Information Security, Risk Management, Security, Social Media

Tactical Catfishing

Most of us think of ‘catfishing’ in the context of someone using a fake profile, usually on some dating app, to trick unsuspecting people. Maybe they do it for manipulation and blackmailing purposes, or to scam people out of money.

Now, however, a social engineering drill conducted by the NATO Strategic Communications Centre of Exellence (NATO StratCom COE) has shown us that these catfishing tactics can be used on soldiers to glean sensitive information about things like battalion locations, troop movements, and other personal intel.

The operation used the catfishing technique to set up fake social media pages and accounts on Facebook and Instagram with the intent of fooling military personnel. This clandestine operation, designed to take place over the course of a month, was arranged by a “red team” based out of NATO’s StratCom Center of Excellence in Latvia.

The falsified Facebook pages were designed to look like pages that service members use to connect with each other – one seemed to be geared toward a large scale military exercise in Europe and a number of the group members were accounts that appeared to be real service members.

The truth was, however, these were fake accounts created by StratCom researchers to test how deeply they could influence the soldiers’ real world actions through social engineering. Using Facebook advertising to recruit members to these pages, the research group was able to permeate the ranks of NATO soldiers, using fake profiles to befriend and manipulate the soldiers into providing sensitive information about military operations and their personal lives.

The point of the exercise was to answer three questions:

  1. What kind of information can be found out about a military exercise just from open source data?
  2. What can be found out about the soldiers just from open source data?
  3. Can any of this data be used to influence the soldiers against their given orders?

Open source data relates to any information that can be found in public avenues such as social media platforms, dating profiles, public government data and more.

The researchers found that you can, indeed, find out a lot of information from open source data – and yes, the information can be used to influence members of the armed forces. The experiment emphasizes just how much personal information is ‘open season’ online, especially as our lives are increasingly impacted by our digital footprints.

Perhaps even more troubling is the fact that even those of us who are the best positioned to resist such tactics still managed to fall for them, illustrating just how easy it is for the average person with no experience with digital privacy.

Many of the details about how exactly the operation was conducted remain classified, such as precisely where it took place and who was impacted. The research group that ran the drill did so with the approval of the military, but obviously service members were not aware of what was happening.

The researchers obtained a wide range of  information from the soldiers, including things like the locations of battalions, troop movements, photographs of equipment, personal contact information, and even sensitive details about personal lives that could be used for blackmail – such as the presence of married individuals on dating sites.

Instagram in particular was found to be useful for identifying personal information related to the soldiers, while Facebook’s suggested friends feature was key in recruiting members to the fake pages.

Representatives of the NATO StratCom COE stated that the decision to launch the exercise was made in the wake of the Cambridge Analytica scandal and Mark Zuckerberg’s appearance before U.S. Congress last year.

A quote from the report says:

“Overall, we identified a significant number of people taking part in the exercise and managed to identify all members of certain units, pinpoint the exact locations of several battalions, gain knowledge of troop movements to and from exercises, and discover the dates of active phases of the exercises.

“The level of personal information we found was very detailed and enabled us to instill undesirable behaviour during the exercise.”

Military personnel are often the target of scams like catfishing. Recently, a massive blackmailing scheme that affected more than 440 service members was uncovered in South Carolina, where a group of inmates had allegedly used fake personas on online dating services to manipulate the service members. This just goes to show that it’s not just finances at risk through catfishing, but security overall.

Facebook has taken a decidedly firm stance against the proliferation of fake pages and accounts designed to manipulate the public. The company prohibits what it calls “coordinated inauthentic behavior”, and has bolstered its safety and security team over the past year in an effort to combat phishing and other types of social scams.

But after the success of StratCom’s endeavor, it seems that Facebook’s efforts to crack down on this aren’t completely successful. Of the fake pages created, one was shut down within hours, while the others took weeks to be addressed after being reported. Some of the fake profiles still remain.

One thing to keep in mind is just how small-scale this experiment was in relation to the massive yield of information. Three fake pages and five profiles were all it took to identify more than 150 soldiers and obtain all of that sensitive information. This is tiny in comparison to the coordinated efforts of bad actors that utilize hundreds of accounts, profiles, and pages. One can imagine just how much data could be obtained through those schemes.

