Tailgating & Other Physical SE –

Tailgating and Other Physical SE Tactics

In Part 1 and Part 2 of this series, we discussed remote social engineering that an attacker could perform from any location. Those types of attacks rarely are traced back to the attacker who could be located anywhere. The social engineering attack that we’re discussing in this post is much more brazen. In this case the social engineer is actually located onsite, possibly talking with you face-to-face.

The stories below are all from ethical physical social engineering engagements that my colleagues and I have performed. Our goal was to help each company find weaknesses so that they could correct them and educate their employees to make the job site more secure. My goal in writing this post is the same. As with all social engineering attack vectors, education is the best defense. For that reason, I’m focusing this post on the interpersonal aspects of SE. Some of my colleagues at Raxis made a video last year explaining some of the technology that can be used on physical SE engagements. Check it out at https://blog.raxis.com/2017/04/19/physical-security-pitfalls/ to learn more about that.

Getting In

Companies often put safeguards in place to secure entrances and then hope that the bad guys stay out. Surprisingly, getting in is often much easier than you might expect. I have used platters of cookies and cakes to gain access on some engagements, but often it’s even easier than that.

I once was attempting to enter an office building located in the suburbs of a large city and scoped out the building on the Sunday afternoon before the engagement started. I find this to be a good way to find out about the building and security policies in place so that I can make a plan before the Monday morning rush. Also, different security guards are often on duty on the weekends, meaning I likely won’t be recognized the next day when I start the engagement. In this case, a colleague and I checked out the building and discovered that all doors except the main entrance were locked. The main entrance was open during posted hours, and a uniformed security guard was visible behind glass windows. We decided that tailgating during the morning rush was our best option. The next day we arrived and immediately split up. After a few attempts, I saw a woman heading towards a door I was near. I looked upset & riffled through my purse frantically. When she walked up, I told her I couldn’t find my badge anywhere and could she let me in. She was definitely suspicious. “What department do you work in?” I told her IT, a department that is likely to have employees in or to need access to several buildings. She let me in and told me that it was okay because I worked for IT. And then she told me that she disliked the rule that they could not let people in, and IT made that rule, so I had better not tell my coworkers. Once in the building, I plugged a device into a network port in an open cube and called my colleague so that he could begin remote access to the network.

I could tell multiple stories of people holding doors for me, especially during busy times of day — morning, lunch, and at the end of the day. On one engagement I was attempting to clone badges and eventually wondered why since every single person who passed me as I obnoxiously stood outside a locked door held the door for me. When you realize that many companies rely on locked doors for security, this starts to become scary.

So how about another story that is much the same, but possibly not as expected. On an engagement in the financial district of New York City a few years ago, I had more hurdles to make my way into the office. The large skyscraper I was in had two elevator banks. Each bank had turnstiles that required employee or visitor card access. Two guards were seated at a security desk that had a clear view of both elevator banks. Once I made it to the elevator, I knew a floor number but did not know what security measures were in place. I stood near a snack shop and watched as most people used the elevator bank for the floors I didn’t need. When I eventually saw someone head to my elevator bank, I casually, but closely, followed. No alarm. Later testing showed me that the alarm would go off if I allowed a comfortable distance between myself and the person I was tailgating but the turnstile would still work as long as I followed someone through. I followed my target onto an elevator and discovered that she was going to the floor I needed. She used her card to allow the elevator to go to that floor and then used her card to get into the office area of the floor. Though the floor was designed to lock visitors in the elevator area where they used a phone to request access, my target held the door open for me. Once I was on the floor, I sat in the break room, walked around work areas and file cabinets, and, fifteen minutes in, eventually had to start acting suspicious before anyone asked me who I was and what I was doing. The safeguards in place made everyone believe that they floor was secure and that everyone there must have been fully vetted.

Staying In

It’s definitely a win to say that we got into our customer’s building. The test, though, is to see how we can exploit that, and, unless we know exactly what we are looking for, that requires staying in the building for an extended period of time without getting caught. Finding our way around takes a while. I’ll take photos of fire exit maps and then run into restroom to have time to look them over and figure where to go next. Most of the time we’re entering buildings blind and figuring out where to go as we go.

Remember that suburban office building I mentioned above? My colleague and I went back at 5pm. We bought coffee at a local spot across the street and stood outside a locked door drinking that local coffee. The first person who walked out the door held it for us. We walked in and walked past rooms labeled with department names. When we found one with no name, we walked in and saw that it housed offices and cubes that appeared to no longer be used. We waited inside an office there for an hour. When we left our hiding space around 6pm, the building was deserted except for the cleaning crew. We ran into the same members of the cleaning crew multiple times, and they never stopped us or reported us. Earlier in the day we had gathered some credentials in a phishing campaign. We were able to use those credentials to login on a customer service representative’s PC and to view customer financial and medical information. We had full access because internal doors were left unlocked after hours and the only employees we met did not report us.

Another time I was in a large hospital. As you’d expect, at a hospital, it wasn’t hard to gain access. There were nurses and doctors all around, though, and the computer access and private documents that were my aim, were all behind nurses stations. Luckily I had guessed this might be the case and had bought a cheap pair of scrubs before starting the job. I wore the scrubs along with a lanyard that had a blank white card on it, and I gained full access. To what?

  • Computers
  • Papers on printers and fax machines
  • Medical files and binders with patient information

I took my time and went from floor to floor. I was not stopped or questioned even one time. In fact, I made a friend in the elevator as I was leaving the building. We chatted about how being a nurse hurts your feet after running around all day. I later found out that the scrubs I was wearing were a color not even used at that hospital.

