By Pierluigi Paganini, Editor-in-Chief, CDM

April 18, 2013, 11:30 am EST

Cyber espionage is considerable as one of the most aggressive and dangerous cyber threats, its silent operation could steal sensitive information, company secrets and intellectual properties for a long time. Recently many cyber espionage campaigns have been discovered, last in order of time is the Winnti campaign but we cannot forted also Red October and Flame.

The scenario is always the same, thousands of machines are infected in the target regions, usually thanks to spear phishing or watering hole attacks, depending on the final targets.

In the last years various organizations, including RSA and Sony, were hit by spear phishing offensives, in all the cases the malicious mails targeted senior company executives and other employees having broad network access privileges.

The emergence is high, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has issued a warning for organizations that could be a potential target of spear phishing attacks. The authorities made an explicit invite to those companies that publish a huge quantity of information on the internet, especially on social media sites.

According to the advisory persistent collectors are increasing their efforts to steal information through phishing campaigns that target specific communities and organizations.

The decision to issue the alert is triggered by a wave of incidents hit energy sector last October, 11 companies in the energy sector were victims of sophisticated spear-phishing attacks. The purpose of attackers is to penetrate target networks to steal information diffusing more sophisticated malware into a network.

According security experts the attacks exploited the huge quantity of information made public by the companies on events attended by their employees, in reckless manner a large amount of information has been made public. It seems that the attacks started with malicious emails sent by one the attendees that sent the messages to other participants to the event asking them to click on a link that redirected them to a compromised site containing malware.

The attackers have had access to precious information such as employee names, professional organization affiliations, email addresses and work titles, all the necessary to conduct a  spear-phishing attack against the companies.

ICS-CERT Monitor reported:

“Publicly accessibly information commonly found on social media, as well as professional organization and industry conference Web sites is a recognized resource for attackers performing reconnaissance activities,”

“Working with the ES-ISAC, it was determined that 11 entities were targeted in this campaign, and luckily no known infections or intrusions occurred. ICS-CERT worked with our partners at the ES-ISAC to coordinate support for the targeted entities. Additional information about this event can be found on the US-CERT Control systems secure portal (ICS-ALERT 12 279 01P, October 05, 2012).”

Fortunately the attacks failed, but no news has been provided regarding reasons, the DHS bulletin provided also suggestion to reduce the attack surface:

“In order to reduce the likelihood of becoming a victim of spear-phishing attacks, minimize the business-related and personal information on social media Web sites. Business-related information could include job title, company email, organizational structure, and project names. If information exists on other Web sites, contact the Web site owner and ask that it be removed. ICS-CERT recommends that users not click on Web links or open attachments from unsolicited emails.“

Another consideration that must be done is related to the simplicity in retrieving all necessary for spear phishing attacks in the underground, on the black market is possible to acquire any king of product and services having various prices. Malware, 0-day exploits and bullet-proof hosting are principal element that composes the malicious offer.

Russian underground is considered one of the most prolific black market in this sense, it provides various services that allow cyber criminals to arrange sophisticated scams and provide all necessary tools to arrange a cyber attack including spear phishing.

Typically cyber criminals operate in the long term collecting huge quantities of data and addressing their research against a specific sector of interests, most valuable information of course are related to Military and Government.

The threats are insidious and to mitigate it it necessary to put in place various defense mechanisms and a capillary awareness campaign.

DHS passed with flying colors for the awareness activities!

(Source : CDM & Security Affairs – Spear Phishing, Cybercrime)