Market plummets

Want to deter threat actors? Start by nullifying your data leaks.

 

70% of successful breaches are perpetrated by external actors whose attacks originate on the internet. Since these actors don’t have access to your organization’s internal assets or networks, they rely on data available on the internet. With 8.5 billion records compromised, in 2019 alone, adversaries can find an employee’s credentials, or your organization’s API keys, within a few hours. Allowing them to infiltrate your organization, spread malware and ransomware, or steal intellectual property and sensitive documents. 

Apart from the direct operational impacts, cyber-attacks affect an organization’s hard-earned reputation and revenue as well. Snapchat shares dropped by 3.4% the day after their source code leak was made public. And in addition to the immediate backlash, companies that have experienced a breach, underperform the market by > 15%, even 3 years later. 

Considering the stakes, it is important to take a closer look at the types of leaked data that threat actors seek out, and ways to effectively prevent them from getting their hands on it. 

 

What types of data do threat actors look for?

 

1. Credentials

 

27% of successful breaches involve stolen credentials

In almost all cyber-attacks affecting an organisation, credentials are involved either as a target of theft or as a means to furthering access in a network. This includes email credentials and hardcoded access credentials that can be used to access confidential emails, systems, and documents. 

 

Target was breached using stolen credentials

In one of the first major breaches, threats actors uploaded BlackPOS to Target’s point-of-sale (PoS) network, allowing them to steal customers’ credit card information and other personal details. It was later found that threat actors were able to compromise Target servers using credentials stolen from Fazio Mechanical Services. Fazio, Target’s HVAC vendor, had access to Target servers. And since the network was not properly segmented, threat actors were able to compromise Target’s PoS network.

 

2. Source codes

 

100,000 + GitHub code repos contain secret keys that can give attackers privileged access

While source code can be exposed on purpose, by malicious insiders, most often it is exposed by developers being careless while pushing code from their machines to GitHub. Leaked source code could potentially expose SSH keys – digital certificates that unlock online resources, Application Programming Interface (API) keys, and other sensitive tokens. Using the source code, threat actors can find vulnerabilities that can be exploited, to launch cyber-attacks on the company.

 

Mercedes-Benz “smart car” components’ source code leak

After discovering one of Daimler AG’s Git web portals, a researcher registered an account on Daimler’s code-hosting portal and downloaded 580 Git repositories from the company’s server. The repositories contained the source code of onboard logic units (OLUs) used in Mercedes vans, which provide live vehicle data. The researcher then uploaded the files to file-hosting service MEGA, the Internet Archive, and on his own GitLab server, thus making it public. 

 

3. Sensitive data

 

Over 23 million stolen credit cards are being traded on the Dark Web

Sensitive data such as credit card details, healthcare information, customer PII, etc. often end up on the dark web after being exposed on unsecured databases or cloud storage. This information could be used to launch phishing attacks. It could also lead to your intellectual property being exposed to the public. 

 

540 million Facebook users’ records were exposed on unsecured S3 buckets

Mexico based digital media company Cultura Colectiva exposed 146 GB of Facebook user data, including comments, likes, account names, reactions, and Facebook IDs, on an unsecured Amazon S3 bucket. Another S3 bucket, belonging to Facebook integrated app At The Pool, exposed 22,000 Facebook users’ friend lists, interests, photos, group memberships, and check-ins.

 

How to eliminate these low hanging fruits that expedite attacks?

As seen from the above examples, despite their best efforts, Target, Mercedes, and Facebook were not able to prevent their data from leaking. This can be attributed to the highly distributed, interconnected, and globalized nature of modern businesses. This means, there aren’t enough resources to monitor every employee, vendor, and vendor’s vendor. But the good news is, if you can detect data leaks in time, and have them taken down, their impact will be greatly reduced. 

Usually, a data breach lifecycle is 279 days, 206 days to identify a breach, and 73 days to contain it. Instead of 206 days, if a data leak can be identified within a few hours, its presence across the surface web and dark web can be contained. However, this cannot be done manually. The only way to effectively identify and curb data leaks is to adopt AI-driven real-time monitoring.  

 

Continuous monitoring for leaked or exposed data

Incorporate processes and tools that ensure data leaks related to your organization are monitored continuously. This includes real-time monitoring of the surface web, deep web, and dark web, for credentials, source code, and sensitive information. Deploy a comprehensive threat monitoring tool such as CloudSEK’s XVigil, whose AI-driven engine scours the internet for threats and data leaks related to your organization, prioritizes them by severity, and provides real-time alerts. Thus, giving you enough time to neutralize the data leaks before it can have adverse impacts on your business.

