World Password Day

Tony MasonData Protection, Security Awareness & Phishing

World Password Day

World Password Day

Today is World Password Day which is a great occasion to be briefing our staff on the dangers of reusing passwords.

The National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) have reported on the most commonly used passwords found that have been accessed by third parties in global cyber breaches.  Their breach analysis showed 23.2 million victim accounts worldwide used 123456 as a password. They have also listed the most used names, premier league football teams and even musicians and fictional characters.

A recent study in the UK by OnePoll found users manage an average of 14 online accounts (eg, emails, banking, bills, shopping, entertainment, etc.). They then have to remember around nine different passwords across these.  No wonder two in five (38%) users forget their passwords at least once a month.

Why weak passwords are a danger to your business

Reusing passwords is still a major risk for individuals and companies.  The NCSC report  has collated  a list of 100,000 most commonly re-occurring passwords that have been accessed by third parties in global cyber breaches.  The compromised passwords were obtained from global breaches that are already in the public domain having been sold or shared by hackers.

The list was created after breached usernames and passwords were collected and published on Have I Been Pwned by international web security expert Troy Hunt. The website Have I Been Pwned allows people to check if they have an account that has been compromised in a data breach.

The report shows that even being more creative with your password still runs the risk of a breach; ‘oreocookie’ was still seen over 3000 times.

Attackers use lists like these when attempting a cyber breach.  This can help them breach a perimeter or move within a less well defended network.

How password blacklists can help your users to make sensible password choices

Using this NCSC list can help users create safer passwords but don’t use it in isolation. However, for a start, if you see a password that you use on this list, you should immediately change it.

IT managers can now use this list to check whether their users have a weak password and can help them create new, safer passwords.  Recognising the passwords that are most likely to result in a successful account takeover is an important first step in IT security.

Password Guidance

  • Update your password policies
    • The NCSC give guidance on what to include to help users choose good passwords
    • Ensure employees can’t use known bad passwords
  • Use password blacklists
    • NIST recommend using password blacklists, such as this NCSC list or Have I Been Pwnd to ensure users don’t pick a password that is commonly found in data breaches. Then add these into your authentication flow
  • Use Password Managers
  • Choose a good, strong password
    • Choosing a password is hard. The NCSC urges using 3 random words to create a password. They also advise creating a hard-to-guess password, particularly to secure important data, such as personal or banking details.  Choose something creative & memorable to you but something others cannot guess (not your first name, football team or favourite band).
  • Choose different passwords for different accounts, especially your email account or financial accounts with sensitive data
    • 25% of employees use the same password for all logins
  • Use a modern approach to authentication (including multi-factor authentication)
  • Make your staff aware of how attackers use passwords obtained from beaches to make it relevant & ensure users adopt a good password policy

Read More at National Cyber Security Centre.

See how vulnerable you are. Find out now which users are using hacked passwords

Try KnowBe4’s free tool: New Breached Password Test (BPT) to see which of your users are currently using passwords that are in the publicly available breaches associated with your domain. BPT checks against your Active Directory and reports compromised passwords in use right now so you can take action immediately.

40% of Organisations Not Doing Enough to Protect Office 365 Data.

Tony MasonData Protection, Office 365 Security

Microsoft Office 365 Security

Office 365 Data Security.

Companies could be putting themselves at risk by relying exclusively on Office 365 Data Security, according to Barracuda.

Barracuda’s latest report found that 40% of IT organisations surveyed don’t use third-party backup tools to protect Office 365 data. The report questioned more than 1,000 IT professionals, business executives, and backup administrators.

They explain why it is a big risk to ignore third party data back up tools and just trust Office 365 to deliver all the back up you need. This is particularly important as the amount of data being lost remains high. As we are using more devices and getting our data from more places each year, it becomes harder to ensure our data is secure.

Why Use Third Party Back Up?

Barracuda’s Director of Data Protection Platform Strategy, Greg Arnette, explains.  While Microsoft does offer a resilient SaaS infrastructure to guarantee availability, it doesn’t secure data for historical restoration for long.  Plus, its service-level agreements don’t ensure against user error, malicious intent, or other activity that can destroy data.

“Microsoft will protect your data for an outage in a data centre environment, but they will not detect threats such as account takeovers and ransomware. Those kind of attacks will look like the actions of a typical end user. The backup vendors are now doing more detection using cloud-based APIs to keep track of what changes over time.”

