Zero-Click Malware Is The Latest Cyber Threat

In today’s digital landscape, cybersecurity threats continue to evolve. They pose significant risks to individuals and organizations alike.

One such threat gaining prominence is zero-click malware. This insidious form of malware requires no user interaction. It can silently compromise devices and networks.

One example of this type of attack happened due to a missed call. That’s right, the victim didn’t even have to answer. This infamous WhatsApp breach occurred in 2019, and a zero-day exploit enabled it. The missed call triggered a spyware injection into a resource in the device’s software.

A more recent threat is a new zero-click hack targeting iOS users. This attack initiates when the user receives a message via iMessage. They don’t even need to interact with the message of the malicious code to execute. That code allows a total device takeover.

Understanding zero-click malware

Zero-click malware refers to malicious software that can do a specific thing. It can exploit vulnerabilities in an app or system with no interaction from the user. It is unlike traditional malware that requires users to click on a link or download a file.

The dangers of zero-click malware

Zero-click malware presents a significant threat. This is due to its stealthy nature and ability to bypass security measures. Once it infects a device, it can execute a range of malicious activities including:
• Data theft
• Remote control
• Cryptocurrency mining
• Spyware
• Ransomware
• Turning devices into botnets for launching attacks

This type of malware can affect individuals, businesses, and even critical infrastructure. Attacks can lead to financial losses, data breaches, and reputational damage.

Fighting zero-click malware

To protect against zero-click malware, it is crucial to adopt two things. A proactive and multilayered approach to cybersecurity. Here are some essential strategies to consider:

Keep software up to date

Regularly update software, including operating systems, applications, and security patches. This is vital in preventing zero-click malware attacks. Software updates often contain bug fixes and security enhancements.

Put in place robust endpoint protection

Deploying comprehensive endpoint protection solutions can help detect and block zero-click malware. Use advanced antivirus software, firewalls, and intrusion detection systems.

Use network segmentation

Segment networks into distinct zones. Base these on user roles, device types, or sensitivity levels. This adds an extra layer of protection against zero-click malware.

Educate users

Human error remains a significant factor in successful malware attacks. Educate users about the risks of zero-click malware and promote good cybersecurity practices. This is crucial.

Encourage strong password management. As well as caution when opening email attachments or clicking on unfamiliar links.

Use behavioral analytics and AI

Leverage advanced technologies like behavioral analytics and artificial intelligence. These can help identify anomalous activities that may indicate zero-click malware.

Conduct regular vulnerability assessments

Perform routine vulnerability assessments and penetration testing. This can help identify weaknesses in systems and applications.

Uninstall unneeded applications

The more applications on a device, the more vulnerabilities it has. Many users download apps then rarely use them. Yet they remain on their device, vulnerable to an attack.

Only download apps from official app stores

Be careful where you download apps. You should only download from official app stores. And always keep your apps updated using your device’s app store application.

2022: The Year Of Malware, Hacks And Phishing

Thomas Fox is president of Tech Experts, southeast Michigan’s leading small business computer support company.

Much of our time this year has been spent working with our clients, making sure they’re ready to fend off newly emerging cyber threats or malware strains.

So to look back at the year, we thought we’d round up what many experts agree has been the nastiest malware of 2022.

At the top of the list is Emotet. Chances are you haven’t heard of it by that name, but it’s a trojan that’s spread by spam email. It usually looks like a genuine email with familiar branding, but it tries to persuade the recipient to click a malicious link (using language like ‘your invoice’ or ‘payment details.’

It may also look like it’s from a parcel company. This malware goes through your contact list and sends itself to family, friends, colleagues, and clients. Then it looks less like spam, because it’s come from your email account.

In second position is LockBit. This is ransomware that’s designed to block access to your files and systems when cyber criminals encrypt them.

They ask you to pay a ransom for the decryption key (which they often still don’t hand over, even when you’ve paid). If you don’t have a solid backup strategy, it is highly likely you’ll experience data loss.

