Hunting for 'Whales' Using Targeted Malware

Andrew Froehlich, Network Engineer & IT Consultant | 7/10/2013 | 17 comments

Andrew Froehlich
Are you a whale? Are you the kind of gambler casinos lavish free rooms, exquisite meals, and VIP perks on?

Probably not. But if hackers did the same thing, you'd probably be sitting in the penthouse right now. Worse yet, someone in your enterprise is a whale, and they don't even know it. Smart hackers are changing the way they aim malware and enterprises need to make users aware.

Until recently, most contemporary malware was designed so it could infect the greatest number of people, regardless of who they were. This is known as the shotgun approach to malware. The problem with that method is that IT security and end-user training is beginning to erode the effectiveness of this approach. Malware has to entice victims into performing an action so the malware can be installed on their computer. This can be in the form of an email attachment, instant message, or website link. The communications are very generic in nature, often contain grammar mistakes, and have an overall unpolished feel to them. And once people are trained to detect these telltale signs, most malware and generic phishing attempts are fairly easy to spot, rendering the hackers' campaign useless.

Because of this, cyber criminals are catching only small fish in an ever-shrinking smaller pool. This is forcing a change in tactics to the point where criminals are now beginning to put malware into very sophisticated and convincing packages to attract a whale or two.

These targeted malware campaigns -- also referred to as spear phishing -- are designed to go after a specific person or organization. Cyber criminals now spend a great deal of time researching their whales and mine information like place of work, job title, names of individuals they interact with, and the names of business partners. Using this acquired information, a believable tale is woven into traditional email, website, or instant message formats. This message contains enough personal information that it becomes difficult for the whale not to believe it. And before you know it, the whale hands over everything that the criminal is looking for. It's not so much that the malware itself is getting more sophisticated, but the spear phishing presentation used to trick the victim certainly is.

Of course, spear phishing isn't new, but the targets and tactics are evolving, and most users who might have known to not give away their banks account numbers at home may be handing over sensitive information in an enterprise setting due to lack of training and awareness. One of the biggest challenges that enterprise security administrators face is convincing employees that they are likely considered whales.

Administrative assistants, accountants, salesmen, IT managers, and pretty much everyone else in an enterprise hold a great deal of company knowledge that criminals can use to ultimately unlock a company's secrets. This information can then be used to either commit wire fraud or to steal intellectual property.

Social networking has made it infinitely easier to gather personal information that can be used against us in a spear phishing attack. Public profile information on Facebook and LinkedIn are commonly used to gain information about the targets. Then, blog and Twitter posts are used to understand what the target's thoughts, feelings, and interests are in a wide range of areas. Essentially, the more you put out there, the easier a target you become.

I'm not saying that you shouldn't allow your employees or enterprise to have a public presence on the Internet. But beyond simply explaining the threat to them, ask your staff to take a step back to see what information a cyber criminal can easily dig up. This may sound completely narcissistic to them, but I recommend you ask them to "Google" themselves from time to time in order to see what pops up in search results. It's important that when they do this, they make sure to log out of social networking accounts first. By doing so, they are able to see the same information that anyone else would see while doing a search. The idea is to familiarize one's self with what is public knowledge -- so you aren't caught off guard when it's used to gain your trust.

Even though you aren't likely to be considered a "whale" by Las Vegas casino standards, you and your staff need to understand that your position within a large organization probably makes you a pretty big fish in the eyes of a cyber criminal. Enterprise organizations control huge amounts of capital and intellectual property -- both of which are highly sought by organized crime syndicates that use targeted malware attacks. And in order to help combat against these attempts, your best bet is to try and see what a hacker can see on the Internet so it can't be used against you.

View Comments: Newest First | Oldest First | Threaded View
Page 1 / 2   >   >>
Kerstin Carson   Hunting for 'Whales' Using Targeted Malware   7/31/2013 2:48:04 AM
Re: Hunting for the Biggest Whale
Great article, Andrew. I'd never heard of whales before reading.

Like most people, I am familiar with the malware associated with "those emails" we're all too familiar with that you described. Links to bogus websites – prompting the user to triple check the fake URL against the one normally used – was another tip I needed to use to avoid volunteering my info to the wrong person. Lately, I've been having to deal with very believable emails from accounts of friends asking me for money (so I guess my friends' accounts are hacked into as a starting point?).