As a result of the study, the researchers suggested some changes Facebook could make to help prevent malign operations of a similar nature. For example, if the company established tighter controls over the Suggested Friends tool, it would not be quite as easy to identify members of a given group.

Digital privacy is especially important – the picture we present of ourselves across different social media platforms can help people build a clear idea of who we are, which could, consequently, be used against us in terms of manipulation tactics and social engineering.

The use of social media to gather mission sensitive information is going to be a significant challenge for the foreseeable future. The researchers suggest that we ought to put more pressure on social media to address vulnerabilities like these that could be used in broad strokes against national security or individuals directly.

Centry Global has a service for identity verification of online profiles. If you suspect you may be at risk for being manipulated, contact us at www.datecheckonline.com!

This article was written by Kristina Weber, Content Manager of Centry Global. For more content like this, be sure to follow us on Twitter @CentryGlobal and subscribe to Centry Blog for bi-weekly updates.

Business, Compliance, Cyber Security, Data Breach, Geopolitics, Information Security, Risk Management, Security, Social Media

2018 Year in Review

As 2018 comes to a close, we reflect on those moments throughout the year that defined the times yet to come. For Centry, 2018 was a year that brought us great joys like the opening of our new branch in Mexico City and establishment of the ASIS Ukraine chapter, but also times of mourning after our colleague, Mr. Rachid Boukhari, passed away in June. Above all, it has been a journey, and one we are grateful to undertake for the mark we make on this world.

From our Centry family to yours, we wish our readers love and joy over the holidays, and a happy new year!

In keeping with the tradition of our year’s end articles on Centry Blog, we put together a list of some of our most-read stories from 2018 below.

January

Centry’s GDPR Guide

Our GDPR guide breaks down exactly what the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation was all about. This article was highlighted on TWiT live in an interview with our CTO Dave Ehman!

February

The Next Gold Rush: Renewable Energy

The Renewable Energy industry just might be the next gold rush for businesses and investors alike. This time, we aren’t hiking into the Klondike for gold; individuals and organizations alike are turning their eyes toward the broader world, looking out for opportunities to make good on this booming initiative.

March

Hidden Sanctions Risk: North Korean ties to Africa

The connection between Namibia and North Korea stands as but one example among many similar stories. It began in the 1960s, when several African countries started the struggle for independence from colonialism. During this vulnerable time period, North Korea invested time and money in these revolutions, where the political ties eventually grew into commercial relationships.

April

Human Trafficking in the European Union

Over the course of the past two decades, the European Union has been making an increased effort to understand and address the heinous crime of human trafficking. The most recent publication of statistics from Eurostat concerning registered victims and suspected traffickers revealed that a number of non-EU nationals are trafficked into member states, primarily from Nigeria.

This week’s article on Centry Blog examines just a facet of this deep and complex issue through analyzing Nigerian campus cults, the international response, and global business reponses.

May

Fake Social Media Profiles and What To Do If You Are Being Impersonated Online

False accounts are prevalent across social media, mainly used for phishing purposes. Whether it’s a bot or malicious actor threatening your account, we put together an instructional guide for those moments that you notice you have a seemingly second profile, not of your own making.

June

Supply Chain Security Introductory Guide

Having a secure logistics supply chain can save your company millions in terms of assets and reputation, and here at Centry, we have the know-how to help you. This article serves as an introductory guide to security in the supply chain.

July

Typosquatters

Sometimes fat-finger errors can lead to more than just an autocorrect goof. Some scammers have figured out how to lay traps surrounding these common mistakes.

August

Common Security Dos and Don’ts

Our article on Common Security Dos and Don’ts covers what you and your business can do to prevent costly breaches of data and trust.

September

Golden Visa for sale! Now on special offer for the 1%

In some countries, you can buy your way to citizenship. European passports and Schengen visas are the most desired traveling documents in the world. Not only do they grant the most traveling freedom, they give access to a safe and stable living environment, with free speech, in a market that can fulfill all your needs. Many EU countries have taken advantage of this by offering entry in exchange for investment. This kind of activity is commonly referred to as a Golden Visa Program.

