Should ISPs Prepare for "Hacktivism" in the Wake of Net Neutrality Vote?

     The internet erupted in a collective fury last week as the FCC voted to rollback net neutrality regulations. From the internet commons of Reddit to the New York Times Editorial Page, observers noted with concern, anxiety, or full-blown rage that the policy shift was a threat to the concept of a free and open internet. The popular wrath was directed at two main sources: FCC Chairman Ajit Pai and massive Internet Service Providers (ISPs) who potentially stand to gain from the deregulation. With ISPs squarely in the sights of the internet’s vengeful wrath, the rise of “hacktivism” should give ISPs significant pause about the security threats this policy change can bring to their organizations.

 

What is Hacktivism?

            A blend of hacking and activism, hacktivists leverage security breaches or other cyber attacks to advance a political or social cause. Rather than looking for money, Hacktivists are seeking to combat perceived injustices. Examples include an attack on the state of Michigan’s website in the wake of the Flint Water Crisis, the hacking of DNC Emails, and even the data breach at Ashley Madison.

 

Why Should Net Neutrality Make ISPs “Productively Paranoid”?

            First and foremost, there’s already been an alleged hacktivist attack as a result of the net neutrality vote. The FCC itself has claimed that it suffered multiple distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks that they believe had the goal of shutting down the public commenting system in advance of the net neutrality vote. These tactics are becoming increasingly common as an expression of internet outrage, and ISPs don’t need to look much further than headlines to see the anger that these policy changes have caused:

Comcast and Verizon’s Sneaky Push to Kill Net Neutrality is Just Embarrassing

Comcast and other ISPs celebrate imminent death of net neutrality rules

Verizon Apparently Thinks You’re Stupid 

FCC Buried By Fake and Hate-Filled Comments on Net Neutrality

            To sum…many people are very unhappy.

 

 What Can You Do To Protect Yourself From Hacktivist Attacks?

            The most important thing to recognize is that attackers focus on vulnerabilities and weaknesses. Any plan to shore up security must identify and secure frequently-overlooked channels.

1.     The Phone

Whether it’s PBX, VOIP-based UC systems, or a consumer-facing call center, the phone channel is a prime target for bad actors. ISPs should be certain that PBX/UC systems have secure passwords and that systems are in place to detect suspected breaches. A hacked PBX can run up hundreds of thousands of dollars in long-distance calls in a single weekend, and would be a perfect way for hacktivists to make ISPs feel financial pain for the net neutrality shifts.

ISPs who operate consumer-facing call centers should employ technology that can detect instances of call spoofing or robodialing in real-time. Executing a Telephony Denial-of-Service (TDos) attack by flooding a call center with robocalls is an effective way to completely shut down a call center, like what happened at the Minnesota insurance exchange. ISPs want to be sure to have strong anti-spoofing technology in place to prevent account takeover protect their customers’ personal data in the event of an attack.

2.     Phishing Attacks

The human being is always the weakest link in the fraud chain. From Snapchat to the World Anti-Doping Agency to GoogleDocs, significant cyber threats can be facilitated by an employee clicking on a link or downloading and opening a file they shouldn’t. It is essential that ISPs exhibit a heightened sense of internal security, and ensure that all employees have received recent training on phishing attacks, social engineering practices, and basic email safety.

3.     Third Party Vendors

With the rise of interconnectivity and the Internet of Things, it’s no longer enough to worry about your own security protocols and practices – you must also be rock-solid certain as to the security credentials of your third party vendors. An air conditioning vendor contributed to Target’s data breach, and Lady Gaga’s album was leaked after a collaborator was hacked. How are you being certain that your vendor partners aren’t accidentally putting your business at risk?

3 Lessons Contact Center Leaders Can Learn From WannaCry

By: Tim Prugar

     The transnational WannaCry Ransomware Attack exploded across the internet early Friday Morning on May 12th, and it’s aftershocks are still being felt early this week as some machines in Asian Markets are being booted up for the first time after the weekend. For the curious, Nicole Perlroth over at the New York times provides an outstanding overview of the background events leading up to this cyber attack, but the basic facts are relatively simple. A hacker or team of hackers identified a vulnerability in the Server Message Block (SMB) Protcol in Microsoft Software, and put together a ransomware attack that spreads through a system’s file-sharing capabilities. The attack would immediately encrypt all of the system’s files, demanding a Bitcoin payment for the de-encryption and safe release of the pertinent documents. The attack, like many, was unleashed via a simple phishing ploy – an unsuspecting victim downloaded and opened a file they shouldn’t have that contained the malicious software. The rest was a nightmare for the cybersecurity community.

