Tag Archives: Phishing

Phishing the Affordable Care Act

Recently, while working on a project I was asked to gather some information on Blue Cross Blue Shield (BCBS) and something scary began to unfold.  I noticed that states have individual BCBS websites, and that there is no real consistency in the URL naming convention.  Then I began imagining the methods an attacker could use to exploit this. This is especially disconcerting since tax season is here and, thanks to the Affordable Care Act, we’ll all be needing forms showing proof of medical coverage, but more on that later. Back to the BCBS domains….

The first thing I noticed was the inconsistent use of the dash (-) character.  For example if I want to visit Georgia’s BCBS site I can use use http://bcbsGA.com, https://bcbsGA.com, http://bcbs-GA.com or https://bcbs-GA.com.  I found that only four other states returned a 200 status for names with the dash ex: bcbs-$state.com.

  • http://bcbs-vt.com/ is under construction, and the owner listed is BlueCross BlueShield of Vermont
  • http://bcbs-mt.com resolves to https://www.bcbsmt.com/
  • http://bcbs-sc.com and http://bcbs-nc.com are currently parked for free at GoDaddy, and the owner information is not available.

I have not inquired with SC/NC BCBS to determine if they own the domains listed above (the ones with the dash).  I also cannot elaborate as to why there is no DNS record resolving each of the Carolina domains above to a primary one as MT did.  It is possible a malicious actor/s own/s the NC/SC domains, although currently that is purely speculation. The final observation that made me decide to script this out and just see how much room there is  for nefarious activity was finding that some states don’t even use BCBS in the URL for example www.southcarolinablues.com.

Deciding where to start wasn’t very difficult.  There are many logical names that could be used for a phishing expedition, but I wanted to stay as close as possible to the logical and already known naming conventions. So I opted not to check for domains like “bcbsofGA.com” or iterations with the state spelled out.  I settled on eight different possible combinations.   As seen with the domains for BCBS of GA, the state abbreviation always appears after BCBS, so I checked for domains with the state at the front as well, and both an HTTP and HTTPS response.  I also checked for domains with the dash before and after the state abbreviation.  Math says that 8 combinations (seen below) * 50 states = 400 possible domains.

  •       http://bcbsXX.com
  •       https://bcbsXX.com
  •       http://bcbs-XX.com
  •       https://bcbs-XX.com
  •       http://XXbcbs.com
  •       https://XXbcbs.com
  •       http://XX-bcbs.com
  •       https://XX-bcbs.com

The results were a bit unnerving…

It took ~13.5 minutes using 18 lines of Python (could be fewer but I was being lazy) on a old, slow laptop, to check the 400 possibilities to learn the following:

  • 200 status = 69 domains
  • 403 status = 02 domains
  • 404 status = 02 domains

Leaving 329 domains available for purchase, and the price for many of them was less than $10.  Keep in mind, I did not verify ownership of the 69 domains, but if I’m a bad guy, I don’t really care who owns them because I’m only looking for what’s available for me to use.

Now back to the tax forms I mentioned earlier….

We teach users not to click on links or open emails that they aren’t expecting, so can you blame them if they click on a link in an email that says “click here to download your 2017 proof of medical coverage, IRS form 1095”?  After all, the IRS website even tells us that we will receive them, and that for the B & C forms the “Health insurance providers (for example, health insurance companies) will send Form 1095-B to individuals they cover, with information about who was covered and when.  And, certain employers will send Form 1095-C to certain employees, with information about what coverage the employer offered.”

Remember all that information lost in the Anthem breach a few years ago? Or the Aug 2016 BCBS breach in Kansas? Hrmmm, I wonder how those might play into potential phishing attacks.



How you choose to mitigate this vulnerability is up to you and the solution(s) you come up with will vary depending on your company size, geographic dispersement of employees, and network architecture among other things.  Some of you may choose to update your whitelists, blacklists or both.  Some of you may use this opportunity as an educational phishing exercise soon, but whatever your solution is, I hope includes pro-active messaging and education for your users.

Finally, if you or someone you know works at a healthcare provider and has the ability to influence them to purchase domains that could be used to phish the employees and/or individuals they cover, I strongly encourage you to share this article with them. You can also try convincing management that not only are you preventing a malicious actor from having them, you could use them for training. While BCBS is the example used here, they are not the only provider out there and this problem is not unique to BCBS or its affiliates.  However, if BCBS licenses it’s affiliates, then enforcing 1) standardized naming conventions for URL’s and 2) requiring them to purchase a minimum set of domains to minimize risk of malicious phishing doesn’t seem unreasonable.  Considering the prudent man rule, I think a prudent man would agree the financial burden of purchasing a few extra domains, is easily justified by the impact of the risk reduction.

Thanks for taking time to read, and for those of you with mitigation ideas, please share your knowledge in the comments, and if you’re new to infosec and want to ask a question about mitigations please ask it.  I only require that comments be constructive and helpful, not negative, insulting, derogatory or anything else along those lines.