The report explains deleted emails are not backed up on Office 365 in the traditional sense. Instead, they are placed in a recycle bin for up to 93 days before being completely deleted forever. For SharePoint and OneDrive, deleted data is held for a maximum of 14 days by Microsoft.  Plus you need to open a support ticket to retrieve it. SharePoint and OneDrive can’t even retrieve single items/files; they have to restore an entire instance. It’s actually doubtful that these short term retention policies would even meet most of today’s compliance requirements.

Cloud Back Up

Many think that if data is in Saas, then it will automatically be backed up.  However this isn’t the case. Just because it is ‘held in the cloud’, doesn’t mean that it will be backed up.

The Barracuda report also discovered that while 64% of companies worldwide state that they back up data to the cloud, 36% still don’t. Although the report didn’t show clearly why this was, it is likely that there are still major security concerns over storing in the Cloud.  This is despite the benefits of being able to retrieve everything if hit by a disaster such as fire or flood.

Companies need to realise that they are responsible for their data: protecting, archiving and being able to recover it, especially email.

See the whole story at Dark Reading.

Barracuda Essentials offers all-in-one Cloud Based Email Security, Backup, Archiving & eDiscovery for Office 365.

Take a look here for more information.

Ensure you are backed up. The alternative isn’t worth thinking about.



Phishing Attacks Now More Common Than Malware

Tony MasonSecurity Awareness & Phishing

Phishing Attacks

Phishing Attacks More Common Than Malware

The latest annual Microsoft Security Intelligence Report (SIR) has just been issued and indicates that phishing attacks are now by far the most frequent cyber threat.  Since their last report, phishing attacks have increased 250%.

Microsoft’s security team are in a great position to analyse trends in cyber security threats.  Their figures are based on their internal scans of O365 email addresses and their latest report is based on over 470 billion messages.  The results show that not only are the phishing attacks more often, but in a short space of time have become significantly sophisticated.

Technology is getting better at detecting phishing attacks, with machine learning improvements automatically blocking phishing emails.  However, unfortunately, phishing continues to be a threat due to the human nature of it.  Cyber criminals focus on human fear, panic, brand trust, or ignorance.  They continue to use this method of attack due to the success they have with it.

The Rise of Phishing Attacks

The report shows that not only are phishing attacks increasing, but they are becoming the criminals’ preferred attack method.  Attackers are often able to convincingly impersonate users and domains.  They bait victims with fake cloud storage links, engage in social engineering and create attachments that look similar to those commonly used in the organisation.

As we reported last week on Ransomware-as-a-service, cyber hacking services are now available to any aspiring cyber criminal in an ‘out-of-the-box’ format. Phishing attacks are also now available in kit form.  These Phishing Kits clone popular websites and operate from temporary servers.  They can be purchased from the Dark Web at reasonable prices.

Avoiding Phishing

On analysing the SIR, KnowBe4 note that simple diligence can defeat just about all the phishing attacks listed.

Most phishing messages succeed through social engineering tactics, leveraging blind trust, impulsiveness and lack of awareness. Proper organisation-wide security awareness training that focuses on recognising common phishing attacks and request response policies can drive down the phish-prone percentage of users dramatically.

Vendor Supply Chain

Both Microsoft and KnowBe4 also highlight that while companies must train their staff and internal users, they must also ensure that their vendors are doing the same.  Supply chain attacks are another new area of focus for cyber criminals. These attacks tend to deliver malware that installs crypto-currency coin miners. Therefore, any outside vendor with access to your systems is a potential point of compromise.

The best defence is a layered approach to security that involves employee training & collaboration with digital supply chain partners.

See the whole story here.


Tony MasonData Protection, Endpoint Security, Enterprise Security, Security Awareness & Phishing

Ransomware-as-a-Service available on the Dark Web

The Dark Web and Ransomware-as-a-Service

This month our partner, Vipre, reported on Ransomware-as-a-Service and the impacts this could have on the industry.  Jason Norton advised, ‘Ransomware is a form of malware that encrypts, or locks a user out of and away from their critical data. Typically, the attacker demands monetary payment in exchange for a decryption key that promises to unlock the hijacked data’.

