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Hidden malware targets enterprises

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Research has revealed that banks, telecommunication companies and government organisations in Africa, the US, South America and Europe are among the top targets, with the GCMAN and Carbanak groups being the primary suspects. 

Kaspersky Lab experts have discovered a series of “invisible” targeted attacks that use only legitimate software: widely available penetration-testing and administration tools as well as the PowerShell framework for task automation in Windows – dropping no malware files onto the hard drive, but hiding in the memory. This combined approach helps to avoid detection by whitelisting technologies, and leaves forensic investigators with almost no artefacts or malware samples to work with. The attackers stay around just long enough to gather information before their traces are wiped from the system on the first reboot.

At the end of 2016, Kaspersky Lab experts were contacted by banks in CIS which had found the penetration-testing software, Meterpreter, now often used for malicious purposes, in the memory of their servers when it was not supposed to be there. Kaspersky Lab discovered that the Meterpreter code was combined with a number of legitimate PowerShell scripts and other utilities.

The combined tools had been adapted into malicious code that could hide in the memory, invisibly collecting the passwords of system administrators so that the attackers could remotely control the victim’s systems. The ultimate goal appears to have been access to financial processes.

Kaspersky Lab has since uncovered that these attacks are happening on a massive scale: hitting more than 140 enterprise networks in a range of business sectors, with most victims located in the USA, France, Ecuador, Kenya, the UK and Russia.

In total, infections have been registered in 40 countries. It is not known who is behind the attacks. The use of open source exploit code, common Windows utilities and unknown domains makes it almost impossible to determine the group responsible – or even whether it is a single group or several groups sharing the same tools.  Known groups that have the most similar approaches are GCMAN and Carbanak.

Such tools also make it harder to uncover the details of an attack. The normal process during incident response is for an investigator to follow the traces and samples left in the network by the attackers. And while data in a hard drive can remain available for a year after an event, artefacts hiding in the memory will be wiped on the first reboot of the computer. Fortunately, on this occasion, the experts got to them in time.

“The determination of attackers to hide their activity and make detection and incident response increasingly difficult explains the latest trend of anti-forensic techniques and memory-based malware. That is why memory forensics is becoming critical to the analysis of malware and its functions. In these particular incidents, the attackers used every conceivable anti-forensic technique; demonstrating how no malware files are needed for the successful exfiltration of data from a network, and how the use of legitimate and open source utilities makes attribution almost impossible,” said Sergey Golovanov, Principal Security Researcher at Kaspersky Lab.

The attackers are still active, so it is important to note that detection of such an attack is possible only in RAM, the network and registry – and that, in such instances, the use of Yara rules based on a scan of malicious files are of no use.

Details of the second part of the operation, showing how the attackers implemented unique tactics to withdraw money through ATMs will be presented by Sergey Golovanov and Igor Soumenkov at the Security Analyst Summit, to be held from 2 to 6 April, 2017.

Kaspersky Lab products successfully detect operations using the above tactics, techniques and procedures. Further information on this story and Yara rules for forensic analysis can be found in the blog on Securelist.com.

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Technical details, including Indicators of Compromise were also provided to customers of Kaspersky Intelligence Services.

 

Combatting attacks by groups like GCMAN or Carbanak requires a specific set of skills from the security specialist guarding the targeted organisation. During the Security Analysis Summit 2017, Kaspersky Lab’s top-notch specialists will be running exclusive security training sessions designed to help specialists detect sophisticated targeted attacks. Apply for training on “Hunting targeted attacks with Yara rules” here. Apply for training on Malware reverse engineering here.

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VoD cuts the cord in SA

Some 20% of South Africans who sign up for a subscription video on demand (SVOD) service such as Netflix or Showmax do so with the intention of cancelling their pay television subscription.

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That’s according to GfK’s international ViewScape survey*, which this year covers Africa (South Africa, Kenya and Nigeria) for the first time.

The study—which surveyed 1,250 people representative of urban South African adults with Internet access—shows that 90% of the country’s online adults today use at least one online video service and that just over half are paying to view digital online content. The average user spends around 7 hours and two minutes a day consuming video content, with broadcast television accounting for just 42% of the time South Africans spend in front of a screen.

Consumers in South Africa spend nearly as much of their daily viewing time – 39% of the total – watching free digital video sources such as YouTube and Facebook as they do on linear television. People aged 18 to 24 years spend more than eight hours a day watching video content as they tend to spend more time with free digital video than people above their age.

Says Benjamin Ballensiefen, managing director for Sub Sahara Africa at GfK: “The media industry is experiencing a revolution as digital platforms transform viewers’ video consumption behaviour. The GfK ViewScape study is one of the first to not only examine broadcast television consumption in Kenya, Nigeria and South Africa, but also to quantify how linear and online forms of content distribution fit together in the dynamic world of video consumption.”

