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Dodge ransomware – learn to spot a phish


Johannesburg, 23 Jun 2020
Read time 6min 00sec
Douw Gerber, Business Development Manager at South Africa-based managed IT security services company, Securicom
Douw Gerber, Business Development Manager at South Africa-based managed IT security services company, Securicom

More companies are falling victim to ransomware attacks, with a large South African healthcare group becoming a target last week. While attacks on larger corporations are the ones that hit the news, small and medium-sized businesses are also falling prey. They just aren’t publicised.

A lot of small businesses still believe they are too small or insignificant to be targeted. In reality, smaller companies become victims because they are easy targets. They tend to have less robust IT security in place to spot and block threats, and there is also low security awareness among staff.

Douw Gerber, Business Development Manager at South Africa-based managed IT security services company, Securicom, says that increasingly, ransomware is a product of phishing scams. Phishing is the fraudulent process of acquiring information such as usernames, passwords, banking details, credit card numbers and other sensitive information by posing as an entity or company that the person trusts.

“Low security awareness among employees is a factor in ransomware attacks. Phishing mails, messages and SMS are only a problem when recipients respond by clicking on a URL link that leads them to a spoof Web site where they are tricked into revealing personal details, bank account details and other confidential information. That’s why phishing is a human problem. People need to know how to spot a ‘phish’,” says Gerber.

He explains that ransomware is a type of malware that encrypts data and either prevents or limits users from accessing their systems. Victims are then forced to either lose their data or pay a ransom through online payment methods to get it back. Computers can be infected with ransomware through a variety of ways. The malware can be downloaded unwittingly by users when they visit malicious or compromised Web sites. It can also arrive as a payload, either dropped or downloaded by other malware. Some ransomware is delivered as attachments in spam e-mails. The ransomware download begins automatically via a macro function or when the victim enables macros in the document, which triggers the ransomware download. Once the ransomware is installed, companies are shut out of their systems, data is held to ransom and business grinds to a halt.

“What we mostly see is the malware entering a system via e-mail. Untouched, these do not pose a threat. It is what happens after a phishing mail lands in an inbox that matters. People shouldn’t open statements, invoices and remittance advice documents from people or e-mail addresses they don’t know. Unfortunately, curiosity and naivety often take over.

“Yes, it is essential to have all of the technical interventions such as anti-virus, two-factor authentication and managed patching. However, the human factor will always create vulnerabilities unless it is also addressed. This makes end-user education an important part of protecting companies, their data, their people and their money.”

Here are some tips for spotting a phish:

  • Are you being encouraged to act now? Phishing e-mails are designed to create a sense of urgency to urge you to respond with information. Don’t open or respond to messages that insist on immediate action such as “Buy now”, “Reply now”, “Click here now”, etc.
  • Has the sender greeted you properly? E-mails from legitimate senders will typically use your name in the greeting. Look out for generic greetings such as “hello there”, “Good morning sir/madam”, or “Hi”.
  • Are you being asked to give up personal information in an e-mail, SMS or online? Don’t do it. No legitimate company will ever ask you for banking details or other sensitive information in this way.
  • Does the sender's e-mail address look strange? Legitimate companies will have a domain e-mail address. Scrutinise the e-mail address for discrepancies and slight alterations, such as an extra letter or number. For example, name@discovery25.co.za instead of name@discovery.co.za
  • Are there spelling or grammatical errors? You can be certain that messages from legitimate sources will not contain errors.
  • Are you being asked to open an attachment? Legitimate companies will usually direct you to visit their Web site to download documents rather than send them to you in an attachment.
  • Is there a link that you are “meant” to click on? Hover your cursor over the link to see where it leads. If the e-mail appears to be from a legitimate company but the hyperlink is an address for unrelated Web page, don’t click on it. If you really want to check out the site, copy the link into your browser and view it that way.
  • Does the Web page you’ve been led to have “https” in the URL at the top of the page? The “s” at the end of “http” indicates that the Web site offers some level of security. If there is no “s”, don’t transact on that site.

While much of this might seem like common sense, people still get caught. Research suggests that 91% of successful cyber attacks are the result of a phishing scam.

Gerber says the best way for companies to test the vulnerability of their workforce is a phishing simulation test. Simulated phishing e-mails emulating real phishing messages are sent to end-users, and their reaction to them is tracked and reported. Statistics like open rate (how many end-users open the e-mail) and compromise rate (how many users actually give up their details) are essential to find out just how vulnerable an organisation's workforce is to phishing scams.

With uSecure – a new managed service offering from Securicom – cyber attacks can be simulated regularly to help identify most at-risk users and learn how susceptible they are to ultra-targeted spear-phishing campaigns.

uSecure is a user focused cloud-based security training platform to help drive secure employee behaviour. The intelligent training platform identifies users' individual cyber security knowledge gaps and then, crafts personalised programmes that address their unique learning needs. Retention is measured and future training modules are deployed to fill knowledge gaps. Offered on a subscription basis, it is suitable and affordable for companies of all shapes and sizes.

Securicom is offering a complimentary employee risk assessment (ERA) to companies to get them started. The ERA report identifies employees’ current risk level to internal and external threats through calculating reality-based metrics, including their current susceptibility to targeted phishing attacks as well as identifying data that is stolen or exposed on the dark Web.

For more information, go to https://www.e-purifier.com/index.php/usecure/.

Follow Securicom on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/securicomZA

Securicom provides best-in-industry, cloud-based Managed IT Security Services to address the increasing and ever evolving security threats that businesses face. Its partnerships with leading, global technology providers, combined with extensive experience in building and delivering locally hosted security services, ensure that its partners and customers can benefit from state of the art IT security, regardless of their size or number of users. Securicom’s solutions include email, endpoint and web protection, network security and cyber security monitoring. Securicom has offices in Johannesburg, Cape Town and Namibia; and has customers across the globe. For more information on Securicom, please visit www.securicom.co.za

Editorial contacts
Kerry Webb (082) 496 0713 kerry-lee@mweb.co.za
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