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Hackers move into mining

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According to Kaspersky, cybercriminals have started using sophisticated infection methods and techniques borrowed from targeted attacks in order to install mining software on attacked PCs within organisations. The most successful group observed by Kaspersky Lab earned at least $7 million by exploiting their victims in just six months during 2017.

Although the cryptocurrency market is experiencing plenty of ups and downs, last year’s phenomena with surges in the value of Bitcoin has significantly changed not only global economics, but the world of cybersecurity as well. With the aim of earning cryptocurrency, criminals have started to use mining software in their attacks, which, like ransomware, has a simple monetisation model. But, unlike ransomware, it doesn’t destructively harm users and is able to stay undetected for a long time by silently using the PC’s power. Back in September 2017, Kaspersky Lab recorded a rise of miners that started actively spreading across the world, and predicted its further development. The latest research reveals that this growth has not only continued, but has also increased and extended.

Kaspersky Lab researchers recently identified a cybercriminal group with APT-techniques in their arsenal of tools to infect users with miners. They have been using the process-hollowing method that is usually used in malware and has been seen in some targeted attacks of APT actors, but has never been observed in mining attacks before.

The attack works in the following way: the victim is lured into downloading and installing an advertisement software with the miner installer hidden inside. This installer drops a legitimate Windows utility, with the main purpose being to download the miner itself from a remote server. After its execution, a legitimate system process starts, and the legitimate code of this process is changed to malicious code. As a result, the miner operates under the guise of a legitimate task, so it will be impossible for a user to recognise if there is a mining infection. It is also challenging for security solutions to detect this threat. In addition, miners mark this new process through the way it restricts any task cancellation. If the user tries to stop the process, the computer system will reboot. As a result, criminals protect their presence in the system for a longer and more productive time.

Based on Kaspersky Lab’s observations, the actors behind these attacks have been mining Electroneum coins and earned almost $7 million during the second half of 2017, which is comparable to the sums that ransomware creators used to earn.

“We see that ransomware is fading into the background, instead giving way to miners. This is confirmed by our statistics, which show a steady growth of miners throughout the year, as well as by the fact that cybercriminals groups are actively developing their methods and have already started to use more sophisticated techniques to spread mining software. We have already seen such an evolution – ransomware hackers were using the same tricks when they were on the rise,” said Anton Ivanov, Lead Malware Analyst at Kaspersky Lab.

Overall, 2.7 million users were attacked by malicious miners in 2017, according to Kaspersky Lab data. That is approximately 50% higher than in 2016 (1.87 mln). They have been falling victims as a result of adware, cracked games and pirated software used by cybercriminals to secretly infect their PCs. Another approach used was web mining through a special code located in an infected web page. The most widely used web miner was CoinHive, discovered on many popular websites.

Number of Kaspersky Lab users attacked by malicious cryptocurrency miners in 2017

Number of Kaspersky Lab users attacked by malicious cryptocurrency miners in 2017

In order to stay protected, Kaspersky Lab recommends that users do the following:

  • Don’t click on unknown websites, or suspicious banners and ads;
  • Do not download and open unknown files from untrusted sources;
  • Install a reliable security solution such as Kaspersky Internet Security or Kaspersky Free that detects and protects you from all possible threats, including malicious mining software.

For organisations, Kaspersky Lab recommends the following:

  • Carry out a security audit on a regular basis
  • Install a reliable security solution on all workstations and servers and make sure all its components are enabled to ensure the maximum protection. Kaspersky Lab customers are protected with Kaspersky Endpoint Security for Business.
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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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