Parked Domains, pantry moths, and you

Enterprise digital ecosystems are ripe for compromise via long-forgotten domains.

Parked domains have little security

In a span of just 30 days, Equifax morphed from a reputable credit bureau to the latest victim of cybercrime. Sadly, Equifax is just one in a slew of recent website compromises. In fact, the past 12 months bore witness to the malicious use of consumer-facing websites belonging to embassies, national banks, popular brands, premium digital publications, and government organizations. Comparing these incidents with The Media Trust’s historic malware attack data reveals an uncanny commonality – parked domains.

Parked domains are pests

Pantry moths are like parked domainsYes, parked domains are a security problem. Let’s take the real-world example of pantry moths as an analogy. Imagine hoarding supplies in your kitchen pantry due to forecasts like historical storms, end of the world, etc. Alas, the event turns out to be not so epic and life moves on unaffected. Except now, you have a cartload of forgotten excess supplies sitting in your pantry, attracting pantry moths, their larvae (gross), and other pests. Translate this to the digital world: companies buy domains for various purposes such as marketing campaigns, testing advertising code, domain squatting prevention, or holding for future use. Unfortunately, life happens; companies do not renew domain ownership, forget to manage them, campaigns end, or the company may go out of business. This leaves these domains ripe for compromise, as it’s the perfect opportunity for a bad actor to either buy a legitimate-looking link or stealthily infect it to load malicious code.

“We detect parked domains in more than 10% of web-based incidents and have recorded a steady increase in parked domains in the consumer internet,” stated Patrick Ciavolella, Head Malware Desk and Analytics, The Media Trust. “Saying parked domains are a cause for concern, is an understatement. Malicious parked domains in a large corporation’s digital ecosystem can not only damage an enterprise’s reputation but can inflict widespread harm on consumers.”

By putting Equifax’s second website compromise under the scanner, we can better understand how parked domains are exploited by bad actors. 

Equifax Case File

The user experience: When users visited certain credit reporting service page(s) on Equifax’s website, they were automatically redirected to a malicious domain or page. This landing page falsely alerted users to an outdated program (Adobe Flash) and prompted a download of an update, which when clicked, would eventually deliver a malicious exploit kit to user devices. Sounds like a typical and simple website-level malware attack, but what happened behind the screens points to an interesting revelation about parked domains.
Parked domains are dangerous

Behind the screens: After entering the credit report discounts assistance page, there were at least five rapid auto-redirects (no user interaction required) that delivered users to the malicious domain (Centerbluray.info), which hosted the Fake Flash Update alert. This fake online asset appeared legitimate and even used Adobe’s logo to trick users. Once the user clicked on this fake prompt, malicious toolbars or exploit kits were delivered to the devices.

Culprit: Centerbluray.info was the domain hosting malicious code, but the multiple redirect links that navigated to this malicious page were all parked domains. “Our Malware Desk blacklisted Centerbluray.info well before the Equifax incident and detected it in at least six different web-based malware incidents. In every case, parked domains were used to navigate to the final malicious domain,” added Patrick.

Parked Domains FAQs:
Parked Domains FAQs

  1. Wait, so a parked domain via a third-party vendor running code on my website can affect my website?
    Yes. Today’s websites and mobile apps are inundated with unmonitored third-party vendors that contribute code (content management systems, video hosting, data management platforms, marketing analytics, social media widgets, and more) to the rendering of digital content. Often, these third-parties will bring fourth and fifth party code into the mix, increasing the probability of a parked domain’s presence in your enterprise digital ecosystem.
  2. Can my own parked domain be compromised?
    Yes. The Karmic forces of the internet are strong. Without caution and care, your own parked domains are vulnerable to compromise. Let’s not forget that parked domains are still affiliated with your digital assets. Now would be a good time to ask your teams—marketing, sales, product, operations—about all the domains your company has ever purchased.
  3. Can my current website security solution detect these parked domains?
    Sigh, if only! For the most part, website appsec only monitors owned and operated code, which is an increasingly small part of today’s website and mobile app code. Also, most website security solutions do not comprehensively monitor outside the firewall, which is exactly where your users are! Without real-time monitoring of executing code, you would not know if your website has been compromised unless users complain or, even worse, you read about it in the paper.
  4. So what can I do?
    Based on the incidents detected in the broader digital ecosystem and managed by The Media Trust, here’s what Patrick recommends:
    “When it comes to your own domains, renew them or cancel the ones that are not in use; please cancel through the appropriate channels. Once canceled, the domain code needs to be completely removed from your website and mobile app codebase. Where it makes sense, sign up for an auto-renewing domain. Remember, when it comes to third-party parked domains, the only way to detect and manage them is through continuous, real-time monitoring of code rendering on user devices.
  5. Ok, since you brought up pantry moths – how does one get rid of those annoying pests?
    Ah! Clean out your pantry. Get rid of the old dry supplies as they are probably infested by moths and larvae (gross). When you eventually do buy fresh supplies, freeze it first before transferring to storage containers and use the supplies as quickly as you can.

