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5 ways to avoid being catfished

Today, many Americans will head out to the water—not to swim, but to catch a catfish in time for National Catfish Day.

But when we talk about catfishing in cybersecurity, we mean something different. Here, catfishing refers to someone who assumes someone else’s identity online in order to harass, troll, or scam someone.

But there are ways to protect yourself:

1. Be suspicious

Catfishes and romance scammers prowl social media sites and dating apps.

Usually, scammers will message potential targets privately first, through DMs. And when the target bites, they immediately ask them to switch to a more private chat option, such as email or text.

If you suspect you are being catfished, ask them questions that only someone with their background would know. If they’re hesitant, slow to answer, or try to avoid your questions, then be wary.

2. Don’t fall too quickly for a pretty face

Scammers know that people are likely to respond positively if they’re using an image of someone who looks good. But you can use that pretty picture for your own benefit. Do a reverse-image search to check if the face matches the name, or if anyone has mentioned scams alongside that image.

Take note, though, that scammers can entirely steal the identity of someone and use it. They can also use create a deepfake image, which wouldn’t be caught in reverse-image searches.

3. Take it slow

If a love interest ticks all your boxes, remind yourself to slow down. Scammers will want to get you moving, so they can go on to target someone else.

And, since scammers talk to multiple targets, they can make big mistakes, such as forgetting your or their name. Taking it slow may not seem to be the most exciting thing you’d do, but it gives you a chance to build up a bigger picture of the person you are talking to.

4. Talk to someone you trust

An outsider perspective is invaluable if you’re about to fall head first for a scammer.

Let’s face it, sometimes we see the red flags but choose to ignore them. A second or third opinion from someone you trust might be the jolt you need before it’s too late.

5. Never send them anything

Scammers are quick about everything regarding love, revealing too much about “their personal life,” professing their love, or asking something from you. That could be money, cryptocurrency, personal information, banking details, or gift card numbers.

Occasionally, they might ask you to move money on their behalf. Never do this, even if it sounds like they are desperate for your help.


If you suspect someone is a scammer, immediately stop contact and report them to the site where you first met, whether that was on social media or a dating app. If you have mistakenly sent someone money, file a report to your bank ASAP. And don’t hesitate to report your experience to your local law enforcement and FBI office.

Stay safe!

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Cybersecurity agencies: You don’t have to delete PowerShell to secure it

Microsoft’s PowerShell is a useful, flexible tool that is as popular with criminals as it is with admins. Cybercrooks like it becasue PowerShell is powerful, available almost everywhere, and doesn’t look out of place running on a company network.

In most places it isn’t practical to block PowerShell completely, which raises the question: How do you stop the bad stuff without disrupting the good stuff?

Cybersecurity authorities from the United States, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom have released a joint Cybersecurity Information Sheet (CIS) on PowerShell that attempts to answer that question.

The National Security Agency (NSA), the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), the New Zealand National Cyber Security Centre (NZ NCSC), and the United Kingdom National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC-UK) hope that “these recommendations will help defenders detect and prevent abuse by threat actors, while enabling legitimate use by administrators and defenders.”


Although it’s closely associated with the world of Windows administration, PowerShell is a cross-platform (Windows, Linux, and macOS) automation and configuration tool which, by design, is optimized for dealing with structured data. Initially a Windows component only, known as Windows PowerShell, it was made open-source and cross-platform on 18 August 2016 with the introduction of PowerShell Core.

It allows system administrators and power users to perform administrative tasks via a command line—an area where Windows previously lagged behind its Unix-like rivals with their proliferation of *sh shells.

Threat actors are equally fond of it because it allows them to “live off the land”, and for the options it provides to create fileless malware or to gain persistence on a compromised system.

Reduce abuse

The CIS discusses some security features available in PowerShell which can reduce abuse by threat actors.

Remote connections

Remote connections can be used for powerful remote management capabilities, so Windows Firewall rules on endpoints should be configured appropriately to control permitted connections. Access to endpoints with PowerShell remoting requires the requesting user account to have administrative privileges at the destination by default. The permission requirement and Windows Firewall rules are customizable for restricting connections to only trusted endpoints and networks to reduce lateral movement opportunities. Organizations can implement these rules to harden network security where feasible.

Multiple authentication methods in PowerShell permit use on non-Windows devices. PowerShell 7 permits remote connections over Secure Shell (SSH) in addition to supporting Windows Remote Management (WinRM) connections. This allows for public key authentication and makes remote management through PowerShell of machines more convenient and secure.

AMSI integration

The Antimalware Scan Interface (AMSI) feature, first available on Windows 10, is integrated into different Windows components. It supports scanning of in-memory and dynamic file contents using an anti-malware product registered with Windows and exposes an interface for applications to scan potentially malicious content. This feature requires AMSI-aware anti-malware products (such as Malwarebytes). Basically, AMSI works by analyzing scripts before the execution, so the anti-malware product can determine if the script is malicious or not.

