By now, social media has clearly established itself as a dominant force in our lives: Nearly three-quarters of adults who go online use a social network of some kind. More than two of five use multiple social network sites. As a result, cyber criminals are flocking to these sites to trigger attacks, targeting users and organizations. In fact, one-third of data breaches originate via social networks, and companies suffer an average of $5.4 million per attack.  Still only 36 percent have instituted the bare minimum of social media training for employees and even fewer have active Social Risk Management programs.  Employees are directly in the crosshairs and the “Anatomy of an Enterprise Social Cyber Attack” serves as an introduction to the attack methodologies of adversaries. Through the following tactics, seven in ten individuals fall prey to a cyber attack – putting their employer organizations at risk in the process. Here’s what you need to safeguard against…
When new technology becomes mainstream, it’s sure to quickly attract the cyber criminal. Social media has become part of our every day lives, both personally and professionally. It has changed the way we communicate with our friends, family, colleagues and customers…and it also has become one of the fastest growing cyber attack vectors. Cyber criminals use social networks, including sites such as LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, Skype, and VKontakte as mediums for launching targeted malware and phishing schemes.
The Prep– Cyber Criminals Build and Prepare Social Media Bot Armies
Bot Armies* are key to Enterprise Social Cyber Attacks. Cyber criminals aim to masquerade their bots as trustworthy social media profiles. To achieve this goal, they populate their bots with relevant popular content. By posting viral videos and popular articles, and even buying ‘likes’, cyber criminals create social media profiles that potentially reach millions of users.
*There are essentially two types of bots. One is a bot account that is created and operated remotely via software. The other is a “sock puppet” – a false account operated by an individual pretending to be someone or something they’re not. Facebook estimates that between 5-6 % of all accounts are bogus. When a group of these bogus accounts are created together to accomplish a common goal, the output is a bot army.
Lazy criminals can buy software-controlled bot armies for as cheap as 6¢ per bot;
human-verified social bots can fetch a price as high as $1.25.
Selecting a Target
Once bots are created, the next step in the preparation phase is selecting a target. In order to increase effectiveness, the cyber criminal will either focus attacks against specific organizations, an organization’s customers or against the general public via popular topic hijacking (trendjacking)*.
*Trendjacking is a common PR tactic that subverts trending topics and discussions to inject a different message into the conversation. Much like a PR team, the cyber criminal injects malware and phishing attacks, masquerading as another interested party (e.x. #MileyCyrus is trending and the attacker posts – “#MileyCyrus OMG did you see this video of Miley?! http://bit.ly/@&Dkdl@”)
In order to initiate an attack, the cyber criminal needs to connect his bots with the targeted victims. More bot connections mean more potential victims. To make connecting more successful, the manager of the bot armies will fill the bots profiles with attractive photos, funny images or anything else to draw the attention of the targets based on their interests.
Even the most savvy can fall victim, think about the business development or sales rep that gets enticed by a bot pretending to want to do business.
The Set Up: Bot Armies
It’s easy for crooks to disguise a planned bot-army attack. They post viral videos and articles and build a profile which can reach millions of users. In addition, they commonly “trendjack” by joining popular social conversations and posing as someone with something to bring to the discussion. Because these posts and profiles actually “belong” to the bots, the criminals target companies, customers and members of the public by getting them to click on seemingly harmless links, such as that of a funny animal video. There are two primary attack methods that these “bots” use, Phishing & Malware.
Adversaries can set up sites that appear just like any perfectly legitimate corporate property. They can take a logo and establish a presence for a bank which looks every bit as “real” as the financial institution’s, and then proceed to trick customers into entering their login credentials. Ultimately, the phishing culprit seeks to acquire all forms of sensitive information – user names, passwords, credit card numbers, etc. – through these convincing acts of deception. Because users tend to stick to either the same or very similar passwords for both their work and personal accounts, their organization’s network security is immediately placed in jeopardy.
1. Duggan, M. and Smith, A. (2013, December 30). Social Media Update 2013. Pew Research InternetProject. Retrieved June 11, 2014, from http://www.pewinternet.org/2013/12/30/social-media-update-2013/#fn-6228-1
2. Gesenhues, A. (2013, September 27). Survey: 71% Of Companies Concerned Over Social Media Risks, But Only 36% Provide Employee Training. Marketing Land. Retrieved June 11, 2014, from http://marketingland.com/survey-71-of-companies-concerned-about-social-media-risks-only-36-do-social-media-training-60212