Email Security Audits evaluate user awareness through non-malicious phishing and impersonation campaigns designed to bypass Firewalls and Antivirus Solutions. These campaigns are non-intrusive and not malicious, but allow us insight into vulnerabilities that exist on South African business and corporate infrastructure and email security.

Phishing as a Security Assessment Services, Social Engineering, Ransomware Prevention & Defense, Email Security Audits & Risk Assessment with Security Awareness.

Thus allowing you to take measure to educate and prepare your staff against malicious email attempts from malicious attackers and protect your business from Ransomware, Malware and Penetration attempts from email phishing attacks.

With Email Security Audits, We Assess:

  • User Awareness
  • Anti-Malware Solutions (Virus Protection)
  • Firewall Detection & Prevention
  • Recovery Strategies
Email Security Audits
Email Security Audits

We all make mistakes and because these attacks are skillfully crafted to bypass the toughest infrastructure and physical security measures in order to exploit the unsuspecting user through email, phones or sms’s, it is only human to believe the content is legitimate. Usually in the form of an malicious email attachment or hyperlink, the attacker would disguise the content to be from a “legitimate” sender requesting “legitimate information”. 

With South Africa being one of the highest affected and most targeted nations in the world, the impact on your business could be catastrophic as seen in recent ransomware and malware attacks suffered by Joburg City Power, Liberty Insurance and many more. There has been a reported increase of 22% of these attacks in 2019.

Don’t become a statistic or a victim and be prepared, contact Cyber Watchdogs today and allow us to conduct an Email Security Audit on your company and evaluate user email security awareness, security infrastructure and responsive readiness.

We offer Annual, Monthly and Quarterly Email Security Audits to allow you to assess user awareness on a regular basis.

We also offer free advice to users on suspected malicious emails they might receive. If you have an Email Security Audits SLA with Cyber Watchdogs, we allow these users to send us the email to evaluate authentication & validity of content and source.

Risk Assessments (SERA), Phishing, Ransomware, Malware

Email Security Audits, in the context of Cyber Security, is the psychological manipulation of people into performing actions or divulging confidential information. This differs from social engineering within the social sciences, which does not concern the divulging of confidential information. A type of confidence trick for the purpose of information gathering, fraud, or system access, it differs from a traditional “con” in that it is often one of many steps in a more complex fraud scheme.

It has also been defined as any act that influences a person to take an action that may or may not be in their best interests.

Ransomware Meaning

Ransomware is a type of malware from cryptovirology that threatens to publish the victim’s data or perpetually block access to it unless a ransom is paid. While some simple ransomware may lock the system in a way which is not difficult for a knowledgeable person to reverse, more advanced malware uses a technique called cryptoviral extortion, in which it encrypts the victim’s files, making them inaccessible, and demands a ransom payment to decrypt them. In a properly implemented cryptoviral extortion attack, recovering the files without the decryption key is an intractable problem – and difficult to trace digital currencies such as Ukash or Bitcoin and other cryptocurrency are used for the ransoms, making tracing and prosecuting the perpetrators difficult.

Ransomware attacks are typically carried out using a Trojan that is disguised as a legitimate file that the user is tricked into downloading or opening when it arrives as an email attachment. However, one high-profile example, the “WannaCry worm“, travelled automatically between computers without user interaction.

Starting from around 2012 the use of ransomware scams has grown internationally. There were 181.5 million ransomware attacks in the first six months of 2018. This marks a 229% increase over this same time frame in 2017. In June 2014, vendor McAfee released data showing that it had collected more than double the number of samples of ransomware that quarter than it had in the same quarter of the previous year. CryptoLocker was particularly successful, procuring an estimated US$3 million before it was taken down by authorities, and CryptoWall was estimated by the US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) to have accrued over US$18 million by June 2015.

The concept of file-encrypting ransomware was invented and implemented by Young and Yung at Columbia University and was presented at the 1996 IEEE Security & Privacy conference. It is called cryptoviral extortion and it was inspired by the fictional facehugger in the movie Alien. Cryptoviral extortion is the following three-round protocol carried out between the attacker and the victim.

  1. [attacker→victim] The attacker generates a key pair and places the corresponding public key in the malware. The malware is released.
  2. [victim→attacker] To carry out the cryptoviral extortion attack, the malware generates a random symmetric key and encrypts the victim’s data with it. It uses the public key in the malware to encrypt the symmetric key. This is known as hybrid encryption and it results in a small asymmetric ciphertext as well as the symmetric ciphertext of the victim’s data. It zeroizes the symmetric key and the original plaintext data to prevent recovery. It puts up a message to the user that includes the asymmetric ciphertext and how to pay the ransom. The victim sends the asymmetric ciphertext and e-money to the attacker.
  3. [attacker→victim] The attacker receives the payment, deciphers the asymmetric ciphertext with the attacker’s private key, and sends the symmetric key to the victim. The victim deciphers the encrypted data with the needed symmetric key thereby completing the cryptovirology attack.

