Posts Tagged: John LaCour


25
Mar 20

US Government Sites Give Bad Security Advice

Many U.S. government Web sites now carry a message prominently at the top of their home pages meant to help visitors better distinguish between official U.S. government properties and phishing pages. Unfortunately, part of that message is misleading and may help perpetuate a popular misunderstanding about Web site security and trust that phishers have been exploiting for years now.

For example, the official U.S. Census Bureau website https://my2020census.gov carries a message that reads, “An official Web site of the United States government. Here’s how you know.” Clicking the last part of that statement brings up a panel with the following information:

A message displayed at the top of many U.S. .gov Web sites.

The text I have a beef with is the bit on the right, beneath the “This site is secure” statement. Specifically, it says, “The https:// ensures that you are connecting to the official website….”

Here’s the deal: The https:// part of an address (also called “Secure Sockets Layer” or SSL) merely signifies the data being transmitted back and forth between your browser and the site is encrypted and cannot be read by third parties.

However, the presence of “https://” or a padlock in the browser address bar does not mean the site is legitimate, nor is it any proof the site has been security-hardened against intrusion from hackers.

In other words, while readers should never transmit sensitive information to a site that does not use https://, the presence of this security feature tells you nothing about the trustworthiness of the site in question.

Here’s a sobering statistic: According to PhishLabs, by the end of 2019 roughly three-quarters (74 percent) of all phishing sites were using SSL certificates. PhishLabs found this percentage increased from 68% in Q3 and 54% in Q2 of 2019. Continue reading →


29
May 19

Should Failing Phish Tests Be a Fireable Offense?

Would your average Internet user be any more vigilant against phishing scams if he or she faced the real possibility of losing their job after falling for one too many of these emails? Recently, I met someone at a conference who said his employer had in fact terminated employees for such repeated infractions. As this was the first time I’d ever heard of an organization actually doing this, I asked some phishing experts what they thought (spoiler alert: they’re not fans of this particular teaching approach).

John LaCour is founder and chief technology officer of PhishLabs, a Charleston, S.C. based firm that helps companies educate and test employees on how not to fall for phishing scams. The company’s training courses offer customers a way to track how many employees open the phishing email tests and how many fall for the lure.

LaCour says enacting punitive measures for employees who repeatedly fall for phishing tests is counterproductive.

“We’ve heard from some of our clients in the financial industry that have similar programs where there are real consequences when people fail the tests, but it’s pretty rare across all types of businesses to have a policy that extreme,” LaCour said.

“There are a lot of things that organizations can do that aren’t as draconian and still have the desired effect of making security posture stronger,” he said. “We’ve seen companies require classroom training on the first failure, to a manager has to sit through it with you on the second time, to revoking network access in some cases.”

LaCour said one of the most common mistakes he sees is companies that purchase a tool to launch simulated phishing campaigns just to play “gotcha” with employees.

“It really demotivates people, and it doesn’t really teach them anything about how to be more diligent about phishing attacks,” he said. “Each phishing simulation program needs to be accompanied by a robust training program, where you teach employees what to do when they see something phishy. Otherwise, it just creates resentment among employees.”

Rohyt Belani, CEO of Leesburg, Va.-based security firm Cofense (formerly PhishMe), said anti-phishing education campaigns that employ strongly negative consequences for employees who repeatedly fall for phishing tests usually create tension and distrust between employees and the company’s security team.

“It can create an environment of animosity for the security team because they suddenly become viewed as working for Human Resources instead of trying to improve security,” Belani said. “Threatening people usually backfires, and they end up becoming more defiant and uncooperative.”

Cofense provides a phish reporting system and encourages customers to have their employees flag suspected phishing attacks (and tests), and Belani said those employee reports can often stymie real phishing attacks.