 

Content Management Systems: Friend or Foe?

The downside of open source affordability and flexibility

CMS Friend or Foe

More than 7,000 ecommerce sites were shut down this past weekend due to malware infiltrating the open source or community version of Magento, a popular content management system. Unfortunately, this type of revenue-impacting event has become all too common with similar attacks affecting WordPress, Joomla and Drupal within the past 12 months. As thousands of online merchants have just learned, taking advantage of the affordability and flexibility offered by an open-source website vendor requires investment in continuous site security.

Start-up savior

Millions of small and medium-sized merchants rely on open source content management systems (CMS) to support their initial foray into online commerce. These platforms provide a “plug-n-play” infrastructure that pulls together basic design schema, content delivery features and shopping cart capabilities—critical cost-saving tools for a start-up operation. Platform providers make these tools available in the hopes that as the retailer grows it will seek more features and eventually upgrade to a more robust, enterprise version. But, these supposedly “free” tools come with a price.

When free isn’t free

Open source is a great resource; however, it is not supported by the vendor. Open source platforms rely on a passionate community of users to build plug-ins and extensions which extend the capability of the free tool. A major shortfall is that open source lacks the protection users expect—there’s no accountability for the developer community should something go horribly wrong. In fact, the very nature of open source suggests that the “source” is “open” to all who wish to contribute.

Bad actors easily infiltrate these communities and cause considerable harm. From compromising an existing extension to creating a flawed one, bad actors can quickly penetrate thousands of ecommerce operations and execute a host of crimes—mine for credit card data, trigger malware downloads onto shopper browsers, deface the site with inflammatory language or completely disable site operations, to name a few. Whatever the action, the merchant suffers serious damaging consequences from which it may not ever recover.

To protect an ecommerce operation, online merchants need to invest in security measures to ensure the open source environment is safe from compromise. This means a thorough review of all code and vendors used to render the site on consumer browsers—both front-end services, like image library and product recommendation, and back-end services, like CMS and content delivery networks. In effect, open source is not really free, as the money saved from licensing needs to be poured back into IT to secure the site.

Preparing for the worst

Considering that an open source platform can bring an ecommerce site to its knees, online merchants must keep abreast of industry news and take immediate action to locate and fix compromised code. In addition, merchants should also adopt basic security best practices such as:

  1. Regular participation in the open source community to know when issues are detected and how to resolve
  2. Careful screening of plug-ins and extensions before using in your environment
  3. Limited use of un-vetted extensions
  4. Continuously monitoring of the third-party vendors executing on the site

The best way to secure revenue continuity is to constantly monitor the site for anomalies and unexpected vendor behavior. Upon detection, these issues can be immediately resolved thereby keeping your ecommerce operation alive and kicking.

For those not planning to upgrade to a licensed, vendor-supported platform, an effective security program will be your best friend. The Media Trust can make the introduction.

 

Ecommerce–What’s happening on your site?

Wayward third-party vendors impact site performance, collect first-party data and expose site visitors to malware

Online shopping is now a primary revenue source for many retailers, and its growth trajectory is forecast to continue its double-digit growth rate. With their high-volume traffic and access to consumers’ credit cards, these sites also serve as revenue sources for hackers and fraudsters, who find retailers’ reliance on third-party vendors especially appealing. They gain access to sites by compromising legitimate third-party vendors.

Pinpointing the third-party vendors

Everyday ecommerce sites are rife with third-party vendors, many of them not clearly visible to site owners. These services provide the interactive and engaging experience consumers have come to expect and also enable the site to be monetized. Unbeknownst to many retailers, the third-party vendors they use to render these critical services—product reviews, content recommendation engines, payment systems, automated marketing services, analytics, content delivery networks, social media tools and more—can unintentionally function as a conduit for a host of unsavory activities including malware drops, first-party data collection, and latency-causing actions.

The challenge is to quickly identify the point of compromise, yet most ecommerce site operators don’t have a clear grasp of the vendors actively executing on their digital properties. The following infographic of a typical ecommerce site provides clues to where vendors can be found.

Ecommerce–What's happening on your site?

[Get your pdf copy at www.TheMedia.Trust]

Check yourself before you wreck yourself

How do you control these vendors and what they do on your site? The ability to effectively manage an ecommerce site requires intricate command of the technology, processes and vendors needed to render pages that not only meet revenue goals, but do so without compromising the user experience. This means the site must be free of malware, performance-sapping vendors and privacy-violating data collection activity.  To protect against third-party code’s inherent risks, ecommerce teams must work with their IT, information security, and legal teams to constantly monitor—in real time—the code executing on their sites. Otherwise, a host of activities can be underway without your knowledge which can negatively impact the user experience, your brand and your revenue stream.