     While the WannaCry threat can reasonably be classified as “cyber terrorism”, and patches to protect machines from being infected have already been issued, Information Security Officers should use this incident as an opportunity to pull lessons about protecting all channels from attacks from bad actors. What can fraud experts, CISOs, and Call Center Leaders learn from the WannaCry attacks?

 

1. The Human is the Weakest Link In the Fraud Chain

The methods through which WannaCry spread and replicated may have been automated, but the door for access was opened by a human being. Basic social engineering is at the heart of many of these phishing, SMSishing, and vishing scams, and the phone is one of the most lucrative channels for manipulating a human being to a desired end. CISOs and Call Center Leaders should be investing heavily in training agents to identify and recognize common social engineering methods and tricks, and should consider exploring technologies that are able to identify calls real-time that have been spoofed or otherwise manipulated. There is a high correlation between ANI Spoofing and phone fraud attempts, so more information allows agents to “trust but verify” with more complete data.

 

2. The Cost of Attacks Go Beyond Money

     The big story of the WannaCry attacks isn’t the absolute value of the money extorted (some reports have it at less than $60,000), but the “collateral damage” losses of disruption to services, man hours lost, and even potential health implications. The WannaCry ransomware didn’t just infect computers in a vacuum – it infected computers at Universities, the British National Health System, train stations in Germany, and multi-national corporations based out of France and China. Similarly, when fraud teams do cold “dollars and cents” cost benefit analyses of fraud solutions for the Contact Center, they often look only at their absolute number of fraud losses, and compare that to the cost of the solution. CISOs and Contact Center Leaders should look at the problem holistically: How much time are we losing due to caller authentication? Can we quantify the damage being done to our brand due to fraud and data breaches? Are fraudsters leveraging information stolen at the contact center level to make larger, more costly fraud attacks elsewhere?

 

3. Hackers and Fraudsters Are Very, Very Good At Exploiting Vulnerabilities

     Some hackers and fraudsters are organized criminal enterprises; others are impish troublemakers. Either way, these people are experts at identifying weaknesses in security systems and exploiting them for their own gain. Just as the architects of the WannaCry attack masked their malicious software to get a foot in the door, so too do those looking to commit account takeover or identity theft through the Contact Center mask their phone number to minimize the likelihood of detection. By using ANI Spoofing, fraudsters look to mimic the phone number of an existing customer to bypass ANI-matching authentication procedures, or look to mimic a completely random phone number to hide their own identity. Either way, these fraudsters are leveraging spoof as the main method for their attacks, and any technologies that can detect these spoofing attempts real-time provide an added layer of much-needed security at the Contact Center level.

 

     So what can CISOs and Contact Center Leaders do in the wake of the WannaCry attack to ensure that all channels are adequately defended from bad actors?

     Security Leaders would be wise to conduct a thorough audit of Contact Center authentication and security protocols to ensure that vulnerabilities and weaknesses in the call flow are identified, isolated, and addressed in a timely fashion. Tools such as blacklists, voice biometrics, and anti-spoof technology are all strong safeguards to keep bad actors out, but they are used best in tandem as a layered solution to provide the highest possible level of Contact Center security.

 

Tim Prugar is Next Caller's Director of Customer Success. He can be reached at tim@nextcaller.com.

6 Takeaways from the RoboCall StrikeForce

Yesterday, the FCC RoboCall StrikeForce presented their final report, actions, and recommendations. Next Caller Account Executive Tim Prugar sat in on the webcast, and here are his takeaways.

There are few greater pleasures in life than taking a seat in a cozy chair, slipping on some headphones, and watching an hour-long livestream of a government hearing. Yesterday, at 1:00 PM EST, that’s precisely what I got to do. Believe in yourself kids…dreams really do come true.

Before getting to the meat of the presentation, a solid recognition, admiration, and appreciation of the work that the StrikeForce members put in is in order. The StrikeForce was assembled in Late July, and over the course of 60 days the committee engaged in over 100 meetings, produced a 47 page report, and rolled out an aggressive timeline for continued action steps. From my estimation, this committee worked at blazing speed, and should be commended for that.

Now, onto my key takeaways:

 

1.     The FCC Has Fantastic Taste in Music

The waiting music the FCC plays on its website before the livestream kicks in? A soft jazz version of Michael Jackson’s “Man in the Mirror”, inarguably one of the greatest songs ever recorded.