So timing helps and dressing the part helps. One last story on this topic. Back to that skyscraper in NYC. On one occasion there I was tailgating with the lunch crowd to a different floor using the popular elevator bank. I slid through the turnstile following someone but wasn’t quite fast enough. The alarm went off, and a security guard started walking towards me. Just then an elevator opened, and I walked in with the crowd. On the way up, as the elevator stopped at several floors, a man turned to me and asked why I didn’t use my card to go through the turnstile. I pointed to my big computer bag and said that I didn’t feel like looking through there to find it. He laughed and started talking to his buddies about the fight on television the night before.

So add confidence to that list. It’s shocking what you can get away with when you expect someone to believe you.

Getting What You Came For

In the end, it’s all moot if you don’t demonstrate that a security breach can lead to a compromise. This can be plugging a small device into the network so that you can later gain remote access, it can be photographing private documents found on desks and in file cabinets, and it can even be accessing employee computers that are left unattended. I already mentioned in passing that I have had opportunities to install devices on networks and to access computers on some of the engagements I’ve done, but there’s more!

Hospitals often hire us because they have a lot of private information and critical equipment to protect while also often allowing many people through their doors daily. They walk a fine line of being kind to patients and their families while still protecting patient rights by guarding their security. At one busy hospital, I was set on getting access to the files in the Medical Records room. I tried in a doctor’s coat and in scrubs and didn’t make it past reception. I went back in jeans and told them I was from IT to fix a computer. The receptionist let me in without another word. I opened file cabinets and took photos of the papers inside.

At another hospital, I walked up to a reception desk that blocked my way to a cancer center. I told the receptionist that I was from IT and had to manually install updates using a USB drive because the automatic security updates were failing. Not wanting to miss a security update, she let me into the locked area behind her and told me to take my time. She left me alone to install payloads to open remote sessions on several machines and photograph patient records that were lying on desks.

On one job I had been hired for had an SE engagement and an internal penetration test combined. This is a great idea because it demonstrates how a real attacker might put the pieces together to gain more access. From the penetration test, I already knew of administrative interfaces on the internal network that allowed default credentials. With my SE hat on, I walked into one of the hospital’s specialty buildings. This is where they treated cancer patients and other patients who would be back for multiple visits. There was a very nice room, open to anyone, off the lobby. Computers were provided to allow patients, friends and family to research what they had heard from their doctors. I sat down at one of these computers and proceeded to login to the internal admin websites that were all accessible from those public computers. In this way, I, or an attacker, could access and change administrative controls for the hospitals systems.

Getting Out

When we perform physical SE jobs for our Raxis customers, we discuss carefully with the customer to discover what they want us to test and not to surpass those bounds. The customers provide us with a “get out of jail free” letter that we use if we are caught. The letter is on the company’s letterhead and provides information about who to call to verify the testing in the event that we are challenged by a vigilant employee. With this, we can boldly enter company buildings without fear of arrest. True attackers will likely not be as careful as we are in our testing… their goal is to get in, get what they came for and then to get out without being caught, whether they cause other harm or not.

Once, at a small insurance office, I had gained access to everything that was in scope, but I still had extra time. I had done it all by staying under the radar the first time, so I went back a second time and tried to talk my way into gaining the same access again so that I could see if the people I spoke to would allow me to have access or would stop me. Kudos to them for not believing my story about performing an audit without calling first. Unfortunately, they did not want to be mean to me, so they placed me in a conference room alone for ten minutes while they attempted to reach someone for confirmation. Because I wanted to test them thoroughly, I stayed and eventually handed them my “get out of jail free” letter. If I had wanted to leave, I could have left the building before they checked on me.

Then there was the time that I was in a hospital’s administrative building attempting to gain access to Human Resources. I had already spent time in the hospital itself and read a free hospital newspaper that mentioned three star employees by name and with photos. One was in HR, so I went over to the HR building and told the receptionist that the star employee had told me I could wait in their conference room so I could work until my flight arrived. The receptionist happily took me right over to see this star employee. She looked me in the face and told me that she had never seen me before. Since I had nothing to lose, I told her that we had only met twice and I was sorry that she didn’t remember me. I didn’t offer to leave. I stood next to the receptionist and just stared after that. My target told me that she had never met me but that I could stay in the conference room anyway. I stayed long enough to plug a device into the network and then walked out telling everyone that I got an earlier flight. Sometimes the best way to be able to get out is to act like you are comfortable staying… as if you belong there so fully that you have nothing to hide.

In my SE career, I have only been forced to show my “get out of jail free” letter once (without me forcing the situation into that). This was an example of an employee doing everything right. I had discovered that a high level manager at the small firm we were tasked with assessing, as well as his wife, had public Facebook profiles. I learned all about them, bought a cake that said “Congratulations, Dad!” and walked up to the receptionist saying that I was his daughter in town to surprise him for his anniversary (which happened to be coming up according to Facebook). I knew my mother’s name and my siblings names, and I had a whole story set up. It was enough to get me into his office, but the receptionist called his assistant to escort me, and the assistant didn’t take her eyes off me. When I tried to catch a coy photo of a paper on my target’s desk, she entered the room and told me that she was calling security. After a brief attempt to talk my way out of it, she stood her ground. Upon receiving my letter, she called the people on the letter to verify that the letter was true. While a lot of these stories make this sound easy, this was an example of a situation where a real attacker could have ended up talking to the police. And it shows what diligence from employees can do to protect the company.

What You Can Do

Hopefully this article was a fun read, and hopefully it scared you a little as well. When someone wants something from your company, they can be very convincing, but you don’t have to be an unwitting accomplice. What can you do?

