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Basic Email and Web Security

Basic Email and Web Security

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Basic Email and Web Security

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  1. Basic Email and Web Security IT Security Training October 12, 2010 Harvard Townsend Chief Information Security Officer

  2. Agenda “The Internet is a bad neighborhood.” • Why people are so easily tricked • Characteristics of scam emails – things to look for and tools to help • Can I open this attachment? • Can I click on this link? • Helpful security features built into web browsers • Tools you can add to your web browsers • The value and limitations of anti-virus software (Trend Micro is still your friend) • Misc. cautions/tips/tricks • Q&A

  3. Fake K-State Federal Credit Union web site used in spear phishing scam Real K-State Federal Credit Union web site

  4. Spear phishing scam received by K-Staters in January 2010 “Phishing” scams try to trick you into providing private Information, like a password or bank acct info. “Spear phishing” Targets a specific population – in this case, K-State email users.

  5. The malicious link in the email took you to an exact replica of K-State’s single sign-on web page hosted on a server in the Netherlands which will steal your eID and password if you enter it and “Sign in”. Note the URL highlighted in red – “”, which is obviously not

  6. Fake SSO web page Real SSO web page

  7. Fake SSO web page – site not secure (http, not https) and hosted in the Netherlands (.nl) Real SSO web page – note “https”

  8. Fake SSO web page Real SSO web page – Use the eID verification badge to validate

  9. Result of clicking on eID verification badge on a legitimate K-State web site that uses the eID and password for authentication

  10. Most Effective Spear Phishing Scam

  11. Most Effective Spear Phishing Scam

  12. Most Effective Spear Phishing Scam

  13. Most effective spearphishing scam • At least 62 replied with password, 53 of which were used to send spam from K-State’s Webmail • Arrived at a time when newly admitted freshmen were getting familiar with their K-State email – 37 of the 62 victims were newly-admitted freshmen • Note characteristics that make it appear legitimate: • “From:” header realistic:"Help Desk" <>” • Subject uses familiar terms:“KSU.EDU WEBMAIL ACCOUNT UPDATE” • Message body also references realistic terms: • “IT Help Desk”, “Webmail”, “KSU.EDU”, “K-State” • Asks for “K-State eID” and password • Plausible story (accounts compromised by spammers!!)

  14. Another effective spearphishing scam This one also tricked 62 K-Staters into giving away their eID password

  15. Another effective spearphishing scam Actually did come from a K-State email account… one that was compromised because the user gave away her eID password in another phishing scam!

  16. How to identify a scam • General principles: • Neither IT support staff nor any legitimate business will EVER ask for your password in an email!!! • Use common sense and logic – if it’s too good to be true, it probably is. • Think before you click – many have fallen victim due to a hasty reply • Be paranoid • Don’t be timid about asking for help from your IT support person or the IT Help Desk

  17. How to identify a scam • Characteristics of scam email • Poor grammar and spelling • The “Reply-to:” or “From:” address is unfamiliar, or is not a or address • Uses unfamiliar or inappropriate terms (like “send your account information to the MAIL CONTROL UNIT”) • It asks for private information like a password or account number • The message contains a link where the displayed address differs from the actual web address • It is unexpected (you weren’t expecting Joe to send you an attachment) • Does not provide explicit contact information (name, address, phone #) for you to verify the communication. Good example is spear phishing scam that tries to steal your eID password is signed “Webmail administrator”

  18. How to identify a scam • Beware of scams following major news events or natural disasters (e.g., after Hurricane Katrina asking for donations and mimicking a Red Cross web site) • Seasonal scams like special Christmas offers, or IRS scams in the spring during tax season • They take advantage of epidemics or health scares, like H1N1 scam last year • Often pose as legitimate entity – PayPal, banks, FBI, IRS, Wal*Mart, Microsoft, etc. • If unsure, call the company to see if they sent it (we did this with recent email from Manhattan Mercury) • Hackers very good at imitating legitimate email – will use official logos, some links in the email will work properly, but one link is malicious • Many make sensational claims; remember to apply the common sense filter – if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is

  19. From the “too good to betrue” class of scams • Three K-State students fell for this one in August. Fortunately none lost money, although two might have if alert bank tellers didn’t catch the counterfeit checks