The symmetric key is randomly generated and will not assist other victims. At no point is the attacker’s private key exposed to victims and the victim need only send a very small ciphertext (the encrypted symmetric-cipher key) to the attacker.

Ransomware attacks are typically carried out using a Trojan, entering a system through, for example, a malicious attachment, embedded link in a Phishing email, or a vulnerability in a network service. The program then runs a payload, which locks the system in some fashion, or claims to lock the system but does not (e.g., a scareware program). Payloads may display a fake warning purportedly by an entity such as a law enforcement agency, falsely claiming that the system has been used for illegal activities, contains content such as pornography and “pirated” media.

Some payloads consist simply of an application designed to lock or restrict the system until payment is made, typically by setting the Windows Shell to itself, or even modifying the master boot record and/or partition table to prevent the operating to the system from booting until it is repaired. The most sophisticated payloads encrypt files, with many using strong encryption to encrypt the victim’s files in such a way that only the malware author has the needed decryption key.

Payment is virtually always the goal, and the victim is coerced into paying for the ransomware to be removed either by supplying a program that can decrypt the files, or by sending an unlock code that undoes the payload’s changes. While the attacker may simply take the money without returning the victim’s files, it is in the attacker’s best interest to perform the decryption as agreed, since victims will stop sending payments if it becomes known that they serve no purpose. A key element in making ransomware work for the attacker is a convenient payment system that is hard to trace. A range of such payment methods have been used, including wire transfers, premium-rate text messages, pre-paid voucher services such as paysafecard, and the digital currency bitcoin.


Encrypting ransomware

The first known malware extortion attack, the “AIDS Trojan” written by Joseph Popp in 1989, had a design failure so severe it was not necessary to pay the extortionist at all. Its payload hid the files on the hard drive and encrypted only their names, and displayed a message claiming that the user’s license to use a certain piece of software had expired. The user was asked to pay US$189 to “PC Cyborg Corporation” in order to obtain a repair tool even though the decryption key could be extracted from the code of the Trojan. The Trojan was also known as “PC Cyborg”. Popp was declared mentally unfit to stand trial for his actions, but he promised to donate the profits from the malware to fund AIDS research.

The idea of abusing anonymous cash systems to safely collect ransom from human kidnapping was introduced in 1992 by Sebastiaan von Solms and David Naccache. This electronic money collection method was also proposed for cryptoviral extortion attacks. In the von Solms-Naccache scenario a newspaper publication was used (since bitcoin ledgers did not exist at the time the paper was written).

The notion of using public key cryptography for data kidnapping attacks was introduced in 1996 by Adam L. Young and Moti Yung. Young and Yung critiqued the failed AIDS Information Trojan that relied on symmetric cryptography alone, the fatal flaw being that the decryption key could be extracted from the Trojan, and implemented an experimental proof-of-concept cryptovirus on a Macintosh SE/30 that used RSA and the Tiny Encryption Algorithm (TEA) to hybrid encrypt the victim’s data. Since public key crypto is used, the cryptovirus only contains the encryption key. The attacker keeps the corresponding private decryption key private. Young and Yung’s original experimental cryptovirus had the victim send the asymmetric ciphertext to the attacker who deciphers it and returns the symmetric decryption key it contains to the victim for a fee. Long before electronic money existed Young and Yung proposed that electronic money could be extorted through encryption as well, stating that “the virus writer can effectively hold all of the money ransom until half of it is given to him. Even if the e-money was previously encrypted by the user, it is of no use to the user if it gets encrypted by a cryptovirus”. They referred to these attacks as being “cryptoviral extortion”, an overt attack that is part of a larger class of attacks in a field called cryptovirology, which encompasses both overt and covert attacks. The cryptoviral extortion protocol was inspired by the parasitic relationship between H. R. Giger’s facehugger and its host in the movie Alien.

Examples of extortionate ransomware became prominent in May 2005. By mid-2006, Trojans such as Gpcode, TROJ.RANSOM.A, Archiveus, Krotten, Cryzip, and MayArchive began utilizing more sophisticated RSA encryption schemes, with ever-increasing key-sizes. Gpcode.AG, which was detected in June 2006, was encrypted with a 660-bit RSA public key. In June 2008, a variant known as Gpcode.AK was detected. Using a 1024-bit RSA key, it was believed large enough to be computationally infeasible to break without a concerted distributed effort.

