The Android Botnet that Victimized Consumers and Advertisers

The Android Botnet that Victimized Consumers and Advertisers

“If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.” Unfortunately, over 65,000 users neglected to observe this time-honored adage and proceeded to download a “free” app that came with the promise of among other things, a free pair of tennis shoes. Before it was all over, the online criminals had spoofed over 5,000 Android apps that in turn, downloaded an ad fraud botnet onto on over 65,000 devices. The botnet was also responsible for more than 2 billion bid requests. Yes, that’s billion, not million.

When Did It All Start?

The attack, now codenamed TERRACOTTA, began in late 2019 when a family of apps listed on the Google Play Store, offered users an opportunity to download an app in exchange for a free pair of tennis shoes, or in some cases, items such as event tickets, coupons, or even expensive dental treatments. For those who opted for the tennis shoes as their free gift, all they had to do was fill in their name along with their address details, select the shoes they wanted and in 14 days time, the shoes would be mailed to their front door. Incredibly, there were no strings attached. 

Since initially many users gave the apps a glowing 5-star review, others were likely encouraged by such positive feedback and eager to download an app and then part with their personal information. As time passed and not a single user claimed they received free tennis shoes, the 5-star reviews understandably turned negative. 

How Did They Do It?

The ad fraud botnet used in all the apps silently loaded ads in the background, and this is what made this family of apps completely different from other apps that have used somewhat similar tactics in that they bombarded users with unwanted, but obvious ads.

The entire family of apps used in the exploit were not reported to the Google Play Store as being supported by ads. Since no users ever reported seeing any unwanted ads, the apps were able to do their work under the radar. Further analysis showed no monetization mechanism and the analysis confirmed that no ads were ever shown to users. Using these clever ploys, the apps were able to deceive users on Google Play Store until the final week in June 2020.

Exploiting Advertisers

In addition to defrauding the average user, the apps also contained malware that deceived advertisers. Beyond the 14-day window of shoe delivery that of course never occurred, the apps acted as a delivery platform for other functionality that initially remained dormant.  

Eventually it was discovered the other functionality consisted of a customized Android browser that was packaged beside a control module written in the popular React Native framework. After being loaded on the phone, the customized Android browser was used to create deceitful ad impressions. These were then purchased by advertisers who bought them in the digital advertising ecosystem. 

Expert Exploitation

Those committing the fraud made use of several techniques that allowed their malware to remain undetected for quite some time. With their clever 14-day “waiting period”, it allowed them to leave an app that had no real functionality for an extended period of time on countless phones. By waiting a lengthy period rather than immediately exhibiting bad behavior, it made it much more difficult for users to connect downloading the malware-loaded app with unwanted behavior that occurred much later. The lengthy waiting period also negatively affected cybersecurity analysis since the apps required observation for an extended period of time in order to finally detect the exploitive behavior. Those in the anti-virus community simply were not prepared for malware that remained dormant for such a long period of time. 

A Cautionary Tale

The clever exploitation described above should be a cautionary tale for companies who may not be well-versed in how to effectively train their employees to spot such deceitful malware. If you would like more information on how to protect your company’s portable devices and other hardware and software from exploitation, please contact us.

350,000+ Personal Data Exposed After Preen.Me Attack

350,000+ Personal Data Exposed After Preen.Me Attack

It’s the rare business that can survive without marketing and social media efforts, so when a social media marketing company like Preen.Me comes under a cyber attack, it invariably adversely affects many, many interested parties. And with Preen.Me’s recent hack, that’s exactly what happened. Over 100,000 social media influencers have had their personal data stolen because of their connection to Preen.Me. In addition, over 250,000 social media users have had their personal data exposed on a deep web hacking forum from their use of ByteSizedBeauty, a Preen.Me application.

While Preen.Me primarily focuses their marketing efforts on beauty-related content, meaning many other types of businesses were spared, that does not provide any comfort to those whose primary business is related to personal care. Preen.Me boasts big-name customers such as Unilever, Revlon, St. Ives, and Neutrogena, who in turn interact with large customer bases. 

In this post, we will outline how the attack was discovered, the data involved, and discuss the level of sophistication that hackers and data thieves can employ in their efforts to exploit, steal from, and harass innocent parties.

The Discovery  

RBS, a world-renowned leader in cyber security, first discovered the Preen.Me leak on June 6, 2020 after they noted a known threat actor posting a message on a deep web forum about their recent hacking efforts. The attack was confirmed by the actor on the same day when they shared stolen information from 250 beauty influencers on PasteBin. PasteBin is a content hosting website service that allows users to store text on their site for set periods of time. The hacker also threatened to release the personal information of 100,000 records he/she acquired. However, as of this date those records do not seem to have been released.