There's so much anti-hacking info to absorb, but it's worth it. When I think about whales, I'm not sure how much of a target I'd be considering my profession, but at the same time it'd be naïve to think I wouldn't be make a mark just because spear phishing is geared towards larger targets.
adil   Hunting for 'Whales' Using Targeted Malware   7/28/2013 6:11:21 AM
Re: targeting whales easier than before
I think the hackers will be more interested in my credit card number or my other financial information stored on my computer, rather they would be trying to steal my identity. I am not sure what they will do with it. You are right what ever we do or store online, is being collected by someone, the only thing we can do it to trust.
SunitaT   Hunting for 'Whales' Using Targeted Malware   7/28/2013 4:46:23 AM
Re : Hunting for 'Whales' Using Targeted Malware
The inventor's new malware is called KINS, and he's selling it for $5,000 a pop, although that price is likely to increase if the malware is a good as he brags it is. KINS is a new professional-grade banking Trojan that is taking its first steps in the cybercrime underground and could be poised to infect new victims as rapidly and efficiently as its Zeus, SpyEye and Citadel predecessors.
kstaron   Hunting for 'Whales' Using Targeted Malware   7/26/2013 5:59:48 PM
Specific strategies?
It's unnerving how sophisticated some malware is getting now. Especially with how much information is readily available. Beyond telling employees to not send anything critical in an email, what specific strategies are there to spot spear fishing and prevent this kind of malware?
eethtworkz   Hunting for 'Whales' Using Targeted Malware   7/16/2013 2:37:22 PM
Re: targeting whales easier than before
Stotheco,

Have you experimented with the Collusion Plugin from Firefox?

Amazing piece of work-You know exactly who is using your information and to who all are they passing it over.

Brilliant,Brilliant piece of Engineering!

Highly Recommeded!

 
stotheco   Hunting for 'Whales' Using Targeted Malware   7/16/2013 2:11:15 AM
Re: red flags
I agree with Geeky. Hackers are smart, sharp, and sophisticated. In order to beat them at their own game, you have to know (or learn) how to think like them so you can anticipate their move, hopefully be a few steps ahead of them.
stotheco   Hunting for 'Whales' Using Targeted Malware   7/16/2013 2:10:28 AM
Re: targeting whales easier than before
Some people assume that privacy settings really keep their information private. Others simply don't care. The problem is that all this data is going somewhere. And someone out there might be collecting everything to use against you or to steal your stuff or identity. 
Andrew Froehlich   Hunting for 'Whales' Using Targeted Malware   7/11/2013 1:43:49 PM
Re: be careful...
@Sara - I'm also partial to Belugas. They're really cute! :)
User Ranking: Blogger
Andrew Froehlich   Hunting for 'Whales' Using Targeted Malware   7/11/2013 1:38:35 PM
Re: targeting whales easier than before
@ProgMan - You may be right. Seeking out whales is a fairly new fad and the jury is still out on how successful it actually is. But I think that if it's done correctly, it can work. We all have to stay on our toes and our first reaction must always to reject any request for information.
User Ranking: Blogger
eethtworkz   Hunting for 'Whales' Using Targeted Malware   7/11/2013 8:06:40 AM
Re: targeting whales easier than before
Pedro,

Fascinating story you pointed out here.

Its beyond true that too many people are too casual about the kind (&Quality) of information they post about themselves online.

Its really sad when that Information then gets used for all kinds of nefarious activities.

I also came across some Technical Developments that have a massive potential to change Pairing based and by extension PKI today.

One part of me says Fascinating Development;the other part of me groans in Agony simply because it means the Current PKI is now obsolete(or will be in another year or so).

http://www.21ct.com/blog/major-advances-in-pairing-based-cryptography/

Regards

Ashish.
Page 1 / 2   >   >>


The blogs and comments posted on EnterpriseEfficiency.com do not reflect the views of TechWeb, EnterpriseEfficiency.com, or its sponsors. EnterpriseEfficiency.com, TechWeb, and its sponsors do not assume responsibility for any comments, claims, or opinions made by authors and bloggers. They are no substitute for your own research and should not be relied upon for trading or any other purpose.

