Tag: Claim

Feeding Frenzy as criminal groups stake their claim on Outlook Web Access servers

This weekend, several days after Tuesday 2nd March when Microsoft released fixes for the ProxyLogon vulnerability, Netcraft found more than 99,000 unpatched Outlook Web Access servers accessible on the internet — of which several thousand have clear evidence of one or more web shells installed.

Outlook Web Access (OWA) provides remote access to on-premises Microsoft Exchange mailboxes. While a treasure trove of corporate email is a tempting enough target itself, it can also act as a jumping-off point for deeper network access. Vulnerable versions allow unfettered remote access to the mail server. Originally attributed to the Hafnium group, the variety of different web shells and file naming conventions found by Netcraft suggest that the shells belong to multiple groups who have been spurred into action since Microsoft’s announcement by the scale of the opportunity.

vulnerable versions of OWA

Vulnerable OWA installations as at 6 March 2021, based on passive observation of version numbers. Source: Netcraft survey.

Netcraft has established that at least 10% of all visited OWA installations are now infested with web shell backdoors that do not use randomised filenames, and so could plausibly be guessed by anybody. These implants allow continued administrative access to the server, long after the underlying vulnerability has been patched.

web shell source code

One of the backdoor scripts, disguised as an innocuous variable dump in a file named supp0rt.aspx. The active component of the backdoor is ‘hidden’ near the middle of the file.

All of the backdoors hide in plain sight on the web server’s file system but are disguised as benign scripts or information dumps in order to avoid detection. There are several different variants of the backdoor script, but all have the same common feature in that they pass the hacker’s commands to the JScript Eval command, allowing arbitrary code to be executed directly on the web server.

Most of the backdoor scripts accept the criminals’ arbitrary commands via a specially named GET or POST parameter, while others require the commands to be Base64 encoded first, and some only accept them via a POST parameter.

server error page

Some variants of the backdoor script generate a runtime error if the secret variable name does not appear in the request. This makes it possible to detect their presence regardless.

Netcraft has also seen several different variants of these backdoor scripts being uploaded to individual websites, likely in an attempt to preserve unauthorised access to the compromised web server. Unless all of the backdoor scripts are found and removed, the hackers will still be able to get in and create more.

the web shell when viewed in a browser

The web shell when viewed in a browser. There is no obvious indication of its malicious functionality.

While some of the backdoor variants are wildly different in appearance, they all function in a similar way and require the user to know a secret variable name before any commands can be executed on the server. The variable name effectively acts as a password and provides the only security mechanism to ensure that the backdoor can only be used by the person or persons responsible for uploading it.

However, some of the shells use easily guessable variable names like “o” and “orange”, which could plausibly allow them to be misused by other hackers if they can find the scripts and guess the correct variable names. This presents an even more dangerous situation where other fraudsters could then upload their own web shells to secure a foothold on the server. Such a situation could escalate quickly… new battlegrounds could erupt where rival fraudsters try to delete each others’ web shells and upload more of their own in a race to secure access and decide how best to monetize their exploits, all long after the initial OWA vulnerabilities have been resolved.

As some web shells are practically impossible to detect remotely due to the use of randomised filenames or being hidden within existing files, the full extent of the OWA attacks is unknown. Hosting providers, system administrators, and webmasters should ensure that their servers are secured against vulnerabilities that may allow attackers to upload shells to their systems. They should also be on the lookout for unexpected modifications to their web applications, where shell scripts are easily disguised amongst benign files.

Hosting providers can receive an alerting service from Netcraft which will notify them whenever phishing, malware, or web shells are detected on their infrastructure.

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NEW: Claim Your Agency Directory Listing

Claim your listing on the new BrightLocal Agency Directory to begin generating leads from businesses that are searching for help with digital marketing right now.

Every week, BrightLocal’s Customer Success team receives requests for recommendations of top-rated agencies that can help our local business customers with their digital marketing. And, just as often, we receive requests from agencies and consultants to be added to our legacy lists of Top SEO Agencies.

We wanted to help bridge this gap between businesses in need of digital marketing assistance and the many talented agencies and freelancers operating in the US and actively seeking new leads. 

Introducing the Agency Directory


Today, we launched the Agency Directory – an in-depth directory of digital marketing agencies and consultants offering services including local SEO, PPC, SEO, and web design, in 1,000 cities in the USA*. 