Reports this week are claiming that more companies are paying the demands, as their insurance companies are paying the bill.   This definitely makes for a lucrative market for potential cyber criminals to focus on. However, this may not result in you getting your data back.


Jason explains how Ransomware-as-a-Service (RaaS) is slightly different to normal ransomware. ‘Unlike traditional ransomware, RaaS doesn’t require the attacker to be necessarily skilled at writing computer code to launch attacks. That is because the RaaS delivery model is similar to a monthly subscription service. This type of affiliate program creates a win-win situation for both the malware author and the subscription buyer. There is usually some type of profit sharing or split between the two parties which is normally agreed upon up front. In the end, the only loser is the victim who pays the demanded monetary ransom in the hope of safely getting their valuable data back’.

For a monthly subscription fee, cyber criminals can provide access to easy-to-use malware and ransomware, packaged for immediate distribution to the buyer. These RaaS packages are found and sold on the Dark Web.

The interesting & most concerning point Jason makes about the advent of RaaS is that it removes a large barrier to bad actors’ entry into this field.

To become a hacker, you used to need to have the ability to code. With this new RaaS service, that need has now been taken away.  The problem that creates is, there is no guarantee you will get your data back.  There used to be an unwritten rule in the world of ransomware that once you had paid the ransom, you would receive your data back.  Sadly, the new hackers using RaaS don’t have the skill set to retrieve this for you.

Additionally, the volume of attacks may rise as it becomes easier for new entrants to come in to the market.  Jason relates this to pyramid selling schemes, where, in this instance, the ransomware authors stand to make a lot of money by maximising the number of hackers using their service.

Key ways to counter Ransomware

  • Use a Next-Gen Endpoint Security Solution, such as Vipre
  • Train Your Users: using simulated phishing of latest scams, together with engaging & interactive training, such as KnowBe4
  • Regularly Back Up Your Data


Check here for Vipre’s full report.

Phishers Shift Efforts To Attack SaaS and Webmail Services

Tony MasonSecurity Awareness & Phishing

A new report out today provides us with some good news and some bad for the beginning of 2019. According to Help Net Security ‘the good news is that the total number of conventional, spam-based phishing campaigns declined as 2018 came to a close.  The bad news is that users of software-as-a-service (SaaS) systems and webmail services are being increasingly targeted.’

APWG have just issued their Q4 2018 Phishing Activity Trends Report and it shows the number of confirmed phishing sites declined towards the end of 2018.  They report 138,328 in Q4,versus 151,014 in Q3, 233,040 in Q2, and 263,538 in Q1. Although, overall phishing sites grew 220% over the course of the year and phishing attacks increased 36%.

Phishing Sites

This new decline in the number of phishing campaigns may have been down to anti-phishing efforts. It may also be because criminals are moving to more specialised and lucrative forms of e-crime than pure mass-market phishing.  However, there is also a growing concern that the decline may actually be down to the fact they are going undetected. It is suggested that techniques are becoming ever more sophisticated.  Detection and documentation of some phishing URLs has been complicated by phishers obfuscating phishing URLs with techniques such as Web-spider deflection schemes. Also attackers are creating multiple redirects in spam-based phishing campaigns.  They take users (and automated detectors) from an email, through multiple URLs on multiple domains before finally depositing the potential victim at the actual phishing site.

New Preferred Targets

Phishing targeting SaaS and Webmail services increased from 20.1% of all attacks in Q3 to almost 30% in Q4. Attacks against cloud storage and file hosting sites continued to decrease, falling from 11.3% of all attacks in Q1 2018 to only 4% in Q4 2018.


Phishing Attacks Hosted on HTTPS & SSL


Phishing Attacks Hosted on HTTPS

Interestingly, researchers at APWG member Phish Labs noted that in Q4 2018, the number of phishing attacks hosted on websites that have HTTPS and SSL certificates declined for the first time in history. However, 47% of phishing attacks are still hosted on sites that use digital certificates to make attacks look legitimate, fooling users into thinking they are secure, and to avoid any browser warnings.

So whatever the shift in trends, we still need to remain vigilant and aware of the developments and increased sophistication of the attackers at large.

