Attackers piggyback Pokémon Go's popularity to circumvent users’ at-work caution

Users may be more careful with their passwords and online activities at work, but it's all for nought once they get home

The recent discovery of a rogue version of the cultural-phenomenon Pokémon Go application highlights the risks when users blur the lines between work and personal devices – despite recent research that suggests Australians are actively dialing back their risky behaviour when at work.

Security research firm Proofpoint reported a malware-laden clone of the popular game – which has become a cultural touchpoint that has users scrambling around cities to 'collect' animated characters projected using augmented-reality technology – had been found in the wild, replicating a pattern that has been common in the past with other popular games like Flappy Bird.

Vendors have recently launched a flurry of warnings about Pokémon Go, with Symantec offering advice around avoidance of Pokémon Go-related scams and Bitdefender noting recent research that found nearly 20 percent of global security threats are distributed through fake apps that install malware or highly aggressive adware.

Potential exposure to this malware could create a business risk if those device are then connected to work networks – even though recent survey data suggests that employees are recognising the need to be protective of their work computers, resources and passwords. The ANZ Cyber-Savviness Report 2016, which drew on 1035 online users in Australia and New Zealand, found that around 16 percent of employees use the same password for all or most of their accounts when using work devices, compared with some 27 percent who do so on home devices.

Users were creating less-complex passwords at home than at work, with 35 percent saying they made passwords using their favourite word, name, or personal detail while at home; by contrast, just 18 percent did the same at work. This sort of behaviour recently led to the hacking of multiple social-media accounts owned by Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards, and others.

The growing use of alternative attack vectors to drive security breaches was also reflected in the survey, with 10 percent saying they would accept incoming requests on social media at work while 24 percent said they would do so at home.

CISOs are increasingly being pushed to promote staff education around social-media threats as employees are increasingly being exploited by online cybercriminals to circumvent conventional security protections, providing attackers with an easy way into the organisation and facilitating crimes such as increasingly profitable business email scams.

“Weak cybersecurity behaviours on personal devices can lead to ease of identity theft, ransomware attacks, phishing, and more,” ESET senior research fellow Nick FitzGerald said in a statement. “Seemingly small things, like your passwords, could be the gateway hackers and e-criminals are looking for.” What began as careless behaviour by employees can easily become a major security violation, particularly since unscrupulous hackers are readily sharing email and other credentials by the millions – often for nothing more than social-media likes.

Given the frequency with which credentials are being compromised, FitzGerald said, users should regularly change passwords and improve their overall strategy for managing their credentials both at home and at work.

“Keep your passwords long, complex, and different on every site,” he advised, recommending the use of password managers to facilitate this process. “This can make them difficult to remember, and even more difficult if you follow the typical advice that you change them regularly.” ESET launched its Australian office in 2013 based on the “very high” awareness of security here, Asia-Pacific Marketing director Parvinder Walia told CSO Australia at the time, and has seen breakneck growth since then as the local team doubled the targets they had initially set for their partner-driven business.