A listing on the Agency Directory allows you to show off the key business information that potential leads need to know about when searching for services, so you can start generating leads right from your listing. 

Getting listed on the Agency Directory means you can feature on up to 5 lists of the top-rated agencies in the nearest city to ensure you’re being seen by businesses at the time they want to buy. Whether a business is looking for a local SEO agency in New York City, the best web designers in West Des Moines, or a great PPC provider in Portland, we have local lists aplenty!

*We plan to extend the Agency Directory in the near future to Canada, the UK, and Australia later this year.

Becoming an Agency Directory Partner

It’s free to claim your listing and enjoy the benefits of appearing in local lists for the services you offer.

However, if you’d like to improve your chances of impressing potential customers, you can upgrade to become an Agency Directory Partner. 

Becoming a Partner allows you to:

  • Get priority positioning on local lists to help your agency be seen by local businesses in need
  • Show off your key clients and case studies to tell the story of your agency’s best work
  • Remove links to Similar Companies on your listing to make sure searchers are only focused on you
  • Select and display the industries that you specialize in
  • Link through to your website to help potential customers learn more your business
  • See daily updates of your latest Google reviews, so your reputation stays up-to-date and your listing remains fresh! 

And, of course, it also means you can enjoy the whole BrightLocal toolset – including our brand-new grid tracker, Local Search Grid!

Partner status is reserved for BrightLocal users on a Multi Business, SEO Pro, or Enterprise plan. You can also enjoy these bonus features during your 14-day free BrightLocal trial.

So, how do I claim my Agency Directory listing?

We wanted to make sure the Agency Directory was helpful for local businesses from day one, so we’ve added a number of agencies to the Directory to get started. But this is where you come in. 

Whether you’re already listed or not, if you’re a digital marketing agency or consultant based in the US, you can claim your listing right now. It’s entirely free to join the Agency Directory – all you need is a BrightLocal login. This applies to both BrightLocal customers and non-customers, with no purchase necessary to claim and maintain your listing.

1. Head to the Agency Directory to search for your agency

Browse the list of local agencies in your city or state, or search for your agency to find your listing. 

No listing? No worries! Head straight to the brand-new Agency Directory Details section of your BrightLocal account to add in all the information about your agency.  This lives in Account Details – Agency Directory Details. 

2. If you find your agency is already listed, click ‘Claim Your Listing’

This will connect the listing to your BrightLocal account.

If you’re completely new to BrightLocal, you’ll take a short pit stop to register and get your account set up and ready to connect.

3. You’ll be taken to Agency Directory Details to edit your details

Whether you’re adding a completely new listing or claiming one that’s already live, Agency Directory Details is the central hub of all the information displayed in your listing.

Agency Directory Details

Here, you can manage a number of key elements of your listing, including your contact details, information about your agency and clients, Google reviews connection, and links to your social media profiles. 

Once you’re happy with your information, hit ‘Submit For Verification’ at the bottom of the page. 

4. We’ll verify your listing, and email you when it’s live

To ensure the Agency Directory is as useful as possible for businesses (and free of spam!), we manually verify every listing to ensure they are in the correct location, are legitimate digital marketers, and belong to the person claiming the listing. 

During particularly busy periods, this may take us a little bit of time, so please bear with us. We’ll email you once your listing has been verified.

5. Relax!  

Once your listing is live, you can sit back and rest assured your listing is in safe hands. 

If your agency catches a lead’s eye, they can email or call you from the details supplied on your listing. Emails will land in the inbox of the directory contact you designated in your Agency Directory Details. 

In the near future, we plan to introduce additional functionality to our Agency Lead Generator to help you keep track of the number of calls, website clicks, and views your listing gets – as well as to help you see all of the email leads you get in one place. Watch your inbox, as we’ll be sure to update you when this is live. 

You can update your listing details at any point in your BrightLocal account, and update your clients, case studies, and industry specialisms to reflect your latest work.

Reviews also update automatically to help ensure your listing stays fresh – you don’t need to touch a thing!  As an added bonus, any time you update your listing, you will be featured on the main page for your city to be even more visible to potential leads. 

Want to know more? 

