Phishing, Smishing, Vishing, and QRishing. All of these schemes continue to pose risk to organizations that needs to be assessed and addressed.

Vishing made a strong debut during the pandemic [view related post], and continues to be a scheme that is surprisingly successful.

This week, Morgan Stanley Wealth Management (in the wake of another data breach that was recently settled), notified some of its customers that their accounts were compromised by threat actors impersonating Morgan Stanley employees. According to Morgan Stanley, on February 11, 2022, a threat actor called some of Morgan Stanley’s clients and tricked them into thinking the caller was a Morgan Stanley representative, obtained the customers’ online account information, and gained access to the accounts.

Once that was done, the “bad actor…initiated unauthorized Zelle payments.”

Morgan Stanley disabled the accounts of the customers that were affected by the Vishing scheme and has confirmed that its systems remain secure. It also provided resources to customers on Vishing attacks and how to prevent them.

We have previously alerted you to vishing and smishing schemes [view related post]. A new scheme, using QR codes, is called QRishing or quishing. According to security company Abnormal, between September 15 and October 13, 2021, it identified a new way for hackers to try to get around security measures put in place to keep users from clicking on malicious links or attachments. The phishing campaign they detected was designed to collect Microsoft credentials using QR codes.

According to Abnormal, the threat actors used compromised email accounts to send QR codes that looked like a missed voice mail to users.  Although the threat actors were unsuccessful in getting users to click on the QR code or take a picture of it and send it to their email account in order to click on it, the point is that attackers are getting increasingly more creative and embedding malicious code behind QR codes, which became widely used by restaurants and other establishments during COVID. Many people had never heard of a QR code or used one until COVID hit, and no one seems particularly concerned about taking a picture of a QR code when instructed to do so.

The tip here is to be cautious of QR codes, especially in an email or text, and specifically if someone is asking you to click on it or it is linked to a missed voicemail message. If QR codes are emailed, they might not be detected by the email security system, which is exactly what the attacker has designed it to do so it is delivered to your email box, giving you the chance to click on it and compromise your Outlook credentials. The new mantra is don’t click on suspicious links, attachments, or QR codes.

New dictionary words have been formed to describe online scams. Phishing, one that everyone knows by now, is when a scammer uses a pretext in an email to get someone to click on a link or attachment in the email to deploy malicious malware and ransomware.

Social engineering is when criminals conduct online search of individuals and companies by looking at Facebook and LinkedIn profiles and through Google searches to find out as much as possible about a company and its employees and develop a dossier on the company to launch a phishing, vishing or smishing scam.

Vishing can occur, for example, when a criminal buys a similar domain to a company domain, then adds some security terms to make it look like they are from the IT department of the company and calls an employee, tells them a story about how they need to update the VPN or add additional security measures, sends the employee an email from the fake company email address and while they are on the phone with the employee, convinces the employee to put their user name and password into the pop-up, now allowing the criminal full access to the employee’s account.

And smishing (it’s so new that spell check doesn’t recognize it) is when the scammers use a text (SMS messaging) as the ruse instead of an email or a telephone call.

People tend to trust text messages more than emails. They also read them more frequently and faster than emails. Scammers are using old techniques with new technology to get people to click on embedded links to introduce malicious malware into individuals’ phones or to give up personal or corporate credentials. Now the scam is using text messages.

This should be concerning for IT professionals since so many employees use their personal phones for work. Even though the employees are being targeted on their personal phones, the smishing scams can be a threat to corporate security. IT professionals may wish to add smishing as a technique when providing security training to employees so they are aware of the latest techniques used by criminals.

When the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) and the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) get together to issue an alert to warn us about a security threat, you can bet that the threat is real, and that they have seen it used successfully at an alarming rate.

The joint advisory issued on August 20, 2020, “Cyber Criminals Take Advantage of Increased Telework Through Vishing Campaign,” warns companies of the increased use of vishing attacks by cyber criminals. The advisory defines “vishing” as “a form of criminal phone fraud, using social engineering over the telephone system to gain access to private personal and financial information for the purpose of financial reward” [see related Privacy Tip].