This is a targeted attack that spreads itself once it’s infiltrated one device on a network. In fact, it can ‘live’ for weeks inside a network before the attack is launched.

In third place is Conti, another form of ransomware, and in fourth position is Qbot, a trojan designed to steal banking information and passwords.

It may all sound scary, but there’s plenty you can do to give your business greater protection from these threats:

  • Keep your entire network and all devices updated
  • Don’t download suspicious attachments or click links unless you’re certain they’re genuine
  • Practice strong password hygiene, including multi-factor authentication, password managers, biometrics, and passkeys where available
  • Give your people access to only the systems and files they need. Remove ex-employees from your network immediately
  • Create and regularly check back-ups
  • Educate your people regularly

We can help with all of this – just get in touch!

Insider Threats Are Getting More Dangerous

One of the most difficult types of attacks to detect are those performed by insiders.

An “insider” would be anyone that has legitimate access to your company network and data via a login or authorized connection.

Because insiders have authorized system access, they can bypass certain security defenses, including those designed to keep intruders out.

Since a logged-in user isn’t seen as an intruder, those security protections aren’t triggered.

A recent report by Ponemon Institute found that over the last two years insider attacks have increased by 44% and the average cost of addressing insider threats has risen by 34%

Four types of insider threats

Malicious/Disgruntled Employee
Careless/Negligent Employee
3rd Party with Access to Your Systems
Hacker That Compromises a Password

Ways to mitigate insider threats

When hiring new employees make sure you do a thorough background check.

Malicious insiders will typically have red flags in their work history.

You want to do the same with any vendors or contractors that will have access to your systems.

Endpoint device solutions

Mobile devices now make up about 60% of the endpoints in a company. But many businesses aren’t using a solution to manage device access to resources.

Put an endpoint management solution in place to monitor device access. You can also use this to safelist devices and block unauthorized devices by default.

Multi-factor authentication & password security

One of the best ways to fight credential theft is through multi-factor authentication. Hackers have a hard time getting past the second factor.

They rarely have access to a person’s mobile device or FIDO security key.

Employee data security training

Training can help you mitigate the risk of a breach through carelessness.

Train employees on proper data handling and security policies governing sensitive information.

Network monitoring

Use AI-enabled threat monitoring. This allows you to detect strange behaviors as soon as they happen.

For example, someone downloading a large number of files or someone logging in from outside the country could be indicators your systems or security are compromised.

The Rising Threat of BEC Attacks: Don’t Let Your Business Fall Victim

Business email compromise (BEC) attacks are becoming widespread and present a significant risk to businesses of all sizes.

These attacks involve hackers posing as trusted individuals or organizations via email to request sensitive information or financial transfers.

BEC attacks often target high-level employees, such as executives or financial managers, and can be highly sophisticated.

Attackers may go to great lengths to make their emails appear authentic, including using genuine email addresses and logos. In some cases, they may even gain access to an employee’s email account to send BEC emails to other employees or partners.

In BEC attacks, a common technique is the “man-in-the-middle” approach, where the attacker poses as a trusted third party, such as a supplier or vendor, and requests payment or sensitive information.

These attacks can be challenging to detect because the attacker may use genuine email addresses and logos to seem legitimate.

The attacker manipulates the victim into thinking they are communicating with a trusted party, which can lead to them divulging sensitive information or making financial transfers to the attacker.

To safeguard your business from BEC attacks, it is essential to implement strong email security measures and educate your employees on the signs of such an attack.
Two-factor authentication and monitoring for unusual activity can help protect your business.

Employees should also be aware of red flags, such as requests for sensitive information or financial transfers from unknown individuals or organizations, or requests to transfer money to unfamiliar bank accounts.

If you receive a suspicious email, do not click on any links or download any attachments.

Instead, verify the request through a separate, secure channel, such as a phone call to the sender using a number you know to be valid.

Business email compromise attacks are a rapidly growing threat to businesses of all sizes.

