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We're all targets

Last week, another email provider announced their systems had a security incident. Mandrill’s internal security team detected unusual activity and took the servers offline to investigate. While there’s no sign any data was compromised or servers infiltrated, Mandrill sent an email to their customers explaining the incident was due to a firewall rule change.
Email service providers are a high value target for hackers, even if all they have is email addresses. Selling the email addresses is extremely profitable for hackers who can either sell the list outright or sell access to the list. In addition to gaining access to the email addresses, hackers often use the ESP to send these messages essentially stealing the ESP’s reputation to deliver the spam.
It was just over four years ago when a number of major ESPs were targets of a large attack and multiple ESPs were compromised. Earlier this month, three people were arrested for their roles in the attack. While the attacks four years ago were primarily spear phishing attacks, the security incident at Mandrill shows that hackers and botnets are actively probing the ESP’s network looking for access or known vulnerabilities. Spear phishing is an attempt to gain unauthorized access to a system by specifically targeting an individual, group, or organization. The scam attempts to have the user to click a link to infect their computer and network or capture their user id and password via a fake website. The scam email may appear to be sent from the company’s security or human resources department, but the email is either forged or another user’s account has been compromised.
Just because recent arrests have been made does not mean the threat is over. Systems often change, are upgraded, and are integrated with many additional services and systems can become vulnerable.  Security will never be a set and forget policy. In the last 12 months there has been two significant vulnerabilities discovered, first Heartbleed and second was POODLE. Security professionals from all industries had to react quickly to secure their systems and hackers immediately began probing for systems that were unpatched. GFI reports there were over 7,000 vulnerabilities discovered in 2014 with 24% of them being rated as high severity. Security must not only cover servers, but the transmission of the data internally and with third-party vendors, and the workstations of employees.
IT and security professionals must be ever vigilant in protecting their network and their customers data. SANS Institute provides a number of security control best practices including a document on Data Protection. The control recommendations range from quick wins to advanced considerations such as monitoring all traffic leaving the organization and being able to detect any unauthorized or unusual transfer of data, blocking access to file transfer protocols and file sharing websites, performing annual reviews of all keys, certifications, and security procedures.
One of the best ways to help the entire industry to be secure is to be transparent and open when incidents happen. Mandrill has published a blog post with the results of their investigation.

1 comment

  1. Leandro says

    Mandrill’s servers open relay? It’s at least awkward because a simple firewall changed by mistake should be not enough to permit abuse.

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