The Rising Threat of QR Code Phishing: Protecting Your Credentials

October is Cybersecurity Awareness Month! As designated by the US Government’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), October is a dedicated time for the public and private sectors to work together to raise awareness about the importance of cybersecurity. Ntirety has always been focused on security, and this month we’re sharing a variety of content to highlight ways to combat dangerous cyber threats. One of this year’s official Cybersecurity Awareness Month tips for staying safe is “Recognize and Report Phishing,” and in this blog post we’ll explore the emerging threat of QR code phishing attacks and how you can protect yourself and your organization.

In today’s digital age, cybersecurity has become a paramount concern for individuals and organizations alike. Cyber threats are increasingly prevalent, with one of the most common attack vectors being credential theft. Phishing is a method often employed by threat actors to gain access to credentials. As these attackers become more sophisticated, it’s crucial to stay informed and vigilant.

Credential Theft: A Persistent Threat 

The foundation of many cyberattacks lies in the theft of user credentials. Whether it’s your email, social media accounts, or workplace login, credentials are a valuable commodity for cybercriminals. Once they gain access to your account, attackers can not only steal sensitive information, but wreak havoc and potentially compromise an entire organization.

The Power of Phishing Attacks 

Phishing is a tried-and-true, and fairly simple, method for harvesting credentials. Phishing involves tricking an unsuspecting individual into revealing their login information, through a communication that appears legitimate in nature. While traditional email-based phishing attacks are well-known, a new variant has been on the rise: QR code phishing attacks.

QR Code Phishing: A Growing Threat 

QR codes have become ubiquitous, appearing on restaurant menus, flyers, and even in advertising campaigns. Their ease of use and the quick access to information they provide make them an attractive choice for both legitimate businesses and malicious actors. As the name implies, QR code phishing attacks involve threat actors leveraging the convenience of QR codes to deceive targets. To carry out the attack, a cybercriminal will send an email containing a QR code, typically disguised as an authentication attempt or a seemingly harmless link. When the user scans the QR code, they are redirected to a malicious website designed to download malware or harvest their valid credentials. What makes this threat even more insidious is that it can also target less protected devices, such as mobile phones and tablets. While this often occurs over email, some QR code phishing attacks also involve placing QR Codes in physical locations, such as on posters, flyers, and product packaging. The QR code may be placed in a location where it is likely to be scanned, such as a public place or a busy area.

Protecting Yourself from QR Code Phishing 

It’s crucial to remain vigilant and take proactive steps to protect yourself and your organization from QR code phishing attacks. Some methods of defense include:

  • Cybersecurity Awareness Training: Regularly educate yourself and your employees about cybersecurity best practices. Understanding the evolving threat landscape is the first line of defense.
  • Phishing Attack Simulation: Conduct regular phishing attack simulation tests to assess your team’s preparedness and ability to identify phishing attempts.
  • Not Trusting Unverified QR Codes: Only scan QR codes from trusted sources. If you receive a QR code via email be extremely cautious, and don’t scan it unless you are 100% certain it’s from a legitimate sender.
  • Reporting Suspicious Activity: If you encounter any suspicious emails or QR codes, report them immediately to your organization’s Security Operations Center (SOC) or IT department. Many organizations have a “Report Phishing” button in their email client to facilitate this process.
  • Thinking Before You Click: When scanning a QR code, be cautious if it leads you to a webpage requesting confidential information. If in doubt, do not scan, or stop and seek assistance from your IT team.
  • Staying Informed: Keep up to date with the latest cybersecurity news and advisories, as this can help you recognize emerging threats and how to identify them.

Ntirety can help your organization stay secure with service offerings in each of these areas.

One Compromised Account, Many Consequences 

Remember, a single compromised account can have far-reaching consequences that extend well beyond the breached account or device. A single point of compromise can serve as the gateway to a massive breach, with impacts for not only your personal data, but also the security of the organizations you interact with.

As with all cyber threats, it’s essential you stay vigilant, stay informed, and protect your credentials from the growing threat of QR code phishing. We’ll be sharing more insights on cybersecurity all month long, so be sure to check back on the Ntirety blog, or visit the Ntirety website to learn more about Ntirety’s Managed Email Security Service, and how Ntirety works to secure the Ntirety of your organization.


Sources Consulted and Further Reading

Not An Afterthought: Security By Design

As artificial intelligence continues to evolve and integrate into our daily lives, the sophistication of cyberattacks is also increasing. Recent incidents such as the ChatGPT software leak and the Activision Blizzard data breach highlight the urgent need for enhanced cybersecurity measures to be built in at every level of application and software development. Security must be built into the core of any product or technological advancement during the early stages of design.

Unfortunately, many software companies still treat cybersecurity as an afterthought. They often focus on developing and releasing products and services quickly with security added along the way, or even worse after everything else has been completed. This approach can be disastrous, as demonstrated by countless cyberattacks capitalizing on substandard security measures. These attacks serve as a reminder of how crucial it is that security is built-in from the very beginning of the development process.

Answering Modern Threats from the Beginning

This approach, known as “Security by Design,” involves incorporating security into products and services from the outset. This comprehensive approach should integrate compliant, multi-layered security measures and features at every stage of development. Cybersecurity experts are engaged early on, during the initial planning stages, to ensure security considerations are taken into account from the outset. Secure coding practices are implemented throughout, and the security features of products and services rigorously tested before deployment.

Comprehensive security measures involve the use of multiple layers, including physical security, network security, and data security. This security construct implements anomaly detection, alerting, and analysis throughout critical application, systems, and data points throughout target environments. This approach helps to reduce the risk of successful attacks, protects against data breaches and theft, and demonstrates a commitment to protecting customer data and privacy. It also provides protection from insider threats and provides awareness of activities that occur throughout the cyberattack kill chain.