October

5 Basic Digital Privacy Tips for the Average Person

Digital privacy is for everyone. But it’s also a massive topic that can be very easy to get lost in, especially if you’re new to to it. However, you don’t need to be a security expert nor do you need any particular reason to want to bolster your privacy on the internet.

November

What is Social Engineering?

Social engineering is a growing threat to individuals and businesses alike. In this article, we look into what social engineering is, the ways it can manifest, and what you can do to protect yourself.

December

Cyber Security in the Supply Chain

Your company might have a rigorous Cyber Security policy, and thorough training on all its personnel. But what happens when the security vulnerability comes from a trusted source in the Supply Chain?

Security professionals must now consider not only the possible vulnerabilities of their own network, but their supplier’s network, and their supplier’s supplier network, and so on.

We hope you have enjoyed Centry Blog this year. For more content like this, be sure to subscribe and follow us on Twitter @CentryLTD! We will see you in 2019!

Business, Compliance, Information Security, Risk Management, Security, Social Media, Uncategorized

What is Social Engineering?

One of the most common methods of fraud is social engineering. This refers to a calculated deception that targets people in order to obtain sensitive information relative to their business, identity, or finances.  

There are two main categories of social engineering: (a) Mass Fraud, which is mostly comprised of basic techniques meant to scam a high quantity of people; and (b) Targeted Fraud, which is a highly-specialized method of fraud that singles out a specific individual or company.

The majority of these schemes follow the same general path. It begins usually with gathering information on a topic or target. Once enough information about the target has been obtained, scammers can focus on developing a false sense of security and trust with their target. In cases of mass fraud, this could look like replicating the design of a Netflix customer service email, or in targeted fraud establishing enough of a friendly rapport with an individual over the phone that they feel comfortable providing more and more information. Once this has been established, scammers can exploit any of the identified vulnerabilities and ultimately execute the scam.

Social engineering works because it preys on our instinct to trust.

Let’s say you are at work and receive a call or email from a “colleague” asking for some sort of account number or other piece of information related to the business. If you haven’t had any training on your company’s confidentiality policy, you might not think twice about providing this person the information they ask for. After all, they might seem trustworthy, or talk about things in a way that would give you no reason to suspect they aren’t a fellow coworker. That’s because they have meticulously studied how to prop up the illusion.

These types of attacks are common; all you need to do is look at the news to find examples. Just recently it was found that hackers connected to the Russian government were impersonating US State Department employees and sending emails with downloadable attachments. These attachments would then install software that could provide the hackers access to internal systems.

These fraud attempts aren’t just work-related. They can target you at home, too.

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) of the United States just issued a warning about a new tax related scam. A surge of emails recently have been impersonating the IRS and using “tax transcripts” as bait to trick users into opening documents that contain malware. The malware behind this scam, Emotet, has been historically associated with posing as financial institutions in order to encourage people to download the malicious attachments. The IRS has recommended that if you have received one of these emails to delete it or forward it to phishing@irs.gov.

So how can you protect yourself?

Individuals can take the time to be vigilant of unfamiliar calls and emails. Sometimes social engineering won’t be a singular attempt. It could be repeated calls over years that slowly harvest the information needed to execute a scam. When in doubt, you can double check with the source, and avoid providing personal information. Meanwhile, companies can develop a guide for handling sensitive information to avoid blunders with fake employees. With sufficient training, employees can be taught to recognize different types of fraud and have an established plan for handling it should they come across it.

This article was written by Kristina Weber of Centry Global. For more content like this, subscribe to our blog and follow us on Twitter @CentryLTD!

Business, Security, Social Media, Uncategorized

Finnish Security Awards 2018

We are honored to have been part of the Finnish Security Awards (FSA), which took place last month in October 2018. This is the fourth time that this event has been organized, thanks to Turvallisuus & Riskienhallinta, a Finnish security and risk management magazine.

This year the awards were held at the Old Student House in Helsinki. The opening ceremony featured a presentation about the future of security and safety by Professor Esko Valtaoja. There are eleven award categories at FSA, and each one had its own jury that was comprised of respected professionals in the industry.

A number of us at Centry attended the awards ceremony, and Mr. Risto Haataja of Centry was a member of the jury that selected Security Company of the Year!

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