  • Many companies have physical security policies. Ask what yours is. It likely includes several of the following items as well.
  • Don’t allow people to tailgate behind you. If a door is locked or protected in some way, let people unlock the door themselves. If they complain, explain that it’s company policy (if it’s not it should be!) and tell them where they can go to sign in and gain access if they don’t have the key or badge needed at your door.
  • If you see people you don’t recognize in your internal office space, ask who they are. Ask to see a visitor badge if your company provides those. Many visitor badges have blurry photos and small “approved for” dates. Check the badge closely.
  • If you find someone to be suspicious and don’t want to or don’t know how to confront them, call security. That’s what they’re there for. Tell them as much information as you can and keep an eye on the suspicious person until they arrive if possible.
  • Keep private and critical documents in locked drawers. Don’t leave them on desks or in unlocked cabinets. Remove these documents from printers and fax machines as quickly as possible as well.
  • Let your IT department know of any network ports that are not being used. If an attacker plugs a malicious device into a network port that IT has turned off, you’ve thwarted their remote access to your company’s network.

If you enjoyed the video I mentioned at the start of this post, check out this security brief, which goes into some more SE examples from my colleague, Brad Herring: https://blog.raxis.com/2017/08/29/why-social-engineering-is-important-for-your-business/

While this is my last post in this Social Engineering series for now, we’re always happy to discuss what Raxis can do to help you improve your company’s security in this area. You can find more information at https://raxis.com/social-engineering, or drop us a line at https://raxis.com/contact.

I’ve heard a rumor that my colleague, Brian Tant, is working on a related blog post about Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) using cognitive resets, visual cues, and body language. Keep an eye out at the Raxis blog for that coming up soon!

Voice Phishing – Social Engineering
[Part 2]

Voice Phishing - Social Engineering Part 2

We’ve all heard of phone scams such as Rachel at card services offering to help us out of a jam we didn’t even know we had. Scams such as this have become common in the workplace as well. These scams, called vishing or phone phishing, are a type of test we often perform for Raxis’ customers.

You may be surprised to hear that often we achieve a high success rate with these phone phishing assessments. During one particular assessment, we called a large number of people throughout a company and told them we were contractors performing the annual credential check and asked the employees to please provide their email username and password. Often those credentials are used to login to their computers as well. Providing this information yielded more access than the targeted user was aware of. During this assessment, approximately one fourth of the people we called provided their credentials.


This type of phishing is different from the email phishing attacks that most people are familiar with. First, a telephony-based phishing campaign requires additional preparation to sound convincing. We rehearse what we plan to say as well as how we will respond to questions, suspicion, and anger. We invent a story and background as part of a convincing pretext. It is said that the devil is in the details. A sense of legitimacy can be borrowed by peppering the conversations with specific information. Are we saying we work for the same company as the target? Then we’d better be able to say what office we work in. We’re calling from IT? Who’s our manager?

Unlike email phishing campaigns, it is imperative to hook the target as soon as the call starts. Once the target hangs up, it’s unlikely they will call back or take another call from our number unless they trusted us (though I once had a person call me back to check who answered the phone). For this we prepare a persona.

We need a name, possibly an accent, a department, a purpose for calling, and just enough back story that we never say “umm”.

When we call our target, we’re unlikely to provide most of these details, but we need to be in character. Our target is likely to start off suspicious and will only get more suspicious if we say we work at the IT Help Desk and then act like we’re a high level manager telling them what to do. I’ve also had targets question me on what building I work in as well as my manager’s name. If I have a number of people to call, I often make small talk to gather more information to use in my next calls. Every bit helps in establishing rapport and building trust.

Another part of preparation is technical. While it’s illegal to spoof (imitate) a phone number maliciously, in phishing campaigns it’s all part of the test. We use services like SpoofCard to display the phone number of the company that we claim to be calling from to make the call seem even more real.


Many companies hire us to call a large number of people in various departments to see if they reveal private information. The goal is to get something simple like their username and password for the email system or the direct phone number for an employee who doesn’t have that listed publically. We often seek to check the effectiveness of their security awareness training by evaluating employees’ responses to the attack. As an employee, knowing that a company tests employees in this way can be a great incentive to exercise vigilance when handling unknown calls.

In campaigns like this, I like to make myself a low level contractor. This job is so lowly that they don’t even make the lowest level employees do it! My goal is to establish rapport and then elicit a sense of empathy. Maybe you feel sorry for me. Maybe you realize that I get paid by results, so I will keep calling until you give me what I ask for. Most importantly, I have an excuse for not knowing answers to all your questions or not having a phone number that looks familiar.

So back to my sad, lowly contractor. I make the call. I’m friendly. If they don’t believe me, I sound like I am used to hearing this and hate my job. I don’t tell them I’m a contractor; my goal is to get their credentials, but if they push back or ask me questions like “what building do you work in?, I “admit” that I’m just a contractor. I look for any opportunity to ask the best way to get a job there. I ask if my target likes working there. Are the managers nice?

This allows me to keep the target engaged without knowing all the answers and makes people feel important because they possess information that the caller doesn’t have. If they refuse to answer, I’m polite and tell them that is no problem at all… but someone will have to come to their office in person, and it will take longer. Sometimes that threat of someone physically coming to see them is enough to change their mind.

These types of campaigns can be conducted under a myriad of personas. Some people mumble a lot so that it’s easier to act like you know answers you may not know. Think of calls you’ve received from spammers that you believe are legitimate at first. Sometimes it’s hard to say no.


Spear phishing campaigns, whether using email, phone, or a combination, are much more complex to set up but can be well worth the effort when all the pieces fall into place. In these campaigns, we focus on a small number of specific targets and spend a great deal of time researching them to tailor the campaign specifically for these individuals.

We start with research, and it may surprise you what we can find from the comfort of our own home using the Internet. I’m not discussing the dark web here; I’m talking about search engines like Google and Bing, social media, such as LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter, and even the websites of your own company and your customer companies.

A few years ago I was hired by a small firm of about fifteen people who each worked with two or three customer companies. I won’t reveal the specific industry, but they worked mostly with financial information. I was tasked with using only phone calls and calling as few or many people as I wished as long as I extracted any type of critical, private information.

