Category Archives: Financial Services

A Phisher of Men: Learn How to Turn Social Engineering Techniques Around to Improve Your Security at the RANT Forum

The dangers of phishing and social-engineering attacks are well known and understood by businesses, NGOs and public bodies, so why are they still
effective? And what if there was a way to use the same psychological
pivots attackers use, and improve cyber security? Well, those attending
this month’s RANT Forum in London are about to find out just how to make
that happen.

The speaker at this month’s event is Barry Coatesworth, a highly regarded
cyber-security expert and a member of the government’s industry advisory
group for cyber-security standards, the Information Assurance Advisory Council. In almost 25 years in the business, Barry has experienced first-hand the good, the bad and the ugly of cyber security.

Phishing and associated attacks remain a hot topic, and Coatesworth will
show how and why they still work. “What I do is look at the psychology
behind these attacks,” he tells the Acumin Blog. “Security is constantly
changing, and it’s difficult at the best of times for CISOs to level the
playing field in a constantly changing threat landscape. It’s a case of
adapt or fail – so I look at why attacks work or don’t work, and at how
that understanding can be used to improve security.”

There are any number of scenarios that attackers can use to identify weak
links in an organisation and exploit these to access information: the more
obvious examples include masquerading as executives or colleagues,
relatives or other trusted contacts. But what Coatesworth is more
interested in is the methodologies that underpin these attacks. By unpicking
them and understanding them, he believes infosec professionals can get
ahead of the curve.

“It all depends what the attacker wants to do,” Coatesworth says. “Attacks
tend to be against personnel with access to sensitive information or with
admin access to systems. Opportunity is key, as well as the time and
effort needed to orchestrate a successful phishing attack. It’s not
one-glove-fits-all, but when you look at the psychology behind how the
attacks work, there are some common themes.”

Most businesses use some of the principles of social engineering already,
but probably don’t realise it. “The psychology behind these attacks is all
about marketing and PR,” Coatesworth says. “It’s more in the generalities
than the specifics. They all follow similar proven methods to seduce or
manipulate you to click on that link or download that file. If you
understand these strategies you can use them internally: it’s like a form
of guerrilla warfare, but you can use it in a positive way.”

If you want to learn how – or even if you’ve tried it and don’t think it
can be done and want to argue about it – then Wednesday’s RANT Forum is
the place to be. Wednesday 25th September, email Gemma on gpaterson@acumin.co.uk if you would like to be added to the guest list. We hope to see you there.

Laughing all the way to the bank: Why banks need to rethink their approach to social media

by Angus Batey

Every day, I check my bank accounts online. Every time I check, my bank is encouraging me to send it Tweets. So every day I find myself wondering whether I am the only one of their customers to find this bordering on insane.

The social-media revolution has changed the way all companies do business and interact with their customers, and it would be naive to imagine that banking hadn’t been as affected as everybody else. Facebook, Twitter, Google Plus and the rest are powerful tools, enabling individuals and corporations to strengthen relationships through easy interaction – and best of all, the costs are met by somebody else. What’s not to like?

Just about the only other thing I can guarantee on happening every day is that I’ll receive an email telling me that my bank account has developed some problem or other, but that help is at hand, if I’d just click on the link and resubmit my details. I’ve been getting them for the thick end of 20 years and they’ve not evolved greatly in their wit or sophistication. We all know the more obvious telltale giveaways, from the hilariously inept salutations (“Dear esteemed beneficiary…”) to the clumsily hidden address they really come from. Yet these scams still manage to fool some users – according to a 2010 report by Cyveillance [PDF], a spammer can expect to get about 250 people to hand over their data for every half-million phishing emails sent. This is a tiny fraction, but a significant number.

Usually, the first thing that lets you know a purported banking email is a fraud is that it claims it comes from a bank you’ve never had an account with. But what if the scammers knew who you banked with, and took a little more care to make their emails plausible? Wouldn’t that low rate of success quickly start to climb?

Every major High Street bank has a range of official Twitter accounts it uses to communicate with the outside world – often little more than a stream of links to corporate press releases or items of perceived interest to customers. But even if that’s all a bank uses Twitter for, its accounts represent an incredible intelligence-gathering opportunity for anyone willing to spend a couple of hours to better target phishing attacks.