Constrained Language Mode

Configuring AppLocker or Windows Defender Application Control (WDAC) to block actions on a Windows host will cause PowerShell to operate in Constrained Language Mode (CLM), restricting PowerShell operations unless allowed by administrator-defined policies.

PowerShell methods to detect abuse

Logging of PowerShell activities can record when cyber threats use PowerShell, and continuous monitoring of PowerShell logs can detect and alert on potential abuses. Deep Script Block Logging, Module Logging, and Over-the-Shoulder transcription are disabled by default. The authors recommend enabling the capabilities where feasible.

Before you start

If you plan on following the advice in the CIS, there are a few things you may want to consider first.

  • Execution Policies do not restrict execution of all PowerShell content.
  • AMSI bypasses are found and remediated in a constant whack-a-mole game, and most anti-malware products have different ways of accomplishing the same, or better, results. Therefor you will find that most AMSI-aware anti-malware products do not rely on AMSI alone.
  • If you are a customer of a Managed Service Provider (MSP) you may need to contact them before taking any of the actions listed above, since doing so may hinder them in their remote management.
  • Windows Remote Management/Remote Shell (WinRM/WinRS) connection limitations can become an obstacle in organizations with numerous administrators performing remote management, or that have multiple monitoring solutions connecting to the environment. By default, Microsoft Server limits the number of concurrent users connected to the WinRM/WinRS session to five and the number of shells per user to five. This can, and has often been modified by using an elevated command prompt.

Disabling PowerShell, if you do not need it, is a lot easier and safer than applying policies to make it safer to use. But looking at the options to make it more secure is certainly a good idea if you do need it.

Stay safe, everyone!

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Rogue cryptocurrency billboards go phishing for wallets

Billboards and digital real world advertising has raised many questions of privacy and anonymity in recent years. Until now, the primary concern has been (mostly) legal, yet potentially objectionable geolocation and user profiling. Bluetooth beacons work in tandem with geofenced billboards to send you offers. Stores follow your movements and tailor products accordingly, occasionally with very bad results. It’s such a common practice that you even see digital advertising used to track appearing in video games.

Attacks we’ve seen in the real world typically involve QR code stickers and take two main forms:

  • Letters or emails/chat app conversations which direct victims to Bitcoin ATMs. These attacks can often tie into money mule schemes.
  • Real world alteration/tampering of genuine QR codes. This can involve bogus QR code stickers placed over locations you’d expect to see a real code. Parking meters and car parks generally are prime targets for this type of scam.

We can now add rogue billboards to the list.

Beware of the party crashers

NFT NYC describes itself as “the leading annual non-fungible token event”. The 2022 meet-up is the fourth such event to take place. With NFTs hitting boiling point in the media, it’s natural to think scammers would turn their sights on the plundering of incredibly fungible apes and other items of a digital nature.

If you’re up to no good, and you know digital finance is filled with insecure coin-laden wallets and expensive jpegs, this is absolutely something you’re going to take an interest in.

Sure enough:

The screenshot is from a Discord channel, which says:


Reports of scam billboards in NYC with QR codes leading to Wallet Drainer sites.

This is probably a good time to explain what a wallet drainer site is.

Of wallets and draining

Sadly, it seems nobody grabbed a photo of what these scam billboards look like. However, a “wallet drainer” is just another way of saying “phishing website”. There are three ways the majority of cryptocurrency phishes take place:

  1. Airdrop phishing. This can involve entering your wallet’s recovery phrase onto a fake website (don’t do this), or connecting your wallet directly to the phishing portal (don’t do this either).
  2. Bogus giveaways. These claim you’ll double your money, and often say they are endorsed by celebrities or Elon Musk.
  3. Rogue adverts. These bogus advertisements could lead you to either of the above, or even some completely unrelated technique.

People have confirmed in the replies to the original tweet that the theft here depended on victims scanning the code, and then clicking through to the phishing page. The phishing component depended on them manually entering their details into the fake website. It is not the case that simply visiting it would immediately drain funds or cause apes to go walkabout.

Rogue cryptocurrency billboards: A growing trend?

I’m wondering if this is the official cementing of rogue billboards as a digital finance scam technique. You may be surprised to learn this isn’t the first time someone has tried this.

Back in May, cryptocurrency exchange Binance warned of a rash of bogus billboards popping up in Turkey. Scam artists “plastered fake Binance billboards throughout the country”, many of which included a phone number answered by criminals behind the scheme.

The tactic used here was to convince unwary investors to hand over their seed/recovery phrases. Others were asked to register new accounts. Cryptocurrency scams involving new accounts tend to have funds deposited over time. Eventually the scammers have the victim transfer the funds to sites run exclusively by them. No matter which tactic is used, someone pulled in by the billboard has a strong chance of losing out.

This is clearly a technique which is working for phishers no matter the location. If you’re at an event or simply out and about and spot a cryptocurrency billboard, play it safe. Does the billboard mention a digital finance organisation? Check with the organisation if the URL is genuine. If you’re asked for seed/recovery phrases, don’t hand them over. Does the billboard make claims of doubling whatever you deposit? This is almost certainly a scam, especially if tied to a promotion from Elon Musk or TESLA.

