Category: The Authorities

UK Gov Cyber Essentials 10 Step Plan

This is a summary of the UK Government 10 step plan for Cyber Essentials, which is designed for organisations looking to protect themselves in cyberspace.

1.      Risk Management

Embed an appropriate risk management regime across the organisation. This should be supported by an empowered governance structure, which is actively supported by the board and senior managers. These should aim to ensure that all employees, contractors and suppliers are aware of the approach, how decisions are made, and any applicable risk boundaries.

2.      Secure Configuration

Identify baseline technology builds and processes for ensuring configuration management can greatly improve the security of systems. Develop a strategy to remove or disable unnecessary functionality from systems, and to quickly fix known vulnerabilities.

3.      Network Security

The connections from your networks to the Internet, and other partner networks, expose your systems and technologies to attack. By creating and implementing some simple policies and appropriate architectural and technical responses, you can reduce the chances of these attacks succeeding. Your organisation’s networks may use of mobile or remote working, and cloud services, makes defining a fixed network boundary difficult.

4.      Managing User Privileges

All users should be provided with a reasonable (but minimal) level of system privileges and rights needed for their role. The granting of highly elevated system privileges should be carefully controlled and managed.

5.      User Education and Awareness

It’s important that security rules and the technology provided enable users to do their job as well as help keep the organisation secure. This can be supported by a systematic delivery of awareness programmes and training that deliver security expertise as well as helping to establish a security-conscious culture.

6.      Incident Management

Invest in establishing effective incident management policies and processes to help to improve resilience, support business continuity, improve customer and stakeholder confidence and potentially reduce any impact.

7.      Malware Prevention

Malicious software, or malware is an umbrella term to cover any code or content that could have a malicious, undesirable impact on systems. The risk may be reduced by developing and implementing appropriate anti-malware policies as part of an overall ‘defence in depth’ approach.

8.      Monitoring

System monitoring provides a capability that aims to detect actual or attempted attacks on systems and business services. Monitoring allows you to ensure that systems are being used appropriately in accordance with organisational policies.

9.      Removable Media Controls

Removable media provide a common route for the introduction of malware and the accidental or deliberate export of sensitive data. You should be clear about the business need to use removable media and apply appropriate security controls to its use.

10. Home and Mobile Working

Mobile working and remote system access offers great benefits, but exposes new risks that need to be managed. You should establish risk based policies and procedures that support mobile working or remote access to systems that are applicable to users, as well as service providers.

https://www.ncsc.gov.uk/guidance/10-steps-cyber-security has further information.

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UK Gov Phishing Attacks

A phishing attack is when criminals create fake websites that look like well-known websites such as Marks and Spencer or HMRC or British Gas etc.  They use the fake websites to get your confidential information.

Top 10 Government ‘Brands’

Brand                                                   No of phishing sites    No of attack groups    Phishing Site Availability                                                                            in hours

HM Revenue & Customs                     16,064                         2,466                           10

Gov.uk                                                 1,541                           241                              15

TV Licensing                                        172                              93                                5

DVLA                                                   107                              53                                11

Government Gateway                        46                                22                                6

Crown Prosecution Service                 43                                26                                15

Student Loans Company                     19                                11                                17

Student Finance Direct                       13                                3                                  3

British Broadcasting Corporation       8                                  7                                  35

Phishing

When a phishing site is identified that is pretending to be a UK government brand, the hosting provider is asked  to take the site down. While some government departments do their own brand protection, most don’t and it is simpler and cheaper for this to be done centrally.

Example of a phishing site impersonating HMRC

The domain name that’s been used is onlinehmrctax @ gov.co.uk. That’s intended to deceive the user into thinking this is a real HMRC site. Not all phishing sites use domains like this and many are hosted in areas of legitimate sites that have been compromised by the criminal. Phishing sites are also automatically added to a number of industry safe browsing lists that are consumed by the major browsers and so even if the hosting provider doesn’t respond, or it takes long time for the site to be removed, users of modern browsers with the default security settings are protected anyway

The availability of an attack is the total amount of time the phishing site is available from when the Netcraft service  first becomes aware of the attack through to when it is  finally taken down. This accounts for the

times when an attack is reinstated by the criminal after first being taken down by the provider, which can happen multiple times in some cases. It is also often the case that a single attack can involve multiple spoof sites, hosted on the same server. If there are many phishing URLs in a single attack, they can easily skew statistics through the responsiveness or otherwise of the hosting provider. Given a group of attacks are all hosted on the same `server’, we group these together taking the longest time any one of them is available as the availability for that group.

Over the last calendar year, we’ve taken down 18, 067 HMG-related phishing sites.

For comparison, in the previous 6 months 5, the volume was 19; 443 sites, also shown on the chart. It’s clear that we have performed fewer HMG-related phishing takedowns in 2017 and the trend is generally downward. Given how the service is driven, it’s reasonable to assume that it sees a relatively constant percentage of the global phishing and so this strongly suggests that there has been less HMG-related phishing this year than last.

However, it is very likely (in the opinion of the author) that this work has had a direct impact on the viability of criminal phishing targeting HMG brands, making them less lucrative and therefore less likely to be used.

It’s obvious from the table that the vast majority of HMG-related phishing attacks continue to use the HMRC brand. That’s unsurprising given that most adults have a relationship with them and everyone would welcome a tax refund.

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Scammer Targeting The Elderly Is Caught

A Canadian con man who was caught on video bragging about stealing from the elderly was among 200 people charged by US Authorities with defrauding seniors.