My first step was to look at the company’s website where I found a list of key employees along with a small write-up about them. Many companies do this… it’s a great way to show prospective customers that your team has experience and would serve them well. Even Raxis has a page like this:

Webpage Showing Entire Raxis Leadership Team
Webpage Showing Entire Raxis Leadership Team


Using Raxis as an example to illustrate the value of seemingly extraneous information, from this web page I gathered names, and I made short bullet lists of personal and professional information that might be useful in my calls.

I also looked around the webpages and got an idea of the company itself. Sometimes information is revealed about products or companies that work closely with our target company. The Raxis webpage lists our partners, Rapid7 and GE Digital Cyber Security, giving an attacker an idea of who might be calling us, as well as lending a sense of importance to the calls that are believed to originate from them.


Company Website Reveals Partners
Company Website Reveals Partners


Next I looked at LinkedIn and found many of the same people. LinkedIn is used by most people when they are looking for a job, and, because of this, many LinkedIn profiles have a great deal of information about people and what they do at work. School and work history give an idea of the target’s age as well as their interests. We look for any connection that we could exploit to build a bond.

You went to Carolina? I can’t believe it. I did too! What year did you graduate? Go Heels!

LinkedIn also can provide detailed information about our target’s job. Part of my LinkedIn job history is shown below. You’ll see that I once worked at a PBS station and a university. All of this type of information can be helpful as we enhance the target’s attack profile and determine under what pretext the attack will take place.

LinkedIn Page Showing Past Work Experience
LinkedIn Page Showing Past Work Experience


In the case of the company I was researching, two people stood out. Each of them posted names of their customers on either the company website or LinkedIn. Next, I researched these customers. Immediately one customer stood out. Their website showed an org chart showing the structure of all of the top management.

Since I’m female, I picked a woman on the list and decided to call my target using her name. I also found two other names that were higher in the org chart. With this information, I made my call.

Hi, this is Stephanie Smith. I hate calling you at the last minute like this. My phone died, and I’m running around trying to get all the financial statements together for our annual planning meeting. Rich and Jim decided at the last minute that they need statements for the full fiscal year, and I can’t find them anywhere. The meeting starts in thirty minutes. Is there any way you can fax them to me ASAP? You can? Great! Our fax machine is actually broken too. Would you use this number instead?

When you have time to sit and read this, it sounds ridiculous. There are red flags throughout. I never even said my company name, but I had enough information that I hooked my target into believing that I was trustworthy because she believed me when I gave my name, which happened to be a name that the target had been conditioned to view as a very important client that she wanted to please. She did not expect the call and made a split second decision to comply, rather than risk alienating a customer.

She sent over 50 pages of financial statements to my fax machine.

Of course, this was a security test. I deleted all of the data and provided my customer with a customized report that they used to train their staff. If I had been a malicious attacker, that one call could have broken the trust that company had with all of their clients.



In Part One I talked about email phishing. Why limit ourselves to emails or calls when attackers will use any means they have at hand?

When customers allow us to combine emails and calls, one method that we’ve found value in is asking targets to call us. It may sounds silly, but think about it. Something you use daily on your computer to get your job done stops working. You call the help desk, but they are already swamped. You’re waiting unproductively and your work is piling up. We’ve all been there, and we all hate it.

So along comes an email with a link in it. The wording in the email gives you a special number to call. This webpage is so important that there is a priority number for it.

Phishing Email With My Phone Number
Phishing Email With My Phone Number


This type of hybrid vishing campaign makes it easy to target a large group of people. Once someone calls back, we know they, at least partially, buy our story, and we can hook them in even further. When people call us they are more likely to trust us. They have no proof of who we are, but most people feel more comfortable with the person on the other end of the line when that person is answering them on their own terms at their own time.



When someone calls us, it often takes us off guard, and we are deciding if we should trust them at the same time that they are talking and encouraging us to get this over with by giving them what they want. We are conditioned to comply, especially in the work environment. But it’s important to maintain a sense of vigilance when dealing with any electronic communication including phone calls.

  • Remember that you can hang up on people. Tell them no or just hang up the phone. If you don’t trust them, just hang up.
  • If you don’t want to be rude or worry that they may really be who they say they are, put them on hold. Think about what they’ve said. Ask a manager or call the IT help desk and ask. IT often can help you decide if a call is legitimate.
  • Calling from a different number? Even if the calling number looks right, an attacker may be spoofing it. Before giving any private information, tell them you’ll need to call them back at the number you already have on record.
  • After hanging up, call the number you already have and verify that they just called. If the call was false, they’ll appreciate you checking. Call the department they say they’re from and ask. It’s obvious you have their security in mind. Most people appreciate that.
  • Are they asking you to send to a different fax or email? Tell them you can send to known ones you already have.
  • Most importantly, report it. Make note of the number and any details they provide. They may call other people, so the sooner you alert your company the better. If your company does not provide a way to report possible phishing and vishing attacks, report them to your IT department.

Raxis provides social engineering tests, including phishing and vishing tests, that are tailored to your company. See our Social Engineering site at https://raxis.com/social-engineering for more information.

Social engineering testing such as this is a critical part of compliance testing for companies in the financial sector. Learn more here https://raxis.com/industry/financial.

If you have questions or ideas for further blog posts, contact us at https://raxis.com/contact.

City of Atlanta 2018 Ransomware Hack: What We Know and What You Can Learn From It

Atlanta City Hack Update

What do we know?

While events are still unfolding, we’re piecing together facts pertaining to the March 22nd ransomware attack on the City of Atlanta. As an Atlanta-based company, my colleagues at Raxis and I have been keeping a close eye on the happenings since the attack. The City of Atlanta has so far successfully kept people informed without revealing information that may be critical in responding to the attack.

