It’s not David and Goliath. It’s David, without a slingshot, battling a Goliath who has recently beaten David’s more popular brother Google Apps.
The launch of Amazon’s WorkMail makes perfect sense on paper. It should have an offering in the enterprise email server market – its rivals have been in it for years. The trouble for Amazon is that it’s incredibly late and it looks like it has no stand out features. To make matters worse for Amazon, Microsoft unquestionably leads the world in the provision of enterprise email inboxes – both in on-premises Exchange and now in the cloud with Office 365.
Of course, high-profile security breaches such as Sony and Target have heightened the interest of enterprises in the security of their email services. Encryption for email in transit is growing in importance and reflects the critical importance email plays in business, but this is not the be-all and end-all of securing email from snooping eyes, legitimate or otherwise.
Businesses need to be thinking about making their email safe beyond the actual inbox and transit encryption. This is where third-party cloud service providers for email security, archiving and continuity, like Mimecast, come in.
Businesses also have to consider carefully how best to deploy their business critical services in the cloud era – the answer certainly isn’t relying on one vendor for everything. Amazon, Google or Microsoft for that matter. On the other hand, you don’t want a myriad of vendors or you’ll be left paying for, and managing, all this additional technology in the cloud, very much like you are doing on-premise now.
The news about WorkMail doesn’t change this fundamental challenge.
Unseating Microsoft from its position as enterprise email server of choice, with more than 300 million Exchange inboxes out there, will take some revolutionary ideas. Competition is a good thing, of course. Even though we’ve been supporting email services from Google and Microsoft for years, we will look closely at how WorkMail does in the market.
That said, my first assessment of WorkMail from news reports suggests that its basic offering of encryption and calendars, however priced or packaged, won’t be the revolutionary spark Amazon needs to unseat the entrenched competition potentially even within AWS’ own customer base.
But didn’t they say that about David’s chances against Goliath? No, scratch that. This time the big dog does win.
There’s been a spate of phishing attacks this month seeking to uncover the user credentials for users of various hosted email services. Gmail, Outlook, Yahoo and AOL have all been targeted.
While some reports of the Outlook.com phish seem to have incorrectly claimed it was sent to all 400 million users of the service. Intruth the phishing email was sent to a handful of email addresses in the hope that some would be users of the popular Microsoft service, and be duped into providing their user credentials.
We don’t yet know the ultimate goal of the attackers, but we do know they have identified both consumer and business email accounts that use these services. And, that they’re hoping to gain access to that service by duping someone into giving up their user credentials with a convincing looking, but malicious, login page.
Look carefully at the Outlook.com example, and you’ll start to uncover the art of a well-crafted and targeted spear-phishing attack. What we’re seeing, thanks to Chris Boyd and Malwarebytes, could be the start of a well thought out campaign that’s hunting for something quite specific, in effect, the beginnings of a long speculative con. So far, we’ve seen a number of Outlook.com email addresses being targeted, in a seemingly random way, as well as some collateral fallout to other email domains.
The worst case scenario is the attackers know who they are looking for; the best case is that this is random. What’s likely to happen next is that the newly compromised account will be used to target someone, or something else, in order to add an air of legitimacy. The attackers are likely to use a further spear-phishing technique that tricks their target into clicking a link that downloads a malware dropper to their computer.
Once we’re at that stage, we can assume it’ll be game over for the target: their computer will have been compromised, the RAT will likely have given the attackers access, and they’ll be making off with data or moving onto their next target.
All of this could take hours, days, weeks or even months, but be sure the attackers have the patience to wait it out.
For enterprise users, this type of breach could be catastrophic (see Sony Pictures). What starts with a simple phish can end in a whole lot more trouble. Enterprise users are generally well protected by their IT teams, but URIs (URLs in emails) are still not as protected as they should be. Consider how often you click a link in an email without thinking about it, assuming that the IT team have deployed enough protection to keep you safe. In reality, the Outlook.com phish, as well as most other types of spear-phishing, are likely to have made it past your enterprise email security gateway. This is exactly what attackers are relying on – they know a malicious file will never get to you, so they try to trick you into clicking their link.
