Alice in Warningland: A Large-Scale Field Study of Browser Security Warning Effectiveness

DEVDATTA AKHAWE | April 26, 2016

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We empirically assess whether browser security warnings are as ineffective as suggested by popular opinion and previous literature. We used Mozilla Firefox and Google Chrome's in-browser telemetry to observe over 25 million warning impressions in situ. During our field study, users continued through a tenth of Mozilla Firefox's malware and phishing warnings, a quarter of Google Chrome's malware and phishing warnings, and a third of Mozilla Firefox's SSL warnings. This demonstrates that security warnings can be effective in practice; security experts and system architects should not dismiss the goal of communicating security information to end users. We also find that user behavior varies across warnings. In contrast to the other warnings, users continued through 70.2% of Google Chrome's SSL warnings. This indicates that the user experience of a warning can have a significant impact on user behavior. Based on our findings, we make recommendations for warning designers and researchers.

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Top Three Cybersecurity Threats You Should Mitigate Before It Is Too Late

Article | December 15, 2020

There are three significant and disruptive cybersecurity threats that are catching organizations of all types and sizes by surprise: Ransomware; Cloud misconfigurations; and Supply chain backdoors. Let me explain with recent examples and guide you on what you can do to avoid making other’s mistakes and falling victim to the threats. Let’s start with ransomware. It is one of the most disruptive risks facing your organization today. Why? Because it can literally bring your operations, no matter who you are, to a standstill and inflict significant cost, pain and suffering. Just look at the recent example of one organization. It was infected with ransomware, and IT systems were shut down for several weeks, bringing operations to a standstill. It had to gradually re-start systems over several more weeks. It estimates it will cost around $95 million from lost sales, recovery and remediation, impacting profitability. Also, it announced it will not be able to attain its growth plans for the year. Take another recent example. A three-hospital system was infected and IT systems were shut down and it could not accept any incoming patients for several days. It had to operate using paper, until gradually the IT systems were re-started over several days. Fortunately, in this case, the incoming patients turned away did not suffer any loss of life and were able to be diverted to other hospitals timely, but it could have been tragic. No organization is immune to ransomware and it can rear its ugly head anytime and inflict severe pain. There are many variants and each can be tweaked easily by the attackers to evade the defense. The Ryuk ransomware is an example of one that has already inflicted significant pain to hundreds of organizations this year in the U.S. and across the globe. Previously, the SamSam ransomware attacked a variety of organizations in the U.S. and Canada, and provided over $6 million in ransom payments and inflicted over $30 million in losses. Prior to that, NotPetya ransomware rapidly inflicted hundreds of organizations in various parts of the world, and caused over $10 billion in damages. The attackers are seeing that with ransomware it is quicker and easier to make the intrusion, and encrypt some of the data than try to exfiltrate all of it. They are asking themselves, why take all the time and trouble to look for all of the data and try to steal it, when only some critical systems and data can be locked up, until a ransom is paid? They are seeing that with ransomware there will be immediate adverse impact since the victim will not be able to access critical data and systems, and will not be able to operate. So, there is high probability the ransom will be paid to stop the pain and suffering, especially if the victim has cyber insurance in place. The organization is likely to use the insurance policy to pay the ransom, rather than continue to have its operations disrupted or shut down. They are also seeing that while most organizations have put in place various controls to prevent and detect data theft, they have not placed an equal weight to preventing and detecting ransomware. Most organizations have a lot of data and given all of the data thefts that have occurred and continue to occur and reported in the press, the bias has been to focus on data theft. But ransomware risk cannot be ignored or approached less seriously. Imagine that you are infected with ransomware and your people cannot access documents, files or systems, and operate. All critical files and systems are locked out from the ransomware encryption, and a ransom payment is demanded by the hacker for the keys to unlock the encryption. What if, it will take you days, weeks or months to recover? What impact would it have on your organization? You may think that you will be able to recover quickly from back up files and systems, but are you sure? The new ransomware variants are devised to hunt down and delete or encrypt backup files and systems also, and in some cases, first, before encrypting rest of the files and systems. The organization that was recently infected that estimates $95 million in financial impact from the ransomware thought it had the risk under control, until it was hit with the ransomware and realized it was not prepared to manage the risk. Now, let’s move to the threat from cloud misconfigurations. You are most probably in the cloud completely or partially. Whether you have completely outsourced your infrastructure and services to a cloud provider or are utilizing one partially, remember, ultimately, you own the cybersecurity and that you are responsible for security in the cloud, while the cloud provider is responsible for security of the cloud. While the cloud provider will provide perimeter security, you are responsible for security of your data, IP and other assets in the cloud, and are equally susceptible to attackers in the cloud as you are on the premises. Even if any of the “big six” cloud providers, such as Amazon Web Services or Microsoft Azure or others, provide the cybersecurity, attackers can exploit weak links in the chain, break in and steal data or cause other harm. A common weak link in the chain are misconfigurations of the various systems that the cloud provider makes available as part of its service. You are responsible for all of the configurations, not the cloud provider. So, if your team does not take the time to fully understand all of the configurations that are necessary and complete them timely, security holes will arise and remain open for the attackers to exploit. Just look at the recent example of an organization that fell victim where the data of over 100 million customers was stolen. This organization was using one of the “big six” cloud providers, but missed making all of the necessary configurations. A former employee of the cloud provider, who was familiar with the systems and configurations, discovered a misconfiguration in a web application firewall and exploited it to break in. The attacker then was able to query a metadata service to obtain keys and tokens, which allowed the attacker to query and copy storage object data and eventually exfiltrate it. This was a case where configuration errors in a web application firewall coupled with unrestricted metadata service access and other errors handed the attacker the keys to the kingdom for the theft of 100 million customers data. Other common cloud misconfigurations that create opportunities for attackers to exploit include: Unrestricted in bound access on uncommon ports Unrestricted outbound access Unrestricted access to non-http/https ports Unrestricted metadata service requests Inactivate monitoring of keys and tokens You may think that you do not have any misconfigurations in your cloud environment, but how do you know? The organization that recently lost 100 million customers data thought it had strong security in its cloud infrastructure, until it was hit with the data theft and realized it was not prepared to manage the risk. Now, let’s move to the threat from supply chain backdoors. No matter what type of organization you are or your size, you most probably have a supply chain, comprised of independent contractors, vendors or partners. Each of these could be the weakest link in the chain. In other words, the attackers may find that one of your suppliers may be easier to break into first because of weaker cybersecurity and may have privileged access to your organization, given their role and responsibilities. So why not first attack the weaker supplier, steal their privileged user credentials and use it to break into your organization and eventually attain the ultimate objective, steal data or commit other harm? Or they may find that one of your suppliers has part of your data in order to provide the outsourced service, so they can steal the data simply by breaking into the supplier with the weaker cybersecurity, so no need to attack you directly. There are many examples of supply chain risk, such as with a government agency, where the credentials of a background check vendor were first stolen to access the agency’s systems, then to move laterally and find other unprotected privileged users credentials to access databases and steal data of 21.5 million individuals, including fingerprints data of 5.6 million individuals. But just look at the recent example of an organization that had outsourced billing and collections to a supplier. This is a case where the attackers did not have to attack directly. In this case, attackers broke into the supplier and injected malicious code into the payments webpages managed by the supplier and stole credit card, banking, medical and other personal information, such as social security numbers, of 11.9 million consumers. The attackers had access to the supplier’s system for eight months, during which it skimmed the data being input by consumers on the payments webpages. So, while your cybersecurity may be in good shape, the weakest link in the chain may be one of your suppliers, who may unwittingly provide the attackers the backdoor into your organization or to your data or IP. So, ransomware, cloud misconfigurations and supply chain backdoors are three significant and disruptive threats facing your organization today that you should mitigate. What c