It appears that the epicenter of the attack was Atlanta’s municipal court (including tickets, citations, and other information) and bill-payment systems. I examined the Municipal Court of Atlanta website as I researched this post late Monday and found that the site displayed an error message explaining that payments could temporarily be made at a different site. When I clicked through to that site, I was given two options: a link back to the original site where I had started and a link to an error message, both seen here. Whether these sites were directly affected by the attack or are disrupted as part of the aftermath, people using these sites are affected just the same.

Municipal Court of Atlanta Site Unable to Take Payments
Municipal Court of Atlanta Site Unable to Take Payments


Error on Alternative Citation Payment Webpage
Error on Alternative Citation Payment Webpage


The ‘Online lookup tool’ on the same page leads to a webpage that times out. It is possible that this service was not affected by the ransomware attack directly, but access to this page may have been removed as a precautionary measure to prevent further attacks.

Citation & Case Number Lookup Tool
Citation & Case Number Lookup Tool


Based on these observations, we can infer that the attack has effectively diverted Atlanta’s resources to understanding, containing, and recovering from the attack. A trusted source tells Raxis that Atlanta is still working to fully confirm that critical infrastructure systems, such as fire, water and the airport, have not been impacted. All systems that may have been impacted have been taken offline until their state of compromise can be determined.

Employees have been directed not to turn on or login to their workstations, which is another proactive security measure implemented in immediate response to the attack. A source has informed Raxis directly that vendors have physically been locked out of city buildings since the attack took place. A direct source has also confirmed to Raxis that construction companies have been unable to obtain permits that had already been submitted for approval due to the attack.

Raxis also noted Atlanta’s Outlook Web App (OWA) and GIS server were displaying application errors after the attack. The City of Atlanta appears to be working around the clock to fix these services, nonetheless, these issues speak to the severity of the attack and the breadth of Atlanta’s response to an active threat.


What can we speculate about the attack itself?

The city has not released details about the attack yet, but we can speculate. A Raxis source stated that the attackers were demanding three bitcoin per decrypt key. Internet sources shows that the attackers are asking $6,800 per system or $51,000 to unlock the entire Atlanta system. While the math does not quite add up (currently Bitcoin rates are $8,056.44), we can see that the costs are high but also possible for Atlanta to pay.

Raxis has spoken to a trusted source who confirmed that it is believed that the attackers gained access to Atlanta systems using MS-RDP (Microsoft Remote Desktop Protocol) and then installed SamSam ransomware which made the ransom demand. Our source stated that, as of close of business on Monday March 26th, Atlanta had not made a determination of whether to pay the ransom or to pursue other methods to recover business continuity.

RDP (Remote Desktop Protocol)

As noted above, a trusted Raxis source has informed us that the current belief is that attackers used MS-RDP as the entry point to Atlanta’s network. Raxis’ source, while not privy to the passwords that were harvested in the attack, believes that passwords likely were weak, which may have contributed to the success of the attack.

While the focus currently is on the ransom demands, the full access that the attackers may have achieved in this type of attack likely may have allowed them to create back doors to Atlanta systems that they accessed, which would allow them to maintain a persistent presence for use in future attacks. Atlanta now finds itself in a position where it does not know whether a persistent threat is present on the internal network. It will need to maintain ongoing vigilance to determine the effectiveness of its response.

Both the externally accessible MS-RDP service and the possible use of weak passwords are security issues that many companies deal with. This attack makes clear the importance of basic security housekeeping in protecting any network.

Patching & EternalBlue Rumors

While our sources do not point to patching issues such as EternalBlue being involved in this attack, there are multiple rumors circulating on the internet stating that EternalBlue was the entry point the attackers used. Even if EternalBlue was not a part of this attack, it has been used in other recent attacks, such as the RedisWannaMine cryptominer attacks.

EternalBlue was one of several exploits released by ShadowBrokers in April 2017. Microsoft released a patch (MS17-010) the previous month on March 14th. EternalBlue was also used in the WannaCry and Petya/NonPetya attacks that made headlines in 2017. It exploits SMB 1.0 and affects several versions of Windows and Windows Server, including newer versions such as Windows 10 and Windows Server 2016. Using Shodan, a search engine that focuses on the configuration aspects of publicly exposed systems, Raxis confirmed that a system reported to be a part of Atlanta’s infrastructure still allowed SMB 1.0 as of Monday afternoon.

Shodan Results Showing SMB Version 1.0 Enabled
Shodan Results Showing SMB Version 1.0 Enabled


As a career penetration tester, I know how easy this attack is to perform. In many cases, a successful exploit of EternalBlue leads to administrative rights on the system itself. An experienced hacker can often use other vulnerabilities, such as weak passwords and inappropriate delegation of administrative privileges, to gain further access on the network.

SamSam Ransomware

A trusted Raxis source has confirmed that SamSam (also known as Samas or SamsamCrypt) ransomware, first seen in late 2015, was used in the attack. Once the attackers infiltrated Atlanta’s systems using RDP, they appear to have deployed the SamSam ransomware that alerted Atlanta. Attacks of this type have been widespread, victimizing governments, the healthcare industry, and educational institutions, as well as businesses of all sizes. The attacks have been profitable because the ransoms have often been affordable, often making it more appealing to pay to decrypt the affected files, rather than take on the expense and administrative burden of adjusting operations to compensate for lost data. Even with backups in place, it can take days or even weeks to restore systems fully. It seems best not to pay an attacker who is holding your information at ransom, but, in many cases, restoring business operations in a timely manner takes precedence.

What now?

While our source tells us that the initial internal response efforts were disorganized, Atlanta now appears to be engaged with the Microsoft and Cisco experts that they’ve brought in. The current lack of details is a positive; like any active investigation, managing communications is paramount until as many facts as possible have been discovered.