The Data at Risk 

The affected clients of Preen.Me are social media influencers involved in the beauty industry. Of course, their social media efforts lead them to collect information about their followers as well. Information from both side of the equation were affected, with the threat actor exposing personal information of the media influencers such as home addresses, phone numbers, email addresses, names, and social media links. In addition, some of these social media influencers have over a half million followers, potentially exposing their information as well.  

Further Exploitation

It wasn’t enough to steal such a large amount of data to potentially hold Preen.Me for a ransom amount. On June 8th, the hacker released detailed information of the over 250,000 users of Preen.Me’s application, ByteSizedBeauty. The details include their Facebook name, ID, URL, and friend’s list, along with their Twitter ID and name. Personal information was also leaked, including their email address(es), date of birth, home address, eye color, and skin tone. 

Also found in the stolen database dump, were 100,000 user authentication tokens for social media, along with a small number of possible password hashes, and a data table consisting of over 250,000 records containing user names, email addresses, customer names, and auto-generated passwords. 

Doxing so many users of Preen.Me’s marketing tools and applications leaves all of them exposed to significant issues with spam, harassment, and especially identity theft. It remains to be seen if the hacker has accomplished their entire “mission” or if they are planning to further exploit Preen.Me and/or their clients. 

A Cautionary Tale 

Preen.Me’s recent attack is a cautionary tale for every other entity that uses the world wide web. Hackers can take very personal information and hold it for ransom, or they can release it on the dark web and allow others to commit further criminal acts against innocent affected parties. Organizations must take technology security seriously and understand their security efforts are not just protecting their own data, but the private data of clients who entrust them oftentimes with very personal information.

If you would like to know more about how to protect your business and the sensitive data of your clients from cyber hackers, please contact us.

Hackers Target Cloud Services in the New Normal

Hackers Target Cloud Services in the New Normal

Many employees all over the world have benefited from the recent pandemic’s ability to push millions into working remotely from home. With decreased commute times and the ability to work in a more casual environment, many employees are probably hoping to continue to work remotely for some time to come. While employees may be happy with their working arrangements, the different working environment presents some definite challenges for those working in the area of technology security. Always operating as opportunists hackers target cloud services and the influx of remote workers, hoping to find a way into the cloud in order to steal data and wreak havoc, which in turn increases costs and/or headaches for organizations.

The Target

Hackers know where to find golden information and with remote users, the gold is found in the Cloud services they use. According to recent stats gathered by McAfee, attacks on Cloud services increased by 630 percent between the months of January and April of this year! It doesn’t take much to conclude that this phenomenal number of attacks coincided with the explosion of businesses across the globe who shut down their offices, thus leaving employees with working from home as their only option. 

How Hackers Attack Remote Users

Generally speaking, hackers attack remote users in two forms. Of course, virtually every computer task begins with a user entering in their login information. If a hacker can gain login information from someone working remotely, it is that much more difficult to detect if the login is coming from a legitimate remote worker or if the user logging in is a threat to the company. With remote workers sometimes living long distances away from where their physical office building resides, or if they decide to go to a vacation home or to a relative’s home in another state, it is almost impossible to determine whether a user is legitimate or not based upon geographical location.

The second form of attack which is sometimes easier to spot, has been given the name of suspicious “superhuman” logins. This occurs when multiple login attempts are noted in a very short span of time from regions scattered throughout the world.

For companies who don’t have any employees working across the globe, these types of logins are fairly obvious to spot as suspicious. However, for companies who do have staff members distributed throughout large regions, these types of attacks can still present a challenge.

Solutions

Thankfully, there is a relatively easy solution already available that can bring successful login hacking attempts down to almost nil. Two-factor authentication procedures are essentially a must for any company that has employees who work from home. When an employee has to verify their login by entering a code sent to their phone, this eliminates virtually anyone attempting a break in by way of the login process.

Of course, employers must also train their remote-work employees to be extra diligent in discerning whether someone truly is who they say they are. Hackers can easily find out which businesses have closed their public offices and often businesses will list key personnel along with their email on corporate websites.

Under these types of circumstances, it would be easy for a hacker to impersonate someone in the company, then send a phishing email that looks like an official email from someone high up in the company, to an employee working remotely at home.  Companies can address this by instructing employees to verify identification by phone, prior to releasing any sensitive data or monetary funds. 

If you would like to know more about keeping corporate data safe and secure while employees are working from home, please contact us!

6 Cyber Security Must-Haves for Remote Work

6 Cyber Security Must-Haves for Remote Work

The quick transition to remote work that many companies have had to make has revealed security risks that IT professionals are not able to monitor or correct as closely as they would be able to when employees work in-house. To mitigate these risks and protect data, employees will need to follow security best practices and abide by the requests made by IT. Fortunately, skills and security measures like the following that employees will need during these times help not only their employers in the present but protect them from personal security risks in the future. 

Secure Wi-Fi

The convenience provided by an open wireless network doesn’t mitigate the risk of sensitive data falling into the wrong hands, and this applies to personal financial information as much as it does to data relating to work. Employees will need to secure their home wireless networks with the most advanced protection available to them. Users should also have the latest firmware.