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Best Cybersecurity Tips for Remote Workers

Article | June 21, 2021

Remote working and cybersecurity risks, unfortunately, go hand in hand. As the COVID-19 pandemic appears to be far from over, cyber threats to individuals and businesses continue to loom large. The only solution at the moment is to invest in robust technology solutions that protect your network and to train employees in cybersecurity so that they develop healthy remote working practices. If you allow a bulk of your employees to work remotely, it is important to adopt a few basic habits to protect your devices and your business network from cyber criminals. Here’s a quick look at a few basic tips for remote workers that can go a long way in enhancing the overall security posture of your organisation. Passwords provide the first line of defense against unauthorized access to your devices and personal information. By creating a strong, unique password, you increase protection levels tremendously. You make it more challenging for cybercriminals to gain access and disrupt your systems networks. Rule number two is never to ignore those little pop-up windows that tell you that software updates are available for your device. Once you get such a notification, be sure to install the latest software as soon as possible. Timely software updates (including antivirus updates) help patch security flaws and safeguard the computer system. Are you busy with your work and don’t like to be distracted by such notifications? We highly suggest you encourage your employees to select auto-update for software on both mobile devices and computers. It will help you and your staff to prevent problems caused by delayed system updates.

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NCSC makes ransomware attack guidance more accessible

Article | February 28, 2020

The UK’s National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) has updated its guidance to organisations on how to mitigate the impact of malware and ransomware attacks, retiring its standalone ransomware guidance and amalgamating the two in a bid to improve clarity and ease confusion among business and consumer users alike. The NCSC said that having two different pieces of guidance had caused some issues as a lot of the content relating to ransomware was essentially identical, while the malware guidance was a little more up-to-date and relevant. The service said the changes reflect to some extent how members of the public understand cyber security. For example, it implies a distinction between malware and ransomware even though technically speaking, ransomware is merely a type of malware. “Not everyone who visits our website knows that. Furthermore, they might well search for the term ‘ransomware’ (rather than ‘malware’) when they’re in the grip of a live ransomware incident,” said a spokesperson.

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A Closer Look at the Microsoft Exchange Server Cyberattacks

Article | May 13, 2021

We recently posted an article that highlighted the high-profile Microsoft Exchange hack that impacted hundreds of thousands of organizations across the globe. (This article offered some recommendations on how this could have been avoided as well as a special three-month offer to help any company who may have been affected.) Since this cyber attack, even more details are emerging. For example, the White House recently urged victims to quickly patch applications and systems and pushed for them to do it as quickly as possible. One senior administration official emphasized that the window to update these systems could be measured in hours, not even days.

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One of the primary objectives of any cyber security strategy must be to enable SecOps to move faster. Today, we rely too heavily on security experts because they have knowledge about security that detection systems don’t.

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