BRENDAN MCARAVEY, Country Manager, Citrix South Africa, takes a look at what Cryptojacking jacking is, how it works and how it can be avoided.
Parasites in the digital world don’t kill, encrypt, or ransom the hosts as compared to the parasites in the real world. However, they do siphon off compute resources – preferably undetected. Compute resources are a valuable commodity in the world of crypto-mining. This stealthier malware phenomenon called ‘cryptojacking’ is becoming a popular payload since it’s an effective way to generate revenue with a lower chance of detection. The goal is to run undetected – stealing CPU cycles – essentially becoming a digital parasite.
Crafty adversaries driven by the opportunity of financial gain are weaponising crypto-mining to exploit the digital currency boom. Before we go any further, it is key to understand what ‘crypto-mining’ is? It is an intensive process – consistently running mathematical calculations that keep processors at 100% usage.
Professional miners make a large upfront investment in specialised hardware and infrastructure. Case in point, according to a South African gaming website, since the cryptocurrency boom, it has become extremely hard to get hands on graphics cards. They are mostly out of stock, with no guarantee on when they will be back in stock and sky-high prices are being asked for second-hand cards in local classifieds.
As more miners came online, the difficulty level adjusted so that running multiple graphics processing units (GPUs) became more effective at mining. Next came specialised chipsets or ASICs designed specifically for mining Bitcoin – these are getting smaller and more efficient. To increase the chances of pay-out, multiple miners join pools in which they are compensated based on their contribution of compute resources or hash power.
A tell-tale symptom of your CPU being used by miners is sluggishness, high CPU usage, and the whine of maxed-out RPM on the cooling fans. Cryptojacking is not just limited to laptops and PCs, mobile devices and gadgets are also susceptible, even more so since the mining scripts can run in the background or are more difficult to identify.
As with other attacks, server side cryptojacking can be more complex and more complicated once it spreads. If the attacker gets access to the infrastructure, he or she may provision additional servers – in cloud environments, expect to see new servers with high end specs and cost.
Locally we haven’t as yet witnessed cryptojacking attacks, however, globally an example is WannaMine, where the attackers use ‘live off the land’ technique such as Windows Management Instrumentation (WMI) permanent event subscriptions as a persistence mechanism. It also propagates via the EternalBlue exploit popularised by WannaCry.
It’s fileless nature and use of legitimate system software such as WMI and PowerShell make it difficult, if not impossible, for organisations to block it without some form of next-generation antivirus. Defending against cryptojacking requires a holistic approach and building a security architecture with a secure digital perimeter. The approach must focus on prevention as well as detection. Citrix has partnered with multiple security companies that enhance endpoint, network, server, and cloud protection.
For enterprises, delivering a locked down Secure Browser as a service can help reduce the attack surface by blocking the mining scripts as well as blocking the periodic call-backs to the mining pools – which are the command and control for crypto mining.
A critical component is early detection of CPU spikes above normal range – typically sustained. IT Operations should have defined CPU thresholds and analytics with alerts sent to admins when the CPU usage rises above the threshold. A couple of side notes here are that the alerts should disregard the process names – the digital parasite wants to remain undetected and can be disguised to be a system service or process.
Secondly, more devious adversaries will tune down the CPU leeching to not stand out as dramatically – effectively flying under the radar. Establishing a baseline and identifying aberrations quickly is the goal. Once detected, restoring the server to a golden image makes the process easier – local backdoor accounts, services, other changes can be undone.
Protecting against cryptojacking is very much the same as protecting against other malware – however, we are looking for different symptoms and long-term effects in hardware wear and tear, user performance degradation and loss of scalability. Higher costs in electricity or cloud usage are both more intermediate financial symptoms. Stay vigilant even if there are no demand notes or immediate indicators of compromise.
VoD cuts the cord in SA
Some 20% of South Africans who sign up for a subscription video on demand (SVOD) service such as Netflix or Showmax do so with the intention of cancelling their pay television subscription.
That’s according to GfK’s international ViewScape survey*, which this year covers Africa (South Africa, Kenya and Nigeria) for the first time.
The study—which surveyed 1,250 people representative of urban South African adults with Internet access—shows that 90% of the country’s online adults today use at least one online video service and that just over half are paying to view digital online content. The average user spends around 7 hours and two minutes a day consuming video content, with broadcast television accounting for just 42% of the time South Africans spend in front of a screen.
Consumers in South Africa spend nearly as much of their daily viewing time – 39% of the total – watching free digital video sources such as YouTube and Facebook as they do on linear television. People aged 18 to 24 years spend more than eight hours a day watching video content as they tend to spend more time with free digital video than people above their age.
Says Benjamin Ballensiefen, managing director for Sub Sahara Africa at GfK: “The media industry is experiencing a revolution as digital platforms transform viewers’ video consumption behaviour. The GfK ViewScape study is one of the first to not only examine broadcast television consumption in Kenya, Nigeria and South Africa, but also to quantify how linear and online forms of content distribution fit together in the dynamic world of video consumption.”