By taking proactive steps to secure your email communications and staying vigilant, you can help protect your business from costly and damaging BEC attacks.

Signs That Your Computer May Be Infected With Malware

Approximately 34% of businesses take a week or longer to regain access to their data and systems once hit with a malware attack.

Malware is an umbrella term that encompasses many different types of malicious code. It can include viruses, ransomware, spyware, trojans, adware, key loggers, and more.

The longer that malware sits on your system unchecked, the more damage it can do. Most forms of malware have a directive built in to spread to as many systems as possible. So, if not caught and removed right away, one computer could end up infecting 10 more on the same network in no time.

Early detection is key so you can disconnect an infected device from your network and have it properly cleaned by a professional.

Keep an eye out for these key warning signs of malware infection so you can jump into action and reduce your risk.

Strange pop-ups on your desktop

Some forms of malware can take on the disguise of being an antivirus app or warranty notice that pops up on your screen.

Hackers try to mimic things that users may have seen from a legitimate program, so they’ll be more apt to click without thinking.

If you begin to see a strange “renew your antivirus” subscription alert or a warranty renewal that doesn’t quite make sense, these could be signs that your PC has been infected with adware or another type of malware.

New sluggish behavior

Computers can become sluggish for a number of reasons, including having too many browser tabs open at once or running a memory-intensive program. But you’ll typically know your computer and the types of things that slow it down.

If you notice new sluggish behavior that is out of the ordinary, this could be an infection. One example would be if you don’t have any programs open except notepad or another simple app, and yet you experience freezing.

When malware is running in the background, it can often eat up system resources and cause your system to get sluggish.

Applications start crashing

Applications should not just crash out of the blue. There is always a reason. Either the software is faulty, there’s been an issue with an update, or something else may be messing with that application’s files.

If you suddenly experience apps crashing, requiring you to restart the app or reboot your system, this is another telltale sign that a virus, trojan, or other malicious code has been introduced.

Your browser home page changes

If you open your browser and land on a homepage that is not the one you normally see, have your PC scanned for malware right away. Redirecting a home page is a common ploy of certain types of malware.

The malware will infect your system and change the system setting for your default browser home page. This may lead you to a site filled with popup ads or to another type of phishing site.

Just trying to change your homepage back in your settings won’t fix the situation. It’s important to have the malware removed as soon as you suspect something is wrong..

Sudden reboots

Another annoying trait of certain types of malicious code is to make your system reboot without warning.

This can cause you to lose the work you’ve just done and can make it difficult to get anything done. This may happen when malware is changing core system files behind the scenes.

With files corrupted, your system becomes unstable and can often reboot unexpectedly.

Missing hard drive space

If you find that a good deal of your hard drive space that used to be open is now gone, it could be a malware infection taking up your space. Some types of malware may make copies of files or introduce new files into your system.

They will cleverly hide, so don’t expect to see the word “malware” on a file search. Instead, the dangerous activities will usually be masked by a generic-sounding name that you mistake for a normal system file.

You run across corrupted files

If you open a file and find it corrupted, this could be a red flag that ransomware or another form of malware has infected your system.

While files can occasionally become corrupt for other reasons, this is a serious issue that deserves a thorough malware scan if you see it.

Get expert malware scanning and removal

Free online malware and virus scans aren’t very reliable. Instead, come to a professional like Tech Experts that can ensure your entire system is cleaned properly.

Malware Is Becoming Harder To Spot

According to new research, four in five malware attacks delivered by encrypted connections evade detection. And since two-thirds of malware is now arriving this way, it has the potential to be a big problem for your business.

This type of threat has already hit record levels and continues to grow. So, if you don’t yet have a response and recovery plan in place, now’s the time to create one.

It sits alongside your cyber security software protection and regular staff training. The plan details what you do in the event of a cyber-attack.

Having the right plan in place means all your people will know how to sound the alarm if something is wrong. It ensures downtime and damage are kept to an absolute minimum.

