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In this edition of the weekly newsletter, you get to closely examine the four latest stories involving email security and associated cybersecurity news.
Online scammers exploit email forwarding vulnerabilities, allowing them to impersonate high-profile domains, including government agencies, financial institutions, and major news organizations. These vulnerabilities expose users to malware and spyware risks. It requires users to re-evaluate their email security practices.
In another new development, the transformative power of generative AI threatens the email security market. With sophisticated tools available, malicious actors quickly fix grammar and language flaws that used to be a sign of phishing emails. Foolproof emails are now a challenge for traditional detection methods to identify.
In a unique incident, Chinese threat actors have carried out an audacious theft of a Microsoft signing key in a recent incident, leading to the compromise of government email accounts. This security loophole is a stark reminder of securing sensitive keys and the potential consequences of lapsed security.
This update also covers the appalling development of five threat groups collaborating to become one unified malicious entity, ready to wreak havoc on organizations on a large scale.
Scammers Exploit Email Forwarding Vulnerabilities
The University of California, San Diego researchers reveal that malicious actors can now easily send fraudulent emails due to vulnerabilities in the email forwarding process. The integrity of emails sent by various domains is under scrutiny as attackers can impersonate these organizations. The affected entities include financial institutions, governmental agencies, and significant news establishments.
As the attackers impersonate these organizations using a flaw in email forwarding processes, they can evade email provider safeguards. It could lead to spyware being installed or malware infections.
These vulnerabilities stem from outdated email validation protocols that do not account for organizations outsourcing their email infrastructure to third-party providers like Outlook and Gmail. Although these providers authenticate their users, email forwarding can still bypass them.
For instance, a threat actor can forward a spoofed email through an Outlook account. The process would make it appear legitimate when the target receives it. The threat can affect several domains. While existing defense mechanisms can temporarily mitigate the risks, research suggests that more robust email security measures are required to address the issue.
Generative AI Poses New Threats to Email Security
Generative AI, such as OpenAI’s ChatGPT, is revolutionizing email phishing attacks. As email security flaws are detected, malicious actors leverage sophisticated technology to generate flawless and convincing emails.
Traditionally, phishing emails could be detected through common mistakes in spelling and grammar. However, with AI now accessible to adversaries, they are creating highly personalized and perfectly structured messages. Thus, traditional detection systems find it increasingly challenging to detect phishing attempts.
Malicious actors not only use generative AI to create emails that appear legitimate and more convincing but also to analyze public data and gain more specific inputs about their targets. The impact of this threat extends beyond the email security market. Attackers can also leverage AI to create deepfake audio and video for attacks in the future.
Image sourced from zapier.com
With the attack vectors evolving, it’s time to spearhead cybersecurity strategies capable of identifying AI-generated content in phishing attacks.
Chinese Malicious Actors Steal Microsoft Signing Key
The Chinese threat group Storm-0558 stole a Microsoft signing key from a Windows crash dump. The incident has led to the compromise of the email accounts of several organizations, including the government. The attackers have apparently exploited a zero-day validation issue to impersonate accounts within targeted organizations.
The breach started with the corporate account of a Microsoft engineer being compromised. Thus, attackers gained access to the debugging environment that had the signing key. While it remains unclear how they carried out the exfiltration, the key appeared in a crash dump. It was then moved to an internet-connected environment.
This incident highlights the importance of securing sensitive keys in organizations. It also points to the potential consequences or even lapses in security. Microsoft has taken steps to address the issue and enhance its logging capabilities to detect problems in the future.
Five Families – Collaboration Among Threat Actors
A new collective of malicious groups, named the “Five Families,” has emerged, claiming to mastermind some recent online attacks. Five organizations form this new collaboration: Blackforums, GhostSec, SiegedSec, Stormous, and ThreatSec.
Five Families recently appeared in the headlines after successfully breaching a Brazilian software development organization, Alpha Automation. They accessed a massive 230 GB of data, which included financial information, customer data, business software, and internal documents of the organization. They also encrypted their cloud systems and servers.