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4 Common Tactics Used in Recent Healthcare Breaches

4 Common Tactics Used in Recent Healthcare Breaches

March 24, 2015 | Gavin Hill

Last month, Anthem reported that they had been breached, affecting more than 80 million customers’ personal information. This month, Premera Blue Cross disclosed they too have been breached, resulting in medical and financial data for 11 million customers being stolen. Both organizations discovered the breach in January of this year.

4 common tactics used in recent healthcare breaches

Besides the fact that all these breaches were in the healthcare industry, there are similarities in the tactics employed. We can learn from these tactics to protect organizations, not only in healthcare, but from all industries.

Blind Spot

It’s believed that attackers in the mentioned breaches gained a foothold within the enterprise networks at around the same time (April-May 2014). Even though Anthem and Premera were said to have been breached around the same time that Heartbleed was discovered there is no confirmation that Heartbleed was used. However, if the attackers that breached Anthem and Premera gained access to private keys stolen via Heartbleed, they would have assuredly used them to perform man-in-the-middle (MITM) attacks on VPN’s. According to Mandiant, last year VPN hijacking was the highest they have ever seen. It’s no surprise that it took Anthem and Premera 8-9 months before identifying the breach. Most organizations are blind to attackers on their networks who misuse keys and certificates, enabling these attackers to establish encrypted sessions that disguise malicious traffic phoning home to the command and control (C2). Research published by the Ponemon Institute shows that for the last 2 years, and now for 4 years running, 100% of large enterprises have had to respond to attacks using keys and certificates.

Spoofed Websites

Phishing attacks are the most common attack methods used today. Why, you ask? Quite simply because there is always a human that can be easily tricked into disclosing information. One very common technique seen in both the Anthem and Premera breaches is known as URL hijacking and it involves registering a domain with specific typographical errors to misrepresent the original domain. The purpose of this technique is to make the domain look like, or spoof, the well-known, legitimate business and use it in attacks like spear-phishing campaigns. Domains like we11point[.]com and prennera[.]com were both used as parts of these attacks for spear-phishing and malware hosting. It is challenging to identify this type of brand misrepresentation without scanning the entire internet on a periodic basis. In fact, only 30% of victims discover the breach themselves—most are notified by external third parties.

Digitally-signed Malware

According to Intel Security, digitally-signed malware has been doubling every quarter since 2012 and shows no sign of slowing down. The primary driver to sign malicious code with a valid certificate is to avoid detection from security solutions and ensure the victim does not receive any error messages from the operating system. In the Anthem breach, the malware signed with a legitimate certificate was found to be hosted on the site prennera[.]com.

One Common Attack Vector

In all three breaches, there is one common attack vector—keys and certificates. Although keys and certificates are designed to create trust and assurance, when they are used against you, it becomes very difficult to know what can and cannot be trusted. To do this, we need to be able to understand the reputation of the mechanism that is being used to establish the trust—the certificate. By understanding the reputation of the certificate, we can decide whether or not to trust the session or application using the certificate. One example would be scanning the internet for certificates that are used to misrepresent a brand like the we11point[.]com and prennera[.]com examples.

Scanning the entire internet on a regular basis to identify spoofed websites or even rogue certificates is no small undertaking. Even Microsoft took multiple years to recover rogue TLS certificates and revoke them. But revocation lists have been proven to be easily defeated since 2009. Even new initiatives like Google Certificate Transparency still rely on certificate revocation.

Venafi helps solve this problem with the introduction of Venafi TrustNet—a global certificate reputation service designed to detect the misuse of certificates on the internet and enable you to take immediate action by blacklisting certificates with a bad reputation. TrustNet is the single most comprehensive and accurate source of certificate trustworthiness. Regardless of where a certificate is used on the Internet, TrustNet provides you with its reputation in real time. With TrustNet, you can stop the bad guys from misusing certificates and keys and protect your business and brand. Find out more about TrustNet at

Venafi TrustNet

How does your organization detect the misuse of certificates on the internet that are used to misrepresent your companies’ brand?

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