Andrew John Thomas boasted about his sweepstakes scheme at a conference for postal scammers in British Columbia.

“My ability to whore my beautiful talent to sell this s— to people who don’t need it. It’s hard to be, it’s hard to be proud of it, but well I’m good at it.” said Thomas.

Authorities say Thomas masterminded the swindle of more than $4.5 million annually by duping senior citizens into believing they had won large sums of money. He targeted elderly Americans typically notifying them via mail that they’d won a sweepstakes prize and all they needed to do to claim it was to pay a processing fee and money for taxes.

The mailings instructed recipients to return a response card with a processing fee in order to accept the bogus winnings. They received no money — only more solicitations. While many stopped sending money after realizing they had been duped, others continued to do so in hopes of claiming the prize.

U.S. law enforcement officials  announced what they labelled as the largest ever fraud enforcement action involving elderly Americans, charging more than 200 people and bringing civil actions against dozens more.

Agents from the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, (the enforcement arm of the U.S. Postal Service), executed search warrants at 14 locations that some of the same fraudsters have run for years.

Officers from the Vancouver Police Department in Canada served dozens of search warrants as part of the enforcement action.

This was a clearly a well organised and effective take-down of a lot of scammers by co-ordinated action between US agencies and the Canadian Police.

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Police Report Common Phone Scams

The National Fraud Bureau reports that the most common phone scams are:

  1. False reports of a problem with your computer or device
  2. A fake fraud investigation
  3. An investment opportunity

Number 1 is better known as the Microsoft Support scam as most of the scammers cold call random people, pretending to be from Microsoft Support and warning of a severe computer problem. They offer to fix it and to do so they need access to your computer and will charge a fee for their time or for some software they supposedly have to install.

Since these scams became commonplace, most people know to put the phone down on any such call. A message to the same effect (you have a computer problem – call …) may pop up when you are on a new website and it will exhort you to phone a specified phone number – this will be to a scam call centre so do not call it.

Number 2 is the fake fraud investigation which can take many forms with the scammer pretending to be from your bank or the government or the Police etc. Usually, they warn you that your bank account has been hacked and they will assist you to save your remaining money – i.e. by taking it away from you. Any such callers should be ignored but if you want to check with your bank then use a different phone to call your bank on a known number.

Number 3 is scammers offering investments that have zero risk and give guaranteed returns are always fake and you should seek expert advice before making any investment.

Anything that looks too good to be true is almost certainly a scam.

Stay safe.

If you have any experiences with these scams do let me know, by email.

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The UK Online Safety Bill Makes Progress

https://www.gov.uk/government/news/world-first-online-safety-laws-introduced-in-pa

The UK Online Safety Bill marks a milestone in the fight for a new digital age which is safer for users and holds tech giants to account. It will protect children from harmful content such as pornography and limit people’s exposure to illegal content, while protecting freedom of speech.

At least that’s the intention, but these matters are very difficult to codify into law and the online world keeps changing at an ever faster pace.

Key points include:

  • It will require social media platforms, search engines and other apps and websites allowing people to post their own content to protect children, tackle illegal activity and uphold their stated terms and conditions.
  • The regulator Ofcom will have the power to fine companies failing to comply with the laws up to ten per cent of their annual global turnover, force them to improve their practices and block non-compliant sites.
  • Executives whose companies fail to cooperate with Ofcom’s information requests could now face prosecution or jail time within two months of the Bill becoming law, instead of two years as it was previously drafted.

The government significantly strengthened the Bill since it was first published in draft in May 2021. Changes since the draft Bill include:

  • Making sure all websites which publish or host pornography, including commercial sites, put robust checks in place to ensure users are 18 years old or over.
  • Adding new measures to clamp down on anonymous trolls to give people more control over who can contact them and what they see online.
  • Making companies proactively tackle the most harmful illegal content and criminal activity quicker.
  • Criminalising the sending of unsolicited sexual images to people using social media, known as cyber-flashing
  • Giving people the right to appeal if they feel their social media posts were removed unfairly
  • Preventing online scams, such as paid-for fraudulent adverts, investment fraud and romance scammers
  • Requiring pornography websites to verify their users’ ages

Any firm breaching the rules would face a fine of up to 10% of its turnover, while non-compliant websites could be blocked entirely.

If you have any experiences with these scams do let me know, by email.

Surrey Scammer Caught

Thomas Proudfoot 21, of Leatherhead in Surrey pleaded guilty to computer misuse, money laundering and several counts of fraud following an investigation by the Dedicated Card and Payment Crime Unit (DCPCU), a specialist police unit funded by the banking and finance industry.

He was sentenced to 4 years and 8 months in prison and also received a Criminal Behaviour Order to prevent further fraud offences.

Proudfoot had been conducting scams based around Covid business grants.

He would send out scam text messages that offered victims Covid-19 grants and asked them to click a link to a fake website.

The website asked for the victim’s personal and financial details which he could then use to steal from them.

Proudfoot also designed software which he sold as a service to other fraudsters, the court heard.

He also admitted to hacking a private business website and providing other individuals with software to help them commit fraud offences.

The Police found that he was selling methods to complete smishing and phishing fraud, including possessing copies of fake web pages relating to Covid-19 and other organisations.

Detective Sergeant Ben Hobbs at the DCPCU, said: “This sentencing is a warning to those who believe they can benefit financially from fraud that they will be caught and punished. The DCPCU will continue to clamp down on the criminal gangs seeking to use the pandemic to defraud people.

Good riddance, at least for a while, to a thief targeting vulnerable people during the pandemic.

If you have any experiences with these scams do let me know, by email.

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