Therefore, protecting the link is the only real way to defeat this threat, and for the enterprise that means adding another layer to the security stack. A layer that can re-write the link and scan it for malicious end points as it’s delivered to the end user. For business users of Office 365 this means a similar layer of security over and above the already useful Exchange Online Protection.
2014 was a tough year for global computer security. New advanced threats, like spear-phishing, have been grabbing the headlines. Barely a week went by without news of a breach, and few companies are starting the year without a nagging sense of vulnerability.
It’s no surprise, therefore, that this week President Obama unveiled plans for three new laws aimed at better protecting citizens’ data. The ‘Personal Data Notification & Protection Act’ proposal establishes a 30-day notification requirement from the discovery of a breach.
But much like similar proposals that have been hotly debated in Europe over recent years, this law is not enough to combat the growing threat on its own. The legislation may help ‘bring peace of mind’ to consumers but it’s just closing the door after the horse has galloped away with your data. Yes, consumers should be warned to change their passwords and check bank statements quickly in light of a breach, but of most importance should be the opportunity for affected companies and law enforcement to work together to identify and shut down the hackers for good. In short, this legislation will do little to tackle this and help prevent the breaches in the first place.
The danger from advanced threats and data breaches just got less digital and more real. In December, the German government revealed details of a sophisticated social engineering and phishing attack that reports say caused “massive damage” to a steelworks’ blast furnace. According to Wired magazine, we've not seen confirmed physical damage from a cyber-weapon since Stuxnet, the virus revealed in 2010 that ravaged centrifuges in Iran's nuclear facilities.
So, if Target, Home Depot and ICANN taught us anything, it’s that security needs to be a top priority – and IT teams should be even more cautious. With their elevated administrative privileges, IT often becomes the primary target for attacks, as they allow an easy pivot point to gain access inside the network.
These phishing attacks could have been prevented with greater pre-emption of human nature. The bottom line is: without the right protection in place, it's inevitable that one of your employees (even someone in your supply chain) will, sooner or later, receive a seemingly innocent email and click on a dangerous link. For companies without appropriate security and employee education in place, this year will likely be a repeat of the last.
Expert Webcast and Live Q&A - Forrester Research analyst Rick Holland and Mimecast’s Steve Malone share essential advice to protect your business against spear-phishing and targeted attacks. Join us on Wednesday, January 21 at 11am Eastern (1600 UK, 1800 RSA). Register Free Here. Webinar now complete.
This time last year futurologists were predicting the gentle evolution of the Big Data trend. Few would have predicted how dramatic the resurgence of security has been.
Sure, there was a drumbeat of public security breaches like Snowden in play, but the flurry of large-scale breaches in 2014 such as Target, JP Morgan, Home Depot and Sony have fundamentally tipped the balance of where security sits in the planning process for IT teams for the coming few years. It was my central point in the BBC 2015 predictions article you may have seen last week.
These breaches were the culmination of months of research and work by the attackers. However, as attackers refine their tools, techniques and processes, breaches will occur in greater numbers and with increasing speed and frequency – the outcome of the growing Crime-as-a-Service industry. In response, larger companies will begin to remove point security solutions and instead aim to provide a broader, more holistic view of their overall security posture.
But it’s not just large organizations under attack. Smaller companies will be increasingly targeted to be used as ‘springboards’ to gain entry to the companies they provide services for or have relationships with. Advanced threats usually equate to more IT investment, and to balance their books smaller companies will continue to look to consolidate vendor security services.
These landmark breaches have also highlighted that all organizations will be forced to reduce their reliance on technology solely for security and will focus on more effective ways to make the employees part of the solution – a shared security responsibility.
There are, of course, other trends to consider in 2015 – wearable tech is now becoming refined, affordable and the consumer has a myriad of choices as a quick glance at CES news shows. These devices will drive an uptick in requests to make corporate information accessible through apps on new types of mobile platforms. As the perimeter becomes even less defined, organizations will need to reassess their security processes and technologies to compensate.
Something fundamental changed last year. We’re in the midst of the Big Data era, powered by cheap storage, new grid-computing technology and maturing adoption by users. However, now more than ever, we’re reminded of the risks presented by our valuable data falling into the wrong hands.