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Cryptojacking rises

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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.

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Wannacry still alive

One and a half years after its epidemic, WannaCry ransomware tops the list of the most widespread cryptor families and the ransomware has attacked 74,621 unique users worldwide.

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These attacks accounted for 28.72% of all users targeted by cryptors in Q3 2018. The percentage has risen over the last year, demonstrating more than two thirds growth against Q3 2017, when its share in cryptor attacks was 16.78%. This is just one of the main findings from Kaspersky Lab’s Q3 IT threat evolution report. 

A series of cyberattacks with WannaCry cryptor occurred in May 2017 and is still considered to be one of the biggest ransomware epidemics in history. Even though Windows released a patch for its operating system to close the vulnerability exploited by EternalBlue 2 months prior to the start of the attacks, WannaCry still affected hundreds of thousands devices around the globe. As cryptors do, WannaCry turned files on victims’ computers into encrypted data and demanded ransom for decryption keys (created by threat actors to decipher the files and transform them back into the original data) making it impossible to operate the infected device.

The consequences of the WannaCry epidemic were devastating: as the victims were mainly organisations with networked systems – the work of businesses, factories and hospitals was paralysed. Even though this case demonstrated the dangers cryptors pose, and most of PCs around the world have been updated to resist the EternalBlue exploit, the statistics show that criminals still try to exploit those computers that weren’t patched and there are still plenty of them around the globe.

Overall, Kaspersky Lab security solution protected 259,867 unique users from cryptors attacks, showing a substantial rise of 39% since Q2 2018, when the figure was 158,921. The growth was rapid yet steady, with a monthly observed increase in the number of users.

The rising share of WannaCry attacks is another reminder that epidemics don’t end as fast as they start – there are always long-running consequences. In the case of cryptors, attacks can be so severe that it is necessary to take preventive measures and patch the device, rather than deal with encrypted files later,” said Fedor Sinitsyn, security researcher at Kaspersky Lab.

 To reduce the risk of infection by WannaCry and other cryptors, users are advised to:

  • Always update your operating system to eliminate recent vulnerabilities and use a robust security solution with updated databases. It is also important to use the security solution that has specialised technologies to protect your data from ransomware, as Kaspersky Lab’s solutions do. Even if the newest yet unknown malware does manage to sneak through, Kaspersky Lab’s System Watcher technology is able to block and roll back all malicious changes made on a device, including the encryption of files.
  • If you have bad luck and all your files are encrypted with cryptomalware, it is not recommended to pay cybercriminals, as it encourages them to continue their dirty business and infect more people’s devices. It is better to find a decryptor on the Internet – some of them are available for free here: https://noransom.kaspersky.com/

·         It is also important to always have fresh backup copies of your files to be able to replace them in case they are lost (e.g. due to malware or a broken device), and store them not only on the physical object but also in cloud storage for greater reliability (don’t forget to protect your cloud storage with strong hack-proof password!)

·         If you’re a business, enhance your preferred third-party security solution with the newest version of the free Kaspersky Anti-Ransomware Tool.

·         To protect the corporate environment, educate your employees and IT teams, keep sensitive data separate, restrict access, and always back up everything.

·         Use a dedicated security solution, such as Kaspersky Endpoint Security for Business that is powered by behaviour detection and able to roll back malicious actions. It should also include Vulnerability and Patch management features that automatically eliminates vulnerabilities and installs updates. This reduces the risk of vulnerabilities in popular software being used by cybercriminals.

·         Last, but not least, remember that ransomware is a criminal offence. You shouldn’t pay. If you become a victim, report it to your local law enforcement agency.

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Nokia 6.1 gets slice of Pie

HMD Global has announced that the Nokia 6.1 will start receiving Android 9 Pie – the second smartphone in the portfolio to receive the latest version of Android less than a month after the update arrived on the Nokia 7 plus.

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Packed with Google’s newest software and building on the features of Android 8.0 Oreo, Android 9 Pie’s focus on artificial intelligence and machine learning gives owners a more customised and tailored experience.

Powered by the Qualcomm Snapdragon 630 Mobile Platform, the Nokia 6.1 is over 60% faster than its predecessor. Also, now offering enhanced Dual-Sight, ZEISS optics, USB-C fast-charging, Nokia spatial audio and pure, secure and up-to-date Android Oreo.

The Nokia 6.1 has been selected by Google to join the Android One family and therefore users get exclusive access to Apps Actions – a feature only available to Android One and Google Pixel devices.  App Actions helps users get things done faster by predicting their next move and displaying the right action on right away.

Now with Android 9 Pie, the Nokia 6.1’s already impressive battery life is further complimented with the introduction of Adaptive Battery, an update that uses deep learning to understand usage patterns and prioritise battery power on the most important apps.

Other key features of Android 9

·       Slices – Identifies relevant information on favourite apps to make them more easily accessible when needed

·       Adaptive Brightness – Automatically adapts phone brightness by learning from interactions with different settings

·       New system navigation – Features a single home button that provides intelligent predictions and suggestions (user enabled)

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