To find out more about the Agency Directory, visit our Help Center: 

If you have any further questions, feel free to reach out to BrightLocal support or share your thoughts in the comments below. 

Tax Deductions Explained (and Common Ones You Could Claim)

Part of being an American is looking toward Tax Day with either dread or anticipation. Will you have to cut a check to Uncle Sam, or will you get a plump refund? Tax deductions can tip the scales — a lot — meaning you’ll end up sending less money to the IRS.

We all want that, right? 

Read on to understand which common tax deductions you could claim when you file your 2019 return. Note that we use 2019 numbers because these apply to the tax return that’s due April 15, 2020.

What Is a Tax Deduction?

Tax deductions, also known as tax write-offs, lower your taxable income so you’ll pay less overall. You can either go with the standard deduction, which is a predetermined amount that is subtracted from your income, or itemized deductions, which take into account your particular expenses such as charitable donations and some health care costs. 

Tax deductions are different from tax credits. A tax deduction decreases your taxable income, whereas a tax credit lowers the amount of taxes you owe the IRS.

Calculating Your Adjusted Gross Income

Deductions are typically calculated from something called your adjusted gross income, or AGI.

Do you know how much you make each year? What about the amount you contribute to retirement? The IRS uses this information and more to calculate your adjusted gross income (AGI), which is the starting point for figuring out your tax bill.

Your AGI includes your wages, alimony, dividends, retirement distributions and business income. If you’ve paid student loan interest, contributed to a traditional IRA or paid into a health savings account, those expenses are deducted. What’s left over is your AGI.

Changes From 2017 Tax Reform

In late 2017, Congress passed the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, a sweeping overhaul of the federal tax code. The main change affecting everyday Americans was to the standard deduction; before 2018 it was $6,350 for single filers and $12,700 for married couples filing jointly. Under the new law, it nearly doubled: For 2019 taxes, it’s $12,200 for individuals and $24,400 for married people who file a joint return.

While the 2017 changes were good news for some people, they came at the expense of several popular deductions that were eliminated. These include:

  • Job-related moving expenses for non-military
  • Home equity loan interest deduction, unless the loan is used to improve the home
  • Alimony for the person paying spousal support
  • Job search expenses
  • Unreimbursed work expenses

Standard vs. Itemized Deductions

Still, a number of itemized deductions remain in play. Whether you choose the standard deduction or itemize them depends on your personal situation. 

If your potential deductions equal more than the standard deduction, itemizing will lower your taxable income and save you money. 

Here’s another way to think about it: If you’re a young, single person with a full-time job, you’re healthy and you rent rather than own a home, you will almost certainly take the standard deduction because your deductible expenses probably won’t total more than $12,200. 

But if your financial profile is more complex — think mortgage, property taxes, medical expenses — then you might benefit from itemizing.

Popular Tax Deductions for Itemizers

Getty Images

If you’re thinking of itemizing, you need to know what is and isn’t tax deductible. Here are some common deductions.

1. Charitable Contributions

If you gave money or goods to a charity during the year, you could be eligible for a tax deduction. The organization must be designated as a nonprofit by the IRS. Usually these are religious, educational or charitable groups.

There are some limitations on what you can include in this deduction. For example, if you donated to your local PBS station and they sent you a “thank you” T-shirt, you can’t deduct the value of the shirt. So if your contribution was $100 and the T-shirt was worth $10, you can only deduct $90 on your tax return.

Additionally, you can only deduct charitable contributions up to 50% of your AGI. (Most people can’t donate half their income to charity anyway.) But there are additional limits depending on the organization. Donations to churches, hospitals and colleges qualify up to 50% of AGI, but contributions to veterans’ organizations and fraternal societies have a lower cap — only 30% of AGI.

You can deduct expenses from charitable work.

Pro Tip

For example, if you knit hats for a homeless charity you could deduct the cost of the yarn you used. Make sure you save your receipts in case you’re hit with an audit.

2. Mortgage Interest

The interest you pay on your home mortgage can total many thousands of dollars, particularly at the beginning of the loan. Luckily, you can deduct that interest from your taxable income. This is applicable for debt up to $750,000 or $375,000 if you’re married filing separately through 2025 . If you bought your home on or before Dec. 15, 2017, you can deduct mortgage interest on debt up to $1 million or $500,000 if you’re married filing separately.