People are always amazed at how much time and effort cyber criminals take to get the big pay-off. I always say this is how they make their living. We go to work every day and get a lot of work done in a legal way, while they go to work every day to figure out how to steal from us. They are spending the same amount of time on strategy, development and implementation to work out the details of the crime as we are in making an honest living. What they are doing in cyber crime is no different than planning for a bank robbery. They have to plan carefully and then execute the crime. That’s what the cyber criminals have done with their vishing campaign.

The vishing campaign referred to in the advisory started with the criminals registering domains and creating phishing pages that duplicate a company’s internal VPN (virtual private network) login page, including the requirement for two-factor authentication or a security passcode. They then obtained SSL (Secure Socket Layer) certificates for the registered domains, including support(victim company name), ticket(victim company name), employee(victim company name), or (victim company name)support. The point is that they are using the actual company name in combination with IT support to lure the victims and convince them into thinking the domain is real. It certainly looks very real.

The criminals then do online research on potential company victims, and according to the alert, “compile dossiers” on employees of the companies “using mass scraping of public profiles on social media platforms, recruiter and marketing tools, publicly available background check services, and open-source research.” This is publicly-available information about companies and their employees that the criminals use to implement the crime. They aggregate the publicly available information and then start calling the employees on their cell phones. When an employee answers, they engage them in conversation as if they know them (from social engineering—including name, address, position in the company) to get them to believe they are from IT support. They advise the employee that the company has changed the VPN and that a link to the new login will be sent, which includes multi-factor authentication, and that they will need to log in to reset the VPN. During the call, they assist the employee in logging in to the VPN and in the process, they gain access to the employee’s log in credentials and now have access to the employee’s account.

Once in the employee’s account, the criminals have access to other potential victims in the company using the same tactics, and are able to “fraudulently obtain funds using varying methods dependent on the platform being accessed.”

The alert acknowledges that this old scam, previously used on telecommunications and internet service provider employees, has now expanded to all industries because of the transition from work at the office to work from home during the pandemic. Companies need to be aware of the campaign, alert their employees, and provide them with resources and tips to avoid falling victim to it.

The Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) and the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) recently issued an alert warning the public about vishing campaigns [see related post]. Vishing is defined by the FBI as “a form of criminal phone fraud, using social engineering over the telephone system to gain access to private personal and financial information for the purpose of financial reward.”

Vishing basically means that cyber criminals are gathering publicly-available information on companies and employees so they get to know a lot about them, and then they call employees on their cell phones to try to get them to believe that they are from IT support and that a new VPN (virtual private network) is being used. They then assist the employee with activating the new VPN and in the process obtain the employee’s credentials to access the company’s system and look for new victims.

We all know not to give our credentials to strangers via email. We also know not to give our credentials or personal information to anyone over the telephone. That said, the joint alert makes it clear that people who are working from home are falling victim to this campaign as there is no face-to-face authentication, and the criminals have gathered so much information on the individual employee that the employee believes it is a co-worker calling to assist.

Beware of giving any information to anyone over the telephone (or via email for that matter).

The Alert gives the following “End-User Tips”:

  • Verify that web links do not have misspellings or contain the wrong domain.
  • Bookmark the correct corporate VPN URL and do not visit alternative URLs on the sole basis  of an inbound phone call.
  • Be suspicious of unsolicited phone calls, visits, or email messages from unknown individuals claiming to be from a legitimate organization. Do not provide personal information or information about your organization, including its structure or networks, unless you are certain of a person’s authority to have the information. If possible, try to verify the caller’s identity directly with the company.
  • If you receive a vishing call, document the phone number of the caller as well as the domain that the actor tried to send you to and relay this information to law enforcement.
  • Limit the amount of personal information you post on social networking sites. The internet is a public resource; only post information you are comfortable with anyone seeing.
  • Evaluate your settings: sites may change their options periodically, so review your security and privacy settings regularly to make sure that your choices are still appropriate.

For more information on how to stay safe on social networking sites and avoid social engineering and phishing attacks, refer to the CISA Security Tips below.

I am not a huge fan of using chatbots, as I never end up getting my questions fully answered. I get the efficiency of using a chatbot for simple questions, but my questions are usually not so easily resolved, so I end up completely frustrated with the process and trying to find a human being to help. This happens a lot with my internet service provider. I start with the chatbot, don’t get very far and then yell, “Can’t you just let me talk to someone who can fix my problem?”