The study finds that just over a third of South African adults are using streaming video on demand (SVOD) services, with only 16% of SVOD users subscribing to multiple services. Around 23% use per-pay-view platforms such as DSTV Box Office, while about 10% download pirated content from the Internet. Around 82% still sometimes watch content on disc-based media.
“Linear and non-linear television both play significant roles in South Africa’s video landscape, though disruption from digital players poses a growing threat to the incumbents,” says Molemo Moahloli, general manager for media research & regional business development at GfK Sub Sahara Africa. “Among most demographics, usage of paid online content is incremental to consumption of linear television, but there are signs that younger consumers are beginning to substitute SVOD for pay-television subscriptions.”
New data rules raise business trust challenges
When the General Data Protection Regulation comes into effect on May 25th, financial services firms will face a new potential threat to their on-going challenges with building strong customer relationships, writes DARREL ORSMOND, Financial Services Industry Head at SAP Africa.
The regulation – dubbed GDPR for short – is aimed at giving European citizens control back over their personal data. Any firm that creates, stores, manages or transfers personal information of an EU citizen can be held liable under the new regulation. Non-compliance is not an option: the fines are steep, with a maximum penalty of €20-million – or nearly R300-million – for transgressors.
GDPR marks a step toward improved individual rights over large corporates and states that prevents the latter from using and abusing personal information at their discretion. Considering the prevailing trust deficit – one global EY survey found that 60% of global consumers worry about hacking of bank accounts or bank cards, and 58% worry about the amount of personal and private data organisations have about them – the new regulation comes at an opportune time. But it is almost certain to cause disruption to normal business practices when implemented, and therein lies both a threat and an opportunity.
The fundamentals of trust
GDPR is set to tamper with two fundamental factors that can have a detrimental effect on the implicit trust between financial services providers and their customers: firstly, customers will suddenly be challenged to validate that what they thought companies were already doing – storing and managing their personal data in a manner that is respectful of their privacy – is actually happening. Secondly, the outbreak of stories relating to companies mistreating customer data or exposing customers due to security breaches will increase the chances that customers now seek tangible reassurance from their providers that their data is stored correctly.
The recent news of Facebook’s indiscriminate sharing of 50 million of its members’ personal data to an outside firm has not only led to public outcry but could cost the company $2-trillion in fines should the Federal Trade Commission choose to pursue the matter to its fullest extent. The matter of trust also extends beyond personal data: in EY’s 2016 Global Consumer Banking Survey, less than a third of respondents had complete trust that their banks were being transparent about fees and charges.
This is forcing companies to reconsider their role in building and maintaining trust with its customers. In any customer relationship, much is done based on implicit trust. A personal banking customer will enjoy a measure of familiarity that often provides them with some latitude – for example when applying for access to a new service or an overdraft facility – that can save them a lot of time and energy. Under GDPR and South Africa’s POPI act, this process is drastically complicated: banks may now be obliged to obtain permission to share customer data between different business units (for example because they are part of different legal entities and have not expressly received permission). A customer may now allow banks to use their personal data in risk scoring models, but prevent them from determining whether they qualify for private banking services.
What used to happen naturally within standard banking processes may be suddenly constrained by regulation, directly affecting the bank’s relationship with its customers, as well as its ability to upsell to existing customers.
The risk of compliance
Are we moving to an overly bureaucratic world where even the simplest action is subject to a string of onerous processes? Compliance officers are already embedded within every function in a typical financial services institution, as well as at management level. Often the reporting of risk processes sits outside formal line functions and end up going straight to the board. This can have a stifling effect on innovation, with potentially negative consequences for customer service.
A typical banking environment is already creaking under the weight of close to 100 acts, which makes it difficult to take the calculated risks needed to develop and launch innovative new banking products. Entire new industries could now emerge, focusing purely on the matter of compliance and associated litigation. GDPR already requires the services of Data Protection Officers, but the growing complexity of regulatory compliance could add a swathe of new job functions and disciplines. None of this points to the type of innovation that the modern titans of business are renowned for.
A three-step plan of action
So how must banks and other financial services firms respond? I would argue there are three main elements to successfully navigating the immediate impact of the new regulations:
Firstly, ensuring that the technologies you use to secure, manage and store personal data is sufficiently robust. Modern financial services providers have a wealth of customer data at their disposal, including unstructured data from non-traditional sources such as social media. The tools they use to process and safeguard this data needs to be able to withstand the threats posed by potential data breaches and malicious attacks.
Secondly, rethinking the core organisational processes governing their interactions with customers. This includes the internal measures for setting terms and conditions, how customers are informed of their intention to use their data, and how risk is assessed. A customer applying for medical insurance will disclose deeply personal information about themselves to the insurance provider: it is imperative the insurer provides reassurance that the customer’s data will be treated respectfully and with discretion and with their express permission.
Thirdly, financial services firms need to define a core set of principles for how they treat customers and what constitutes fair treatment. This should be an extension of a broader organisational focus on treating customers fairly, and can go some way to repairing the trust deficit between the financial services industry and the customers they serve.