Unless you’re an avid student of the banking industry you’re unlikely to subscribe to a bank’s social-media feed if you don’t hold an account with them – and on Twitter, where you don’t even need to be a registered site user to view details of who is following a particular account, the High Street banks’ feeds are a potential scammer’s goldmine. True, a list of followers will only give you a list of Twitter account names: but, obligingly, a significant number of Twitter users include their real names on their publicly accessible profile pages, sometimes with a link to a personal website which will contain contact information: some users even include email addresses and phone numbers on those public pages.

Worse – from a security perspective – most banks also operate helpline-style Twitter accounts, where users publicly out themselves as customers, often of products including mortgage, insurance and share-dealing services as well as just ordinary current accounts: and while conversations requiring detailed information are conducted via email or private Twitter direct messages, initial queries are asked and answered in full public view.

In the real world, someone wishing to target you for banking fraud would either have had to have sold you something and have you give them a cheque to know where you banked, or followed you up and down the High Street on the off-chance you might visit your local branch. Following your bank on Twitter is like walking up and down that High Street wearing a t-shirt emblazoned with the name of the bank; Tweeting a question to your bank, from a Twitter account that includes your email address, is like walking around in that t-shirt, and with a flashing neon sign fixed to your head saying “Please rob me”.

The criminals clearly prefer to spend their time counting the loot, not finding more effective ways to raise it – and for that we should be thankful. Because, in their enthusiasm to embrace the new opportunities for customer engagement that social media provide, our banks are giving criminals an unprecedented opportunity to improve their phishing success rate. Clearly the banks’ market research has told them that no new method of customer interaction should be shunned: and to the average internet user, who thinks anything free and convenient is to be applauded, a bank refusing to embrace social media will look out of touch. But by encouraging customers to publicly reveal information about the products and services they use, banks are playing a dangerous game – undermining security to promote customer dialogue seems a curious business decision for an industry that relies, more than most, on protecting its clients’
data.

* Angus Batey is a freelance journalist who has covered cyber defence and data security for titles including the Sunday Telegraph and Digital Battlespace. He doesn’t follow his bank on Twitter.

Why you will matter

We’re now getting to that time of year where we pause for reflection, take stock of what we’ve learnt and cast our eyes ahead to the new year with a sense of renewed optimism as to what we can achieve. 2012 can be better than 2011 and every year preceding that. That is the definition of progress.

As a sort of dissent to introspection of 2011 – though we may perhaps reflect on the year in a later post – we wanted to look back at Deloitte’s 2010 Global Financial Services Security Survey, a report we’re confident everyone involved in the information security and risk management industry will have read or at least come across.

The opening paragraph to the report was as strong as introductions go, which we think is worth quoting again, albeit slightly abridged: “The new decade marked a turning point for those of us involved in the information security industry. We now live in an age of cyber warfare. The environment is dangerous and sinister. The children who used to make mischief in their basements are now only bit players and rarely make the news anymore.

“They have been superseded by organised crime, governments and individuals who make computer fraud their full-time business, either for monetary gain or for competitive or technological advantage. Countries now accuse each other of cyber warfare.”

We think they hit the nail on the head there. We are all involved in a sector that has, in some ways, become one of the most important industries in the world, at the forefront of protecting governments and citizens against that wish to either cause harm and/or disruption for whatever reason, whether it is political or vindictive.

With every new development in cyber security comes, it has to be said, equally innovative and ingenious ways of getting around it. Our business is, therefore, in a global context, a 24-hour machine.

As we grow ever dependent on what can be best described as the ‘virtual infrastructure’, the physical world and its parameters represented and engaged with inside of a digital landscape, the need for more professionals and experts to work on ethical hacking and forensics for example, to get people up to an exacting level where they are SC & DV cleared, will become ever pressing.

Like the green industry has been touted as one possibility of getting the UK’s economy – and that of other nations across the world – back on track and booming, so too will the information security sector be instrumental in equipping people with jobs that matter.