At any rate, it seems that lots of people use chatbots and are quite comfortable giving chatbots all sorts of information. Probably not a great idea after reading a summary of research done by Trustwave.

Bleeping Computer obtained research from Trustwave before publication which shows that threat actors are deploying phishing attacks “using automated chatbots to guide visitors through the process of handing over their login credentials to threat actors.” Using a chatbot “gives a sense of legitimacy to visitors of the malicious sites, as chatbots are commonly found on websites for legitimate brands.”

According to Bleeping Computer, the process begins with a phishing email claiming to have information about the delivery of a package (it’s an old trick that still works) from a well-known delivery company. After clicking on “Please follow our instructions” to figure out why your package can’t be delivered, the victim is directed to a PDF file that contains links to a malicious phishing site. When the page loads, a chatbot appears to explain why the package couldn’t be delivered – the explanation usually being that the label was damaged – and shows the victim a picture of the parcel. Then the chatbot requests that the victim provide their personal information and confirms the scheduled delivery of the package.

The victim is then directed to a phishing page where the victim inserts account credential to pay for the shipping, including credit card information. The threat actors provide legitimacy to the process by requiring a one-time password to the victim’s mobile phone number (which the victim gave the chatbot) via SMS so the victim believes the transaction is legit.

The moral of this story: continue to be suspicious of any emails, texts, or telephone calls -(phishing, smishing, and vishing) and now chatbots – asking for your personal or financial information.

The FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) recently issued a warning alerting consumers that scammers are using malicious QR Codes to reroute unsuspecting customers to malicious sites to try to steal their data.

Also known as QRishing, [view related post] criminals are taking advantage of our familiarity with QR codes after using them at restaurants and other establishments during the pandemic, to use them to commit crimes. The criminals embed malicious codes into QR codes to redirect a user to a malicious site and then attempt to get the user to provide personal information, financial information or other data that the criminals can use to perpetrate fraud or identity theft.

Embedding malicious code into a QR code is no different than embedding it into a link or attachment to a phishing email or a smishing text. Consumers are not as alert to question QR codes as we are to spot malicious emails and texts.

Hence, the alert from IC3. IC3 is warning consumers to check and re-check any URL generated by a QR code and to be cautious about using them for any form of payment.

QR codes should be viewed as suspiciously as emails and texts. Be cautious when asked to scan a QR code, and refuse to provide any type of personal information or financial information after scanning one.

2021 is behind us. Whether that is positive or negative for you, in my world, it was another record year. A record year of data breaches.

According to The Identity Theft Research Center (ITRC), data breaches in 2021 surpassed the previous record year of 2020 by 17 percent. The incidents ranged from the theft of cryptocurrency (Livecoin went out of business following an attack) to ransomware attacks (Colonial Pipeline), to zero-day vulnerabilities against Microsoft Exchange Server, and finally, the big one: Log4j.

There is speculation that the Log4j vulnerability will last for years. The Log4j vulnerability is so concerning that the FTC issued a warning this week to companies declaring that if companies don’t mitigate the vulnerability, they could be subject to an enforcement action [view related posts here and here].

What does this all mean to us as consumers? Many of us roll our eyes and say “All of our information is out there anyway, so why bother trying to protect it?” I say, don’t give up. Here are a few tips that are still important for protecting your data and your privacy:

  • If your information is compromised, sign up for credit monitoring or a credit freeze if offered.
  • Continue to check your credit report, which you can get for free once a year, to help determine whether any fraudulent accounts have been opened in your name.
  • Protect your Social Security number and driver’s license number. Don’t just give them when asked or fill them in on a form.
  • Mind your cookies.
  • Check the privacy settings on your phone and update them frequently.
  • Opt-in to “do not track” options.
  • Use DuckDuckGo as your browser.
  • Consider the Jumbo privacy app.
  • Read the privacy policies of apps and devices before you download or activate them.
  • Be aware of phishing, vishing, smishing, and qrishing.
  • Understand what IoT devices you have and activate unique passwords for them.
  • Change the default passwords on your home router and wi-fi.
  • Update the software on your devices as soon as you can.

And there are so many more! Check out all of our privacy tips at and don’t give up! Even though 2022 looks to be another whopper year for data breaches, if we don’t try to protect our privacy, then who will?

