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How to mitigate cyber risks while travelling

By Kai Ping Lew
Tue 9 Jan 2018
FYI, this story is more than a year old

By Digital Shadows CEO and co-founder Alastair Paterson

Online security is increasingly becoming a concern when travelling overseas.

Over the past year, compromises of payment card data from Point-of-Sale (POS) systems, network intrusions against third-party suppliers, and cyber espionage campaigns against visitors using hotel Wi-Fi networks have plagued the travel and hospitality industries.

In the spirit of “forewarned is forearmed”, here is a closer look at some of the most notable examples of each of these types of threats and how firms in these industries can mitigate risk.

POS attacks:

Financially-motivated actors seeking to compromise payment card details use malware to extract this data from POS systems or devices as well as physical skimming devices.

Based on the 20 POS malware variants that have been documented and numerous reports of breaches, the travel and hospitality industries have been under siege.

In the last six months alone a new variant, MajikPOS, and modifications to the RawPOS variant and the Zeus banking trojan targeting POS systems, have emerged.

Threat actors focused on these industries include FIN7, TA530 and Vendetta Brothers who each use a range of tactics, techniques and procedures (TTPs).

As an example, the threat group FIN7 targets the hospitality industry through the following TTPs:

  • Spearphishing emails containing malicious Microsoft Office documents
  • Social engineering methods to ensure targets open an attachment and initiate the infection process
  • Macro-enabled documents that download initial backdoor payloads onto recipient machines to allow for continued access to systems
  • Malware to move laterally through compromised networks

Network intrusions:

The most high-profile network intrusion in the past year involved a compromise of the Sabre Corporation, reportedly affecting at least eight hospitality companies.

Through unknown means, the attackers had accessed account credentials that permitted access to payment card data and information for some reservations processed by Sabre’s central reservation system.

The company stated that not all compromised records included CVV numbers, and no personal information, such as social security numbers, passport numbers, or driver’s license numbers were accessed.

This attack demonstrates a trend of third-party supplier attacks in which financially-motivated actors impact multiple companies by compromising their supplier to access sensitive or valuable data.

Wi-Fi network compromise:

Threat actors have also targeted hotel Wi-Fi networks in an information gathering and cyber espionage campaign against travellers to Europe and the Middle East.

Threat actors almost certainly choose to target these networks because they are deemed less secure and can be leveraged to perform additional actions, such as stealing credentials and moving laterally within networks.

In this particular campaign, spearphishing emails were used to deliver information-harvesting malware to victims.

The attackers also purportedly used the EternalBlue exploit, which targets the vulnerable Microsoft Server Message Block (SMB) protocol for lateral movement within target networks.

Here are some steps travellers can take to mitigate risk:

Layer security:

  • While the Europay, Mastercard and Visa (EMV) chip technology has made physical card fraud more difficult, online card spending is on the rise. Consider using 3D Secure as an additional layer of security which has proven to be a real obstacle for criminals and is deployed by Visa and Mastercard.
  • To prevent lateral movement once inside the network, restricting workstation-to-workstation communication by using host-based firewall rules is also encouraged where feasible.
  • Implement an enterprise password management solution – not only for secure storage and sharing but also strong password creation and diversity to mitigate the risk of credential compromise.

Monitor:

  • With the help of Google Alerts or open source web crawlers like Scrapy, monitor for mentions of your company on cardable websites (sites that track those that are susceptible to fraudulent purchases as a result of lax security controls).
  • Monitor for mentions of suppliers’ names on the open, deep and dark web to help identify if key partners are being targeted by threat actors and if such activity may put your organisation at risk.
  • Proactively monitor for credential dumps relevant to your organisation’s accounts.

Educate:

  • Routinely train employees about the risks of spam and spearphishing and how to avoid becoming a victim.
  • Because employees often reuse corporate credentials for personal use, establish and communicate policies that restrict which external services are allowed to be associated to corporate email accounts. Encourage staff to use consumer password management tools like 1Password or LastPass to also manage personal account credentials.

Address vulnerabilities:

  • Patching is an important part of your defense strategy and failing to do so opens the door wide for adversaries. For example, Microsoft has issued a patch for the vulnerabilities exploited by EternalBlue. Application of these patches prevents the exploitation of the SMB network service.
  • Proper configuration is also critical. In the case of the SMB service, TCP port 445 should not be reachable from the public Internet; where external access to SMB is required, a VPN or IP address whitelisting should be used to restrict access. SMB traffic should, ideally, not be permitted to egress from an organisation’s network to the public Internet.

As long as payment card details and other proprietary information remain lucrative on criminal forums and marketplaces, the travel and hospitality industry need to remain vigilant.

But with greater awareness about POS system attacks, operations against third-party suppliers, and the vulnerabilities of public or semi-public Wi-Fi networks, companies can do a lot to mitigate risk and ensure safer journeys for travellers.

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