Telkom plans to ramp up its rollout of wireless and fibre technology to counter a massive increase in copper cable theft over the past year, as criminal syndicates become more sophisticated.
Telkom has revealed that 6000 incidents of copper cable theft have occurred across Telkom’s copper network in the past year, costing the company more than R200-million. The level of theft tracks the international price of copper, and the modus operandi of cable thieves continually becomes more sophisticated.
As a result, says Telkom, it is ramping up efforts to migrate customers to wireless and fibre technologies to tackle cable theft syndicates.
“Copper theft has become a more sophisticated crime over the past few years,” says Telkom’s Group Executive for Communication Jacqui O’Sullivan. “These criminals now target our manholes armed with customised heavy duty vehicles, allowing them to hitch the cable to the vehicle and drive out kilometres of cable, cutting off thousands of customers, in a single incident.
“We face a unique set of challenges when it comes to copper cable theft. For example, there are areas in the Western Cape where gang violence sometimes makes it dangerous for us to send technicians into the area to replace stolen cables. In many high-theft areas, cable is repeatedly stolen, sometimes within days after replacements or repairs.”
O’Sullivan says it is clear that the price of copper and its strong demand in international markets, are catalysts of this crime. Analysis indicates that increases in theft incidents approximately tracks the level of the copper price – usually with a two to three month lag.
“For a little over a decade Telkom has continuously recorded revenue losses due to the impact of this crime. The persistent breaks in connectivity affect not just individual households, but also schools, government buildings, and industries across the country, making this crime a national concern.”
O’Sullivan says that the Company continues to invest greatly in securing the network with armed response, cable alarming and collaborative efforts with the South African Police Service however, the vast nature of Telkom’s network makes fighting this crime, an extraordinarily tough.
For the 2015 financial year, Telkom has experienced over R200 million rand in losses – R100 million direct cable theft repair cost and an additional R107m was spend on security services.
“The cost of cable theft to Telkom is serious and it has a significant impact on thousands of customers each year,” says O’Sullivan. “To combat this, we are looking at migrating our customers in high copper theft hotspots onto new technology platforms, specifically those which are undesirable to criminals.”
So far, Telkom has migrated close to 4000 customers in cable theft hotspots to an alternative wireless product, known as Waya Waya, which does not rely on a copper network. The new product allows customers to retain their landline numbers while also benefiting from SMS functionality and a free device.
Earlier this year, Telkom launched SA’s biggest fibre trial in which DSL customers within Telkom’s fibre footprint are being given the opportunity to upgrade their copper-based connectivity to the more advanced fibre network, at no additional cost.
“Telkom is taking every step to ensure that our network is secure and, more importantly, that our customers receive a seamless network experience free of criminal interference,” says O’Sullivan.
Crouching Yeti strikes
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.
R5m in software fines
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.