More Blogs from Andrew Froehlich
Andrew Froehlich   5/6/2014   13 comments
Not all clouds are equal. That's a pretty obvious statement that we can all agree on. Cloud service providers offer differing levels of services, redundancy, and customer service -- all at ...
Andrew Froehlich   4/30/2014   10 comments
In order for enterprise employees to work together as one unified group, they must follow carefully written policies and procedures -- but every once in a while, you may find yourself in ...
Andrew Froehlich   4/22/2014   49 comments
For those of us who study enterprise IT security, last year's Target store hack turned out to be a fantastic case study that was loaded with lessons to learn.
Andrew Froehlich   4/16/2014   22 comments
With news that Google slashed the price of their big-data offering "Big Query" by up to 85 percent, one has to wonder if the move is to ward off competitors -- or simply that the ...
Andrew Froehlich   3/18/2014   27 comments
At a recent South By Southwest Interactive conference in Austin, Edward Snowden said the NSA is "setting fire to the future of the Internet." In light of this, the World Wide Web ...
Latest Archived Broadcast
We talk with Bernard Golden about accelerating application delivery in the cloud.
On-demand Video with Chat
Register for this video discussion to learn how tablets can provide true business usability and productivity.
E2 IT Migration Zones
IT Migration Zone - UK
Why PowerShell Is Important
Reduce the Windows 8 Footprint for VDI
Rethinking Storage Management
IT Migration Zone - FR
SQL Server : 240 To de mémoire flash pour votre data warehouse
Quand Office vient booster les revenus Cloud et Android de Microsoft
Windows Phone : Nokia veut davantage d'applications (et les utilisateurs aussi)
IT Migration Zone - DE
Cloud Computing: Warum Unternehmen trotz NSA auf die „private“ Wolke setzen sollten
Cloud Computing bleibt Wachstumsmarkt – Windows Azure ist Vorreiter
Like Us on Facebook
Twitter Feed
Enterprise Efficiency Twitter Feed
Site Moderators Wanted
Enterprise Efficiency is looking for engaged readers to moderate the message boards on this site. Engage in high-IQ conversations with IT industry leaders; earn kudos and perks. Interested? E-mail:
moderators@enterpriseefficiency.com
Dell's Efficiency Modeling Tool
The major problem facing the CIO is how to measure the effectiveness of the IT department. Learn how Dell’s Efficiency Modeling Tool gives the CIO two clear, powerful numbers: Efficiency Quotient and Impact Quotient. These numbers can be transforma¬tive not only to the department, but to the entire enterprise.

Read the full report
The State of Enterprise Efficiency in the Virtual Era: Virtualization – Smart Approaches to Maximize Gains
Virtualization is a presence in nearly all enterprise data centers. But not all companies are using it to its best effect. Learn the common characteristics of success, what barriers companies face, and how to get the most from your efforts.

Read the full report
Informed CIO: Dollars & Sense: Virtual Desktop Infrastructure
Cut through the VDI hype and get the full picture -- including ROI and the impact on your Data Center -- to make an informed decision about your virtual desktop infrastructure deployments.

Read the full report
SPONSORED BY DELL
CASE STUDIES
EBOOKS
PUBLIC SECTOR RESOURCES
VIDEOS
WHITE PAPERS
WINDOWS SERVER 2012 RESOURCES
A Video Case Study – Translational Genomics Research Institute
e2 Video


On the Case
TGen IT: Where We're Going Next

7|11|12   |   08:12   |   10 comments


Now that TGen has broken new ground in genomic research by using Dell's storage, cloud, and high-performance computing solutions, the company discusses what will come next for it and for personalized medicine.
On the Case
Better Care Through Better Communications

6|6|12   |   02:24   |   11 comments


The achievements of the TGen/Dell project could improve how all people receive healthcare, because they are creating ways to improve end-to-end communication of medical data.
On the Case
TGen IT: Where We Are Now

5|15|12   |   06:58   |   6 comments


TGen is breaking new ground in genomic research by using Dell's storage, cloud, and high-performance computing solutions.
On the Case
TGen IT: Where We Were

4|27|12   |   06:45   |   10 comments


The Translational Genomics Research Institute wanted to save lives, but its efforts were hobbled by immense computing challenges related to collecting, processing, sharing, and storing enormous amounts of data.
On the Case
1,200% Faster

4|18|12   |   02:27   |   12 comments


Through their partnership, Dell and TGen have increased the speed of TGen’s medical research by 1,200 percent.
On the Case
IT May Improve Children's Chances of Survival

4|17|12   |   02:12   |   8 comments


IT is helping medical researchers reach breakthroughs in a way and pace never seen before.
On the Case
Medical Advances in the Cloud

