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Posts Tagged ‘phishing’

It’s Tax Season – Watch Out or You’ll Be Paying More than Just Taxes

Thursday, March 14th, 2019

The season is upon us. It’s definitely not Christmas, and there are very few people who would claim that the lead-up to April’s cutoff date is their favorite time of the year. If you thought that paying your dues to the IRS was already enough to worry about, get ready for some bad news:

It’s also scam season.

To celebrate the rising number of fraud and identity theft attempts, the helpful folk at everyone’s favorite government department have just begun their annual ‘Dirty Dozen’ campaign, listing the biggest tax scams that people need to be aware of.

Phishing Is Still King

The first entry on this year’s list is the ever-pervasive phishing scam. The IRS press release warns that phishing attacks “tend to increase during tax season and remain a major danger of identity theft.”

These phishing schemes can take many forms in their attempts to extract sensitive information (such as login credentials or credit card details) from targets. At this time of year, many attackers take advantage of the confusion and target their victims with tax-related scams.

“Taxpayers should be on constant guard for these phishing schemes, which can be tricky and cleverly disguised to look like it’s the IRS,” said IRS Commissioner Chuck Rettig in the press release.

“Watch out for emails and other scams posing as the IRS, promising a big refund or personally threatening people. Don’t open attachments and click on links in emails. Don’t fall victim to phishing or other common scams.”

Organizations Are Being Targeted As Well

It’s not just the individual who is being directly targeted either. Over time, a series of more sophisticated scams have evolved. One of these is known as business email spoofing (BES), which involves attackers sending convincing emails from a faked address.

Another is called business email compromise (BEC), which involves a hacker stealing the credentials of a target’s email account, then sending emails from that account to other victims, impersonating the account’s owner to manipulate these new victims into divulging information or transferring money.

The IRS also states that it is seeing a greater number of advanced scams that target the files of human resources personnel, tax professionals and other organizations. These targets tend to have extensive amounts of their client’s financial information, which hackers chase after in a number of different ways.

The hackers may pose as an employee and ask for a deposit to be rerouted to another account, act as a business and ask their target to pay a fraudulent invoice, or even pretend to be one of the victim’s associates and trick the victim into transferring money into the hacker’s account.

Due to the growing sophistication of these scams and their proliferation at this time of year, the IRS has warned tax professionals to be on high alert for any suspicious or unusual activity.

Keeping Yourself, Your Organization or Your Clients Safe

As part of the IRS’s campaign on combating identity fraud, it launched the Security Summit, a conference of various stakeholders aimed at coming up with solutions and mitigation strategies.

Some of the summit’s recommendations include raising awareness about spear phishing and how to recognize it, encrypting all sensitive client data and implementing strong password strategies.

If you or your organization come across any phishing attempts that impersonate the IRS or related organizations, you should report the scam to phishing@irs.gov.

How to Know if an Email is a Phishing Scam or Not

Tuesday, November 20th, 2018

Phishing scams are a major threat to all email users, especially businesses. The scary part is that they’re becoming increasingly sophisticated. Phishing emails popped up sometime in the early 90s. However, back then, they weren’t too hard to detect. For instance, typos were commonplace in an old-school phishing mail, and that was a dead giveaway.

Of course, this was a long time ago, when email was still in its infancy. Times have changed and today’s cybercriminal has changed with the times. Their tactics have evolved and phishing emails are far more convincing than they used to be. They are well written and personalized. Hackers and cybercriminals already have a rough idea of who you are, and that means today’s phishing emails are targeted.

Today’s phishing emails also look authentic; they replicate legitimate emails in terms of design and aesthetic. In fact, at first glance, you wouldn’t know the difference between a real email from your bank and a fraudulent version. Needless to say, this makes fighting phishing scams a major challenge.

On the rise

According to data from the RSA, phishing attacks are only growing, and this is despite an increase in user awareness. One major reason for this growth is the simplicity of executing such scams. Malware developers now offer automated toolkits that scammers can use to create and host phishing pages with the utmost ease.

It is estimated that each phishing attack manages to extract an average of $4500 in stolen funds.

So, the big question is – how does one protect their email, especially at a time when phishing scams are evolving? Well, here is what the experts have to say.

