Phishing Attacks and Multifactor Authentication

Stop the Password Reset Insanity

How much time does your IT department spend changing a user’s network and or email account passwords because they clicked on a phishing link that they should not have? How many users do you have who do this repeatedly? Have you trained your users to identify, report, and ignore these phishing attempts?

Why make the only procedure to resolve this resetting the password when it just keeps happening again and again? Stop the insanity and look at a new way of solving this problem.

“The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”

How Spearphishing Works

Your company webpage has just been redesigned to provide an enriched marketing experience. It looks great and everyone on your leadership team is excited about the new page. One of the pages, “About Our Team”, lists every member of the executive management team with a short bio. You have just provided the bad guys with a short list of high-value targets within your company.

With this list of users in hand and by utilizing the most standard email address format (everyone uses first initial of the first name + last name), a couple of smart public DNS queries, and a telnet to port 25 of your email server, I can determine your mail server and version, including Microsoft Office 365. Then I can set up a fake webmail account login page and send a well-crafted email asking them to log in to my fake email system so I can steal their password.

Once your user completes this action, I have not just compromised their account, I have compromised an influential person in the company. I now have access to the corporate account of someone who can make decisions and spend money, for example, authorize an invoice to be paid or request a wire transfer. Payday for me, headaches dealing with law enforcement, lawyers, cyber insurance companies, and forensics experts for you.

What Happens Next

Once you discover the intrusion, I’ve been reported to IT, the user’s account password has been changed, the lawyers are doing insurance reviews, and accounting is double checking the books, but I am still out there. While everyone is thinking, crisis averted, I am waiting for the next opportunity.

Now, I sit back and wait a week or two before another attempt. During this time, a business crisis arises, distracting the executives, and I send another email asking you to log in. Nine times out of ten, I get back in. Executives are busy between internal, partner and customer meetings, traveling, reviewing performance numbers, and so on. They are always busy and want things to go smoothly so they can accomplish tasks quickly. Because of this, your executives rarely look twice at the email asking for the password again – just so they can get that PDF report they think they are getting.

So, they are compromised. Again. You change their password. Again. Insanity.

While you are saying to yourself, “This would never happen at my company”, let me share this story with you. I recently worked a case where the President of the company was successfully spearfished three times in two weeks. Each time, the password was reset, and everyone moved on to other things. In another case, a breached IT administrator account was used to spearfish the CFO. As if that is not bad enough, the CFO had already been successfully spearfished two months prior.

How do I end this cycle?

The easy answer is to require multi-factor authentication (MFA). The harder question is, “How do I implement MFA without being chased with pitchforks and firebrands?” Or worse yet, isolated in an office in the basement with your career stalled out.

So, how do you implement MFA while minimizing the impact on your users?

Scenario 1:

IT develops a MFA implementation plan. They then meet with the executives to outline the program’s pros and cons, with the strategy of scaring them into agreeing to implement MFA. They use statistics from Gartner, include quotes from Verizon’s Annual Data Breach Investigation Report, and try to sell the implementation plan. Remember, these are the same executives who are busy moving from one fire drill to another while being spearfished daily. This strategy almost never goes well.

Scenario 2:

IT develops a MFA implementation plan. Instead of only using statistics from Gartner and quotes from Verizon’s Annual Data Breach Investigation report, they use actual internal data to affect change from within. Prior to presenting this data, they have already completed a MFA pilot with their Email administrators and then rolled it out to the entire IT department. Here’s the payoff: report the measured results of the rollout to the IT Steering Committee, CFO, or COO; the point is, get an executive to start thinking about MFA, hearing the results, and digesting the successes. Then, get that individual to try it.

Peer pressure can also be beneficial in this scenario. “One-Upmanship” within a highly political boardroom can be a good thing. Having someone inside the decision-making group proudly boasting how fourteen unauthorized attempts to log in to their account were thwarted by MFA can provide the incentive you need. No one wants to be the weak link or in last place.

The Benefits of MFA

Now that you have implemented MFA, you are able to stop the insanity of repeatedly resetting passwords, re-imaging computers, spending hours on telephone calls with lawyers, insurance companies, and forensics companies. You can expect fewer security headaches, more time to complete your projects, and your executive team to appreciate how secure your network has become with multi-factor authentication.

SecurIT360 is an independent, vendor-agnostic Cybersecurity consulting firm.
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