Black Friday Scam

Tony MasonSecurity Awareness & PhishingLeave a Comment

Black Friday Scam

Black Friday & Cyber Monday Scam

Black Friday & Cyber Monday Scams

This week sees the return of the phenomena of Black Friday and Cyber Monday. These marketing events are significantly driving up the increase in online sales in the run up to Christmas.  2017’s Cyber Monday was the largest online shopping day in history and was mobile’s first $2 billion day.

This weekend has become an unbridled online spending extravaganza, but threat actors have taken notice. It’s Holiday Season for these bad guys too, but not the way you might think. They go into scam-overdrive mode.

Black Friday and Cyber Monday are the busiest on-line shopping days and they are out to get rich with your money

With their latest report, the team at RiskIQ summarised it well:

“Ever the opportunists, threat actors set up their operations where the money is; and in the case of the Black Friday and Cyber Monday phenomena, it’s e-commerce. According to Adobe Digital Index, in 2017, online shoppers stuffed e-commerce cash registers with more than $19.6 billion in sales through the Black Friday weekend—a more than 15 percent increase over 2016.

“With more people than ever poised to partake in this year’s November shopping frenzy, attackers will capitalise by using the brand names of leading e-tailers to exploit users looking for Black Friday deals and coupons by creating fake mobile apps and landing pages to fool consumers into downloading malware, using compromised sites, or giving up their login credentials and credit card information.”

Sales this weekend are forecast to be up 19.4% on last year with $7.8 billion expected in e-commerce on Cyber Monday.

What starts out as a search for Christmas presents at bargain prices can turn into a financial nightmare. For brands, what starts as a marketing campaign to boost sales can turn into a security fiasco that not only affects them financially but can destroy trust with their customers.

This year, Magecart, which is made up of several groups of digital credit card-skimming actors with ties to Russia, adds a serious new layer of threat. They are responsible for large-scale breaches that stole thousands of customer credit cards.  Only put your details in a secure shopping portal, not on sites for coupons and competitions and be restrictive with your personal data.

It’s worth sending an email to staff over this weekend and the Christmas season reminding them to be vigilant.  It is crucial to pay attention to detail while shopping online.

So what to look out for?  At the moment, there are literally thousands of fake sites, looking just like the real thing. Don’t fall for it.

Key Things to Consider:

  1. Make sure the site you go to is the real one, including subsequent link addresses.
  2. Type in the address or use your bookmark.
  3. Do not click on links in emails with special offers.
  4. Be aware of permissions the site is requesting, is it relevant to what’s required?
  5. Watch out for alerts via email or text that you just received a package from FedEx, UPS or DPD, and then asks you for some personal information.  Don’t enter anything.
  6. Don’t download fake mobile apps that promise big shopping savings.
  7. Be very wary of online discount coupons. Don’t input your details unless you trust the site’s official web address & be restrictive with your data.
  8. Ensure the site is ‘https’, security protected.
  9. Only use Credit Cards online, instead of Debit Cards & if possible, only use credit card information saved in your online shopping account to avoid being intercepted by Magecart.

Think Before You Click! 

KnowBe4 Security Awareness Training

GDPR & Data Breaches

Tony MasonData Protection, News, Security Awareness & PhishingLeave a Comment

GDPR & Data Breaches Under The New Rules


GDPR & Data Breaches 6 Months On.

The value of the average data breach fine issued by the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) in the UK has doubled in one year, reaching £ 146,000, according to the City Law firm, RPC.

The total value of fines imposed by the ICO has risen by 24% compared to 2017, reaching just under £ 5m at the end of September.

Credit reporting agency, Equifax was issued the maximum £ 500k last month, for failing to protect the data of 15million people when their data was stolen in a cyber attack in 2017.

According to Richard Breavington, a partner at RPC, ‘A doubling in the average size of fine should serve as a wake-up call to business. However, political pressure is mounting.’

The ICO issued its first enforcement notice under the new rules in September.  They fined AggregateIQ, who allegedly used the data of 87m Facebook users to sway voters during the 2016 EU referendum.

Facebook have also just been fined £ 500K for failing to protect users’ information and lack of transparency about how this data was being used.  Companies need to understand the new rules and ensure all their staff is aware, and ensure there is full compliance.  As this activity was prior to the new European GDPR ruling, the fine isn’t included in the figures above and was capped at the maximum of £ 500K.  However, should such a serious data breach occur today, their maximum fine would be 4% of global turnover – which could be as much as $ 1.9billiion.