Encrypting ransomware returned to prominence in late 2013 with the propagation of CryptoLocker—using the Bitcoin digital currency platform to collect ransom money. In December 2013, ZDNet estimated based on Bitcoin transaction information that between 15 October and 18 December, the operators of CryptoLocker had procured about US$27 million from infected users. The CryptoLocker technique was widely copied in the months following, including CryptoLocker 2.0 (thought not to be related to CryptoLocker), CryptoDefense (which initially contained a major design flaw that stored the private key on the infected system in a user-retrievable location, due to its use of Windows’ built-in encryption APIs), and the August 2014 discovery of a Trojan specifically targeting network-attached storage devices produced by Synology. In January 2015, it was reported that ransomware-styled attacks have occurred against individual websites via hacking, and through ransomware designed to target Linux-based web servers.

The Microsoft Malware Protection Center identified a trend away from WSF files in favour of LNK files and PowerShell scripting. These LNK shortcut files install Locky ransomware by automating infection operations rather than relying on traditional user downloads of WSF files—all of which is made possible by the universal PowerShell Windows application. Unfortunately, cybercriminals have been able to leverage PowerShell for their attacks for years. In a recent report, the application was found to be involved in nearly 40% of endpoint security incidents. While attackers have been finding weaknesses in the Windows operating system for years, it’s clear that there’s something problematic with PowerShell scripting.

Some ransomware strains have used proxies tied to Tor hidden services to connect to their command and control servers, increasing the difficulty of tracing the exact location of the criminals. Furthermore, dark web vendors have increasingly started to offer the technology as a service.

Symantec has classified ransomware to be the most dangerous cyber threat.

Non-encrypting ransomware

In August 2010, Russian authorities arrested nine individuals connected to a ransomware Trojan known as WinLock. Unlike the previous Gpcode Trojan, WinLock did not use encryption. Instead, WinLock trivially restricted access to the system by displaying pornographic images and asked users to send a premium-rate SMS (costing around US$10) to receive a code that could be used to unlock their machines. The scam hit numerous users across Russia and neighbouring countries—reportedly earning the group over US$16 million.

In 2011, a ransomware Trojan surfaced that imitated the Windows Product Activation notice, and informed users that a system’s Windows installation had to be re-activated due to “[being a] victim of fraud”. An online activation option was offered (like the actual Windows activation process), but was unavailable, requiring the user to call one of six international numbers to input a 6-digit code. While the malware claimed that this call would be free, it was routed through a rogue operator in a country with high international phone rates, who placed the call on hold, causing the user to incur large international long distance charges.

In February 2013, a ransomware Trojan based on the Stamp.EK exploit kit surfaced; the malware was distributed via sites hosted on the project hosting services SourceForge and GitHub that claimed to offer “fake nude pics” of celebrities. In July 2013, an OS X-specific ransomware Trojan surfaced, which displays a web page that accuses the user of downloading pornography. Unlike its Windows-based counterparts, it does not block the entire computer, but simply exploits the behaviour of the web browser itself to frustrate attempts to close the page through normal means.

In July 2013, a 21-year-old man from Virginia, whose computer coincidentally did contain pornographic photographs of underage girls with whom he had conducted sexualized communications, turned himself in to police after receiving and being deceived by FBI MoneyPak Ransomware accusing him of possessing child pornography. An investigation discovered the incriminating files, and the man was charged with child sexual abuse and possession of child pornography.

Mobile ransomware

With the increased popularity of ransomware on PC platforms, ransomware targeting mobile operating systems has also proliferated. Typically, mobile ransomware payloads are blockers, as there is little incentive to encrypt data since it can be easily restored via online synchronization. Mobile ransomware typically targets the Android platform, as it allows applications to be installed from third-party sources. The payload is typically distributed as an APK file installed by an unsuspecting user; it may attempt to display a blocking message over top of all other applications, while another used a form of clickjacking to cause the user to give it “device administrator” privileges to achieve deeper access to the system.

Different tactics have been used on iOS devices, such as exploiting iCloud accounts and using the Find My iPhone system to lock access to the device. On iOS 10.3, Apple patched a bug in the handling of JavaScript pop-up windows in Safari that had been exploited by ransomware websites. It recently has been shown that ransomware may also target ARM architectures like can be found in various Internet-of-Things (IoT) devices, such as Industrial IoT edge devices.

In August 2019 researchers demonstrated it’s possible to infect DSLR cameras with ransomware. Digital cameras often use Picture Transfer Protocol (PTP – standard protocol used to transfer files.) Researchers found that it was possible to exploit vulnerabilities in the protocol to infect target camera(s) with ransomware (or execute any arbitrary code). This attack was presented at the Defcon security conference in Las Vegas as a proof of concept attack (not as actual armed malware).

Courtesy : WikiPedia

Email Security Audits

We design and develop a non-malicious email security audits through a phishing campaign to send an email to your staff. This allows us to see, verify and report on staff clicking on links,  opening attachments or following false payment instructions. Users vulnerable to phishing emails could result in Ransomware, Infrastructure Penetration and other threats associated with email security. Our email security audits ensure awareness of email security threats.