It’s OK to Ignore the CEO, When it is NOT the CEO!

ImagineBrad Mathis  – [Senior Consultant – Information Security]

Imagine the following scenario.

You are going through your daily routine and you receive an urgent email from the CEO.  The email is urgent, appears to be time sensitive, and is requiring you to act immediately.  You are aware the CEO is currently out on vacation or away on business, and is therefore unreachable.  However, the email is direct and to the point.  “Get this Done!”  The email is asking for you, a member of the financial team, to process a payment or monetary transfer.  It may even inform you someone from another company will be reaching out to you with further instructions, such as account numbers and routing information. An abbreviated example of such an email may look something like this:

CEO Email
What if you also received an email ahead of this one from someone in finance saying “Keep an eye out for an email from the CEO asking about a funds transfer”, followed by an email from the alleged company the CEO mentioned in their original email?  Transferring large sums of money from one account to another is a normal part of your job.  Although this chain of events is a bit out of the ordinary, it also seems perfectly legitimate.  Would you process the transfer?  Would a co-worker?

Sadly, far too many organizations are falling victim to these type of crimes known as CEO Fraud and Business Email Compromise (BEC).  Some of the email senders’ email accounts are spoofed, meaning the criminal sender is making the recipient think the email is from the actual sender.  Even more concerning is when the actual senders’ email account credentials are compromised and the criminal is able to send emails directly from the account of a CEO, CFO, Attorney, and so on.  This may sound complicated, but it isn’t.  With the advancement of malware laced email attachments and infected links, it is far too easy to install malicious software on a victim’s workstation, thereby allowing the criminal to capture every keystroke the legitimate user types.  Even more concerning, cameras and microphones can be controlled by the criminals.

The FBI estimates the organizational amount lost to Business Email Compromise between October 2013 and February 2016 to be $2.3 Billion.  Since January 2015, the FBI has seen a 270 percent increase in identified victims and exposed loss! Keep in mind, this is only the amount of loss actually reported.  Many businesses remain quiet and never report their losses for fear of public reputation damage.

Know Be 4Luckily, the risk of becoming a victim to this type of crime, as well as other email and web based threats can be reduced.  A modern and evolving layered security infrastructure is extremely important.  It cannot and should not be overlooked.  However, the most effective and most overlooked method to reduce your risk of becoming a cybercrime victim is effective and measurable End User Security Awareness Education.

While we constantly stress the importance of Vulnerability and Patch Management, this does not just apply to your technology.  User vulnerability levels need to be assessed in order to gauge their likelihood of falling prey to a Phishing email and other criminal scams.  This activity is most effective when supplemented with required security awareness training.  This is where it sometimes gets tricky.  The simulated phishing campaigns and security awareness training requirements must apply to ALL employees, up to and including the President and CEO.

Identifying your employee vulnerability baseline is an important and effective step toward lowering your overall risk profile, as well as empowering your workforce to always be on the lookout for malicious and criminal activity that can threaten your business.

So, Yes… It is OK to ignore the CEO’s request when it cannot be verified it is truly the request of the CEO.  When the business is on the line, they will thank you for your due diligence.

How vulnerable are your users?  How likely are they to fall prey to becoming a victim?  How have you taken steps to get data to support your answers to those questions?  When performing these employee vulnerability baseline assessments, we have already seen as high as a 75% failure rate for the initial Phishing test.  Launching an effective awareness solution that allows you to measure risk and track improvements is a critical first step in lowering your employee vulnerability risk, making your organization less likely to become a victim of cybercrimes such as CEO Fraud, Business Email Compromise, and Ransomware.

Contact Keller Schroeder today to find out how we can help you implement solutions that effectively reduce your employee vulnerability risk through ongoing security awareness training and testing.