Also, Heathrow Airport saw a fine of a mere £ 120K for a ‘serious’ data breach, for failing to secure ‘sensitive personal data’ when an employee lost a memory stick that was not encrypted or password protected (only 2% of staff had been trained in data protection and there was widespread practice of staff downloading sensitive data onto memory sticks, which contravened the company policy as well as GDPR rules).  Had Heathrow been penalised under the new rules, it could have seen a penalty of £ 17million or 4% of turnover.

Now BA has an open case by the ICO for the recent data breach from its website and since this is post May, legal experts are questioning whether the new data laws could now see BA receive fines of up to £500 million if they are found to be in breach of the new rules.

Not only from the Data Watchdog, the ICO, but also fines are coming from elsewhere.  Morrisons has just lost its appeal against a High Court ruling that it is legally liable for a former employee leaking personal information about 100,000 staff members and it may now face compensation bills running into millions. This result will sound alarm bells to other businesses and have huge ramifications for others in the future.  Companies need to take responsibility for their data; it’s about protecting people as much as their data.

It is becoming increasingly clear that we need to create a strong culture of responsibility. 

A recent Versasec survey examining the impact of GDPR 6 months on, shows that the privacy regulation cost more to implement than was anticipated.  However other non-Eu companies are also beginning to adopt similar regulations in anticipation of new rules in their own territories as 30% believe that more stringent privacy rules are likely worldwide.

The biggest concern of those surveyed was to ensure all employees comply with the rules. Their fears are more down to the fines they could face due to GDPR & data breaches, than losing revenue or customers.

59% of respondents admitted their company was still not fully compliant on May 25; their challenges centred around educating employees and having enough resources to implement the new regulation.

Data is important and the fines and ramifications for businesses are huge. From the directors down, all staff need to be aware of the importance of data and cyber security, from passwords, to encryption, downloading, to memory sticks.  Training staff in an engaging and motivating way will go a long way to ensuring processes and policies are followed and systems are protected.

The repercussions can be devastating, whether financially, legally, personally, your reputation or much worse…


KnowBe4’s Security Awareness Training library includes GDPR training modules, videos, posters & newsletters as part of their extensive library of training modules.

Security Training-Marketing

Tony MasonSecurity Awareness & PhishingLeave a Comment

Consider Security Training as Security Marketing

As over 90% of security incidents are connected to human error, many companies are initiating security training to counter the risks to business.

However, that exceedingly high figure would make you reconsider what’s happening with the security training. The problem can be that the content is boring, mandatory and a one case fits all does not mitigate the risks.

Making end users aware of cyberthreats has great potential for the business and therefore, security awareness training should be part of a layered defence strategy.

According to a study authored by cybersecurity executive Calvin Nobles titled “Shifting the Human Factors Paradigm in Cybersecurity, Nobles found that while organisations are investing heavily in security technology, they are still lagging behind when it comes to security training initiatives.

Lisa Plaggemier, security evangelist at InfoSec Institute, feels similar, stating that employees may well be aware of the cyber risks but do not necessarily change their behaviour. She states that employees openly violate security policies.  They log in using unsecured public networks, use work devices for personal transactions, download unapproved software, share passwords and unknowingly open malicious attachments from phishing attacks.

She believes this should be more a case of not whether companies train, but actually how they engage their employees and empower them to feel a sense of ownership of the company’s security.

Nobles also found that the culture of the company plays a significant role.   A culture that is employee-focused and team-oriented, with open communication and a positive work atmosphere, is more likely to have employees who feel both empowered and valued. In turn, they value the company.

One of the greatest challenges to the success of cybersecurity is to create a change in the culture rather than just training the staff. To change the culture of a company, its employees need to buy in, and that buy-in must come from the top down.  Fortunately, cybersecurity is moving from being a mysterious, frightening, negative aspect of a business and is now receiving ongoing investment, rather just being an option.

Plaggemier suggests that awareness campaigns should look more like marketing campaigns.  Most current training is one size fits all and can be disengaging, mandatory, hard line messages.  However, a tailored approach, to the right person at the right time, can be engaging & funny and can spark interest. Employees are then more likely to get on board with the security culture and are much more likely to learn.  If employees are fully engaged, they are more likely to feel they have a responsibility for the business and therefore more likely to take action.

