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Botnet taken down

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ESET, in collaboration with Microsoft, the FBI, Interpol, Europe, and other stakeholders in cybersecurity – have taken down a major botnet operation known as Gamarue, which has been infecting victims since 2011.

A coordinated take-down started on November 29th, 2017 and as a result of this joint effort, law enforcement agencies across the globe were able to make an arrest and obstruct activity of the malware family responsible for infecting more than 1.1 million systems per month.

ESET and Microsoft researchers shared technical analysis, statistical information, and known command control (C&C) servers’ domains to help disrupt the malicious activity of the group. ESET also shared its historical knowledge of Gamarue, gained from the continual monitoring of the malware and its impact on users over the past few years.

What is Gamarue?

Created by cybercriminals in September 2011, and sold as a crime-kit on the Dark Web in underground forums, the purpose of the Gamarue family was to steal credentials and to download and install additional malware onto users’ systems.

This malware family is a customizable bot, which allows the owner to create and use custom plugins. One such plugin allows the cybercriminal to steal content entered by users in web forms while another enables criminals to connect back and control compromised systems.

Its popularity has resulted in a number of independent Gamarue botnets in the wild. In fact, ESET found that its samples have been distributed across the globe through social media, instant messaging, removable media, spam, and exploit kits.

How did ESET and Microsoft researchers gather intelligence?

Using ESET Threat Intelligence service, ESET researchers were able to build a bot that could communicate with the threat’s C&C server. Consequently, ESET and Microsoft were able to closely track Gamarue’s botnets for the past year and a half, identifying their C&C servers for takedown and monitoring what was installed on victims’ systems. The two companies have since compiled a list of all of the domains used by the cybercriminals as C&C servers.

In the past, Wauchos has been the most detected malware family amongst ESET users, so when we were approached by Microsoft to take part in a joint disruption effort against it, to better protect our users and the general public at large, it was a no-brainer to agree,said Jean-Ian Boutin, Senior Malware Research at ESET. “This particular threat has been around for several years now and it is constantly reinventing itself – which can make it hard to monitor. But by using ESET Threat Intelligence and by working collaboratively with Microsoft researchers, we have been able to keep track of changes in the malware’s behavior and consequently provide actionable data which has proven invaluable in these takedown efforts.”

What should users do if they suspect their systems have been compromised?

Cybercriminals have traditionally used Gamarue to target home users to steal credentials from websites through its form grabber plugin. However, ESET researchers have recently seen the malware being used to install various spam bots onto compromised machines in a so-called pay-per-install scheme.

ESET is advising users that fear their Windows system might be compromised to download and use the ESET Online Scanner, which will remove any threats, including Gamarue, found on the system. To learn about a more complex way to protect your devices from botnets, please visit ESET’s dedicated site.

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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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