The faster you respond to an attack, the less data you should lose, the less it should cost you to put things right, and the faster you get back to work. Of course, you should also follow the usual security guidelines of making sure that updates and patches are installed immediately, and regularly checking your backup is working and verified.

Businesses that don’t place a high importance on their own cyber security planning are the ones hit hardest by such an attack.

Can we help you create your response and recovery plan? Call us.

Wiperware: New Malware That Shouldn’t Be Taken Lightly

Thomas Fox is president of Tech Experts, southeast Michigan’s leading small business computer support company.

Any business can be a target for hackers who use ransomware. However, in recent months, a major new threat has emerged. The recent Petya attack was initially perceived to be another form of ransomware.

However, as the firms involved took stock in the aftermath of the events, it became apparent that the attack took the form of “wipeware,” code that is designed to completely destroy the files stored on any system.

What is wiperware?

Wiperware is designed with one goal in mind: total destruction. The malware asks users to install a software update and then it immediately takes control of the device. Once it has gained admin access, it completely overwrites all files on the device and in some cases the entire network. Any attached storage is also vulnerable, included USB external drives, memory sticks and network shared drives.

While the motivations behind Petya remain unknown, what is abundantly clear is that wiperware is a threat that needs to be taken very seriously. Here are a couple of things you can do right now. [Read more…]

Five Tips For Staying Ahead Of Malware

Thomas Fox is president of Tech Experts, southeast Michigan’s leading small business computer support company.

Malicious software has become an everyday issue for many computer users, and it can have serious implications for your finances. To keep your information, data, and finances safe, you need to be aware of the common threats to your online security that exist and how you can protect yourself against fraudulent activity.

According to research from Kaspersky Security, malicious software, which is also commonly referred to as malware, impacted as many as 34.2% of computer users in 2015. But what is malware and how does it work?

Malware is somewhat different than computer viruses because instead of completely stopping your computer from operating, it sits quietly in your system stealing important and sensitive information.

It is estimated that over 1 million new forms of malware are released on a daily basis in the form of spyware, Trojan horses, phishing links, and ransomware. [Read more…]

Yes, You Can Still Get Infected – Even With Anti-Virus

Scott Blake is a Senior Network Engineer with Tech Experts.

With the sudden release of a new variants of malware and ransomware such as CryptoWall, users are wondering why their anti-virus programs are not blocking the ransomware infection from infecting their computer.

As with many other forms of malware, the infection needs to exist before a cure or way to detect the threat can be created. This takes time and during this period of R&D, the malware spreads like wildfire.

While there are several forms and classifications of infections, there are basically only two different methods in which infections are released into your system: User Initiated and Self Extraction.

User Initiated infections are caused by a user clicking on a link within a webpage or email or by opening infected email attachment. Once opened, the malware is released and quickly spreads throughout your system.

Because the user manually clicked on or opened the link/document, most anti-virus programs receive this as an authorized override by the user and either internally whitelists the link/document or skips the scan.

CryptoWall is spread through this method, usually contained within an infected Word, Excel or PDF document. The creators of these programs take advantage of the programming of the document to hide the infection.

With the world becoming a paperless society, we are becoming more and more accepting of receiving and opening attachments sent to us through email. It has practically become second nature to just click and open anything we receive, regardless of any warning.

Self-Extracting infections are exactly what they’re named. These infections require no outside assistance to worm their way through your system, infecting as they go.

The number one method creators of this form use to place their software on your system is through “piggy back” downloads.

Red button on a dirty old panel, selective focus - virus

Piggy back downloads occur when you authorize the download and install of one program and other programs (related or unrelated to the original program) are automatically downloaded and installed with it. The most common way is by downloading programs promising to speed up your computer.

Infections can also exist on your system and lay dormant for long periods of time, waiting for the computer to reach a certain calendar day or time. These infections are called “time bomb” infections. Just like piggy back infections, they require no outside assistance to infect your system.