  20. From the “too good to betrue” class of scams

  21. Useful sources of information • Google – search for unique phrase in the suspected scam to see what others are reporting about it • Web sites of organization targeted by scams often have information, like the,,id=179820,00.html?portlet=1 • Snopes to debunk/confirm hoaxes, rumors, and other “urban legends” – • Teach yourself with Sonicwall’s “Phishing and Spam IQ Quiz” – • K-State’s IT security web site updated regularly • Current threats and spear phishing scams posted on K-State’s IT threats blog

  22. Evaluating attachments • Don’t open email attachments you were not expecting • From someone you do not know • From someone you know, but weren’t expecting them to send you a file (infected computers can send malicious emails from the owner of the computer to everyone in their email addressbook) • This is especially true if the content of the email message is brief, vague, and/or unusual

  23. Evaluating attachments • Should I trust this email?

  24. Evaluating attachments • Should I trust this email? } I don’t know the sender } Very brief, vague instructions Unexpected attachment w/ unknown content PDF files can carry malicious code; do not trust PDF files unless validated with sender

  25. Evaluating attachments • Ignore or delete it if it’s not expected or important; not worth the risk of opening it and infecting your computer • Beware of executable files embedded in .zip attachments – is a common way for hackers to send .exe files that would normally be deleted by email systems • If there’s any reason to believe it might be legitimate, validate the attachment before opening it • Contact the sender and ask if it is legit • Ask your IT support person or the IT Help Desk • Test it with antivirus software to see if it is a known malicious program

  26. Evaluating attachments • Saving it to your desktop without opening it or executing it is usually safe • If Trend Micro OfficeScan recognizes it as malicious, it will prevent you from saving it to the desktop (a function of the “real time scan”) • If not detected, is either OK or a new variant of malware • Manually update Trend Micro OfficeScan (point to the OfficeScan icon in the system tray, right click, select “Update Now”), then scan the file (point to the file, right click, select “Scan with OfficeScan client”) • If OfficeScan still says “No security risk was found”, submit the file to to be evaluated by 43 anti-virus products, including Trend Micro; here’s an

  27. Example of maliciousemail attachments • Four different emails with the following subjects received by many K-Staters in July 2009 and again in November: • Shipping update for your order 254-78546325-658742 • You have received A Hallmark E-Card! • Jessica would like to be your friend on hi5! • Your friend invited you to twitter! • Three (somewhat) different attachments: • Shipping • • Invitation • 130+ computers infected in July, 100+ in November; all had to be reformatted and reinstalled from scratch – all because users opened malicious attachments

  28. Malicious Hallmark E-Card

  29. Legitimate Hallmark E-Card

  30. Malicious Amazon Shipping Notice

  31. Legitimate Amazon Shipping Notice

  32. Why was it so effective? • Used familiar services • • Hallmark eCard greeting • Twitter • Sensual enticement (“Jessica would like to be your friend on hi5!”) • Somewhat believable replicas of legitimate emails • Sent it to lots of people (bound to hit someone who just ordered something from or is having a birthday) • Effectively masked the name of the .exe file in the .zip attachment by padding the name with lots of spaces • New variant that spread quickly so initial infections missed by antivirus protection • Been a long time since attack came by email attachment so people caught off-guard

  33. What can we do? • Remember - Hallmark,, Twitter, etc. do not send information or instructions in attachments • Don’t open attachment unless you are expecting it and have verified with sender • Analyze attachments before opening them • Think before you click • Be paranoid!

  34. Web Browsing Threats • Malicious links/sites – to click or not to click, that is the question. • Malicious advertisements • Drive-by Download (don’t even have to click!) • Search engines tricked to present malicious/bogus result near the top of your search results (aka Blackhat Search Engine Optimization (SEO) Poisoning)

  35. Can I click on this? • Watch for displayed URL (web address) that does not match the actualdisplayed: actual: • Beware of link that executes a program (like ldr.exe above) • Avoid numeric IP addresses in the URLhttp:// • Watch for legitimate domain names embedded in an illegitimate one

  36. Can I click on this? • Beware of email supposedly from US companies with URLs that point to a non-US domain (Kyrgyzstan in example below)From: Capital One bank <>URL in msg body: • IE8 highlights the actual domain name to help you identify the true source. Here’s a web address from an IRS scam email that’s actually hosted in Pakistan:

  37. Can I click on this? • Beware of domains from unexpected foreign countries Kyrgyzstan: • MANY scams originate in China(country code = .cn) • Country code definitions available