The study finds that just over a third of South African adults are using streaming video on demand (SVOD) services, with only 16% of SVOD users subscribing to multiple services. Around 23% use per-pay-view platforms such as DSTV Box Office, while about 10% download pirated content from the Internet. Around 82% still sometimes watch content on disc-based media.

“Linear and non-linear television both play significant roles in South Africa’s video landscape, though disruption from digital players poses a growing threat to the incumbents,” says Molemo Moahloli, general manager for media research & regional business development at GfK Sub Sahara Africa. “Among most demographics, usage of paid online content is incremental to consumption of linear television, but there are signs that younger consumers are beginning to substitute SVOD for pay-television subscriptions.”

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New data rules raise business trust challenges

When the General Data Protection Regulation comes into effect on May 25th, financial services firms will face a new potential threat to their on-going challenges with building strong customer relationships, writes DARREL ORSMOND, Financial Services Industry Head at SAP Africa.

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The regulation – dubbed GDPR for short – is aimed at giving European citizens control back over their personal data. Any firm that creates, stores, manages or transfers personal information of an EU citizen can be held liable under the new regulation. Non-compliance is not an option: the fines are steep, with a maximum penalty of €20-million – or nearly R300-million – for transgressors.

GDPR marks a step toward improved individual rights over large corporates and states that prevents the latter from using and abusing personal information at their discretion. Considering the prevailing trust deficit – one global EY survey found that 60% of global consumers worry about hacking of bank accounts or bank cards, and 58% worry about the amount of personal and private data organisations have about them – the new regulation comes at an opportune time. But it is almost certain to cause disruption to normal business practices when implemented, and therein lies both a threat and an opportunity.

The fundamentals of trust

GDPR is set to tamper with two fundamental factors that can have a detrimental effect on the implicit trust between financial services providers and their customers: firstly, customers will suddenly be challenged to validate that what they thought companies were already doing – storing and managing their personal data in a manner that is respectful of their privacy – is actually happening. Secondly, the outbreak of stories relating to companies mistreating customer data or exposing customers due to security breaches will increase the chances that customers now seek tangible reassurance from their providers that their data is stored correctly.

The recent news of Facebook’s indiscriminate sharing of 50 million of its members’ personal data to an outside firm has not only led to public outcry but could cost the company $2-trillion in fines should the Federal Trade Commission choose to pursue the matter to its fullest extent. The matter of trust also extends beyond personal data: in EY’s 2016 Global Consumer Banking Survey, less than a third of respondents had complete trust that their banks were being transparent about fees and charges.

This is forcing companies to reconsider their role in building and maintaining trust with its customers. In any customer relationship, much is done based on implicit trust. A personal banking customer will enjoy a measure of familiarity that often provides them with some latitude – for example when applying for access to a new service or an overdraft facility – that can save them a lot of time and energy. Under GDPR and South Africa’s POPI act, this process is drastically complicated: banks may now be obliged to obtain permission to share customer data between different business units (for example because they are part of different legal entities and have not expressly received permission). A customer may now allow banks to use their personal data in risk scoring models, but prevent them from determining whether they qualify for private banking services.

What used to happen naturally within standard banking processes may be suddenly constrained by regulation, directly affecting the bank’s relationship with its customers, as well as its ability to upsell to existing customers.

The risk of compliance

Are we moving to an overly bureaucratic world where even the simplest action is subject to a string of onerous processes? Compliance officers are already embedded within every function in a typical financial services institution, as well as at management level. Often the reporting of risk processes sits outside formal line functions and end up going straight to the board. This can have a stifling effect on innovation, with potentially negative consequences for customer service.

A typical banking environment is already creaking under the weight of close to 100 acts, which makes it difficult to take the calculated risks needed to develop and launch innovative new banking products. Entire new industries could now emerge, focusing purely on the matter of compliance and associated litigation. GDPR already requires the services of Data Protection Officers, but the growing complexity of regulatory compliance could add a swathe of new job functions and disciplines. None of this points to the type of innovation that the modern titans of business are renowned for.

A three-step plan of action

So how must banks and other financial services firms respond? I would argue there are three main elements to successfully navigating the immediate impact of the new regulations:

Firstly, ensuring that the technologies you use to secure, manage and store personal data is sufficiently robust. Modern financial services providers have a wealth of customer data at their disposal, including unstructured data from non-traditional sources such as social media. The tools they use to process and safeguard this data needs to be able to withstand the threats posed by potential data breaches and malicious attacks.

Secondly, rethinking the core organisational processes governing their interactions with customers. This includes the internal measures for setting terms and conditions, how customers are informed of their intention to use their data, and how risk is assessed. A customer applying for medical insurance will disclose deeply personal information about themselves to the insurance provider: it is imperative the insurer provides reassurance that the customer’s data will be treated respectfully and with discretion and with their express permission.

Thirdly, financial services firms need to define a core set of principles for how they treat customers and what constitutes fair treatment. This should be an extension of a broader organisational focus on treating customers fairly, and can go some way to repairing the trust deficit between the financial services industry and the customers they serve.

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