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How employees hide hacks

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Employees hide IT security incidents in 40% of businesses around the world (this figure is 48% for South African businesses) – according to a new report from Kaspersky Lab and B2B International.

The “Human Factor in IT Security: How Employees are Making Businesses Vulnerable from Within” report goes on to reveal that 46% of global IT security incidents caused by employees each year, this business vulnerability must be addressed on many levels, not just through the IT security department.

Walking hackers to your door

Uninformed or careless employees are one of the most likely causes of a cybersecurity incident — second only to malware. While malware is becoming more and more sophisticated, the sad reality is that the evergreen human factor can pose an even greater danger.

In particular, employee carelessness is one of the biggest chinks in corporate cybersecurity armor when it comes to targeted attacks. While advanced hackers might always use custom-made malware and hi-tech techniques to plan a heist, they will likely start with exploiting the easiest entry point – human nature.

According to the global research, every third (28%) targeted attack on businesses in the last year had phishing/social engineering at its source. For example, a careless accountant could easily open a malicious file disguised as an invoice from one of a company’s numerous contractors. This could shut down the entire organisation’s infrastructure, making the accountant an unwitting accomplice to attackers.

“Cybercriminals often use employees as an entry point to get inside the corporate infrastructure. Phishing emails, weak passwords, fake calls from tech support – we’ve seen it all. Even an ordinary flash card dropped in the office parking lot or near the secretary’s desk could compromise the entire network — all you need is someone inside, who doesn’t know about, or pay attention to security, and that device could easily be connected to the network where it could reap havoc,” says David Jacoby, Security Researcher at Kaspersky Lab.

Sophisticated targeted attacks do not happen to organisations every day – but conventional malware does strike at mass. Unfortunately though, the research also shows that even where malware is concerned, unaware and careless employees are also often involved, causing malware infections in 59% of incidents in South Africa.

Hide and seek: why HR and top management should get involved

Staff hiding the incidents they have been involved in may lead to dramatic consequences, increasing the overall damage caused. Even one unreported event could indicate a much larger breach, and security teams need to be able to quickly identify the threats they are up against to choose the right mitigation tactics.

But staff would rather put organisations at risk than report a problem because they fear punishment, or are embarrassed that they are responsible for something going wrong. Some companies have introduced strict rules and impose extra responsibility on employees, instead of encouraging them to simply be vigilant and cooperative. This means that cyberprotection not only lies in the realm of technology, but also in an organisation’s culture and training. That’s where top management and HR need to get involved.

“The problem of hiding incidents should be communicated not only to employees, but also to top management and HR departments. If employees are hiding incidents, there must be a reason why. In some cases, companies introduce strict, but unclear policies and put too much pressure on staff, warning them not to do this or that, or they will be held responsible if something goes wrong. Such policies foster fears, and leave employees with only one option — to avoid punishment whatever it takes. If your cybersecurity culture is positive, based on an educational approach instead of a restrictive one, from the top down, the results will be obvious,” comments Slava Borilin, Security Education Program Manager at Kaspersky Lab.

Borilin also recalls an industrial security model, where a reporting and ‘learn by mistake’ approach are at the heart of the business. For instance, in his recent statement, Tesla’s Elon Musk requested every incident affecting worker safety to be reported directly to him, so that he can play a central role in change.

The human factor: corporate climate and beyond

Organisations around the world are already waking up to the problem of their staff making their businesses vulnerable: 59% of companies surveyed in South Africa admit that staff are the biggest weakness in their IT security. The need to implement personnel-focused measures is becoming more and more evident: 29% of local businesses are looking to improve security through delivering training to staff, making this the second most popular method of cyber defense, second only to the deployment of more sophisticated software (38%).

The best way of protecting organisations from human-related cyberthreats is to combine the right tools with the right practices. This should involve HR and management efforts, to motivate and encourage employees to be watchful and seek help in the case of an incident. Security awareness training for staff, delivering clear guidelines instead of multipage documents, building strong skills and motivation and fostering the right working atmosphere, are the first steps organisations should take.

In terms of security technologies, most of the threats aimed at targeting unaware or careless employees – including phishing – can be addressed with endpoint security solutions. These can cover the particular needs of SMB and enterprise companies in terms of functionality, pre-configured protection or advanced security settings, to minimise risks.

To read the full report “Human Factor in IT Security: How Employees are Making Businesses Vulnerable from Within”, please visit our blog.

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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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