  38. Can I click on this? • Watch for malicious URLs cloaked by URL shortening services like: • • •

  39. Can I click on this? • TinyURL has a nice “preview” feature that allows you to see the real URL before going to the site. See to enable it in your browser (it sets a cookie) • has a Firefox add-on to preview shortened links: It also warns you if the site appears to be malicious:

  40. Can I click on this?

  41. Malicious Advertisements • Major ad networks (aka “ad aggregators”) affiliated with Google (e.g., Yahoo (, Fox and others, covering more than 50% of online ads, have been infiltrated with “poisoned ads” containing malicious code (Source: Avast!) • Happened to the New York Times website last fall

  42. NY Times incident • Ad placed via phone call from person posing as Vonage, an intl phone company and regular advertiser on NY Times web site • Since Vonage well known, they allowed ads to be served by remote 3rd party host (i.e., not the NY Times web server) • Legitimate Vonage ads displayed all week • During the weekend, legitimatead switched to a malicious onethat served up fake antivirusscareware which tried to getpeople to buy bogus securitysoftware with a credit card

  43. Malicious Advertisements • Isn’t just NY Times… • (!!) • • • • • • • • • • • • • These legitimate sites are not in cahoots with the criminals, they’re just not careful enough in screening ads from third party ad networks

  44. Drive-by Downloads • The scary thing is you don’t even have to click on anything – just visiting a site with malicious code can initiate a download that installs malware on your computer without you knowing it. • Symantec claims every one of the top 100 websites in the world have served up malicious code at some point • JavaScript in the ad executes when the page is loaded and tries to exploit a vulnerability in Adobe PDF reader, Java, or Flash… or all three; this is why a tool like NoScript or something that blocks ads is effective

  45. Drive-by Downloads • Commonly used to promote fake antivirus software (aka “scareware” or “extortionware”) – make you believe your computer is infected with lots of malware, enticing the nervous user to “Click Here” to buy fake security software for $30-$100, plus they steal your credit card information • Can be used to infect your computer with any malware – keyloggers, Trojans, Torpig, … • Malware changes at a very rapid rate to escape detection by AV software; hackers test their malware against 43 popular AV products at before launching • Prevention is by keeping Adobe Reader, Flash, and Java updated with latest security patches

  46. Search EnginePoisoning • Search engines, like Google, are tricked into presenting a malicious link in the top 10 results for popular searches • Known as “Blackhat Search Engine Optimization (SEO) Poisoning” • 13% of Google searches for popular or trendy topics yield malicious links • Currently used mostly for fake antivirus scams • Exploit current events, popular topics • January 2010 an all-time high with hackers capitalizing on Haitian earthquake, release of movie Avatar, and announcement of the iPad

  47. Blackhat SEOPoisoning Search for “Oscars 2010 winners” Malicious pages that infect with FakeAV scareware Source: Sophos security blog March 8, 2010

  48. Blackhat SEOPoisoning • Examples of exploited topics in 2010: • Tiger Woods car wreck, affairs • Death of Patrick Swayze • Affair of Sandra Bullock’s husband with Michelle “Bombshell” McGee • Rumored death of Bill Cosby (pretty common to make up a sensational hoax) • Chilean earthquake • Moscow subway explosions • Plane crashing into IRS building in Austin, TX • Sea World killer whale attack • Sentencing of TJX hacker • Oscars • Kids’ Choice Awards • Olympics (esp. death of Georigian luge athlete) • March Madness basketball tournament • April Fools Day (a natural…)

  49. Blackhat SEOPoisoning • How do I prevent it? • Be paranoid – think before you click! • Pay attention to the link – only visit reputable sites; think before you click • Pay attention to warnings from anti-phishing filters, Trend Micro WRS, andother tools you might use to detect malicious links (see later slides) • If you click on a search result and security warnings like this pop-up, do NOTclick on anything – contactyour IT support person

  50. Blackhat SEOPoisoning • How do I prevent it? • Run antivirus software and keep it up-to-date (required to use Trend Micro on campus) • Keep ALL software patched, including the web browsers and plug-ins, Adobe products, Flash, and Java • VERY challenging for IT staff, let alone your average user • Recent study found that average home user would have to patch 75 times per year (once every 5 days!) using 22 different patching mechanisms