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Fending off DDoS attacks

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DDoS extortion attacks seem to be the new threats to look out for. According to GAD ELKIN of F5 Networks, a hybrid security approach is a company’s best chance of mitigating these attacks.

It is a testament to the sustained evolution of the cybersecurity landscape that we are still regularly seeing the emergence of new threats. Distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks and ransomware are both well-established methods of cyber-attack, but we have recently seen a new tactic that combines elements of both: DDoS extortion attacks.

From what we’ve seen of the attacks so far, there is an almost professional approach to the whole process; initially, an email will arrive at the target explaining who the attackers are and even linking to some recent blogs written about them and their extortion tactics.

The email goes on to state that unless a fee is paid (usually around 40 Bitcoin but demands can go into the hundreds), a large-scale DDoS attack will be launched. Alternatively, some emails will only arrive after the attack has started, stating that the attack will only be stopped if the ransom is paid, or the severity will be reduced if a portion of the fee is paid.

We’ve monitored some attacks that start slowly and increase in scale – DD4BC, the company behind the extortion, claims it can launch attacks up to 400-500 Gbps.  Such attacks are very rarely that strong, but they are known to last up to 18 hours, however, which is definitely enough time to seriously impact a business.

At this point, it seems that no particular industry is being targeted specifically, but there is one general theme. The targets we’ve seen so far have been those that rely on online transactions to operate, such as financial institutions and currency exchanges.

One endgame to this that we’ve seen is that the extortion element could actually be a diversion tactic, meaning the customer concentrates on the sheer volumetric high-end type of attacks, when the offenders are actually targeting a local application with a different attack vector. This means that hackers could be conducting local application level attacks involving any form of penetration into the application itself. So often the target isn’t actually to bring down or disrupt a website or service but to gain access to an application in order to steal information, whether it’s credentials, financial information, personal data or something else.

It’s understandable that some targets may think the email is junk and ignore it, but that’s not necessarily the best course of action. Of course, that doesn’t mean that paying the ransom is advisable either. That leaves targets with the option of mitigating the attack, despite the emails specifically stating that attempting to mitigate the DDoS attack is pointless. Whilst the protagonists may claim that the attack is too big for even the best technology to cope with, that’s just not true.

Mitigation is possible through a combination of on-premises and cloud-based anti-DDoS technologies. A hybrid approach allows a company to mitigate DDoS attacks that are launched from outside the infrastructure and also cope with local-level attacks targeting the application layer.

A DDoS attack up to 500 Gbps in size can only be stopped with cloud-based technologies. The local network and application level attacks (which will happen if the DDoS is a diversion tactic) has to be stopped with on-premises technologies. So one or the other won’t do; a hybrid approach is the key to protecting your business from the ever-expanding arsenal of the cyber-criminal.

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Earth 2050: memory chips for kids, telepathy for adults

An astonishing set of predictions for the next 30 years includes a major challenge to the privacy of our thoughts.

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By 2050, most kids may be fitted with the latest memory boosting implants, and adults will have replaced mobile devices with direct connectivity through brain implants, powered by thought.

These are some of the more dramatic forecasts in Earth 2050, an award-winning, interactive multimedia project that accumulates predictions about social and technological developments for the upcoming 30 years. The aim is to identify global challenges for humanity and possible ways of solving these challenges. The website was launched in 2017 to mark Kaspersky Lab’s 20th birthday. It comprises a rich variety of predictions and future scenarios, covering a wide range of topics.

Recently a number of new contributions have been added to the site. Among them Lord Martin Rees, the UK’s Astronomer Royal, Professor at Cambridge University and former President of the Royal Society; investor and entrepreneur Steven Hoffman, Peter Tatchell, human rights campaigner, along withDmitry Galov, security researcher and Alexey Malanov, malware analyst at Kaspersky Lab.