A trusted source tells Raxis that Atlanta has made it clear that brand management is a priority as its bid to become the second Amazon headquarters and the 2019 Super Bowl loom large.

That said, Atlanta has demonstrated effective triage measures in response to the attack. As mentioned above, employees were told not to login to their workstations, decreasing the surface area for the attack. An airport spokesman told the Associated Press that the airport Wi-Fi network (as well as part of the webpage) had been taken down as a precaution.

Atlanta has also been updating the public actively with news that is considered appropriate to release. Atlanta has leveraged their Twitter account, @cityofatlanta, to great effect, using it to post videos of press conferences with Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms as well as alerting constituents as city information services are restored to service.

Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms at a March 26th Press Conference
Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms at a March 26th Press Conference


Finally, what can your company do to not end up in this position?

Test, test, test. Working at Raxis I’ve seen penetration tests open customer’s eyes to issues they may not have known about or did not understand. While a penetration test may feel scary (you’re asking a hacker to enter your systems; the fear is understandable!), if you choose a good company, you should find that a penetration test is an indispensable tool to discover and prioritize your security tasks. The report you receive at the end of each test should do just that. To learn more about Raxis’ penetration testing services or just to find out more about the types of tests we recommend, see our site at https://raxis.com/penetration-testing.

At Raxis, we’ve also worked with smaller companies that don’t need or can’t afford a full penetration test. We’ve recently launched a new service, the Baseline Security Assessment, that is meant to provide the benefit of security awareness for these companies that may not require the full depth of engagement that comes with our penetration testing services. For pricing and other information about this easy-to-use service, see https://raxis.com/baseline-security.

Mature organizations that have mastered the art of managing a strategic security program that includes regular testing, vulnerability and patch management, as well as identity and access control, will benefit from the next step in security readiness. Investing in our Rapid Response Incident Response retainer is a strong measure of preparedness for when a security incident does occur. See https://raxis.com/incident-response to learn more about how Raxis can help you with this as well.

If you have questions about where to start and what services could be right for you, fill out the contact form at https://raxis.com/contact, and we’ll be happy to discuss how we can help fortify your defenses to keep you open for business and out of the headlines.

Phishing Emails – Social Engineering
[Part 1]

Email Phishing - Social Engineering Part 1

Gone are the days of Nigerian princes who left you their fortune. Today it’s much more difficult to separate the genuine emails from the malicious ones that are out to steal your information and your money. While many of us deal with the spam that ends up in our personal email inboxes, Raxis helps many companies avoid corporate and customer information leakage from phishing emails targeted at unsuspecting employees.


Knowing how to identify suspicious emails is the first step in protecting your information as well as that of your employer and customers. I’ve performed many phishing campaigns for our customers, and I’ve heard multiple stories of smart, conscientious employees falling for clever phishing campaigns. The fallout, including public relations pitfalls, can be large enough that IT budgets get redirected to secure the environment and regain customer trust.

I always tell our customers that it doesn’t hurt anyone to take a little extra time to react to an email. When I run phishing campaigns for our customers, I like to send the email out at the start of the day or at the end of the lunch hour. At these times most of us don’t want to be bothered by a new email request. We have work to do, and we’re focusing on getting to it and accomplishing our goals for the day.

I make sure the tasks in the phishing emails are quick, simple, and easy to finish:

“Just in time for the holidays, we’ve implemented web mail so that you can be home with your family and still answer emails! Your account will only activate if you log in at the following URL by the end of the day!”

Well, maybe your IT department wouldn’t be quite so excited, but you get the idea.

Phishers know common systems that most businesses use, and it’s often easy to find sample login pages online. Several free and paid tools exist that help companies perform phishing tests… and that help phishers steal your data as well. For this article, I spent about ten minutes finding email addresses and creating an email and website to steal credentials from my fellow Raxis employees. Just ten minutes, then I sit back and see if anyone responds.

Step one was to find email addresses. Sound difficult? You’d be surprised. Search engines such as Google or Bing are a huge help, and social media sites, such as LinkedIn, provide employee names even when they’re not your connections.

List of Raxis Employees on LinkedIn
List of Raxis Employees on LinkedIn

Manually searching for email addresses was taking too long, so I logged into my Kali Linux box and fired up theHarvester. In less than a minute, I had the full list of Raxis email addresses pulled from various search engines. There are also free tools that allow attackers to discover the format of a company’s emails, such as “firstname.lastname@company.com,” so that I can create my own mailing list if I know some employee names.

Raxis Email Addresses from theHarvester
Raxis Email Addresses from theHarvester

Now that I have a list of email addresses, I need those folks to give me their login information. There are tons of great tools that make it easy for users to set up a phishing campaign in minutes, such as the open source Social-Engineer Toolkit. This time I use Rapid7’s Metasploit Pro phishing tool.

I start with a simple email. In some cases, I research the company’s culture and target a campaign at specific employees, but most of the time I can good results by setting up a generic campaign that does not require me to know a lot about the company. In this case, I pick an Outlook Web App (OWA) site and hope that employees find it familiar enough to fall for my story without looking too closely. Using the phishing tool, I add a number of features that make the email look legitimate, such as using a fake raxis.com email address and including the recipient’s name. Think about it: if I found your email address, I likely know your name, but it still looks official to add it to the email.

Phishing Email
Phishing Email

If the recipient clicks the link in the email, they are taken to a page that appears to be a legitimate OWA webpage. If they enter their login information and click submit, they move onto an error page that I built. It tells the recipient that there was an error, and all they need to do to resolve it is click on a handy link that can do the fix for them while they continue with their work. Unfortunately for anyone who clicks on the link, a malicious file meant to open a remote session to the user’s computer will be downloaded, effectively giving me background access to that machine and potentially the network where it is located.