It is important to offer a clear message as to why security matters and put it on a level with other messages that your employees view throughout the day.

One off training exercises also lack any tracking. Tracking facilities enable you to see whether people are actually learning and changing their behaviour. It’s not about who has had the training, but who has learnt and is also engaged for the future.

Need assistance to implement a fully integrated security training campaign?

Check here:

KnowBe4, the largest library of training modules, simulated Phishing campaigns, marketing material and management reports: Phish, Analyse, Train, Repeat.

Cyber Attack on UK ‘in little doubt’.

Tony MasonNewsLeave a Comment

NCSC report Cyber Attack ‘in little doubt’

Major life-threatening cyber attack on UK ‘in little doubt’ in near future warns security chief.

The National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC), part of GCHQ, warns that a life-threatening incident will almost inevitably strike the UK in the near future. Over the last 12 months they have handled over 557 attacks by groups of hackers who are directed, sponsored or tolerated by governments of countries hostile to the UK and they are the most acute and direct cyber threat to our national security.  None were category 1, a strike with potential risk to life, but the NCSC warned that this is likely.  Last year’s category 2 attack on the NHS affected 80 out of the 236 hospital trusts as well as 595 GP practices, and cost the NHS £92 million.  

With cyber security threats continuing to escalate worldwide, the ISACA/CMMI Institute Cybersecurity Culture Report found that only 5% of employees think their organisation’s cyber security culture is as advanced as it needs to be to protect their business from internal and external threats. More than 4,800 business and technology professionals shared their insights in the global research study, conducted via online polling in June 2018 and the results were issued this week.  9 in 10 companies report gaps between the cyber security culture they have, and the one they want.  42% do not have an outlined cyber security culture management plan or policy.  

The NCSC also monitors and defends the UK against ‘high volume commodity attacks’ such as phishing emails designed to fool people into installing malware on their devices and in the year up to August 18 they removed 138,389 phishing sites hosted in the UK.

These phishing emails are becoming increasingly sophisticated to fool victims into giving their details or more recently opening pdfs.   In one recent case, a user downloaded a document that seemingly offered information on upcoming releases from a major media streaming site. The document had a macro enabled that opened the file as expected, so the user was completely unaware that it had also installed a rogue application to upload and download files on demand.  This particular file was able to avoid detection for a long time by limiting its core functionality to avoid detection.  Hackers can then establish a persistent foothold on a network, and take their time to conduct network reconnaissance, sourcing other users to target on the network and also accessing sensitive documents stored in cloud-based services.

Companies must therefore develop and nurture a cyber security culture across the whole business, not just within their IT teams.

It’s worth auditing your cyber security culture before it’s too late.

Cybersecurity Awareness Month

Tony MasonNewsLeave a Comment

National Cybersecurity Awareness Month

October is National Cybersecurity Awareness Month (NCSAM).  Set up 15 years ago in the US, NCSAM was a collaboration between government and industry and is ever more relevant today.

Last week’s theme focussed on online security in the home, ensuring parents train their kids in online security as part of their usual life-skills.  This goes from the internet, to mobile devices, social media and even adjusting the thermostat; everyone in the household needs to learn the importance of protecting their homes against cyber threats.

This week’s focus is on educating for a career in Cybersecurity.  We have a continuing shortage of cybersecurity professionals worldwide. At a time when there is an increase in cybercrime and our cyber needs continue to grow as we become ever more digitally connected, there is a massive risk to businesses and the economy.  GCHQ UK works closely with educational bodies across the UK to encourage young people to take an interest in cybersecurity.  They ran a Code Club in the summer, have 40 STEM Ambassadors inspiring youngsters and supporting teachers by explaining current applications of STEM in industry or research today and are now offering degree level apprenticeships and university bursaries.

As an industry we need to do more to train our staff to be more vigilant online.  In the past security awareness training was considered a nice to have.  It was pushed back due to budget or lack of in-house expertise on training.  For this reason, it is particularly the SMBs that have suffered.  Today many companies are now putting security awareness training among their top 3 security expenditures alongside firewalls and endpoint security.  This is due to the increased annual losses following a ransomware or data loss breach.  If you aren’t educating your users in security awareness, then you are putting your business at risk.