Security Can’t Stop At Design

SecDevOps or DevSecOps is an approach that integrates security continuously into the entire lifecycle of software, from design to launch to maintenance. This approach ensures that security is a core component of the development process across the entire lifecycle of a product. SecDevOps is based on the principles of Agile and Lean methodologies, where security is incorporated into the continuous integration and deployment pipelines. By incorporating security throughout the development cycle, SecDevOps fosters collaboration between development, security, and operations teams, resulting in a better understanding of security requirements and a more efficient development process. The SecDevOps approach aligns with the Security by Design philosophy, resulting in more secure and resilient software products.

Comprehensive Security is Alive

Comprehensive security is never simple, and is composed of multiple layers of defense. These layers include firewalls, intrusion detection and prevention systems, antivirus and anti-malware software, and other tools designed to protect against specific types of threats. A comprehensive approach ensures that a wide range of potential security risks are addressed and mitigated, reducing the likelihood of successful attacks.

Early planning for security by design and comprehensive security can help improve customer trust and confidence. By building security into products and services from the outset, companies can demonstrate that they take cybersecurity seriously and are committed to protecting customer data. Furthermore, security by design and SecDevOps help companies comply with regulatory requirements, such as the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which require companies to ensure their products and services are secure and customer data is protected.

This article was originally published in Forbes, please follow me on LinkedIn.

Dishing On Dish Network: Unpacking A Cyberattack

The recent cybersecurity breach that impacted Boost Mobile customers of Dish Network has sparked concern among users regarding the company’s ability to safeguard their sensitive information. The company has attributed this incident to a well-known cybersecurity threat: ransomware. Along the way data was lost and services were interrupted; the mess left behind could go on for months on end. Through it all, there is some hope and opportunity, if only core and comprehensive security can come together.

After the Breach: Response and Impact

After news of the breach spread Dish Network eventually acknowledged the situation, but there was a clear information gap. The organization’s response was insufficient, lacking the coherence, consistency, and transparency we’ve come to expect from a publicly-traded company. In the aftermath, six law firms filed class action suits. The company’s trading posture has also been unsteady, taking a slide downwards.

Dish Network’s situation echoes the ramifications of its response. The potential repercussions for the company’s reputation and customer confidence clearly illustrate the fact that a cybersecurity breach can turn into a major liability and existential threat to a company. Let the Dish Network situation serve as a stark reminder of how important cybersecurity is to the health of a company. It also reinforces the importance of proactive security measures to address threats before they become incidents.

The Thorough Awareness of Comprehensive Security

The best prescription is to address situations like this with a comprehensive security plan. A plan should provide end-to-end visibility into what is normal, what is an anomaly, and what needs more threat hunting. This should extend into every imaginable corner of the enterprise – from the endpoint, to the cloud, to firewalls, to on-premise, and within applications.

While leveraging a comprehensive security approach, it is incumbent to utilize state-of-the-art security technologies (firewalls, intrusion detection systems, encryption) to protect networks and sensitive data. Regularly evaluate and upgrade technologies to ensure a fair pace ahead of emerging threats. Further, it’s important to implement the following guides for a total security approach:

  1. Periodically Assess Vulnerability to Cyber Threats: By conducting threat modeling risk assessments. These assessments will help identify potential weaknesses in security infrastructures, allowing for prioritization in addressing areas of concern.
  2. Develop a Robust and Well-Defined Incident Response Plan: To prevent potential cybersecurity breaches. This plan should outline the steps your organization will take in the event of a breach including communication protocols, investigation procedures, and recovery measures.
  3. Collaborate with Industry Partners: Such as Managed Security Service Providers (MSSPs). MSSPs provide security solutions that monitor the flow of data throughout your network, systems, applications, and endpoints. The primary objective of an MSSP is to reduce the dwell time of attackers on a network and respond to threats expediently.
  4. Build Relationships: With other organizations in your industry, leading technology partners, law enforcement, and cybersecurity experts, to share information and best practices on cybersecurity. Collaborative efforts can help strengthen your organization’s security posture and provide valuable insights into emerging threats.
  5. Regularly Test your Security Measures: Conduct regular penetration tests and vulnerability assessments to identify potential weaknesses in your security infrastructure. This will help ensure your security measures are effective and up-to-date.
  6. Foster a Security-Aware Culture: Continue to educate employees on the importance of cybersecurity and their role in protecting company data. Develop a comprehensive security awareness program that includes regular training, updates on current threats, and clear guidelines on how to handle sensitive information.
  7. Maintain Compliance with Industry Standards: Compliance guidelines help maintain security standards. An organization should meet or exceed industry-specific security standards and regulations such as the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) or the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). Compliance with these standards not only helps protect customer data, but also demonstrates a commitment to security.
  8. Monitor Third-Party Vendors: Ensure any third-party vendors have robust security practices in place. Regularly review their security policies and request updates on their efforts to maintain a secure environment.
  9. Be Transparent and Proactive in Communication: In the event of a breach, be transparent with customers and stakeholders about the incident, the steps you are taking to address it, and the support you will provide to those affected. Proactive communication is essential to rebuilding trust and maintaining reputation.

Where Dish Network Goes from Here

The Dish Network/Boost Mobile breach is a significant event in the history of the parent company. Yet, with a bit of openness and by gathering a comprehensive security approach, the company can position itself to recover. Combined with a new state of preparedness and vigilance after these impact events, there is an opportunity for a renewed, strengthened message that tells investors and clients the security of their information is serious business.