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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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Samsung unleashes the beast

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Most new smartphone releases of the past few years have been like cat-and-mouse games with consumers and each other. It has been as if morsels of cheese are thrown into the box to make it more interesting: a little extra camera here, a little more battery there, and incremental changes to size, speed (more) and weight (less). Each change moves the needle of innovation ever-so-slightly. Until we find ourselves, a few years later, with a handset that is revolutionary compared to six years ago, but an anti-climax relative to six months before.

And then came Samsung. Probably stung by the “incremental improvement” phrase that has become almost a cliché about new Galaxy devices, the Korean giant chose to unleash a beast last week.

The new Galaxy Note 9 is not only the biggest smartphone Samsung has ever released, but one of the biggest flagship handsets that can still be called a phone. With a 6.4” display, it suddenly competes with mini-tablets and gaming consoles, among other devices that had previously faced little contest from handsets.

It offers almost ever cutting edge introduced to the Galaxy S9 and S9+ smartphones earlier this year, including the market-leading f1.5 aperture lens, and an f2.4. telephoto lens, each weighing in at 12 Megapixels. The front lens is equally impressive, with an f1.7 aperture – first introduced on the Note 8 as the widest yet on a selfie camera.

So far, so S9. However, the Note range has always been set apart by its S Pen stylus, and each edition has added new features. Born as a mere pen that writes on screens, it evolved through the likes of pressure sensitivity, allowing for artistic expression, and cut-and-paste text with translation-on-the-fly.

(Click here or below to read more about the Samsung Galaxy S Pen stylus) Samsung Galaxy S9 Features)

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SA ride permit system ‘broken’

Despite the amendments to the National Land Transport Act, ALON LITS, General Manager, Uber in Sub Saharan Africa, believes that many premature given that the necessary, well-functioning systems and processes are not yet in place to make these regulatory changes viable.

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The spirit and intention of the amendments to the National Land Transport Act No 5  (NLTA), 2009 put forward by the Ministry of Transport are to be commended. It is especially pleasing that these amendments include ridesharing and e-hailing operators and drivers as legitimate participants in the country’s public transport system, which point to government’s willingness to embrace the changes and innovation taking place in the country’s transport industry.

However, there are aspects of the proposed amendments that are, at best, premature given that the necessary, well-functioning systems and processes are not yet in place to make these regulatory changes viable.

Of particular concern are the significant financial penalties that will need to be paid by ridesharing and e-hailing companies whose independent operators are found to be transporting passengers without a legal permit issued by the relevant local authority. These fines can be as high as R100 000 per driver operating without a permit. Apart from being an excessive penalty it is grossly unfair given that a large number of local authorities don’t yet have functioning permit issuing systems and processes in place.

The truth is that the operating permit issuance system in South Africa is effectively broken. The application and issuance processes for operating licenses are fundamentally flawed and subject to extensive delays, sometimes over a year in length.  This situation is exacerbated by the fact that it is very difficult for applicants whose permit applications haven’t yet been approved to get reasons for the extensive delays on the issuing of those permits.

Uber has had extensive first-hand experience with the frustratingly slow process of applying for these permits, with drivers often having to wait months and, in some cases more than a year, for their permits.

Sadly, there appears to be no sense of urgency amongst local authorities to prioritise fixing the flawed permit issuing systems and processes or address the large, and growing, backlogs of permit applications. As such, in order for the proposed stringent permit enforcement rules to be effective and fair to all role players, the long-standing issues around permit issuance first need to be addressed. At the very least, before the proposed legislation amendments are implemented, the National Transport Ministry needs to address the following issues:

  1. Efficient processes and systems must be put in place in all local authorities to allow drivers to easily apply for the operating permits they require
  2. Service level agreements need to be put in place with local authorities whereby they are required to assess applications and issue permits within the prescribed 60-day period.
  3. Local authorities need to be given deadlines by which their current permit application backlogs must be addressed to allow for faster processing of new applications once the amendments are promulgated.

If the Transport Ministry implements the proposed legislation amendments before ensuring that these permit issuance challenges are addressed, many drivers will be faced with the difficult choice of either having to operate illegally whilst awaiting their approved permits and risking significant fines and/or arrest, or stopping operations until they receive their permits, thereby losing what is, for many of them, their only source of income.

As such, if the Ministry of Transport is not able to address these particular challenges, it is only reasonable to ask it to reconsider this amendment and delay its implementation until the necessary infrastructure is in place to ensure it does not impact negatively on the country’s transport industry. The legislators must have been aware of the challenges of passing such a significant law, as the Amendment Bill allows for the Minister to use his discretion to delay implementation of provisions for up to 5 years.

Fair trade and healthy competition are the cornerstones of any effective and growing economy. However, these clauses (Section 66 (7) and Section 66A) of the NLTA amendment, as well as the proposal that regulators be given authority to define the geographic locations or zones in which vehicles may operate, are contrary to the spirit of both. As a good corporate citizen, Uber is committed to supplementing and enhancing South Africa’s national transport system and contributing positively to the industry. If passed into law without the revisions suggested above, these new amendments will limit our business and many others from playing the supportive roles we all can, and should, in growing the SA transport and tourism industries as well as many other key economic sectors.

What’s more, if passed as they currently stand, the amendments will effectively limit South African consumers from having full access to the range of convenient transport options they deserve; which has the potential to harm the reputation and credibility of the entire transport industry.

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