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Hack Attack: Understanding the anatomy of cyber crime

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How do hackers hack? How do they gain access to a network? ANVEE ALDERTON, channel manager at Trend Micro Southern Africa, helps us understand cyber-attacks.

Our idea of hackers is that of sinister individuals, all working alone, hunkered over computers in a darkened room. This is actually a far cry from the truth. Hackers, these days, are sophisticated, organised and look a lot like you and me.

Investigation and security company Nuix recently published The Black Report, in which it surveyed hackers and penetration testers. The survey showed that cyber criminals can access a network within six to 24 hours in order to extract data. The report also revealed that 75% of companies that have been penetrated don’t do more than peripheral reinforcement of security.

What does this tell us? Attacks are getting far more complex in nature, with many hackers working in groups, or syndicates. Spread out through the globe, and with access to a relative amount of funds, these groups are able to perform in-depth attacks. More than that, they are regularly developing new malicious software.

I am often asked why hackers launch attacks. There are three primary reasons:

  • For the challenge. Some hackers like to test their skills or choose difficult targets to improve their skills.
  • For financial gain. Information can be bought and sold as with anything else. Scammers, rival companies and even nation states pay highly for sensitive data.
  • To disrupt and cause chaos for businesses – usually as a statement or as a form of activism.

There are several ways that a hacker can access your network. The first, is using a method called “social engineering”. This means that the hacker interacts with someone in the target business and cons them out of the information that they need.

Hackers also use more sophisticated means of gaining access by exploiting vulnerabilities, using backdoor controls and going as far as stealing and using valid credentials. They may also employ stealth, using methods undetectable to standard security systems. This is the kind of thing that is regularly portrayed in film and TV.

Once the hacker has what he needs, he is able to target network and leave behind malware, leaving him free to move around the network as he pleases. The information, or data, that has been deemed valuable, is then extracted.

This would logically mean that this specific cyber-attack is completed, that the hacker has moved on, and there is no longer a threat. This, however, is not the case. Most companies don’t detect the hacker’s presence for days or even months. This means that they can continue to remove valuable new data on a regular basis.

The institutions that they target are financial institutions, healthcare organisations, major retailers and more. This means that your personal information is exposed and fair game to the hackers involved.

The threats that a company can face can include ransomware, where malware is used to block the company’s access to their own data. The hacker then demands a sum of money in order to release the data – effectively, they hold your information to ransom. There is no guarantee, however, that once the ransom is paid that the data would be released.

Phishing and whaling is also a popular means of sending malicious links. Convincing subject lines, coupled with legitimate seeming addresses, means that people click through and inadvertently are exposed to malware.

Most common of all are scams. We all know to avoid sending R 1 000.00 to a fictitious foreign businessman, however, scams are not always that easy to spot. Information can be gained by scammers posing as a person from a bank or a service provider, and in that way, obtain personal information which they can use to access accounts.

A holistic approach to security is preferred, with a multi-level approach that relies on endpoint security, employee education and detection systems in addition to the traditional use of firewalls and antivirus.

Hackers not only cost a business money, but credibility as well. It is vital to have the right kind of security and education on all levels.

What does that mean? Prevention is the first place to start with an integrated approach. Vulnerabilities and potential threats need to be assessed and endpoints, servers and applications need to be proactively secured. Prevention also involves a human component: staff need to be educated about not opening suspicious links or clicking through to suspect sites.

It’s also important to be able to detect the more advanced forms of malware that managed to slip through the first stage. Risk assessment and analysis provides insight into the impact of threats.

Finally, if there is a threat present, it is important to respond immediately with creating a real-time signature which is shared with all endpoints and gateway security. This is how you avoid future attacks.

It’s not enough to just do one thing, for example, protection. An integrated approach to cyber security is more effective and can not only save a company money, but their reputation as well.

Featured

Win a Poster Heater with Gadget and Takealot.com

This winter Gadget and Takealot.com are giving away three Poster Heaters, which look like posters but become heaters when you plug them in.

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Three Gadget readers will each win a unit, valued at R550 each. To enter, follow @GadgetZA and @Takealot on Twitter and tell us on the @GadgetZA account how many Watts the heater consumes.

What’s the big deal about these heaters? Many of us are struggling to keep the balance between soaring electricity costs and the need to keep warm this winter.

However, the recently launched Poster Heater by EasyHeat and distributed in South Africa by Takealot.com is not only one of the most cost effective electric heaters currently on the market, it is also easy to setup and use.

As the name indicates, it is a poster similar to one you would hang on a wall. But, plug it in and it turns into a 300 Watt heater. The Poster Heater isn’t designed to heat hallways or large rooms, but rather smaller ones like a bedroom or a baby’s nursery or a dressing room.

It uses radiant heating, which means that it heats up in a couple of minutes and the heat is directed at the objects or people around it, quickly taking the chill out of the air and providing a comfortable ambient temperature.

The other advantage of radiant heating is that it doesn’t dry out the air like infrared or gas heaters. Users also don’t have to worry about their children or pets getting too close to it because, even though it gets hot, it can be touched.

To enter the competition follow the steps below:

Competition entry details:

1. Follow @GadgetZA and @Takealot on Twitter. (We will ONLY be accepting entires via Twitter, so please don’t enter through the comments section of this article.)

2. Tell us on Twitter, via @GadgetZA, mentioning @Takealot in your posting, how many Watts the Poster Heater consumes.

cleardot.gif3. The competition closes on 31 July 2018.

4. Winners will be notified via Twitter on 1 August and Takealot.com will be in touch to organise delivery.

5. The competition is only open to South African residents.

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Arts and Entertainment

Deezer to host Hotstix’s Mandela tribute playlist

Deezer is celebrating Nelson Mandela on the centenary of his birthday by hosting a tribute playlist created by music legend Sipho “Hotstix” Mabuse.  

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Mabuse, a legendary figure in African music, first rose to prominence in the 1970s with his band Harari and later developed a name for himself as a solo artist. One of his best known songs was the global hit BurnOut in the 1980s.

The playlist takes the listener on a captivating musical journey through the life of Nelson Mandela.  It was compiled by Mabuse, who consulted with Mandela’s family and friends to ensure that the music would be relevant and accurate. The playlist also features commentary by Mabuse, which was recorded in his Soweto home.  

“I have tried to tell the story of the music that Madiba loved,” says Mabuse. “The Playlist excludes the time in prison obviously, as Madiba would not have had exposure to music in that time.  We have focused on the music we know he loved before and after that period. This recording was really an emotional journey for me, but an incredible opportunity to document these memories.”

The playlist features the music the young Mandela loved, such as The Manhattan Brothers, Solomon Linda, Brenda Fassie and Miriam Makeba.  It includes struggle songs from Chicco, Johnny Clegg, Hugh Masekela and Yvonne Chaka Chaka.  The playlist also includes Mandela by Zahara, one of the younger artists who caught Madiba’s ear.

Mabuse also offers stories of his own songs, such as Shikisha, a song greatly beloved by the former President.

“I was delighted to share my thoughts and hope the listeners enjoyed the musical journey,” says Mabuse. “Madiba did enjoy music immensely and we all have a purpose wherever we are in the world to celebrate culture and to learn from different cultures and music forms and styles.”

This playlist was inspired by the Nelson Mandela 100 campaign, calling on corporates and individuals to act as sources of inspiration and engage in conversation and action.

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