Traps on the internet

Sep 23 2013, 02:29 IST
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SummaryThe biggest threats online are malware and phishing websites that are designed to steal people’s information or take over their computer for harm. The dark corners of the internet where this used to happen has moved mainstream. In India, where an increasing number of mobile users are getting their first—or only—Web experience from mobile handsets, but choose not to use mobile security, the opportunity for cybercriminals is enhanced to a great extent

Picture this. An executive assistant to a vice-president at a multinational company receives an email referencing an invoice hosted on a popular file sharing service. A few minutes later, the same administrative staff receives a phone call from another vice-president within the company, instructing her to examine and process the invoice. As soon as the invoice is processed, a cybercriminal takes control of the executive assistant’s infected computer and siphons the funds. The company was Francophoned—the invoice was a fake and the vice-president who called the assistant was an attacker.

This is how it happened. The supposed invoice was actually a remote access Trojan (RAT) that was configured to contact a command-and-control (C&C) server located in Ukraine. Once the systems were infected with the RAT, the attacker retrieved identifying information, including disaster recovery plans, of the organisation’s bank and telecom providers, its points of contact with both providers and its bank and telecom account data.

Using this data, the attacker was able to impersonate a company representative and called the organisation’s telecom provider. They proved their authenticity to the telecom provider, claimed that a physical disaster had occurred and said that they needed all of the organisation’s phone numbers to be redirected to attacker-controlled phones.

Immediately following the phone number redirection, the attacker faxed a request to the organisation’s bank, requesting multiple large-sum wire transfers to numerous offshore accounts. As this was an unusual transaction, the bank representative called the organisation’s number on record to validate the transaction. This call was redirected to the attacker who approved the transaction. The funds were successfully transferred to multiple offshore accounts, which were subsequently laundered further through other accounts and monetary instruments. Operation Francophone accomplished!

In May this year, 2013, IT security firm Symantec published details on the first attacks of this type targeting organisations in Europe. Further investigations have revealed additional details of the attack strategy. Francophoned is an example of how cybercriminal operations are becoming increasingly sophisticated, a trend that is likely to continue in the future.

If the above mentioned terminology has left you dumbfounded, here’s another one which will make you sit back and think on the perils of leading a connected lifestyle. We are talking about ransomware, an evolved form of malicious software which disables your device’s functionality and demands a ransom in order to restore the computer to its original state. In other words, it’s a cyber version of

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