Spear Phishing, News and Twitter Accounts: Why Corporate Credentials Must Be Protected

May 22, 2013
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2 min read

The Daily Telegraph is the latest victim in a series of high-profile attacks against media organizations. The group behind these attacks, the hacktivist “Syrian Electronic Army” (SEA), has hijacked Twitter accounts and online operations of several media organizations, including the Financial Times, The Guardian, the Associated Press, Al Jazeera, the BBC and even satirical newspaper The Onion.

Hacking Twitter Accounts

Hacking into these accounts provides the group with a new way to influence global agendas and censor the press. But the risk can be much higher; if the hackers took over enterprise employee accounts and accessed critical enterprise systems instead of targeting Twitter accounts, the impact on an organization could be devastating.

In fact, enterprise user accounts were compromised in order to compromise The Onion’s Twitter account. A detailed explanation posted by techies at The Onion provides good insight into how this attack progressed.

First, hacktivists at the SEA sent emails to some of The Onion employees. The messages included a link to what appeared to be a Washington Post article. However, the link directed the users to a bogus Google URL that asked for Google Apps credentials before it would redirect users to the Gmail login page. At least one employee entered his or her credentials, and by doing so, he or she exposed the Google login credentials to the attackers. Using this information, the attackers were able to log in and send the same phishing email on behalf of the compromised user. Coming from a trusted address, more employees clicked the link. Although most employees refrained from entering their credentials, two staff members did, one of whom had access to all of The Onion’s social media accounts.

After discovering an account had been compromised, The Onion’s IT department sent a company-wide email requesting that employees change their passwords immediately. After seeing this email, the attackers used a different compromised account to send a similar password reset email, which included a link to a phishing site. This email wasn’t sent to the tech or IT teams, so it went undetected. This final phishing attack compromised an account that had access to The Onion’s Twitter account.

As this story demonstrates, corporate credentials used by employees to log in to critical corporate Web systems, such as Google Apps and email, are valuable to hackers. Phishing schemes that expose these credentials can pose a significant risk to the organization. Therefore, it is critical to protect the employees’ enterprise credentials, especially those used for logging in to Web applications and online publication systems, and prevent employees from submitting their corporate credentials to phishing sites.

User Education Is Not Enough

In their post, The Onion’s techies’ first recommendation is to educate users to not click on suspicious links, even when they are sent by what seems to be a trusted source. Our experience shows that user education isn’t enough. Attackers are using sophisticated schemes to manipulate users; even the smartest, most educated employees can be fooled. If only one employee account is compromised, it can enable a corporate breach with devastating results.

Learn how to protect Corporate Credentials against Today’s Threats

Dana Tamir
Director of Enterprise Security at Trusteer, an IBM Company

Dana Tamir is Director of Enterprise Security at Trusteer, an IBM Company. In her role she leads activities related to enterprise advanced threat protection ...
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