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Malware behind Android alternative

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ESET researchers have recently discovered a Turkish alternative Android app that has been spreading malware across all android apps.

ESET researchers discovered that CepKutusu.com, a Turkish alternative Android app store was spreading malware under the guise of all offered Android apps.

When users browsed the Turkish alternative app store CepKutusu.com and proceeded to downloading an app, the “Download now” button led to banking malware instead of the desired app. A few weeks after ESET researchers turned to the store’s operator with the discovery of the attack, the store ceased the malicious activity.

Interestingly, although ESET researchers found the misdirection from a legitimate app to the malicious one to be general – meaning that every single app was set to be replaced with the banking malware, the crooks behind the campaign added an exception. Probably to increase the chance to stay longer under the radar, they introduced a seven-day window of not serving malware after a malicious download. In practice, after the user downloads the infected app, a cookie is set to prevent the malicious system from prevailing, leading to the user being served clean links for next seven days. After this period passes, the user gets redirected to malware once they try to download any application from the store.

The malicious app distributed by the store at the time of the investigation was remotely controlled banking malware capable of intercepting and sending SMS, displaying fake activity, as well as downloading and installing other apps.

When installed, the malware doesn’t mimic the app the user intended to install. Instead, it imitates Flash Player.

Figure 1 – The malicious app served to a user who thinks they are downloading the Clash of Clans game and the legitimate game served to the same user within the seven day period, respectively.

Figure 1 – The malicious app served to a user who thinks they are downloading the Clash of Clans game and the legitimate game served to the same user within the seven day period, respectively.

To gain more insight on this attack and its wider implications, we turned to Lukáš Štefanko, Malware Researcher at ESET, who specializes in Android malware and who discovered the malware-distributing app store.

An app store serving its customers with malware on a mass scale – that sounds like a big threat. On the other hand, serving Flash Player instead of whatever customers wanted – that’s a rather thin disguise… What’s your take on this?

First, let me say that this is the first time I’ve seen an entire Android market infected like that. Within the Windows ecosystem and in browsers, this technique is known to have been used for some time but in the Android ecosystem, it’s really a new attack vector.

As for the impact, what we saw in this particular case was most probably a test. The crooks misused their control of the app store in the simplest manner. Replacing the links to all apps with a link to a single malicious app requires virtually no effort – but it also gives the store’s customers a fair chance to detect the scam. If you got lured into downloading a popular game and ended up with Flash Player instead… I think you’d uninstall it straight away and report the issue, right?

This might explain why we have seen only a few hundred infections.

From this point of view, it doesn’t sound like a big deal …

Well, like I said, it was probably a test. I can imagine a scenario in which the crooks who control the store’s back end append a malicious functionality to each of the apps in the store. Serving those interested in a particular game with a trojanized version of that game… That would remove the biggest red flag and the number of victims might rise significantly.

As for the attribution of this attack – have you found any traces?

There are three possible scenarios here: an app store built with the intention to spread malware; a legitimate app store turned malicious by an employee with bad intentions; and a legitimate app store becoming a victim of a remote attacker.

As for scenarios two and three, I would think that such an attack wouldn’t go unnoticed by a legitimate store. User complaints, suspicious server logs and changes in code should be sufficient indicators for its operators…. The more that the malware was being distributed via the store for weeks. Also of interest in this regard is that we contacted the store operators with our findings but haven’t received any reaction.

How to protect yourself

Recommendations by ESET

·        If possible, always favor downloading apps from official app stores.
This piece of advice is infinitely repeated for a good reason – there’s no guarantee of any security measures in alternative app stores, making them a great place for malware authors to spread their “work”, and not just via single malicious apps, but also on a mass scale, as illustrated in this case.

·         Be cautious when downloading content from the internet. Pay attention to anything suspicious in file name, size and extension – this is where many threats can still be recognized and avoided in time.

·         Use a reliable mobile security solution to protect you from the latest threats. As for the threat hidden in the alternative app store, ESET detects it as Android/Spy.Banker.IE and prevents it from getting downloaded.

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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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