Why corporate security pros should care about the Ashley Madison breach

Names of Ashley Madison customers are a treasure trove for spear phishers

Corporate security executives should have a professional interest in the Ashley Madison breach because publicly posted data about its customers represents a fertile field for spear phishers trying to attack business networks.

Anyone whose name and contact information appears in the 9.7GB stolen names contact information will likely be susceptible to opening emails purportedly from Ashley Madison, divorce lawyers and private investigators, says Tom Kellerman, chief cybersecurity officer for Trend Micro.

+ ALSO ON NETWORK WORLD Hackers release full data dump from Ashley Madison, extramarital dating site +

Individuals exposed as customers of Ashley Madison, which connects people interested in cheating on their spouses, will be more apt not only to open such emails but also to open attachments or click on links within those emails that results in malware infections on their computers. The compromised computers can then be used as platforms to launch further exploits against the corporate network. “It’s probably already begun in earnest,” he says.

The percentage of uses duped by phishing attempts is on the rise, according to the Verizon 2015 Data Breach Investigations Report. “In previous years, we saw phishing messages come and go and reported that the overall effectiveness of phishing campaigns was between 10 and 20%,” the report says. “This year, we noted that some of these stats went higher, with 23% of recipients now opening phishing messages and 11% clicking on attachments.” Of incidents classified as cyber espionage in the past two years more than two-thirds featured phishing, the report says.

That’s for regular phishing, but with spear phishing attacks tailored to individuals they are more likely to fall for them.

What to do? The Verizon report recommends three things:

  • Better e-mail filtering before messages arrive in user in-boxes
  • Develop and execute an engaging and thorough security awareness program
  • Improve detection and response capabilities

Corporate security departments should take specific steps in the case of Ashley Madison, Kellerman says, including filtering emails from Ashley Madison as well outbound email and Internet traffic for Ashley Madison. The filter should also scoop up traffic with mentions of divorce attorneys and private investigators – terms that might reasonably be included in the phishing emails.

Access to Ashley Madison sites should also be blocked. Perfectly innocent employees may be curious to see the sites for themselves. Due to the notoriety, attackers might try to turn the sites into watering holes where viewers' machines can be infected with drive-by malware downloads and malvertizing, he says.

Further, corporate security pros might consider scouring the Ashley Madison data for names and contact information of employees. These individuals might warrant a talking to about not falling prey to phishing attempts, he says.

This kind of intervention is more complicated because the veracity of the posted lists hasn’t been acknowledged by Ashley Madison. The founding CTO of the company says he is helping with the breach investigation and that “we’re seeing 30 to 80 different claimed dumps come online, and most of these dumps are entirely fake,” according to the Krebs on Security blog, which broke the breach story last month.

Phishing attacks historically ride the headlines and attempt to dupe the average user into getting involved in the story of the day. For example, if there is a disaster, phishers send emails calling for aid. Ashley Madison is different in that it gives attackers a list of individuals and a hook by which they might be susceptible to personalized spear phishing.

Join the CSO newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.

Tags data breaches

More about Trend MicroVerizon

Show Comments

Featured Whitepapers

Editor's Recommendations

Solution Centres

Stories by Tim Greene

Latest Videos

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: Will your data protection strategy be enough when disaster strikes?

    Speakers: - Paul O’Connor, Engagement leader - Performance Audit Group, Victorian Auditor-General’s Office (VAGO) - Nigel Phair, Managing Director, Centre for Internet Safety - Joshua Stenhouse, Technical Evangelist, Zerto - Anthony Caruana, CSO MC & Moderator

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: The Human Factor - Your people are your biggest security weakness

    ​Speakers: David Lacey, Researcher and former CISO Royal Mail David Turner - Global Risk Management Expert Mark Guntrip - Group Manager, Email Protection, Proofpoint

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: Current ransomware defences are failing – but machine learning can drive a more proactive solution

    Speakers • Ty Miller, Director, Threat Intelligence • Mark Gregory, Leader, Network Engineering Research Group, RMIT • Jeff Lanza, Retired FBI Agent (USA) • Andy Solterbeck, VP Asia Pacific, Cylance • David Braue, CSO MC/Moderator What to expect: ​Hear from industry experts on the local and global ransomware threat landscape. Explore a new approach to dealing with ransomware using machine-learning techniques and by thinking about the problem in a fundamentally different way. Apply techniques for gathering insight into ransomware behaviour and find out what elements must go into a truly effective ransomware defence. Get a first-hand look at how ransomware actually works in practice, and how machine-learning techniques can pick up on its activities long before your employees do.

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: Get real about metadata to avoid a false sense of security

    Speakers: • Anthony Caruana – CSO MC and moderator • Ian Farquhar, Worldwide Virtual Security Team Lead, Gigamon • John Lindsay, Former CTO, iiNet • Skeeve Stevens, Futurist, Future Sumo • David Vaile - Vice chair of APF, Co-Convenor of the Cyberspace Law And Policy Community, UNSW Law Faculty This webinar covers: - A 101 on metadata - what it is and how to use it - Insight into a typical attack, what happens and what we would find when looking into the metadata - How to collect metadata, use this to detect attacks and get greater insight into how you can use this to protect your organisation - Learn how much raw data and metadata to retain and how long for - Get a reality check on how you're using your metadata and if this is enough to secure your organisation

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: How banking trojans work and how you can stop them

    CSO Webinar: How banking trojans work and how you can stop them Featuring: • John Baird, Director of Global Technology Production, Deutsche Bank • Samantha Macleod, GM Cyber Security, ME Bank • Sherrod DeGrippo, Director of Emerging Threats, Proofpoint (USA)

    Play Video

More videos

Blog Posts

Market Place