The new visions for 2050 consider, among other things:

  • The replacement of mobile devices with direct connectivity through brain implants, powered by thought – able to upload skills and knowledge in return – and the impact of this on individual consciousness and privacy of thought.
  • The ability to transform all life at the genetic level through gene editing.
  • The potential impact of mistakes made by advanced machine-learning systems/AI.
  • The demise of current political systems and the rise of ‘citizen governments’, where ordinary people are co-opted to approve legislation.
  • The end of the techno-industrial age as the world runs out of fossil fuels, leading to economic and environmental devastation.
  • The end of industrial-scale meat production, as most people become vegan and meat is cultured from biopsies taken from living, outdoor reared livestock.

The hypothetical prediction for 2050 from Dmitry Galov, security researcher at Kaspersky Lab is as follows: “By 2050, our knowledge of how the brain works, and our ability to enhance or repair it is so advanced that being able to remember everything and learn new things at an outrageous speed has become commonplace. Most kids are fitted with the latest memory boosting implants to support their learning and this makes education easier than it has ever been. 

“Brain damage as a result of head injury is easily repaired; memory loss is no longer a medical condition, and people suffering from mental illnesses, such as depression, are quickly cured.  The technologies that underpin this have existed in some form since the late 2010s. Memory implants are in fact a natural progression from the connected deep brain stimulation implants of 2018.

“But every technology has another side – a dark side. In 2050, the medical, social and economic impact of memory boosting implants are significant, but they are also vulnerable to exploitation and cyber-abuse. New threats that have appeared in the last decade include the mass manipulation of groups through implanted or erased memories of political events or conflicts, and even the creation of ‘human botnets’. 

“These botnets connect people’s brains into a network of agents controlled and operated by cybercriminals, without the knowledge of the victims themselves.  Repurposed cyberthreats from previous decades are targeting the memories of world leaders for cyber-espionage, as well as those of celebrities, ordinary people and businesses with the aim of memory theft, deletion of or ‘locking’ of memories (for example, in return for a ransom).  

“This landscape is only possible because, in the late 2010s when the technologies began to evolve, the potential future security vulnerabilities were not considered a priority, and the various players: healthcare, security, policy makers and more, didn’t come together to understand and address future risks.”

For more information and the full suite of inspirational and thought-provoking predictions, visit Earth 2050.

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How load-shedding is killing our cellphone signals

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Extensive load-shedding, combined with the theft of cell tower backup batteries and copper wire, is placing a massive strain on mobile network providers.

MTN says the majority of MTN’S sites have been equipped with battery backup systems to ensure there is enough power on site to run the system for several hours when local power goes out and the mains go down. 

“With power outages on the rise, these back-up systems become imperative to keeping South Africa connected and MTN has invested heavily in generators and backup batteries to maintain communication for customers, despite the lack of electrical power,” the operator said in a statement today.

However, according to Jacqui O’Sullivan, Executive: Corporate Affairs, at MTN SA, “The high frequency of the cycles of load shedding have meant batteries were unable to fully recharge. They generally have a capacity of six to 12 hours, depending on the site category, and require 12 to 18 hours to recharge.”

An additional challenge is that criminals and criminal syndicates are placing networks across the country at risk. Batteries, which can cost R28 000 per battery and upwards, are sought after on black markets – especially in neighbouring countries. 

“Although MTN has improved security and is making strides in limiting instances of theft and vandalism with the assistance of the police, the increase in power outages has made this issue even more pressing,” says O’Sullivan.

Ernest Paul, General Manager: Network Operations at SA’s leading network provider MTN, says the brazen theft of batteries is an industry-wide problem and will require a broader initiative driven by communities, the private sector, police and prosecutors to bring it to a halt.

“Apart from the cost of replacing the stolen batteries and upgrading the broken infrastructure, communities suffer as the network degrades without the back-up power. This is due to the fact that any coverage gaps need to be filled. The situation is even more dire with the rolling power cuts expected due to Eskom load shedding.”

Loss of services and network quality can range from a 2-5km radius to 15km on some sites and affect 5,000 to 20,000 people. On hub sites, network coverage to entire suburbs and regions can be lost.

Click here to read more about efforts to combat copper theft.

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