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Today a friend and colleague of mine shared that he got a really really good gmail login phish purporting to come from his home owners association president. Immediately my brain spins up because this is my friend and I asked some critical questions.
1) How did the phisher know who the HOA President was?
2) How did they get that individual’s email?
3) How did they know my friend was in that specific HOA?
4) How did they know my friend’s personal email?
Of course the list of questions can go on and on, but the plot thickens when he says the email was sent to his gmail address attempting to get his gmail creds, but that he does not use his gmail account to converse with the HOA President, nor does he remember EVER using his gmail to contact him.
And there we have it, a spearphish executed on a non-work resource.
Now my friend is in Information Security, so naturally he avoided the compromise, discarded the email and is going to take the necessary follow-up steps, but do you know what they are?
So YAY he’s not a victim, but what’s next? Discard them email of course, however the train doesn’t stop there and it shouldn’t. This kind of incident, although on a private email address that was (most likely) accessed from a home computer, still needs to be reported to your Information Security Department **making sure the information makes it all the way to your SOC & Threat Intelligence Teams**. After all, this was a spearphish, not a generic blast-all phish hoping for a random victim. CONGRATS YOU ARE A WALKING PIECE OF INTELLIGENCE! Finally, a “reminder to be vigilant” with details on the spearphish should go out to key leaders. Why? Well let’s play the what-if game.
What if….my friend’s wife had gotten the email, on a shared family computer, fell victim to it, and a key logger (or other malware) was installed? Someone went to great lengths to find all this information out about my friend, they obviously don’t mind investing time into a target.
What if….another non-security-savvy key leader, who reuses work passwords at home (cuz that never happens), has gotten a similar email on a personal email at home, and s/he fell victim to it? Getting the “be vigilant” reminder may have him pressing the ZOMG button and in turn report that s/he got something like that as well.
What if….the email appeared to be from your children’s school, regarding grades/bad behavior/parent event/free ice cream etc. and it was sent to the child?
What if….the email appeared to be from your child/spouse’s $hobby group (that is publicly plastered all over social media)?
Remember, someone went to the length to figure out where my friend lived, what the name of the HOA was, who the president of it was, the president’s email address, and my friend’s email address. That is a lot of effort to just get gmail credentials. This likely indicates they’re probably after something bigger.
A STEP FURTHER
Now something I don’t see or hear a lot of companies doing is having security awareness training for spouses and family members. People laugh, but I remember when the Iraq war broke out and family members were plastering all over social media tons of pictures of everyone gathered in a gym preparing to leave saying “Gonna miss my husband so much! God bless the $military unit” or “My husband is finally coming home! They should be landing at $YYMMDD:HH:mm:ss.” We would sit back and say “Dear spouse, please stop helping the bad guys determine our troop strength and travel plans!” There hasn’t been a #facepalm meme invented yet that could accurately depict the military commanders.
So for the non-military folks out there here’s an idea. Put together a a “fun day”, invite out the spouses and the children, and teach them about phishing (and the various specific forms, phone, spear, social media etc) and OPSEC! Sure you might be the security person in the home, and you have your personal firewall all tightly locked down, your wifi is wrapped up nice with strong passwords, MAC filtering, SSID broadcast shut off blah blah blah, but what about your spouse/children’s phones and their social media activities? Security is a BEHAVIOR or a STATE OF MIND if you will, not just technology. Educating the family is just as important as educating the employee.
If you are in security you are a target. While my friend holds a significant role at his employer, the risk would be no less if he was a “lowly” systems administrator (I say that with sarcasm cuz pffft it’s only domain admin creds at stake). Your family is a target, ensure you take the time to educate them and grow a security-minded culture at home as well as at work. If you find yourself spearphished, using personal non-work information you need to be asking yourself “How’d they know that?” and possibly have a conversation with the entity that was impersonated or review how much private data you are sharing.
Report spearphishing whether it is at work or at home, you or your family etc. as this is precious intelligence that any intelligence team needs. Finally, DO NOT do work on a non-work computer especially one you share with the family, be vigilant, remind your co-workers regularly to be vigilant, and share what you know with others.
A reader reached out with a question that made me realize I needed to clarify something above. While I did note that you should delete the spearphish email, the implied task was that you captured it (full header and all contents) BEFORE deleting it as the email along with the report of the spearphishing attempt needs to be provided to the Threat Intelligence team. There can be valuable information in the email header that you do not want to destroy. You can accomplish this by attaching the email to a new email and sending it to the proper team/individual etc. or saving it down and attaching it to an incident report.