Government Shutdown May Lead to Increased Hacking Activity

With the U.S. government shutdown in its 25th day, additional repercussions have surfaced which may hinder the public’s cyber security.

Due to the shutdown of the U.S. government, all nonessential government tasks are being foregone, including the renewal of TLS certificates.  TLS certificates are used by any website that communicates over an encrypted HTTPS connection.  This certification confirms the website’s privacy by verifying it is who/what they claim to be, and the website has not been compromised.

Without this certification, various .gov websites have been identified as insecure; although, some are still allowing users to bypass the security alerts to access the content.  However, the lack of certification has left other websites entirely inaccessible.

How Does This Impact Cyber Security

Because these sites are being marked as insecure or inaccessible, their relevance begins to decrease in search results.  Meaning, if malicious lookalike pages are created, they will be shown, instead of the legitimate websites.  Why?  Because search engines want to offer users useful websites that have the content they are looking for — and offering insecure or inaccessible websites is not helpful.  To be clear neither is serving up malicious lookalikes, but these search engines often don’t know the copycat URLs are malicious.

How to Stay Protected

First, users should always be aware of what websites they are visiting.  This includes monitoring the HTTPS prefix in the URL.  Users are also encouraged to use an adblocker to prevent malicious ads from populating on the screen while browsing online.  Lastly, deploying an application whitelist security solution is critical.  A whitelisting agent will only allow known safe programs to run.  Therefore, if a user does accidentally encounter a malicious lookalike site, and malware attempts to execute — the whitelist will prevent it from infecting the PC.

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