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Banking malware back in Play Store

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An Android banking trojan that was first reported by ESET earlier this year has found its way to Google Play, now stealthier than ever.

Dubbed BankBot, the banking trojan has been evolving throughout the year, resurfacing in different versions on and outside Google Play. The variant ESET discovered on Google Play in early September 2017, is the first one to successfully combine the recent steps of BankBot’s evolution: improved code obfuscation, a sophisticated payload dropping functionality, and a cunning infection mechanism abusing Android’s Accessibility Service.

Misuse of Android Accessibility has been previously observed in many different trojans, mostly outside Google Play. Recent analyses have confirmed that the crooks spreading BankBot managed to upload an app with the Accessibility-abusing functionality to Google Play, only without the banking malware payload.

The “complete puzzle” featuring the banking malware payload that manged to sneak into Google Play masqueraded as a game name Jewels Star Classic (it is important to note that the attackers misused the name of popular legitimate game series Jewels Star by the developer ITREEGAMER, which is in no way connected to this malicious campaign).

ESET has notified Google’s security team of the malicious app, installed by up to 5000 users before getting removed from the store.

What makes it dangerous?

In this campaign, the crooks have put together a set of techniques with rising popularity among Android malware authors – abusing Android Accessibility Service, impersonating Google, and setting a timer delaying the onset of malicious activity to evade Google’s security measures.

The techniques combined make it very difficult for the victim to recognise the threat in time.  Because the malware impersonates Google and waits for 20 minutes before displaying the first alert, the victim has very little chance to connect its activity to the Jewel Star classic app they have recently downloaded. On top of that, the many different names the malware uses throughout the infection process significantly complicate efforts to locate and manually remove it.

How to clean an infected device

If you are downloading many different apps from Google Play and elsewhere, you might want to check if you haven’t reached for this malware.

Checking your device for Jewel’s Star Classic is not enough, as the attackers frequently change up the apps misused for BankBot’s distribution. To see if your device has been infected, we recommend you go after the following indicators:

  • Presence of an app named “Google Update”
  • Active device administrator named “System Update”
  • Repeated appearance of the “Google Service” alert

If you can’t find any of the mentioned indicators, your device may well have been infected with this BankBot variant.

To manually clean your device, you would first need to disable device administrator rights for “System Update”, then proceed uninstalling both “Google Update” and the associated trojanised app.

ESET security products detect and block this variant of BankBot as Android/Spy.Banker.LA. 

How to stay safe?

Besides using a reliable mobile security solution, there are other things you can do to avoid falling victim to mobile malware:

  • Whenever possible, favour official app stores over alternative ones. Although not flawless, Google Play does employ advanced security mechanisms, which doesn’t have to be the case with alternative stores
  • When in doubt about installing an app, check its popularity by number of installs, ratings and content of reviews
  • After running anything that you’ve installed on your mobile device, pay attention to what permissions and rights it requests. If an app asks for intrusive permissions – even more so if Accessibility related, read them with caution and only grant them if absolutely sure of the apps reliability.
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Crouching Yeti strikes

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Kaspersky Lab has uncovered infrastructure used by the Russian-speaking APT group Crouching Yeti, also known as Energetic Bear, which includes compromised servers across the world.

According to the research, numerous servers in different countries were hit since 2016, sometimes in order to gain access to other resources. Others, including those hosting Russian websites, were used as watering holes.

Crouching Yeti is a Russian-speaking advanced persistent threat (APT) group that Kaspersky Lab has been tracking since 2010. It is best known for targeting industrial sectors around the world, with a primary focus on energy facilities, for the main purpose of stealing valuable data from victim systems. One of the techniques the group has been widely using is through watering hole attacks: the attackers injected websites with a link redirecting visitors to a malicious server.

Recently Kaspersky Lab has discovered a number of servers, compromised by the group, belonging to different organisations based in Russia, the U.S., Turkey and European countries, and not limited to industrial companies. According to researchers, they were hit in 2016 and 2017 with different purposes. Thus, besides watering hole, in some cases they were used as intermediaries to conduct attacks on other resources.

In the process of analysing infected servers, researchers identified numerous websites and servers used by organisations in Russia, U.S., Europe, Asia and Latin America that the attackers had scanned with various tools, possibly to find a server that could be used to establish a foothold for hosting the attackers’ tools and to subsequently develop an attack. Some of the sites scanned may have been of interest to the attackers as candidates for waterhole. The range of websites and servers that captured the attention of the intruders is extensive. Kaspersky Lab researchers found that the attackers had scanned numerous websites of different types, including online stores and services, public organisations, NGOs, manufacturing, etc.