Although a security researcher has confirmed that LinkedIn users’ data, including full names, gender, email addresses, telephone numbers, and industry information is for sale on RaidForums by a hacker self-dubbed “GOD User TomLiner,” LinkedIn has stated that it is not from a data breach of its networks. According to LinkedIn, “[O]ur initial analysis indicates that the dataset includes information scraped from LinkedIn as well as information obtained from other sources….This was not a LinkedIn data breach and our investigation has determined that no private LinkedIn member data was exposed….”

No matter how the data ended up for sale on a hacker forum, if you are a LinkedIn user, you should be aware of it, and understand how that information can be used against you. Having valid email addresses and telephone numbers give hackers and scammers the ability to use them for targeting phishing and vishing schemes and other social engineering scams. In addition, the information can be used to compile dossiers and aggregated with other publicly available information for targeted campaigns.

As a precaution, security experts are suggesting that LinkedIn users update their passwords and enable multi-factor authentication on their LinkedIn accounts.

Many individuals already use facial recognition technology to authenticate and authorize payment through their smartphone. According to Jupiter Research, by 2025 (only four years away), 95 percent of smartphones will have biometric technology capabilities for authentication, including face, fingerprint, iris, and voice recognition. According to Juniper Research, this will amount to the authentication of over $3 trillion in payment transactions on a yearly basis.

Technology vendors are starting to use biometric information more and more to provide services to consumers. For instance, Spotify recently released its “Hey Spotify” feature for its app. If you use Spotify, and the new feature is rolled out to your device, you will see a pop-up with a big green button at the bottom that reads, “Turn on Hey Spotify” and a very small link in white that reads, “Maybe later.” Above the big green button in white is text that reads, “LEARN HOW WE USE VOICE DATA” and “When we hear ‘Hey Spotify’ your voice input and other information will be sent to Spotify.”

The big green button is very noticeable and the white text less so, but when you click on the “LEARN HOW” button, you are sent to a link that reads, “When you use voice features, your voice input and other information will be sent to Spotify.” Hmmm. What other information?

It continues, “This includes audio recording and transcripts of what you say, and other related information such as the content that was returned to you by Spotify.” This means that your biometric information–your voice–and what you actually say to Hey Spotify is collected by Spotify. Spoiler alert: you only have one voice and you are giving it to an app that is collecting it and sharing it with others, including unknown third parties.

The Spotify terms then explain that it will use your voice, audio recordings, transcripts and the other information that is collected “to help us provide you with advertising that is more relevant to you. It also includes sharing information, from time to time, with our service providers, such as cloud storage providers.”  It then explains that you can “interact with advertisements on Spotify using your voice. During a voice-enabled ad, you will hear a voice prompt followed by an audible tone.” Of course, you should know that your response will then be recorded,  collected, and shared.

In response to the question “Is Spotify recording all of my conversations?,” the terms state that “Spotify listens in short snippets of a few seconds which are deleted if the wake-word is not detected.” That means that it is listening frequently until you say, “Hey Spotify.” It doesn’t say how often the short snippets occur.

Consumers can turn off the voice controls and voice ads by disabling their microphone. This is true for all apps that include access to the microphone, which is why it is important to frequently look at your privacy settings and see which apps have access to your microphone and to manage that capability (along with all of the apps in your privacy settings).

It is important to know which apps have access to your biometric information and who they share it with, as you cannot manage that biometric information once you give it away. You don’t know how they are really using it, or how they are storing, securing, disclosing, or retaining it. Think about your Social Security number and how many times you have received a breach notification letter. You can try to protect your credit and your identity with credit monitoring and credit freezes, but you can’t use those tools for the disclosure of your biometric information to scammers and fraudsters.

Your voice can be used for fraudulent purposes. It can be used for authentication to get into accounts, and for vishing (see blog post on vishing here).  Your voice is unique and sharing it with apps or others without knowing how it is secured is something worth considering. If the information is not secured and is subject to a security incident, it gives criminals another very potent tool to commit fraud against you and others.

Before providing your biometric information to any app, or anyone else for that matter, read the Privacy Policy and Terms of Use and understand what you are giving away merely for the convenience of using the app.