Bad actors (also known as criminals, attackers, and malicious hackers) are active these days. For anyone even remotely aware of IT security, this is no surprise. Bad actors are always active even if their actions don’t make the news. A primary goal of most is to take your money.
This is one of the reasons that organizations increasingly value people with IT security knowledge. Similarly, it’s one of the reasons that security certifications such as the Security+ certification has become so valuable. The Security+ certification validates a core set of security knowledge that almost any IT person should have. People with this knowledge are much less likely to fall for one of scams that others are succumbing to almost daily.
Here’s a sample of some recent activity.
The US Internal Revenue Service (IRS) has issued multiple alerts about various scams this year. Common themes are promises of a refund or threats about an unpaid tax bill. Other times, they indicate they just want to “verify tax information” but actually use the collected information to rip off unsuspecting people.
Scammers masquerade as being from the IRS either via email or over the phone. Other times, they claim to be from a tax preparation company. In 2014, there were 1,361 reported incidents. In 2015, the number jumped to 2,748. As of Feb 18, 2016, there were already 1,389 reported incidents.
Here are some relevant notes that can help anyone avoid an IRS scam.
The IRS will never:
- Call to demand immediate payment over the phone, nor will the agency call about taxes owed without first having mailed you several bills.
- Call or email you to verify your identity by asking for personal and financial information.
- Demand that you pay taxes without giving you the opportunity to question or appeal the amount they say you owe.
- Require you to use a specific payment method for your taxes, such as a prepaid debit card.
- Ask for credit or debit card numbers over the phone or e-mail.
- Threaten to immediately bring in local police or other law-enforcement groups to have you arrested for not paying.
Bad Actors Target Anyone with Ransomware
MedStar Health, a non-profit medical system, is the second largest health care provider in Maryland. It operates 10 hospitals and other health-care facilities in the Baltimore-Washington area.
Hackers got into their network, encrypted their data, and demanded money. The organization continued to run, though without access to their computers causing a myriad of problems.
Here’s the message MedHealth personnel received:
Send 3 bitcoins — $1,250 at current exchange rates — for the digital key to unlock a single infected computer, or 45 bitcoins — about $18,500 — for keys to all of them.
On the surface, this is a typical ransomware attack. Attackers get in, encrypt the data, and demand money. Malicious actors have been using similar methods for years. Originally, the attacks seemed to focus on individuals. Lately, the attacks are targeting businesses, including several known attacks against hospitals across the United States.
- Get a foothold. First, they infect a single system and install malicious tools on the system.
- Encrypt data. They then encrypt all data on the system including any backups reachable through the network.
- Scan network. Next, they use the malicious tools to scan the network looking for another system to infect.
- Repeat. They eventually encrypt data on the majority of the network systems, if not all of them.
Stopping Bad Actors
Once the attackers are in your network, it’s difficult to detect and stop them.
How do you stop them from getting a foothold? Educate users.
Again, this is one of the reasons that certifications such as the CompTIA Security+ certification has become so popular. IT personnel with this certification understand the basics of how malware is installed. In addition to avoiding problems themselves, they are also able to provide basic on-the-job training to regular users.
Ransomware is often inadvertently installed by uneducated users. They receive an email with an attachment and open it. The attachment could be a ZIP file, a PDF document, or even a Word document. Sometimes, it’s an executable and prompts the user to install it. Sometimes the email just includes a link to a malicious site and prompts the user to click it. It then attempts a drive-by download.
The solution for this is simple and repeated often for anyone with basic IT Security knowledge: keep systems and applications up-to-date.
Bad Actor Summary
Bad actors want your money. More recently, they’ve discovered that they can get a lot more money from large organizations than single individuals and have launched many attacks against large organizations. No organization is immune. Not even a non-profit medical association running multiple hospitals.