Also, experts found that the group used publicly available malicious tools, designed for analyzing servers, and for seeking out and collecting information. In addition, a modified sshd file with a preinstalled backdoor was discovered. This was used to replace the original file and could be authorised with a ‘master password’.

“Crouching Yeti is a notorious Russian-speaking group that has been active for many years and is still successfully targeting industrial organisations through watering hole attacks, among other techniques. Our findings show that the group compromised servers not only for establishing watering holes, but also for further scanning, and they actively used open-sourced tools that made it much harder to identify them afterwards,” said Vladimir Dashchenko, Head of Vulnerability Research Group at Kaspersky Lab ICS CERT.

“The group’s activities, such as initial data collection, the theft of authentication data, and the scanning of resources, are used to launch further attacks. The diversity of infected servers and scanned resources suggests the group may operate in the interests of the third parties,” he added.

Kaspersky Lab recommends that organisations implement a comprehensive framework against advanced threats comprising of dedicated security solutions for targeted attack detection and incident response, along with expert services and threat intelligence. As a part of Kaspersky Threat Management and Defense, our anti-targeted attack platform detects an attack at early stages by analysing suspicious network activity, while Kaspersky EDR brings improved endpoint visibility, investigation capabilities and response automation. These are enhanced with global threat intelligence and Kaspersky Lab’s expert services with specialisation in threat hunting and incident response.

More details on this recent Crouching Yeti activity can be found on the Kaspersky Lab ICS CERT website.

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R5m in software fines

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South African companies paid almost R5.2 million in damages for using unlicensed software in 2017 up from R3.6 million in 2016.

This is according to data from BSA | The Software Alliance, a non-profit, global trade association created to advance the goals of the software industry and its hardware partners.

The significant increase in unlicensed software payments – which includes settlements as well as the cost of acquiring new software to become compliant – is the result of more accurate leads from informers, says Darren Olivier, Partner at Adams & Adams, legal counsel for BSA. In 2017 BSA received 281 reports in South Africa alleging the use of unlicensed software products of BSA member companies – this up considerably up from 230 leads in 2016.

“BSA’s recent social media campaign also helped to create awareness among local companies about the need to comply with existing legislation in order to avoid legal action,” Olivier says.

The result has been a 13% increase in settlements paid in 2017, with the settlements total reaching almost R2.5 million.

While the average settlement paid by companies in 2017 was around R36 094, in some cases the amount owed was far greater, as is evidenced by Shereno Printers, a print and design company based in Gauteng, which ended up paying a hefty settlement amount of R260 000 last year in an out of court settlement.

The company’s case was in line with a broader trend, which saw the print and design industry as a whole rank among the top sectors plagued by unlicensed software.

Aside from settlements, companies also paid more than R2.6 million in licenses purchased to legalise their unlicensed software.

And the ramifications of software piracy extend beyond financial implications. “It also results in potential job losses and loss in tax revenue. This is not to mention the financial and reputational damage brought about by security breaches and lost data,” comments Olivier.

As unlicensed software has not been updated with the latest security features, it leaves businesses vulnerable to cyberattack, he explains.

This is a particular problem for companies operating in South Africa where economic crime has recently reached record levels, according to the Global Economic Crime Survey. Indeed, 77% of South African organisations have experienced some form of economic crime. What’s more, instances of cybercrime totalled 29% of economic crimes reported.

This in turn, raises questions around government policy and the adequacy of existing copyright legislation, which only enables the registration of copyright in films, but not in computer programs.

Olivier notes that it is likely the percentage of unlicensed software on South African computers has increased over the past year. “We received many more leads this year, which is an indicator that the amount of pirated software is greater than in previous years,” he comments.

Often unlicensed software is not so much a case of deliberate piracy as it is a result of poor software asset management (SAM).

“For this reason, the BSA encourages all businesses to ensure they have effective SAM practices in place. Companies should be able to confirm what software they are using and are licensed to use – this will help them to identify unlicensed software and can also bring about cost savings. Even the most basic SAM practices such as regular inventories and software use policies can help,” says Chair of the BSA SA Committee, Billa Coetsee.

With this in mind the BSA offers a range of SAM solutions, not only to help organisations reduce legal and security risks, but also to create business value.

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