Official Launch of the National Cyber Security Centre

February 14th marked the official launch of the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) HQ by Her Majesty the Queen. The Centre will work to make the UK the safest place to live and do business online.

In acknowledgement that Government alone cannot protect the public from cyber attacks, the Chancellor announced the launch of the Industry 100 initiative. Industry 100 will see the center invite expertise from industry to collaborate with the NCSC in achieving its mandate of enhancing the cyber security of the UK.

A reflection on the diversification of cyber crime

The nature of the cyber-criminal threat to the UK is diversifying: highly skilled actors are becoming increasingly competent and targeted in their attacks, while the barriers to entry for less-skilled actors are lowering.

At the high capability end of the spectrum, banking Trojans are reportedly becoming increasingly targeted, with a focus on financial institutions which offer larger relative rewards than end-user customers. Meanwhile, ransom-ware attacks are said to be specifically targeting those organisations perceived as being more likely to pay due to their timely requirement to access sometimes time-critical data.

At the other end of the skill spectrum, individuals with minimal cyber capability can carry out nefarious activities online using Crimeware-as-a-Service tools. DDoS attacks, email compromises, criminal infrastructure and more can be bought or rented at minimal cost. Notably, sites now offer live chats with support agents, and collect marketing information to better understand their customers. This trend risks further normalizing low level cyber crime.

The diversification of the cyber-crime threat poses challenges for law enforcement and security professionals, who will face highly skilled, targeted threats. Simultaneously, resources are increasingly consumed by low-skilled attackers using services offered by more competent actors. Detailed analysis of this changing cyber-criminal landscape will be published in NCSC Assessment's Annual Report.

Warning of cyber threat from building owners

The US Government Accountability Office (GAO) has warned of the potential threat of cyber intrusions from foreign owners of office buildings. Numerous properties occupied by US law enforcement agencies are owned by firms domiciled abroad, including in China, Israel, South Korea and Japan. Some of the buildings are used for sensitive activities including managing classified operations, hosting data centres and storing high-security material. Most of the agencies were unaware that their buildings were foreign-owned.

The GAO's report highlights concerns from the Department of Homeland Security that "threat actors could coerce owners into collecting intelligence about the personnel and activities of the facilities when maintaining the property." This could potentially include exploiting building infrastructure to facilitate cyber intrusions. The GAO recommends that US government agencies should be informed if their buildings are foreign-owned, so that appropriate security measures can be implemented, where necessary.

While the report focuses on the threat to official bodies, the concerns it raises may also apply to commercial organisations dealing with corporate-sensitive information. Although there are no reported instances so far of such intrusions taking place in the US or UK, this issue highlights the need for precautions regarding landowners' access to buildings hosting sensitive activities.

Weaponised Macros targeting Mac users

Security researchers have reportedly identified the emergence of Microsoft Word documents containing malware-infected macros for installing malicious software on macOS devices.

This technique has been used for some time to infect Windows users with malware. However, it is the first reported in-the-wild instance for Word documents containing malicious macros that execute solely on macOS. When users attempt to open the attachment, they are prompted to enable macros. If macros are enabled the malware executes its payload.

Although not a particularly sophisticated attack technique, this methodology has been successful in delivering ransomware and banking Trojans to Windows users worldwide. It looks like Microsoft Word users on MacOS may also now be victim to such attacks. This is a timely reminder that cyber criminals are regularly looking to enhance their pool of potential victims; regardless of software and hardware, users must be vigilant of the risks.

Watering hole attacks infected a larger pool of victims than first thought

Last week it was reported that the Polish financial sector had been the victim of a malware attack, where the attackers used the web server of the Polish financial regulator as a watering hole. Further investigation has revealed that the attackers intended to target over 100 organisations, mainly banks, in 31 different countries, including the UK.

Vulnerabilities Report

A number of cross-platform updates this week, with a predominant focus on Linux ad Unix-based systems. Microsoft held back their Patch Tuesday release cycle due to last minute complications. The most publicized vulnerability this week concerned F5’s BIG-IP and the ‘TicketBleed’ vulnerability. Adobe released updates for Flash Player and Digital Editions to fix remote code execution vulnerabilities. Elsewhere this week there were updates to BIND, Cisco AnyConnect and Cisco ASA, IBM WebSphere, HPE NonStop Server, Xen and Google’s Android.

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