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Friday, April 6, 2018

Fishing for work is almost as bad as phishing (for anything)

Hello again readers and welcome back! The topic of today's blog post is something that we posted on a few years back, but unfortunately it’s worth repeating again. Companies (both large and small) who provide any kind of cyber security services have a responsibility to anyone they interact with to be completely transparent particularly when words like “breach”, “victim”, and “target” start getting thrown around. Case in point is an email that a client received from a large, well-established, cyber security services company a few weeks ago that caused a bit of internal alarm that ultimately did not contain enough information to be actionable.

In short, sharing information, threat intelligence, tactics/techniques/procedures (TTPs), indicators of compromise (IOCs), etc is something that ALL of us in the industry need to do better. I applaud the sharing of IOCs and threat information (when it’s unclassified, obviously).  If this particular email had simply contained that information in a timely manner, I would have applauded the initiative. Unfortunately the information sharing of a seven month old phish consisted of:

  • four domains
  • tentative attribution to Kazakhstan, but zero supporting evidence
  • “new” (but, admittedly, unanalyzed) malware, including an MD5 hash, and of course, 
  • a sales pitch

The recipient of this email attempted to find out more information, but was ultimately turned off by a combination of the tone and was unsure if the information was valid, or if it was just a thinly veiled sales pitch. They reached out to us directly for assistance.

I passed this particular information on to others within the information security field, and recently Arbor Networks actually put out a much more comprehensive overview of this activity, with a whole bunch of indicators and information that was not included, or even alluded to, in this particular email. I wish that more companies would take the initiative and do research into actors and campaigns such as this. If I were a CIO, and I was looking for a particular indicator from an email, but in searching for more information I came across the information in the Arbor post, I would be much more inclined to engage with Arbor if myself/my team needed external resources, than I would from an email that may have had good intentions, but felt like a services fishing expedition.

On the exact opposite end of the spectrum, the outreach of the recent Panera data loss was done perfectly. In the original email, the individual attempted to contact the proper security individuals, had no luck initially, was very disappointed by the initial response from Panera, and tried repeatedly to work with the team. The team at Panera pretty much did nothing until they went public with the issue just a few days ago, which (finally) spurred Panera to react, albeit in a less than satisfactory fashion, again. To be 100% honest, if I were in that situation I would have done everything exactly the same way.  It is a sad state of affairs when we as customers/consumers are more concerned with companies protecting our own information, than the companies who are charged with the care of that information for their services/loyalty programs/etc.

Additionally, no one wants to hear that their company or team has security issues, but responsible disclosure methods are always the way to go. However, it is hard for companies and individuals who are trying to do the right thing to highlight and address issues when “fishing for work” is so pervasive. I’ve seen many companies blow off security notifications as scams and ignore them completely, due precisely to this pervasive problem of fishing for work.

So ideally, how can we share information better?
  1. Join information sharing programs and network (Twitter, LinkedIn, conferences, etc.)
  2. Don’t “cold call” unless you have no other option. The process works much better when you already have a relationship (or know someone who does)
  3. Share complete, useful, and actionable information: recognize that not all companies can search the same way, due to limitations in resources available and even policy, regulations, and even privacy laws. Some companies cannot search by email, while others will need traditional IOCs (IPs, domains, hashes (not just MD5 hashes, also include SHA1 and SHA256 if you can)).  
  4. Include the body of the phishing email and the complete headers--if the company is unable to search for the IOCs, they may be able to determine that it was likely blocked by their security stack    
  5. Be timely. Sharing scant details of a phish from seven months ago goes well beyond the capabilities threshold of most companies 
  6. Be selective in how and to whom you share. Sending these “helpful” notifications to C-levels are guaranteed to bring the infosec department to a full-stop while they work on only this specific threat, real, imagined, or incorrect. Which brings me to #7….
  7. Make sure (absolutely sure) you are correct. “Helpful notifications” that are based on incorrect information and lack of technical expertise are common enough that a large company could have days of downtime dedicated to them. (And if the client themselves points out your technical errors with factual observations, consider the possibility that you might be wrong, apologize profusely, and DO NOT keep calling every day)