Stay safe out there!

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Dial 311 for… cybersecurity emergencies?

Members of the Cybersecurity Advisory Committee of CISA (Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency) have proposed an emergency cybersecurity call line for small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs). Should the proposition be approved, SMBs would be able to call 311 in the event of a cybersecurity incident.

CISA’s cyberhygiene subcommittee head, George Stathakopoulos, originally floated the idea that CISA should “launch a 311 national campaign, to provide an emergency call line and clinics for assistance following cyber incidents for small and medium businesses.” The communications subcommittee also floated a similar idea.

CISA and other cybersecurity experts have pushed for more robust incident response reporting. In March, President Joe Biden signed the Strengthening American Cybersecurity Act, a cyber incident reporting bill requiring critical infrastructure operators to report a breach to CISA within 72 hours, and 24 hours if they made a ransomware payment.

CISA Executive Assistant Director for Cybersecurity Eric Goldstein bemoaned how damaging it is for CISA to have little data over ransomware attacks in the US. Speaking to attendees in RSA, Goldstein was quoted saying:

“A tiny fraction of ransomware infections are reported to the government and the problem is getting worse because we don’t even know what that actual number is. We have no idea the actual denominator of ransomware instructions that are occurring across the country on any given day.”

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Conti ransomware group’s pulse stops, but did it fake its own death?

The dark web leak site used by the notorious Conti ransomware gang has disappeared, along with the chat function it used to negotiate ransoms with victims. For as long as this infrastructure is down the group is unable to operate and a significent threat is removed from the pantheon of ransomware threats.

The Conti leak site is down (June 22, 2022)

Ransomware gangs like Conti use the threat of leaking stolen data on their dark web sites to extort enormous ransoms from their victims, making the sites a vital cog in the ransomware machine.

While the cause of the site’s disappearance isn’t known for sure, and criminal dark web sites are notoriously flaky, there is good reason to suspect that Conti has gone permanently.

However, while anything that stops Conti from terrorising businesses, schools, and hospitals is welcome, the disappearance of its leak site is unlikely to make potential ransomware victims any safer, sadly.

As we explained in our May ransomware review, recent research by Advintel suggests that Conti has spent the last few months executing a bizarre plan to fake its own death. If that is what’s happened, then the gang’s members have simply dispersed to other ransomware “brands” that are either operated by the Conti gang or affiliated to it.

Conti—as bad as they come

The gang behind Conti ransomware (called WizardSpider, although rarely referred to by that name) is believed to be based in Russia, and first appeared in 2020. The FBI recently called it “the costliest strain of ransomware ever documented,” and the US Department of State is offering a reward of up to $10 million for “information leading to the identification and/or location of any individual(s) who hold a key leadership position in the Conti ransomware variant transnational organized crime group.”

Conti has been used in a number of high profile attacks, including a devastating assault on Ireland’s Health Service executive on May 14, 2021. The attack disrupted healthcare in Ireland for months and the recovery effort could end up costing the country more than $100 million.

The real cost of the attack was measured in human suffering though. Speaking to Malwarebytes Labs, a doctor in one of the affected hospitals described how a 21st-century healthcare system deprived of it’s computers is brought to its knees. The attack caused enormous unnecessary suffering for both patients and healthcare professionals, and triggered hundreds of thousands of appointments to be cancelled.

The doctor’s brutal assessment of the Conti gang? “I think they lost their humanity.”

Faking its own death

According to Advintel, the Conti gang sealed its fate in February when it published a message in support of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, declaring its “full support of Russian government.” By aligning itself to the Russian state it had made itself the subject of sanctions. Victims were not prepared to run the risk that their ransom payments might be treated as sanctions violations and Conti’s income dried up.

Ransomware gangs often react to trouble by going dark, or with ham-fisted attempts to pretend they’ve retired. These retirements are often quickly followed by the sudden appearance of a brand new ransomware gang that is obviously just the old gang working under a new name.

Advintel’s research suggested that Conti was aware of this pattern and determined to try something different. Instead of disappearing and then popping up a week later under a new name, the group created and operated new brands—Advintel names KaraKurt, BlackByte, and BlackBasta as examples—before retiring the Conti name, to make the transition less obvious. In addition to creating these new brands, it also dispersed parts of its workforce into existing gangs it had a relationship with, such as Hive and ALPHV.

To complete the deception, it maintained a skeleton crew that carried out extremely noisy, headline-grabbing attacks on Cost Rica, and continued to operate the leak site until the last moment.

Malwarebytes Threat Intelligence was able to independently confirm that Conti sent an internal announcement about its retirement to affiliates at the end of May, and that its internal chat servers stopped working around the same time.

The site had been inactive for 28 days before it disappeared, with the last new leak appearing on May 25. As our May ransomware report revealed, despite the noise it generated from its attacks on Costa Rica, Conti’s activity was significantly depressed in May, while the activity of gangs with alleged links to Conti increased, driven largely by the rise of BlackBasta.

Known ransomware attacks in May 2022
Known ransomware attacks in May 2022

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