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DDoS threats rise

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F5 Labs has released new figures highlighting how distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks continue to grow and evolve in EMEA.

According to customer data from F5’s Poland-based Security Operations Center (SOC), 2017 saw a 64% rise in mitigated incidents. EMEA is also firmly in the firing line, accounting for over 51% of reported global DDoS attacks.

Reflecting the spike in activity, F5 reported a 100% growth for EMEA customers deploying Web Application Firewall (WAF) technology in the past year. Meanwhile, anti-fraud solutions adoption increased by 76% and DDoS by 58%.

A key discovery was the relative drop in power for single attacks. Last year, the SOC logged multiple attacks of over 100 Gbps, with some surpassing 400 Gbps.

In 2017, the top attack stood at 62 Gbps. This suggests a move towards more sophisticated Layer 7 DDoS attacks that are potentially more effective and have lower bandwidth requirements. 66% of reported DDoS attacks were multi-vector and required sophisticated mitigation tools and knowledge.

“DDoS threats are on the rise in EMEA compared to the rest of the world, and we’re seeing notable changes in their scope and sophistication compared to 2016,” said Martin Walshaw, senior network engineer at F5.

“Businesses need to be aware of the shift and ensure, as a matter of priority, that the right solutions are in place to halt DDoS attacks before they reach applications and adversely impact on business operations. EMEA is clearly a hotspot for attacks on a global scale, so there is minimal scope for the region’s decision-makers to take their eyes off the ball.”

Four seasons of threat intelligence

Q1 2017 started with a bang, with F5 customers facing the widest range of disruptive attacks recorded to date. User Diagram Protocol (UDP) floods stood out, representing 25% of all attacks. Attackers typically send large UDP packets to a single destination or random ports, disguising themselves as trustworthy entities before stealing sensitive data. The next most common attacks were DNS Reflection (18%) and SYN Flood attacks (16%).

Q1 was also the peak for Internet Control Message Protocol (ICMP) attacks, whereby cybercriminals overwhelm businesses with rapid “echo request” (ping) packets without waiting for replies. In stark contrast, Q1 2016 attacks were a 50/50 split between UDP and Simple Service Discover Protocol (SSDP) floods.

Q2 proved equally challenging, with SYN floods moving to the front of the attack pack (25%), followed by Network Time Protocol and UDP floods (both 20%).

The attackers’ momentum continued into Q3, with UDP floods leading the way (26%). NTP floods were also prevalent (rising from 8% during the same period in 2016, to 22%), followed by DNS reflection (17%).

2017 wound down with more UDP flood dominance (25% of all attacks). It was also the busiest period for DNS reflection, which accounted for 20% of all attacks (compared to 8% in 2017 during the same period).

Another key discovery during Q4 – and one that vividly underlines cybercriminals capacity for agile reinvention – was how the Ramnit Trojan dramatically extended its reach. Initially built to hit banks, F5 Labs found that 64% of its targets during the holiday season were US based e-commerce sites. Other new targets included sites related to travel, entertainment, food, dating and pornography. Other observed banking Trojans extending their reach include Trickbot, which infects its victims with social engineering attacks, such as phishing or malvertising, to trick unassuming users into clicking malware links or downloading malware files.

“Attack vectors and tactics will only continue to evolve in EMEA,” said Walshaw.

“It is vital that businesses have the right solutions and services in place to safeguard apps wherever they reside. 2017 showed that more internet traffic is SSL/TLS encrypted, so it is imperative that DDoS mitigation solutions can examine the nature of these increasingly sophisticated attacks. Full visibility and greater control at every layer are essential for businesses to stay relevant and credible to customers. This will be particularly important in 2018 as the EU General Data Protection Regulations come into play.”

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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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