Phish or Be Phished? The Choice is Yours

PhishingBrad Mathis, Senior Consultant, Information Security

It is mid-2015.  By now, we have all seen incoming emails claiming we have been bequeathed a huge sum of money from a Nigerian Prince, or we have won a foreign lottery we never entered.  Most employees have seen these scam emails long enough to know they are not real.

However,

  • What about the seemingly benign email coming in from a recognizable sender?
  • What if this legitimate looking email has an attached PDF or Word document?
  • What if it contains a seemingly real link to a web site?
  • How many of your employees would open the attachment or click on the link?
  • How many employees will assume it is safe since it made it unscathed through all of your layers of security, including email and web content filters?
  • Do your users understand the ramifications of introducing undetected malware into your environment? Do they know this malware can capture their keystrokes, turn on their web camera and microphone, and capture screen shots or data from their system and transmit this data to cyber-criminals completely undetected?

If you can answer these questions with a high degree of certainty, you are either a one-user environment, you are sitting at each user’s desk approving their every keystroke, OR, you have already identified and implemented the requirement for measurable security awareness training and the importance of recurring testing of your staff to see how Phish prone they are.

This would be a good time to stress the importance of continuing to maintain an effective defense-in-depth strategy.  What does this mean?  Defense-in-depth all comes down to remembering not one single defense mechanism will protect your environment.  It takes several layers to lower risk.  Examples of necessary defense-in-depth layers are:

  • Continuous Vulnerability Management
  • Continuous Patch Management of Applications and Operating Systems
  • System Hardening and Configuration Standards
  • Effective Next Generation Firewall Strategy
  • Intrusion Detection and Prevention
  • Malware Defenses and Content Filtering
  • Secure Perimeter and Network Security Architecture
  • Complete elimination of obsolete operating systems and applications, as well as the elimination of technologies no longer supported or considered best practice, such as RIP and WINS
  • Strengthened Controls such as Password Requirements and Rights Management
  • Policies, Procedures, and Standards

Data SecurityWon’t a strong defense-in-depth strategy prevent the introduction of cyberattacks into my network? Unfortunately, no amount of technical defenses can completely prevent the actions of a user lacking security awareness from clicking or opening something they should not.  The danger point is the window of opportunity the cyber-criminal are all too familiar with.  Cyber-criminals know there is a time lag between the time vulnerabilities are discovered and the time organizations get around to correcting the vulnerability.  The criminals know to attack swiftly while defenses are down and the chance of detection is low.

According to a recent information security study, it takes organizations an average of 176 days to remediate known vulnerabilities.  However, it only takes cyber criminals an average of 7 days to exploit known vulnerabilities.  During the 169-day delta between vulnerability remediation and cyber-criminal exploitation, your defense in depth layers may be at the mercy of your end user’s level of security awareness education.  On top of this, we have been seeing a window of several days before anti-malware providers can detect the newest malware strains.

Of the 150+ Million phishing emails being sent every single day, over 10% are making it through SPAM filters.  Of those, over 8 million are opened, and over 800,000 users are clicking on phishing links.  An average of 80,000 users a day are actually providing sensitive information to cyber-criminals because they believe the email or web link to be legitimate.  Every Day!  Are your users among the 80,000 daily victims?

Know Be 4If you haven’t figured it by now, Security Awareness Training and Effectiveness Testing is now a required layer to an effective Defense-In-Depth strategy.  Knowing this is critical, Keller Schroeder has partnered with KnowBe4 to offer effective and measurable Information Security Awareness Training, as well as perform ‘safe’ simulated phishing attacks to help determine what your current Phish-Prone percentage is and how to lower it.  For years, law enforcement learned their best crime prevention techniques from Criminals.  KnowBe4 has taken this approach, as well, with Security Awareness Training.  The training was co-developed with reformed cyber-criminal Kevin Mitnick, the Most Wanted Hacker in the World during the mid-nineties.

For more information about how Keller Schroeder and KnowBe4 solutions can help you determine and lower your Security Awareness Risk, please contact your Keller Schroeder Account Manager.