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Corporate SA catches up on security

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The IT security concerns, challenges and investment by South African enterprises is closely aligned with those of their international counterparts, according to a new global survey by Fortinet.

“Where as recently as two years ago, South Africa lagged the rest of the developed world in terms of IT security focus, we now see local enterprises closely following international trends on the IT security drivers, investment and challenges they face,” says Paul Williams, Country Manager – Southern Africa at Fortinet.

Announcing the findings of Fortinet’s 2017 Global Enterprise Security Survey in Johannesburg this week, Williams said South Africa, included in the international survey for the first time, was stepping up its focus on IT security largely due to high profile breaches and the growing move to the cloud.

The survey, which polled over 1,800 enterprise IT decision makers in 16 countries during August this year, found that the transition to the cloud as part of an organisation’s digital transformation journey was a catalyst for an increased focus on security. 71% of South African IT security decision makers believe that cloud security is becoming a growing priority – slightly less than the 74% global average. As a result, 56% of the South African respondents, compared with 50% globally, are planning investment in cloud security in the next 12 months.

“IT security has always been something of a ‘grudge purchase’, and we still see enterprises spurred to action after a breach or high profile incident has taken place,” says Williams.  “Our research found that 82% of local enterprises and 85% of global enterprises had experienced a security breach in the past two years. 55% of South African IT decision-makers (vs 49% internationally) said there had been an increased focus on IT security following global cyberattacks such as WannaCry. The scale and profile of global cyberattacks is bringing security to the attention of the board.”

Increased pressure from regulators has become an important driver of board awareness, said 35% of local and 34% of international respondents. Despite the spiralling cybercrime risk, IT decision makers still feel that board members do not prioritise IT security as they should. 41% of local respondents and 48% of international respondents said they believe that IT security is still not a top priority discussion for the board. 74% of the South African respondents and 77% of international respondents said cybersecurity should become a top management priority.

This doesn’t seem to affect budgets, since 61% of enterprises, both in South Africa and internationally, stated that they spend over 10% of their IT budget on security. 76% of the local and 71% of international respondents said their IT security budget had increased from the previous year.

Williams says: “As organisations embrace digital transformation, we see IT decision-makers emphasizing that cybersecurity is a strategic business investment. It is interesting to note that South Africa has progressed in recent years, with local enterprise executives increasing their focus and investment on IT security. The key challenges they face now appear to include the ongoing vulnerability posed by employees, high-level information security skills shortages and buy-in from executive level.”

Research Highlights:

82% of South African enterprises surveyed (vs 85% international average) have been victims of a security breach in the past two years. Top threats experienced in the past two years among South African companies were malware and ransomware, reported by 55% of respondents (vs 47% international average). This was followed by internal or external data breaches, reported by 46% of South African respondents (vs 37% international average).

IT security spend: In South Africa, key investment areas were upgrade of security solutions, reported by 81% of South African and 67% of international respondents, followed by new security solutions and services, reported by 56% of South African respondents (vs 60% internationally). 54% of South African and 52% of international respondents had invested in staff training and certification and employee education, while 28% of South African respondents and 23% of international respondents had invested in new hires in IT security.  Implementation of security policies and processes was an investment by 50% of South African respondents (vs 57% internationally)

Report Methodology

The 2017 Fortinet Global Enterprise Security Survey was undertaken on behalf of Fortinet by independent market research company Loudhouse to examine the changing attitudes towards security in business in July/August 2017. The global survey of IT decision makers with responsibility/visibility of IT security, received 1,801 anonymized respondents across 16 countries (US, Canada, France, UK, Germany, Spain, Italy, Middle East, South Africa, Poland, Korea, Australia, Singapore, India, Hong Kong, Indonesia). Respondents to the online questionnaire were not aware of the purpose or sponsor of the report.

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Cons exploit Telegram ICO

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Kaspersky Lab researchers have uncovered dozens of highly convincing fake websites claiming to be investment sites for an initial coin offering (ICO) by the Telegram messaging service. Many of these websites appear to belong to the same group. In one case alone, tens of thousands of US dollars’ worth of cryptocurrency were stolen from victims believing they were investing in ‘Grams’, Telegram’s rumoured new currency. Telegram has not officially confirmed an ICO and has warned people about fraudulent investor sites.

In late 2017, stories started to circulate that the Telegram messaging service was launching an initial coin offering (ICO) to finance a blockchain platform based on its TON (Telegram Open Network) technology. Unverified technical documentation was posted online, but there appears to have been no confirmation from Telegram itself. The resulting confusion seems to have allowed fraudsters to capitalise on investor interest by creating fake sites and stealing vast sums of money.

Kaspersky Lab researchers have discovered dozens of such sites, possibly belonging to the same group, claiming to sell tokens for ‘Grams’ and inviting investors to pay with cryptocurrencies including Bitcoin, Ethereum, lice litecoin, dash and Bitcoin dash. A record of transactions on one site revealed that the scammers were able to steal at least $35,000 US dollars’ worth of Ethereum from investors.

The researchers found that some of the websites were so convincing that even after Telegram and others began to issue warnings, they were still able to recruit potential investors. Most use a secure connection, require registration and generate a unique online wallet for each new victim, making it harder to track the money.

Judging by the content of the fake websites, it appears they may have common ownership. For example, several have the exactly the same ‘Our Team’ section.

“ICOs are a fairly risky investment and many people don’t yet fully understand how they work, so it is not surprising that high quality fake websites, with seemingly reassuring features such as a secure connection and registration are successful at luring people in. People wishing to invest in an ICO would do well to check with the company behind it and make sure they know exactly who they are giving their money to, or they may never see it again,” said Nadezhda Demidova, Lead Web-Content Analyst, Kaspersky Lab.

Kaspersky Lab offers the following advice for users considering investing in an ICO:

  • Check for warning signs: for example, some of the fake Telegram ICO websites had the same wrong image next to the name of Telegram’s Chief Product Officer.
  • Do your homework: always check with the brand’s official site to verify the legitimacy of the investment site and, if necessary contact the company’s ICO teams before investing any money or currency.
  • Use reliable security solutions such as Kaspersky Internet Security and Kaspersky Internet Security for Android, which will warn you if you try to visit fake internet pages.
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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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