They are mostly found buried in the registry of the system or deep within the system folders. Because they are not active on the time of placement, most anti-virus programs will not detect them. Active reporting through toolbars is another means of becoming infected over time.

When a user downloads and installs a toolbar for their browser, they authorize at the time of install that it is okay to install and all of its actions are safe. However, most toolbars are actively scanning, recording, and reporting back to the creator. They also act have conduits for installations of other unwanted programs behind the scene.

If left unchecked, those additional programs can become gateways for hackers to gain access to your system and spread even more infections.

To help stop the spread of malware/ransomware such as CryptoWall and its variants, we need to become more vigilant in our actions when either surfing the Internet or opening email and attachments.

The best rule of thumb to follow for email is: if you don’t know the sender, or you didn’t ask for the attachment, delete it. As for websites, read carefully before you download anything and avoid adding toolbars.

Internet Security: Beware Of “Malvertising”

Michael Menor is Vice President of Support Services for Tech Experts.

As if Internet use wasn’t already troubled with cyber perils, users now have to add “malvertising” to the list of things from which they need to protect themselves.

“Malvertising,” like the name suggests, means “ads that contain malware.” Some mal-ads aren’t dangerous unless you click on them – but others can do “drive-by downloads,” sneaking their malware onto your computer simply because you’re viewing the page on which the ad appears.

While most malvertising is on websites, it can also show up on other ad-displaying apps, such as Facebook, Skype, some email programs, and many games.

The reason that malvertising is more of a problem than other malware approaches is that it can be spread through online advertising delivery networks like Google DoubleClick to legitimate sites that users routinely visit, like the New York Times, Huffington Post, and Yahoo, as well as routinely-used mobile apps that show ads. Malware-bearing ads can be “injected” either by hacking ads at the provider end or by buying and providing mal-ads. In most cases, there’s no way for a user to tell just by looking that an ad has been compromised.

The Potential Damage
The dangers of advertising-delivered malware are the same as those from malware you get any other way. Malware can steal account usernames and passwords, bank and credit card information, and other sensitive data.

It can encrypt your data and “hold it for ransom.” It can, in turn, infect other computers on your network and turn your computer into a “zombie,” spewing out spam and malware to the Internet.

July_2015_MalvertisingLike other viruses and malware, malvertisements take advantage of security vulnerabilities on users’ computers and mobile devices. These may be anywhere from the operating system, to web browsers and other applications, to add-ons and extensions like Java, JavaScript, and Flash.

How do you know if your computer has been infected by malware? One sign is that your web browser shows unexpected pop-ups or seems to be running slower. But many malware infections remain “stealthy,” possibly even eluding anti-malware scans.

Legitimate ad creators and ad delivery networks are working on ways to detect and prevent malware from getting into the digital ads they serve. Otherwise, people have even more reason to not look at ads or block ads entirely.

But, assuming it can be done, this won’t happen for a year or more. The burden is on companies and individuals to do their best to protect their networks, computers, and devices.

What Can Companies and Users Do?
Although malvertising is a relatively new vector, the best security practices still apply; if you’re already doing things right, keep doing them. But what does “doing things right” look like?

  1. Avoid clicking on those ads, even accidentally.
  2. Maintain strong network security measures. Next generation firewalls at the gateway can often detect malware payloads delivered by ads, block the ads entirely, and/or detect communication from already-infected devices.
  3. Regularly backup systems and critical files so you can quickly restore to a pre-infected state if your systems and data are compromised.
  4. Deploy endpoint security software on every device so that it’s protected on and off the network.
  5. Ensure that all operating systems and client software (especially web browsers) are fully patched and up to date.
  6. If you suspect a computer has been infected, stop using it for sensitive activities until it’s been “disinfected.” Again, many security appliances can help you identify and quarantine infected devices.

It’s unfortunate that even more of everyday Internet use is potentially unsafe, but the steps to fend off malvertising are essentially security precautions that companies and individuals should already be following.