Along with a spike in the cryptocurrency market, malicious mining software has been actively deployed by criminals in order to make easy money and became a major trend in 2017.
When someone urgently needs to edit a text document or an image, but doesn’t have the time or opportunity to find a trusted source, the most probable solution is to download the first openly distributed or even cracked application they can find, which are rife on the Internet. So, you successfully download and install the program and nothing wrong or suspicious is spotted in its operation. But suddenly, you notice that your PC seems to run much slower than usual and at the end of the month, you receive an electricity bill that is noticeably higher than average. If this sounds familiar, it’s likely that you’ve got a miner.
Along with a spike in the cryptocurrency market, malicious mining software has been actively deployed by criminals in order to make easy money and became a major trend in 2017. This trend was predicted in 2016 by Kaspersky Lab researchers who spotted a comeback of mining software amid the growing popularity of Zcash. Just a year later, miners are everywhere: according to Kaspersky Lab data, by the end of 2017, the number of affected users would exceed two million.
Criminals are using different tools and techniques, such as social engineering campaigns involving adware or cracked software, in order to affect as many PCs as possible. Kaspersky Lab experts recently identified a number of websites, created using one standard design, which have been offering users free, pirated software such as popular computer programs and applications. Taking into consideration how widespread pirated software is, it’s not a difficult task for criminals to generate a special “landing page”. They have even been using domain names similar to the real ones in order to confuse users as much as possible.
But it’s always wise to be careful when someone offers you something for nothing. The real purpose of these websites was to spread a particular mining software. As a result, in the chase for free applications users were putting themselves at a higher risk than they could have imagined. Along with the downloaded archive, users received a miner which was automatically installed together with the desired software. After this, the miner started silently operating on the victim’s PC, using its power to generate cryptocurrency which goes directly back to the criminals.
The installation archive also included text files containing initialisation information – an address of the criminals’ wallet, as well as a mining pool – a special server to unite several participants and distribute a mining task among their computers. In exchange, participants receive their share of cryptocurrency. Due to the fact that mining Bitcoins and other cryptocurrencies is currently a very resource-heavy and time-consuming operation, the pools provide increased efficiency and higher speeds of cryptocurrency production.
Kaspersky Lab researchers have identified that in all cases criminals used the NiceHash project software, which recently suffered a major cybersecurity breach resulting in the theft of millions of dollars’ worth of cryptocurrency. Some of the victims were connected to a mining pool of the same name.
There was one more interesting feature found by Kaspersky Lab experts, which enabled criminals to remotely change a previously set wallet number, pool or miner itself. Thus, criminals gave themselves an opportunity to distribute mining flows and change the final destination for crypto coins anytime they needed, or make a victim’s computer work for another mining pool.
“Although not considered malicious, mining software decreases the device’s system performance, which inevitably affects the user experience, along with increasing the victim’s electricity bill. As a result, the use of seemingly harmless pirated software leads to the victim – at their own expense – augmenting someone else’s wallet. We advise users to remain vigilant and use legal software to avoid such malicious handouts,” says Alexander Kolesnikov, Malware Analyst at Kaspersky Lab.
In order to protect yourself from such incidents and prevent your PC from turning into a mining zombie, Kaspersky Lab recommends the following:
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.