Encrypted Traffic

IT departments can consider a virtual private network, or VPN, on top of secured wireless networks to encrypt all traffic data. There are downsides to VPNs, however, including slower connection speeds. Some users may not like that their employer can monitor their network usage with a VPN, either.

Phishing Prevention

It doesn’t matter if a company uses the most advanced security software or the most impenetrable hardware if the user is the weak point. Employees should undergo training to detect and avoid phishing scams and their various modes — phone, text, and email —  before working remotely, even if they’ve already issued this training in the past.  All it takes is a careless click to give access to a user’s login information.

Fortunately, modern security software can even warn about potential phishing attacks.

Smart Password Usage

Not only is it risky to use the same password and username for multiple websites, but choosing simple passwords that are easy to crack also puts a user at risk. Because users won’t necessarily opt for best practices such as strong passwords that they periodically change, companies should ensure that their software systems require these password security measures and even use password managers to generate and store strong passwords. Businesses should also encourage two-factor authentication, which requires that users enter a second code that is typically sent via email or text, to log in.

Company-Issues Devices

Many of the risks listed above can be minimized when a company issues devices that prevent unauthorized changes and have the appropriate software installed so that employees have all the resources necessary to complete their jobs. Sending employees home with company devices keeps sensitive data away from personal devices, which may be less secure and more likely to be compromised, and companies can install enterprise-level security software to prevent malware and phishing attacks. 

If this is not possible, companies should set standards for which devices can be used, including software and hardware requirements, to ensure the devices being used are as secure as possible and to avoid the risk of “shadow backups” to personal cloud storage accounts.

Data Backup

Assuming that users abide by security best practices and a company’s software is set up securely, there is always the risk of hard drive or another mechanical failure, which is why a company must have a plan in place to back up data. Many companies opt for cloud storage, a solution that is especially useful when the office is inaccessible; however, some choose physical servers that their IT team members maintain themselves. 

Companies that want to increase security measures for remote workers or ensure that their systems are secure enough for telecommuting can contact us for a cybersecurity analysis.

The Federal Reserve Bank of New York Cyber Security Study is Scary

If there is one industry where both organizations and consumers alike would want the most stringent levels of cyber security, it is likely the financial services industry. The fallout of even one successful hacking event attempted on a bank, a credit card company, a credit reporting agency, has far reaching consequences for both consumers and the smaller companies that interact with these financial entities.

According to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York’s recent report, “Cyber Risk and the U.S. Financial System: A Pre-Mortem Analysis“, firms associated with financial services are 300 times more likely to encounter a cyber attack within any given year, than other firms in other industries. This should be a wake-up call to all of the smaller organizations who depend upon the integrity of the data they receive from these larger financial institutions. While smaller firms have no control over the larger financial entities they interact with, there are steps they can take on their end to stop a cyber disaster in its tracks before it reaches their internal systems.

Maintain System Updates

Hackers are continually on the lookout for outdated systems, browsers, and other types of software that make it so much easier for them to penetrate a computer system. Every organization, whether related to financial services or not, should have a comprehensive plan that includes keeping track of all their various types of software and applying any software updates in order to stay abreast of the latest versions, patches, etc.

Regular Vulnerability Testing 

It’s not enough to hire a technology firm to do a one-time-only penetration and vulnerability test to look for weak areas in an internal computer system. Software changes continually and vulnerabilities can occur in areas that were previously deemed safe. Financial service organizations need to conduct regular vulnerability scans and penetration testing to ensure previously safe systems are still secure.

Harden Emails 

Hackers love to target email servers because it allows them an opportunity to gain access to internal email accounts and pose as employees in the organization. Malicious hackers can then ask for confidential information from another employee, who doesn’t realize they are interacting with a cyber attacker. Hackers can also send out emails to an organization’s clients and infect their networks with malicious code. A financial services company that does not harden their email activity, runs the risk of exposing confidential or sensitive data to bad actors and/or receiving a poor reputation within the financial services community for passing on a cyber attack nightmare to their clients.

How to Stay Safe

It is possible for even smaller financial organizations to secure their computer systems to prevent the chaos that occurs from a cyber attack. While smaller firms may not have the resources to hire a full-time IT professional, there are IT management companies that offer security services to their clients. By hiring an external company to provide cyber security, even smaller firms can have access to professional management of their data without adding the burden of investing in a full-fledged IT department.  

Small firms who hire these types of IT companies should expect them to create a comprehensive plan detailing how the IT firm plans to secure the client’s data. An external IT firm can analyze their client’s computer resources and make suggestions on how to protect critical, sensitive data from becoming vulnerable to attack both from within the company and from without. At the very least, the three key points of maintaining system updates, regular penetration testing, and securing email traffic should be part of the IT company’s security plan. 

If you need help securing your financial service-related or any other type of organization, we can help!

Please contact us today for more information.