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Best Practices for Addressing Four Common Threats


Flashpoint’s customers represent a diverse mix of global organizations and business functions spanning nearly every industry. On one hand, this means that our team has gained extensive experience using Business Risk Intelligence (BRI) to help our customers address some of the rarest, most obscure threats emerging from the Deep & Dark Web.

On the other hand, it also means that we’ve come to recognize that some cyber threats have grown so widespread that many of our customers continue to encounter them relatively often. As cyber threat actors strive to acquire increasingly advanced skills and develop more damaging tactics, it’s our job as security practitioners to share our insights and promote awareness in order to help more organizations and individuals protect themselves from these threats.

Below, we’ve outlined four of the most common threats our customers face and provided a look into our recommended “best practices” for addressing and mitigating risk.

1. Credential Dumps

Credential dumps are files containing leaked email addresses and/or usernames and passwords. After collecting these credential lists from various data breaches, threat actors typically use them in credential-stuffing attacks against other sites and/or mine them for usernames and passwords matching any given organization. As such, these lists allow threat actors to target specific organizations, log in to their systems, and steal, modify, or delete sensitive corporate data. While these types of attacks are common and have been known to target organizations across all industry verticals, they tend to be more common within the healthcare and legal verticals.

Image 1: The admin panel for Floki Bot malware shows it allegedly led to 1,375 credential dumps.

In order to help proactively mitigate the risks posed by credential dumps, organizations should consider the following:  

• Implement 2-factor authentication (2FA) wherever possible;

• Ensure their team is able to monitor and search all employee logins by IP address;

• Work with a reputable third-party vendor to monitor the Deep & Dark Web as well as the surface web for credential dumps containing any mentions of domain names owned or managed by your organization.

When a match is found, it’s crucial to identify and validate the following:

• Does the affected individual work at the organization?

• Does the password meet password complexity requirements?

• Have any remote logins from unusual networks been observed?

If the person is an employee, next steps typically include:

• Lock the account and investigate to ensure that it has not been remotely accessed;

• Perform a forensic analysis of the employee’s laptop or workstation for malware.

If the employee’s password does not match the requirements, additional steps typically include: 

• Notify them of the incident, including the leaked password;

• Advise them to reset passwords on all third-party sites where they used these credentials;

• Recommend that all employees refrain from using their corporate email addresses on third-party websites.

2. Distributed Denial-of-Service Attacks (DDoS)

Many large organizations will experience distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks. Most attacks typically last from one to six hours, during which the affected websites may lose partial or complete functionality. The most important steps in mitigating a DDoS attack include preparation, minimizing the necessary number of responders, and documenting the event to share with appropriate parties.

Image 2: Exploit code from Mirai, the botnet involved in the Dyn DNS attacks of 2016.

In preparation for DDoS attacks, organizations are strongly encouraged to create an Incident Response (IR) plan, which should be stored in such a way that it is available even in the event of a network outage. The IR plan should be tested monthly or quarterly and should include the following:

• Contact information for carriers, on-call network engineers, and DDoS providers, if applicable;

• Emergency contact information for all key staff;

• A chain-of-command or designated single decision-maker with ample expertise;

• A list of all ingress points for the network and the staff responsible for each. If there are many networks, identify the services that go through each one;

• Document all IR tests in an incident tracking system;

• During IR tests, simulate a response with every relevant group on a call. Ask about their capabilities and how they would respond to an event;

• Documentation of all potential mitigation strategies;

• Set expectations across all teams that most DDoS events will require a minimum of 45-90 minutes to mitigate.

In the event of a DDoS attack, organizations should take the following actions:

• Open a bridge call for technical first-responders only. Do not allow non-technical staff to join;

• Immediately document who is on the call and who is making decisions;

• Pull the following groups into the call in this order:

a. Incident Response

b. Network Operations Center and Security Operations Center

c. Network Engineers for initial mitigation

d. Carriers and upstream providers to further filter traffic

e. DDoS protection providers in the event that other mitigations did not succeed.

When the incident subsides, the team should identify any lessons learned for the next event. Documentation is crucial.

3. Phishing

Typically, phishing emails solicit recipients to click a link or open an attachment. If the recipient complies, malware may execute on their system and inflict numerous damages, which can include stealing usernames and passwords, encrypting the recipient’s files with ransomware, taking control over the infected computer via remote-access applications.

Image 3: A phishing email used to infect systems with Locky Ransomware.