3. Property Taxes

The 2017 tax reform put new limits on property tax deductions. Beginning in 2018, you can deduct state and local taxes up to $10,000 or $5,000 if you’re married filing separately. Those caps are for state and local income, property and sales taxes combined. 

Let’s say you paid $8,000 of state income tax, $7,000 of property taxes and $6,000 of sales tax. Your deduction is limited to $10,000. Prior to tax reform, you could have deducted each of these expenses in full. 

4. Medical Expenses

If you had significant medical expenses last tax year that weren’t reimbursed by insurance, you could get a deduction. The bills must equal 10% or higher of your AGI to qualify for the deduction in 2019. Even then, you can only deduct the amount above 10% of AGI.  For someone with an AGI of $50,000, that means you can’t deduct medical expenses until they exceed $5,000, or 10%.

Pro Tip

If your state has an income tax, you may be able to deduct a percentage of medical expenses from your state taxes as well, though the amount will vary.

Qualified medical expenses include:

  • Bills paid to doctors, dentists, chiropractors and more
  • Hospital visits or stays
  • Nursing home care
  • Some weight loss programs
  • Addiction programs
  • Prescription medications
  • Transportation to and from medical appointments
  • Acupuncture
  • Dentures, crutches, hearing aids, wheelchairs and service animals
  • Reading or prescription glasses or contact lenses

Deductions You Can Claim With the Standard Deduction

Even if you don’t itemize, there are some valuable deductions you can still claim. They’re known as “above-the-line” deductions.

1. Educator Expenses

In an ideal world, teachers wouldn’t have to pay out of pocket for school supplies. In reality, most teachers routinely dip into their own funds to buy pencils, paper, glue and other items for their classrooms. The IRS allows K-12 teachers to deduct up to $250 for educator expenses such as classroom materials. 

2. Student Loan Interest

If you paid interest on your student loans, you can deduct up to $2,500 in interest payments if you earned less than $$70,000 for single filers or $140,000 if you’re married filing jointly. Above that, the deduction phases out, but those earning up to $85,000 as single filers or $170,000 for those who are married filing jointly can get a reduced deduction. 

This only applies for people filing their own tax returns; if you’re still listed as a dependent on your parents’ tax return you can’t claim the student loan interest deduction. You also can’t claim this deduction if your loan isn’t in your name. So, if your parents took out the loan on your behalf, they will get the deduction instead.

3. Moving Expenses for Military

Members of the military are eligible to deduct moving expenses from their taxable income. In previous years, civilians could also deduct moving expenses, but the deduction is now limited to military personnel.

4. Health Savings Account Contributions

Health savings accounts, or HSAs, are accounts you can use to save for medical expenses if you have a high-deductible health insurance plan. A high-deductible plan is defined as one that has a minimum deductible of $1,350 for a single person or $2,700 for a family. 

You can deduct contributions of up to $3,500 if you’re single or $7,000 for a family in 2019. 

5. Self-Employment Expenses

If you’re self-employed, you can deduct quite a few expenses. These include:

  • Home office: You can deduct the space devoted to your home office at a rate of $5 per square foot for up to 300 square feet of space. However, you must use this room exclusively as your home office, so you can’t set up a desk next to your spare bed and claim that as your office. You also must use that room regularly for business.
  • Education: As a self-employed individual, you can deduct things like tuition, books and lab fees for education that “maintains or improves skills needed in your present work,” according to the IRS.
  • Car: If you use your car for business, such as driving to meetings with clients or vendors, you can deduct 58 cents per mile as of 2019. You can also deduct things like gas, licenses, tolls and parking fees.

6. Health Insurance Premiums

If you are self-employed, you can deduct your health premiums.

You can also take the deduction, minus any subsidies you received, if you get your health insurance through a state or federal marketplace.

7. IRA Contributions

You could get a tax deduction if you contribute to a traditional IRA as part of your retirement savings portfolio. The maximum contribution for 2019 is $6,000, and $7,000 for those over age 50, and it’s fully tax deductible. But your eligibility also depends on how much money you make and whether you or your spouse has an employer-sponsored retirement plan. Consult the IRS guidelines for those income limits.

Catherine Hiles is a contributor to The Penny Hoarder.