Specific details for the 1095 forms can be found here.https://www.irs.gov/affordable-care-act/individuals-and-families/gathering-your-health-coverage-documentation-for-the-tax-filing-season)

Thank you my dear friends for your proofreading, for the laughs, and most of all your time and support.

How’d They Know $PrivateDetails ?


Today a friend and colleague of mine shared that he got a really really good gmail login phish purporting to come from his home owners association president. Immediately my brain spins up because this is my friend and I asked some critical questions.

1) How did the phisher know who the HOA President was?
2) How did they get that individual’s email?
3) How did they know my friend was in that specific HOA?
4) How did they know my friend’s personal email?

Of course the list of questions can go on and on, but the plot thickens when he says the email was sent to his gmail address attempting to get his gmail creds, but that he does not use his gmail account to converse with the HOA President, nor does he remember EVER using his gmail to contact him.

And there we have it, a spearphish executed on a non-work resource.


Now my friend is in Information Security, so naturally he avoided the compromise, discarded the email and is going to take the necessary follow-up steps, but do you know what they are?

So YAY he’s not a victim, but what’s next? Discard them email of course, however the train doesn’t stop there and it shouldn’t. This kind of incident, although on a private email address that was (most likely) accessed from a home computer, still needs to be reported to your Information Security Department **making sure the information makes it all the way to your SOC & Threat Intelligence Teams**. After all, this was a spearphish, not a generic blast-all phish hoping for a random victim. CONGRATS YOU ARE A WALKING PIECE OF INTELLIGENCE! Finally, a “reminder to be vigilant” with details on the spearphish should go out to key leaders. Why? Well let’s play the what-if game.


What if….my friend’s wife had gotten the email, on a shared family computer, fell victim to it, and a key logger (or other malware) was installed? Someone went to great lengths to find all this information out about my friend, they obviously don’t mind investing time into a target.

What if….another non-security-savvy key leader, who reuses work passwords at home (cuz that never happens), has gotten a similar email on a personal email at home, and s/he fell victim to it? Getting the “be vigilant” reminder may have him pressing the ZOMG button and in turn report that s/he got something like that as well.

What if….the email appeared to be from your children’s school, regarding grades/bad behavior/parent event/free ice cream etc. and it was sent to the child?

What if….the email appeared to be from your child/spouse’s $hobby group (that is publicly plastered all over social media)?

Remember, someone went to the length to figure out where my friend lived, what the name of the HOA was, who the president of it was, the president’s email address, and my friend’s email address. That is a lot of effort to just get gmail credentials. This likely indicates they’re probably after something bigger.


Now something I don’t see or hear a lot of companies doing is having security awareness training for spouses and family members. People laugh, but I remember when the Iraq war broke out and family members were plastering all over social media tons of pictures of everyone gathered in a gym preparing to leave saying “Gonna miss my husband so much! God bless the $military unit” or “My husband is finally coming home! They should be landing at $YYMMDD:HH:mm:ss.” We would sit back and say “Dear spouse, please stop helping the bad guys determine our troop strength and travel plans!” There hasn’t been a #facepalm meme invented yet that could accurately depict the military commanders.

So for the non-military folks out there here’s an idea. Put together a a “fun day”, invite out the spouses and the children, and teach them about phishing (and the various specific forms, phone, spear, social media etc) and OPSEC! Sure you might be the security person in the home, and you have your personal firewall all tightly locked down, your wifi is wrapped up nice with strong passwords, MAC filtering, SSID broadcast shut off blah blah blah, but what about your spouse/children’s phones and their social media activities? Security is a BEHAVIOR or a STATE OF MIND if you will, not just technology. Educating the family is just as important as educating the employee.


If you are in security you are a target. While my friend holds a significant role at his employer, the risk would be no less if he was a “lowly” systems administrator (I say that with sarcasm cuz pffft it’s only domain admin creds at stake). Your family is a target, ensure you take the time to educate them and grow a security-minded culture at home as well as at work. If you find yourself spearphished, using personal non-work information you need to be asking yourself “How’d they know that?” and possibly have a conversation with the entity that was impersonated or review how much private data you are sharing.

Report spearphishing whether it is at work or at home, you or your family etc. as this is precious intelligence that any intelligence team needs. Finally, DO NOT do work on a non-work computer especially one you share with the family, be vigilant, remind your co-workers regularly to be vigilant, and share what you know with others.

A reader reached out with a question that made me realize I needed to clarify something above. While I did note that you should delete the spearphish email, the implied task was that you captured it (full header and all contents) BEFORE deleting it as the email along with the report of the spearphishing attempt needs to be provided to the Threat Intelligence team. There can be valuable information in the email header that you do not want to destroy. You can accomplish this by attaching the email to a new email and sending it to the proper team/individual etc. or saving it down and attaching it to an incident report.