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Danger in dating apps

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Kaspersky Lab has discovered a range of vulnerabilities contained in popular dating apps which could result in various negative consequences for users: from simply identifying a particular person, to unsecured data transmissions and the leaking of personal information.

Dating apps are quickly becoming more popular all over the world. According to the latest report “Dangerous Liaisons: is everyone doing it online?” as many as one-in-three people globally are currently using an online dating service. But, with the increasing popularity of these services comes an important security issue, since most dating services require users to share personal information. With this in mind, a team of Kaspersky Lab researchers decided to examine how secure they really are. They conducted detailed analyses of the most popular dating applications in different world regions, looking for various vulnerabilities that could affect users’ real lives and change their status from “daters” to “victims”.

This research revealed that users face multiple risks when using online dating apps. For example, they can be identified by finding out their names and surnames from social network profiles and can also be found in the physical world through the use of geolocation data. Furthermore, they can lose access to their accounts, or have their personal data fall into the wrong hands.

Our experts have discovered a common security risk present in several applications, related to the token-based authentication method which is used by dating apps for new registration and sign-up processes. A token is created on request by a server in order to uniquely identify the user and usually asks for access to a Facebook account. It then provides access to general user information, including first and last names, the user’s e-mail address and their profile picture. By using this method, applications receive all the necessary data to enable them to authenticate the user on its servers. However, based on the research, tokens are often stored or used insecurely and, therefore, can be easily stolen. As a result, intruders are able to gain temporary access to victims’ accounts even without their login and password details.

Following this vulnerability with insecure token storage, users may also face another threat related to the safety of message histories which are stored on the device and can be accessed and read by intruders. Such attacks are a particular threat to users of Android devices. Some of them, those running outdated software, have unclosed vulnerabilities that enable attackers to gain root access to the device, which can be used to gain access to private information, including that about user activity in dating apps such as messages written and photos viewed.

In addition, users of 6 of the analysed apps can be detected by their location. In some of the apps Kaspersky Lab also identified risks in data transmission process. Although most applications use SSL (Secure Sockets Layer) to secure communication with servers, some data is sent via the HTTP protocol and is not encrypted. This provides hackers with opportunities to intercept these communications, which often contain personal information such as the user’s location, profiles visited, messages, device data etc. Using an insecure connection, intruders can also gain control of a victim’s account.

“Our research demonstrates that users of dating apps should care very much about cybersecurity, because many such services are not protected against several different kinds of attacks. Besides this, users are putting themselves at risk by sharing sensitive personal information in their profiles such as their place of education and work. Armed with this information, intruders can easily find victims’ real accounts on Facebook and LinkedIn networks. It also opens possibilities for stalking – to harass users and track their movements in real life. Therefore, users should be sure to carefully monitor their privacy, security and data protection when dating online,” says Roman Unuchek, security expert at Kaspersky Lab.

To prevent your data from theft, Kaspersky Lab recommends the following:

  • Avoid public Wi-Fi hotspots which offer limited protection,
  • Use a VPN to ensure a secure connection,
  • Don’t share your sensitive ID information, such as education, work place, etc.,
  • Install a reliable security solution on your device such as Kaspersky Internet Security for Android.

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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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R5m in software fines

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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.

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