Error Webpage With a Malicious Link
Error Webpage With a Malicious Link



This is scary stuff, but the real question is: “What can I do about it?”

First, there are some clues in the email itself. When I hover over the link, I see that the URL starts with “http://” instead of “https://.” A real OWA webpage would almost certainly use an encrypted “https” connection. The site also doesn’t have the company name in the domain: it’s just an IP address. That’s a big red flag as well. However, many phishers know that vigilant employees will look for these issues, and configure the malicious website to use an encrypted connection, and register a domain name that might trick employees if they don’t look closely, such as “https://rax1s.com” or “https://raxls.com.” Make sure you look closely at the link!

Phishing Email... Something Is Wrong Here
Phishing Email… Something Is Wrong Here

If you find an email strange or unexpected in any way, ask about it. Most companies are concerned with phishing and would much prefer that you ask IT if an email is real rather than clicking on the link. Some companies have phone numbers, email addresses or websites that allow you to report a suspicious email. If not, give your IT helpdesk a call or forward the email to them asking them to check. Have you ever received an email from IT notifying you that you may have received a phishing email and asking you to delete it? Someone likely reported it in time for IT to nip it in the bud, thwarting the attacker.

What if you clicked on the link in the email and then became suspicious of the website? This is dangerous, as webpages are far more likely than emails to host malicious files that may not be caught by company controls. Immediately report the email and the fact that you clicked on the link to your IT department. They will likely be grateful that you told them quickly so that they can check for and mitigate any threat. Never enter credentials or other private information on a suspicious website until you get the official go ahead. In past customer phishing campaigns, I have listed my phone number on the website saying that they can call to confirm that the site is legitimate. Never trust the email or the webpage! Contact your IT department in ways that you know internally before trusting the site. If you call the phisher during a phishing campaign, they will definitely confirm that you should enter your credentials on the site!

Login Webpage
Login Webpage


Next Steps If You Fall for the PHISH

So what happens next if you entered your credentials, or even clicked on the malicious link on the error page?

Step 1: Report the Phish and Your Actions

First of all, I’ll repeat it again, contact your IT department. They may have a process, and they need to get started as soon as possible. The sooner you tell them, they more able they will be to contain the threat.

Step 2: Change Your Password

Next change your password. Change your password on every system, company or personal, that uses that password. Attackers love to try credentials in any place that they have access. They might login to your email account and delete the email that IT sends telling you what to do next, or they might email a customer to scam them from your account. Changing your password as quickly as possible helps contain the threat. Here’s another handy post written by one of my colleagues with tips about creating a strong password: https://blog.raxis.com/2016/10/16/the-weakest-link-in-the-password-hash/.

Now the Phisher Has My Credentials
Now the Phisher Has My Credentials

Step 3: Reboot Your Computer

Finally, reboot your computer. If you clicked on the malicious link in the error page that I created, a reboot would break my remote session to your computer. This doesn’t always work, but it also doesn’t hurt. Let your IT department know exactly what saw and what you did. In a case like this, they will want to look at your computer and make sure they remove any threat. That may seem like a lot of work, but it also sounds a lot better than someone watching you through your computer’s webcam or using your computer to attack other machines on the network. Once they have access, the attacker likely no longer needs your password even for extended access. It’s always best to report the issue to be sure.

More to Come

Be on the lookout for more Raxis blog articles about phishing and social engineering campaigns. If you have ideas for further blog posts on these topics, contact us using the contact form on our website at https://raxis.com. To learn more about Raxis’ social engineering services visit https://raxis.com/social-engineering.

Hopefully You’re Not Next

Recently in the news, our national security director explained that we’re under constant attack from foreign adversaries. These attacks are at the nation-state level and they are attacking “virtually everything”. This isn’t limited to the super critical power generation companies and government institutions- they mean everything, including your website, email, and personal workstation. To make matters worse, there are still many of attacks originating from other bad actors, such as credit card and personal information thieves.

Many people think they are not targets because they have nothing of value. However, the contrary is true.  At a minimum, your computer and internet connection can be leveraged to attack other systems to cause an outage or hide the tracks of a real attacker.  Unfortunately, the worse case scenario might involve an installed key logger to capture credentials for your banking and retirement accounts.

We’ve seen this first hand.  Raxis performs hundreds of penetration tests and breach responses a year, and 2017 proved to be no exception.  There have been many occasions where we would breach a customer network only to find the door was left open and clear evidence that someone had already been there.  After a system has been breached, there are only two viable options: to restore from a known good backup, or a complete reinstall of any software.  Recovering from a breach is very difficult as in many cases the attacker will control many or all of the systems within an organization, resulting in a massive undertaking to rebuild.

Do something to make sure you’re not next.  Reach out to us, we’ll help you understand how a penetration test can shed some light on where the risks really are.

Penetration Testing is a Critical Tool For Your Business

Penetration Testing - Why You Should Embrace It

Penetration testing is so important for businesses today. Almost every day we see companies in the news after the result of a big hack. The aftermath is ugly – lawsuits, loss of trust, downtime and, in many cases, the hacked entity finds itself out of business.

In a recent interview with an IT management firm, I was told that many of their customers (mostly SMB) didn’t want a penetration test because they knew they would fail. I see this same reaction in larger companies as well.

This fear of failure is the wrong way to look at penetration testing. At Raxis, we say it all the time, “You can’t fix what you don’t know is broken.” Penetration testing should not be looked at as something that points out your failure; rather it should be embraced as something that helps you get better.

Vulnerabilities are common

We see many of the same vulnerabilities across the nation. Many of them are simple to remediate. Most of them have escaped the attention of the IT team for any number of reasons, but most of all because the IT team is simply busy. Most teams are over worked and under staffed. The workload is high. As a security professional you have to get it right 100% of the time – however, the hacker only has to get it right once.