Threat actors’ next big target: VIPs, Executives, and Board members

A recently uncovered spear phishing campaign, orchestrated by the PerSwaysion group, targeting 150+ executives across the globe, is a prime example of the growing trend of concerted cyber attacks on CXOs and VIPs. This process of targeted attacks on VIPs is commonly known as Whaling. Whaling tactics are similar to general spear-phishing. But they differ in the fact that it specifically targets high-level and important individuals within an organization. 

Threat actors are slowly moving from large-scale, low-value attacks, which target a general population, to small-scale, high-value attacks, which target the key personnel of an organization. Furthermore, the Verizon 2019 Data Breach Report found that senior executives are 12 times more likely to be targets of social incidents, and 9 times more likely to be targets of social breaches. This is because high-profile personnel have exclusive clearances, privileges, and access to:

  • Confidential and sensitive information including financials, trade secrets etc. 
  • Authorize or order other employees in the organization to carry out certain tasks.
  • Valuable assets including networks, devices, and facilities. 

How do threat actors target C-level executives?

Research and reconnaissance

  • To orchestrate a typical attack, threat actors perform extensive reconnaissance and research, to understand an organization’s structure and functions.
  • Using this information, they narrow down the list of potential targets and their associates.
  • They then collect personal information about the shortlisted VIPs. Most companies publish their executives’ details on social media, news media, and their own websites. Thus, a simple Google search will give the threat actor access to this information. Moreover, the executives themselves have personal accounts on platforms such as Facebook and LinkedIn. And often, the privacy settings on these accounts are lax. 
  • They further search for exposed account credentials from previous data leaks. Given that most of us, executives being no exception, use the same password for multiple accounts, the exposed credentials can be used to gain access to the executive’s official email account.

Data theft attacks

  • Once hackers have obtained access to C-suite executives accounts, through brute-force attacks or other means, they steal valuable information. This may include client lists, customer data, financial data, internal processes, business strategy and plan, and more. 

Impersonation attacks

  • Threat actors could hijack executives’ social media accounts and post harmful messages. And, this could tarnish the reputation of the executive and their organization.  
  • Using the email access, threat actors decipher the communication frequencies and styles within the organization. For example: If there is a trail of audit related emails, threat actors can send requests for audit related details in continuation to the ongoing communication. 
  • If threats actors cannot get access to an executives’ credentials, they create fake email IDs. These email IDs closely resemble one of the executives’ email IDs or that of the HR department or Accounting department. From the fake ID they send an urgent, actionable, and believable email to a C-level executive. 

Extended attacks

  • Threat actors bank on executives having limited time, or relying on assistants, to read and respond to emails. They also ensure the emails are believable. For this, they add references to the executive’s interests and hobbies, which are gleaned from their social media profiles. The emails usually request the email recipient, who is also an executive or VIP, for sensitive information, wire transfers, or to download an attachment. 
  • If the recipient falls for the trap, they will end up revealing sensitive information or authorizing someone else to do so. They could also authorize transfers to the fake account details shared by the threat actor. A malicious attachment could drop a malware or ransomware payload in their systems. The recent PerSwaysion campaign used a fake Microsoft Outlook login page, from where they were able to collect 150+ executives’ login credentials. The credentials can be used to orchestrate other attacks or could be sold on the Dark Web, to the highest bidder.  

How to protect C-level executives from these attacks?

Given the heightened risk to VIPs, here are a few measures to combat and mitigate threats:

Continuous monitoring

Deploy a real-time monitoring tool that will scour the internet – surface web, deep web, and dark web – for potential threats.  A comprehensive SaaS platform such as CloudSEK’s XVigil tracks VIP’s personal email IDs for their presence in past security breaches. Organizations are alerted to such threats immediately, along with other significant details pertaining to the risk.

Review social media presence

Ensure the executives’ social media accounts have the highest level of privacy. Report duplicate accounts and delete dormant accounts on a regular basis. 

Multi-layered protection

Enable Multi Factor Authentication (MFA) for all their accounts, including email, company assets and network. 

Regular cybersecurity refreshers

Since threat actors are constantly changing and upgrading their whaling tactics and ruses, periodic training will help executives spot and avoid such traps. 

 

An attack on a VIP doesn’t just affect them personally, it also affects their organizations revenue and brand image. Threat actors could gain access to the company’s central database, and steal employee and customer details, and leak them or even sell them. It takes years of painstaking effort to build a company’s brand image, and any damage to this intangible asset can have very serious and far-reaching consequences. Hence it is important to enable processes, and tools such as XVigil, to continuously monitor and protect VIPs and their organizations.