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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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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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