4|10|12   |   1:25   |   5 comments


TGen and Dell are pushing the boundaries of computing, and harnessing the power of the cloud to improve healthcare.
On the Case
TGen: Living the Mission

4|9|12   |   2:25   |   3 comments


TGen's CIO puts the organizational mission at the heart of everything the IT staff does.
On the Case
TGen Speeding Up Biomedical Research to Save More Lives

4|5|12   |   1:59   |   6 comments


The Translational Genomics Research Institute is revamping its computing to improve speed, storage, and collaboration – and, most importantly, to save lives.
On the Case
Computing Power Helping to Save Children's Lives

3|28|12   |   2:13   |   3 comments


The Translational Genomics Institute’s partnership with Dell is enabling them to treat kids with neuroblastoma more quickly and save more lives.
Tom Nolle
The Big Reason to Use Office

3|18|14   |   02:24   |   46 comments


Office and personal productivity tools come in a first-class and coach flavor set, but what makes the difference is primarily little things that most users won't encounter. What's the big issue in using something other than Office, and can you get around it?
E2 Editors
SPONSORED: Mobile Security — A Use Case

3|4|14   |   04:27   |   16 comments


New mobile security solutions can accommodate a wide array of needs, including those of a complex university environment.
Tom Nolle
Killing Net Neutrality Might Save You Money

1|16|14   |   2:13   |   16 comments


The DC Court of Appeals voided most of the Neutrality Order, and whatever it might mean for the Internet overall, it might mean better and cheaper Internet VPNs for businesses.
Tom Nolle
The Internet of Everythinguseful

1|10|14   |   2:18   |   19 comments


We really don't want an "Internet of Everything" but even building an Internet of Everythinguseful means setting some ground rules to insure there's value in the process and that costs and risks are minimized.
Tom Nolle
Maturing Google Chrome

12|30|13   |   2.18   |   25 comments


Google's Chrome OS has a lot of potential value and a lot of recent press, but it still needs something to make it more than a thin client. It needs cloud integration, it needs extended APIs via web services, and it needs to suck it up and support a hard drive.
Sara Peters
No More Cookie-Cutter IT

12|23|13   |   03.58   |   21 comments


Creating the right combination of technology, people, and processes for your IT organization is a lot like baking Christmas cookies.
Sara Peters
Smart Wigs Not a Smart Idea

12|5|13   |   3:01   |   46 comments


Sony is seeking a patent for wigs that contain computing devices.
Tom Nolle
Cloud in the Wild

12|4|13   |   02:23   |   15 comments


On a recent African trip I saw examples of the value of the cloud in developing nations, for educational and community development programs. We could build on this, but not only in developing economies, because these same programs are often under-supported even in first-world countries.
E2 Editors
SPONSORED: Is Malware Evading Your IPS?

11|18|13   |   03:16   |   4 comments


Intrusion prevention software is supposed to detect and block malware intrusions, but clever malware authors can evade your IPS in these five main ways.
Sara Peters
Where Have All the Mentors Gone?

9|27|13   |   3:15   |   38 comments


A good professional mentor can change your life for the better... but where do you find one?
Tom Nolle
SDN Wars & You Could Win

9|17|13   |   2:10   |   5 comments


VMware's debate with Cisco on SDN might finally create a fusion between an SDN view that's all about software and another that's all about network equipment. That would be good for every enterprise considering the cloud and SDN.
Ivan Schneider
The Future of the Smart Watch

9|12|13   |   3:19   |   39 comments


Wearing a bulky, oversized watch is good training for the next phase in wristwatches: the Internet-enabled, connected watch. Why the smartphone-tethered connected watch makes sense, plus Ivan demos an entirely new concept for the "smart watch."
Tom Nolle
Cutting Your Cloud Storage Costs

9|4|13   |   2:06   |   3 comments


Cloud storage costs are determined primarily by the rate at which files are changed and the possibility of concurrent access/update. If you can structure your storage use to optimize these factors you can cut costs, perhaps to zero.
Sara Peters
Do CIOs Need an IT Background?

8|29|13   |   2:11   |   23 comments


Most of the CIOs interviewed in the How to Become a CIO series did not start their careers as IT professionals. So is an IT background essential?
Ivan Schneider
The Internet Loves Birthdays

8|27|13   |   3:25   |   69 comments


The Internet has evolved into a machine for drumming up a chorus of "Happy Birthday" messages, from family, friends, friends of friends who you added on Facebook, random people that you circled on G+, and increasingly, automated bots. Enough already.