“So what happens a lot of times is a person may click on link in a real phishing email, and three seconds later realize, ‘Oops, I shouldn’t have clicked, let me report it anyway’,” Belani said. “But if that person knew there was a punitive angle to doing so, they’re more likely not to report it and to say, ‘You know what, I didn’t do it. Where’s the proof I clicked on the link?'” Continue reading →


26
Nov 18

Half of all Phishing Sites Now Have the Padlock

Maybe you were once advised to “look for the padlock” as a means of telling legitimate e-commerce sites from phishing or malware traps. Unfortunately, this has never been more useless advice. New research indicates that half of all phishing scams are now hosted on Web sites whose Internet address includes the padlock and begins with “https://”.

A live Paypal phishing site that uses https:// (has the green padlock).

Recent data from anti-phishing company PhishLabs shows that 49 percent of all phishing sites in the third quarter of 2018 bore the padlock security icon next to the phishing site domain name as displayed in a browser address bar. That’s up from 25 percent just one year ago, and from 35 percent in the second quarter of 2018.

This alarming shift is notable because a majority of Internet users have taken the age-old “look for the lock” advice to heart, and still associate the lock icon with legitimate sites. A PhishLabs survey conducted last year found more than 80% of respondents believed the green lock indicated a website was either legitimate and/or safe.

In reality, the https:// part of the address (also called “Secure Sockets Layer” or SSL) merely signifies the data being transmitted back and forth between your browser and the site is encrypted and can’t be read by third parties. The presence of the padlock does not mean the site is legitimate, nor is it any proof the site has been security-hardened against intrusion from hackers.

A live Facebook phish that uses SSL (has the green padlock).

Most of the battle to combat cybercrime involves defenders responding to offensive moves made by attackers. But the rapidly increasing adoption of SSL by phishers is a good example in which fraudsters are taking their cue from legitimate sites.

“PhishLabs believes that this can be attributed to both the continued use of SSL certificates by phishers who register their own domain names and create certificates for them, as well as a general increase in SSL due to the Google Chrome browser now displaying ‘Not secure’ for web sites that do not use SSL,” said John LaCour, chief technology officer for the company. “The bottom line is that the presence or lack of SSL doesn’t tell you anything about a site’s legitimacy.”

The major Web browser makers work with a number of security organizations to index and block new phishing sites, often serving bright red warning pages that flag the page of a phishing scam and seek to discourage people from visiting the sites. But not all phishing scams get flagged so quickly.

I spent a few minutes browsing phishtank.com for phishing sites that use SSL, and found this cleverly crafted page that attempts to phish credentials from users of Bibox, a cryptocurrency exchange. Click the image below and see if you can spot what’s going on with this Web address:

This live phish targets users of cryptocurrency exchange Bibox. Look carefully at the URL in the address bar, and you’ll notice a squiggly mark over the “i” in Bibox. This is an internationalized domain name, and the real address is https://www.xn--bbox-vw5a[.]com/login

Continue reading →


17
May 10

Teach a Man to Phish…

Phishing may not be the most sophisticated form of cyber crime, but it can be a lucrative trade for those who decide to make it their day jobs. Indeed, data secretly collected from an international phishing operation over  18 months suggests that criminals who pursue a career in phishing can reap millions of dollars a year, even if they only manage to snag just a few victims per scam.

Phishers often set up their fraudulent sites using ready-made “phish kits” — collections of HTML, text and images that mimic the content found at major banks and e-commerce sites. Typically, phishers stitch the kits into the fabric of hacked, legitimate sites, which they then outfit with a “backdoor” that allows them to get back into the site at any time.

About a year and a half ago, investigators at Charleston, S.C. based PhishLabs found that one particular backdoor that showed up time and again in phishing attacks referenced an image at a domain name that was about to expire. When that domain finally came up for grabs, PhishLabs registered it, hoping that they could use it to keep tabs on new phishing sites being set up with the same kit.

The trick worked: PhishLabs collected data on visits to the site for roughly 15 months, and tracked some 1,767 Web sites that were hacked and seeded with the phishing kit that tried to pull content from the domain that PhishLabs had scooped up.

PhishLabs  determined that most of the phishing sites were likely set up by a single person — a man in Lagos, Nigeria that PhishLabs estimates was responsible for about 1,100 of the phishing sites the company tracked over the 15 month experiment.

Continue reading →