, industry and the individual all have their role to play in this – government in building the education infrastructure for IT; industry in creating the jobs that will encourage the workforce of the future; and individuals by taking the time to understand cyber security.

If you want to save yourself stress, money and a damaged reputation from a cyber incident – for a cyber security incident prevention, protection and training please ring us now on 03333 393 139 or email or complete the form on our contact page NOWContact Cyber 139