While organization-wide awareness of phishing is integral to prevention, organizations should also consider taking the following precautions:

• Block all attachments and use an online file exchange service, or block all unwanted attachments and only whitelist attachment types that would be expected within a business context, such as .docx and .xlsx;

• Deploy antivirus software on users’ workstations;

• Deploy application whitelisting. This is the single most effective protection for workstations;

• Disable or remove Internet Explorer; use Google Chrome;

• Deploy ad-blocking tools on Chrome;

• Use a commercial proxy server to block malicious sites;

• Use a third-party service to train users how to recognize phishing emails;

• Force all outbound web traffic to cross a proxy server so that it is logged and blocked by the service;

• Use an alternate PDF reader instead of Adobe;

• Ensure all workstations are patched frequently;

• Create an HR policy advising that frequent risky behavior on the network may result in repercussions, including termination.

In the event that a user has clicked on a link or executed an attachment and phishing is suspected or confirmed, organizations should: 

• Determine whether forensics are warranted and possible. If yes, conduct a forensic analysis on the workstation as well as proxy logs;

•If forensics are not possible, wipe and re-image the user’s workstation using a recent backup. Do not simply restore files — restore the entire operating system;

• Identify how the file or link was received and put blocks on the email system and proxy server to prevent further infections;

• Provide remedial training for staff members who open malicious links;

• In extreme cases in which the same employee has repeatedly opened malware, consider termination using a documented HR policy.

4. Destructive Malware

Destructive malware will most often take the form of ransomware, which is frequently executed on an organization’s network via phishing. In such a scenario, after a user clicks on the link or opens the malicious email attachment, the ransomware executes by encrypting all important files on their workstation or, in some situations, multiple drives, networks, or critical systems until a ransom is paid. Ransomware is common across all industry verticals and can be particularly disastrous for organizations that rely on access to such information, such as healthcare organizations.

Image 4: Ransomware can also infect mobile devices. This device was infected by Loki Android Ransomware.

In order to prevent and prepare for ransomware infections, organizations should take the following precautions:

• Ensure that all workstations and servers have appropriate backups in place — not just a sync to a server;

• Have a pool of spare, offline devices ready if it is necessary to replace a user’s workstation or server;

• Collect intelligence about major destructive malware events at other organizations and distribute intelligence to backups team, as well as InfoSec;

• Practice recovering a system from a backup on a recurring basis (monthly is best);

• Use network segmentation/isolation to protect high-risk or high-impact portions of the network, such as Human Resources, Finance, and Web Services;

• Use the services of a third-party vendor to simulate phishing and train users not to click on links or open attachments.

If a malware infection and/or ransomware encryption does occur, organizations should respond by taking the following actions:

• Provision the services of a forensics firm for major events impacting multiple systems;

• Be prepared to power off servers immediately if an attack is spreading across multiple systems;

• Identify any sensitive documents on the system that may have been exfiltrated;

• Reset any impacted users’ credentials;

• Provide remedial information security training for employees who clicked on links or opened malicious attachments;

• Socialize general information about the event within the organization to raise employee awareness;

• Notify regulators and/or law enforcement as required.


Final Notes

As many of the cyber threats targeting today’s organizations continue to occur more frequently and inflict greater damages, some organizations may require additional support beyond what baseline cybersecurity and intelligence services may offer. Flashpoint’s Advisory Services team works closely with organizations of all sizes and industries to build customized processes around a wide array of issues, which include the four common cyber threats outlined in this report. Whether an organization is looking to identify and assess risk to their company and executives proactively or to support an ongoing incident or investigation, Flashpoint’s deep experience, expertise, and intelligence capabilities are ready to assist.

For additional information or to request a meeting with Flashpoint’s Advisory Services team, please click here.

About the author: Chris Camacho

Chris Camacho partners with Flashpoint's executive team to develop, communicate, and execute strategic initiatives. With over 15 years of cybersecurity leadership experience, he has led initiatives across Operational Strategy, Incident Response, Threat Management, and Security Operations to ensure cyber risk postures align with business goals. An entrepreneur, Mr. Camacho also serves as CEO for NinjaJobs, a career-matching community for elite cybersecurity talent. He has a BS in Decision Sciences & Management of Information Systems from George Mason University.

About the author: Pierre Lamy


Pierre Lamy is a Business Risk Strategist at Flashpoint, where he specializes in analyzing cyber threats to the financial sector, threat intelligence sharing, and risk analysis. He also spearheads Flashpoint’s collaboration with and between clients to ensure the effective implementation and execution of Business Risk Intelligence programs. Pierre's industry experience is extensive and includes serving on the FS-ISAC Board of Directors as well as leading the Threat Intelligence team at FIS, a Fortune 500 financial sector technology service provider. He has had the pleasure of presenting at numerous FS-ISAC events on topics ranging from DDoS attack mitigation to incident response and threat intelligence technology. Pierre's current interests and projects include DDoS, best practices for Business Risk Intelligence programs, and partnership integrations.