The fear of failing is misplaced. Almost every penetration test will show vulnerabilities or, at the very least, likely attack vectors that could be exploited given more time. Finding vulnerabilities should not be seen as a failure but rather as a responsible approach to better security.

Penetration testing should be about partnership

A penetration test is a valuable tool to help a security team more efficiently locate vulnerabilities, and, if you’ve partnered with a good company, it will offer remediation recommendations helping you efficiently fix the vulnerabilities.

A good penetration testing company offers insight and help, not a judgment.

I like to call our penetration tests an assessment. That’s truly a better word. We don’t test our customers as much as we partner with them. Raxis is the watchful eye that helps your company stay out of the news. We help you safeguard your data, and we help you maintain trust with your customers.

Penetration testing should be a holistic approach

When a hacker looks at your company, they are taking a holistic approach, and they are going to go for the easiest method with the least amount of risk that they can find. Common attack vectors include:

  • Social Engineering
  • WiFi Systems
  • Internal and External Networks
  • Mobile Applications
  • Web Applications
  • API’s

Each of these areas allows escalation to others. While often viewed as independent systems, the reality is that a weakness in one often leads to a breach in another.

Security is hard. This is why it’s so important to partner with a reputable penetration testing company that you can trust. I urge you to not look at penetration testing as the enemy but rather the relief you and your team so desperately need.

Learn more about how our penetration tests work.

Your Security Gear Is Not Enough

Perhaps I am a little biased considering what we do at Raxis, but I am convinced that it isn’t a good idea to bet the farm on the latest security gear to defend your organization.  In 2017 alone, we’ve all seen many major hacks, including substantial releases from Shadow Brokers and WikiLeaks.  There’s a lot already lost, such as voter registration data and consumer credit information.

security hardware in data center
Security hardware and software is not a silver bullet.

Don’t get me wrong, I think the latest fancy security solution can help.  However, our team at Raxis is seeing many attacks that are not being stopped by current gear.  For example, we’ve breached applications through manually fuzzing API calls using a method that most hardware can’t protect against.  The latest web application firewall might be able to stop these attacks, but most organizations don’t configure it appropriately to do so.  In some cases, it’s a logic error that we’re able to exploit to gain information from the backend systems without making any illegal calls.  And even worse, we’ve seen, time and time again, where security operations centers send an email out with no further action taken.

Our experience also has shown that nearly every organization has a far weaker security posture internally.  Once the perimeter is breached, from using a stolen password to gaining shell access through a web service call, pivoting to other machines is often quite trivial.  None of this is hard to exploit, but fortunately none of it is hard to fix.  The problem is not the difficulty of the fix, it is knowing what needs to be fixed.  In almost every case, the hacks we find are very simple to execute, and our customer had no idea they existed.

The fix for these hacks usually is not spending $100K on a new fancy next generation firewall with all of the bells and whistles.  It’s a simple code change or a system that was missed in patch management.  Perhaps this is too good to be true; but, keep in mind that hackers go after the path of least resistance.  It is far easier to breach your competitor with the Windows 2003 server install than to spend significant time researching how to get past your reasonably secure system.

So keep buying your security gear.  Combine it with a penetration test on every single piece of code that runs in production, and we’ll help you find the vulnerabilities you missed.


Fangs, coffins, crucifixes… and pointe shoes!

Raxis is a proud sponsor of the Georgia Metropolitan Dance Theater.  Don’t miss their performance of Dracula at The Earl Smith Strand Theater!  Raxis is proud to have an ad on the back cover of the Dracula program and we hope to see you there.

GMDT's Dracula
Raxis is a proud sponsor of Dracula and the Georgia Metropolitan Dance Theater.


Fangs, coffins, crucifixes… and pointe shoes? Ga Metro Dance Theatre boldly presents Dracula, the Halloween ballet with a bite! Let us transport you to the land of Transylvania where dance and myth mix together in this legendary tale of Count Dracula and his three brides, the misfortunes of Jonathan Harker and fiancé Mina Murray, and the ultimate struggle between good and evil. Vampires, gypsies, castles, masquerades, superstition, and eternal love collide in this chilling new ballet based on the classic novel by Brahm Stoker, set to the hauntingly beautiful score of Philip Feeney. Dracula premieres at the Earl Smith Strand Theatre on October, Friday the 13th! Grab your seats and hold tight for three haunting performances October 13th-15th at the Earl Smith Strand Theatre on the Marietta Square.

Tickets on sale September 13, 2017

Friday, October 13, 2017 @ 7:30pm (Join us for a post show meet and greet with some of the cast members in the Lumière Lounge at the Strand… come enjoy a handcrafted cocktail with Dracula, if you dare!)
Saturday, October 14, 2017 @7:30pm
Sunday, October 15, 2017 @ 3:00pm (Kids 18 and under – come dressed in your Halloween costume and get ready to strut your stuff across the stage in a Halloween costume contest for a chance to win a picture with Dracula and his brides after the show!)

Performances at The Earl Smith Strand Theatre on the Marietta Square, 117 North Park Square, Marietta, GA 30060.

InfoSec Shorts With Brad – Why Social Engineering is Important for Your Business

In this episode of “InfoSec Shorts with Brad” we’re diving into social engineering. Hands down one of the largest vulnerabilities your business faces comes from employees. Often well-meaning people, trying to be helpful or simply lacking the understanding of security procedures, are often manipulated and exploited by hackers every day.

We commonly test company employees through various methods and find a 90% success rate in obtaining sensitive information as a result. This information is typically then used to further exploit the company and obtain control over the network, websites, and critical information.

At Raxis, we like to say, “You can’t fix what you don’t know is broken”. That’s why it’s so important to continually assess your people. With each assessment, you’ll learn more about where your people are and how to better train them in your continual effort to improve in warding off social engineering attacks.

Learn more about social engineering.