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Leesburg, Va. – August 5, 2019 – CofenseTM, the global leader in intelligent phishing defense solutions, today published a database of over 200 million compromised accounts being targeted by a large sextortion scam to ensure potential victims and their employers can address the threat of sextortion and prevent lost wages and productivity. Cofense Labs, the newly formalized research and development arm of Cofense, discovered a “for rent” botnet in June 2019 used primarily to send sextortion emails. The research team is monitoring the botnet’s activity on a daily basis to observe changes in the malware it is spreading as well as tracking new email addresses being targeted for sextortion phishing emails.

Sextortion is an email-based scam that relies on emotion-driven motivators such as fear and urgency to extort a ransom payment in return for the scammer’s commitment not to leak sensitive information. The method has become an increasingly pervasive threat, with Cofense Labs analysing over 7 million email addresses impacted by sextortion in the first half of 2019 alone. Cofense also assessed that more than $1.5M in payments were made to bitcoin wallets associated with sextortion campaigns this year. Poor password hygiene, including infrequent changes and reuse across multiple sites, add further credibility to sextortion threats being made.

“This botnet is not infecting computers to acquire new data sets – it is a true “spray and pray” attack reusing credentials culled from past data breaches to fuel legitimacy and panic through sextortion scams,” said Aaron Higbee, Cofense Co-Founder and CTO. “If your email address is found in a target list used by the botnet, it’s highly likely you will receive a sextortion email – if you haven’t already. We felt it was critical to get this information out. We hope that victims receiving a sextortion email will find our resource center so they can avoid the anxiety and stress of trying to figure out whether to pay a bitcoin ransom.”

Data breaches continue to headline the news, and as a result, massive sets of email addresses and passwords are making their way to the criminal corners of the internet. Cofense Labs’ research indicates that the hackers behind this sextortion campaign are recycling old email addresses and passwords – dating back at least 10 years – for new monetization purposes.

“Cofense Labs advises that owners of emails included in the database should change any passwords for accounts associated with that address. And most importantly, if a sextortion email is received, we do not recommend responding to the email or paying the ransom,” added Higbee. “The release of this sextortion database is just one example of the pioneering work Cofense Labs is conducting. Our team is committed to expanding visibility into the evolving phishing threat landscape and sharing tools, techniques, and insight with the security community.”

There are several actions consumers and organizations can take to prevent sextortion and deal with the threat, including: employing a password manager to keep passwords strong and unique; enabling two-factor authentication whenever this is an option for online accounts; and covering all computer cameras. To view the full database provided by Cofense Labs, as well as a guide for employers and employees, click here.

The mission of Cofense Labs is to provide leading edge, innovative research and subject matter expertise to address real-world cyber security challenges. The research and development team’s insights aim to provide actionable intelligence to assist with proactive defense. Where appropriate, Cofense Labs will make the output of its research freely available to encourage and enable collaborative defense. Projects will be made available at cofenselabs.com.

About Cofense

CofenseTM, formerly PhishMe®, is the leading provider of intelligent phishing defense solutions world-wide. Cofense delivers a collaborative approach to cybersecurity by enabling organization-wide engagement to active email threats. Our collective defense suite combines timely attack intelligence sourced from employees with best-in-class incident response technologies to stop attacks faster and stay ahead of breaches. Cofense customers include Global 1000 organizations in defense, energy, financial services, healthcare and manufacturing sectors that understand how changing user behavior will improve security, aid incident response and reduce the risk of compromise.

Media Contact

press@cofense.com