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How the Internet is being reshaped

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The Internet Society (ISOC) has released a report aimed at exploring the future of the Internet. It highlights the need to do more to prepare the Internet for the future and poses questions into our readiness for what’s next.

What factors will shape the future of the Internet?

The Internet Society (ISOC), a global non-profit dedicated to ensuring the open development, evolution and use of the Internet, thinks it knows. In its 2017 Global Internet Report, entitled “Paths to our Digital Future,” it sees a mix of challenges and opportunities in safeguarding the Internet for the next generation.

The report considers the many forces that are shaping the Internet today, from Artificial Intelligence (AI) and cyber threats, Internet standards and the Internet of Things (IoT), to the Internet economy and the rising role of government. It explores how these forces will impact key areas including digital divides, personal freedoms and rights, as well as media and society.  Taken together, these forces will change the Internet in dramatic ways over the coming years.

Some of the key findings contained in the report include:

·         AI and IoT alter lives but could result in a “surveillance society”

Artificial Intelligence and the Internet of Things hold huge potential to simplify and enhance people’s lives – but only if ethical considerations steer technology development and guide its use.  As AI and IoT enable the collection of massive amounts of personal information, there is a risk that without appropriate safeguards and user control, a “surveillance society” could emerge.

·         Increased security concerns could undermine personal freedoms and rights

Cybersecurity issues will pressure governments to take decisions that could erode the open and distributed global governance of the Internet.  Measures that may be intended to secure cyberspace may undermine personal rights and freedoms. Without a change of course, online freedoms may be nearing a point of irreversible decline.

·         Optimism still reigns

Younger users and those in developing countries are particularly optimistic about the future of the Internet and the ability to use the technology to better their lives and create their futures.

·         The nature of the digital divide will change

As the Internet transforms every sector of the global economy, the digital divides of the future won’t just be about access to the Internet, but about the gap between the economic opportunities available to some and not to others.  The link between security and economic prosperity will grow, leading to the potential of a security divide that separates those individuals or countries who can protect their digital assets and those who cannot.

Outlined in the report are key recommendations for businesses, advocacy organizations, governments and other stakeholders to help ensure that the future Internet remains user-centric and that it continues to work for the benefit of all.

The report notes that advanced deployment of the Internet of Things and Artificial Intelligence will transform whole economies and societies in the coming years through automation and the convergence of the physical and digital worlds. This transformation will change the nature of the digital divide as it has been historically defined – i.e. those that have access to the Internet versus those that do not.

While many in the Internet Society’s global community shared the view that the Internet is facing a period of unprecedented change, they also reaffirmed their belief in the core ideas that have shaped the Internet to date.

“Our extensive research clearly shows that just as when the Internet Society was founded 25 years ago, people believe that the Internet’s core values still remain valid— that it must be global, open, secure, and used for the benefit of people everywhere in the world,” said Sally Wentworth, Vice President of Global Policy for the Internet Society.

Many of the thoughts expressed in the report illustrate a strong, commonly-held belief in the potential of the Internet to continue to bring positive change to people’s lives. Respondents –particularly youth in developing countries–pointed to growth in new technologies and applications as evidence that the Internet continues to fuel innovation, and to the benefits that connectivity can deliver for education, health, economic prosperity and social change.

However, these hopes and beliefs are countered by wide-ranging fears that there are significant forces at work that may undermine the promise of the Internet for future generations . For example, many believe that Internet freedom will continue to decline around the world due to widespread surveillance, Internet shutdowns and content regulation. There is also the view that the media landscape will become more difficult to navigate and that separating fact from fiction will become ever harder.

Some are worried about the threat of new divides and how these will not only deepen existing gaps between countries, but also across society as a whole. In particular, the report explores the emergence of a new security and trust divide characterized by cyber threats that continue to multiply, and a growing rift between users who are security-aware and those who lack the skills, knowledge and resources to protect themselves online.

“We found that people share a sense of both optimism and disillusionment for the Internet’s future in equal measure. While there are no guarantees of what lies ahead, we know that humanity must be at the center of tomorrow’s Internet. The Internet must continue to benefit people and create new social and economic possibilities to fulfill the premise on which it was built. We should heed the warnings in this report and begin to take the actions today that will help to keep the Internet working for everyone, everywhere far into the future,” added Wentworth.

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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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