Never trust just a name

 A common tactic used by scammers is spoofing the display name in an email. According to a study done by ReturnPath, around 50% of 760,000 email threats targeting some of the world’s biggest businesses had made use of this tactic.

This is how it works – let’s say a scammer spoofs a brand name such as “Nike.” The email address of the sender may look something like “Nike nike@customersupport.com.” But, even if Nike doesn’t actually own the domain “customersupport.com,” DMARC and other email authenticity and anti-fraud tools will not to block the mail. This is because the email is legitimately from customersupport.com, even though this domain has nothing to do with Nike.  There is no authentication for the “comment” that goes along with the email address (in this example, that is the word “Nike”).

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Best Practices for Minimizing the Impact of Social Engineering on Your Organization

Tuesday, June 26th, 2018

When many people think of cybercrime, they think of a bearded guy beating away at his keyboard in a dark room, searching for vulnerabilities in the network that can be exploited. While exploits are a big threat, the reality is that many attacks happen in smoother and more subtle ways. Why spend days slaving away to get in the backdoor, when you can just ask nicely to be let in through the front? This is the essence of social engineering.


A social engineer uses a wide range of tactics to manipulate their victims into giving up whatever information they need. Imagine that someone with a police uniform knocks on your door and asks to have a word. They look authoritative, so you invite them in to sit down. They spend five minutes discussing crime in the neighborhood and on the way out, they secretly swipe the spare key. A few days later, you come back home to discover that all of your valuables are gone.

In this case, the social engineer tricked their way into the home by using the authority of the police uniform, which many people respect or even fear. Most people won’t think to turn down a police officer’s requests, or to ask for further identification. The attacker took advantage of this to gain access to the house, where they could get what they wanted, the spare key.

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Creating Secure Web Pages and Forms: What You Need to Know

Monday, September 25th, 2017

Fred is a busy small business CEO.  He hired a cheap developer online to setup his secure medical web site for him.  The developer got an SSL certificate and setup pages where patients can make appointments and the doctor can receive patient requests and notices, “securely”.  However, the developer didn’t have any real training in security, none in HIPAA, and as a result, PHI was being sent in the clear, there were no audit trails or logs, SSL security was not enforced, and may other serious issues plagued the site.  The worst part — No one knew.

Luckily, Fred was made aware of the situation before a serious security breach happened (that he knew of); however, he had to re-do the site from scratch, more than doubling his time and money costs.

Creating a web site that has “secure” components requires more than slapping together some web pages and adding an SSL Certificate.  All such a certificate really does is create a thin veneer of security — one that does not go very far to protect whatever sensitive data necessitated security in the first place.  In fact, naive attempts at security can ultimately make the data less secure and more likely to be compromised by creating an appetizing target for the unscrupulous.

So, beyond paying big bucks to hire a developer with significant security expertise, what do you do? Start with this article — its purpose is to shed light on many of the most significant factors in secure web site programming/design and what you can do to address them.  At a minimum, reading this article will help you to intelligently discuss your web site security with the developers that you ultimately hire.

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SPF & DKIM: The State of Domain-based Email Authentication – Part 1

Friday, September 1st, 2017

Recent reports on cyber-security threats in the healthcare sector by Verizon, Symantec and Ponemon consistently make several observations:

  • Email-borne malware is on the rise, with such malware delivered via spam or phishing;
  • Small-to-medium sized businesses (from all sectors) have the highest rate of email-delivered malware;
  • Most breaches are caused by negligent employees or contractors.

These conclusions are hardly surprising as email is now an increasingly common part of communications with protected health information (PHI) frequently exchanged amongst employees and patients within a practice, between medical providers, and medical providers and their business associates. The concern for the healthcare industry is the potential violation of the HIPAA privacy rule caused by email-related (and other) breaches, leading to disruptions from loss of data, compliance audits and possibly hefty fines.

No Phishing

We wrote about obvious measures medical providers can take to avoid HIPAA non-compliance in email exchanges such as opt-out email security. That addresses only one aspect of the threat landscape, though – the protection of PHI in email exchanges. Another aspect is more sinister, as it deals with external, malignant actors. These actors use various spoofing techniques to trick patients or employees of a medical practice to react incautiously, often impulsively, to emails supposedly coming from valid sources. These often lead to identity theft, where the damage is more far reaching as the information given up is more long-lived and more widely used and cannot just be erased like revoking a misused credit card.

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