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Old Malware, New Tricks

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There’s been an explosion in new malware over the past two years. But how new is this malware, really? How serious is the threat, and how should it be countered?  DOROS HADJIZENONOS of Check Point South Africa looks at the issues.|There’s been an explosion in new malware over the past two years. But how new is this malware, really? How serious is the threat, and how should it be countered?  DOROS HADJIZENONOS of Check Point South Africa looks at the issues.

Taking the path of least resistance is natural – it’s why rivers flow around mountains, and electricity finds the easiest route to earth.  It also explains why there has been such an explosion in new malware in the past couple of years.  While there remains a select handful of coders who will painstakingly develop sophisticated, advanced and complex new threats the vast majority of would-be hackers are taking a much easier route to achieve their goals.

They’ve seen the rewards that are possible from a malware attack, and they’re also aware of the easily-available tools that automate the assembly of new malware, or enable small modifications to existing malware types, rendering them undetectable by conventional antivirus products.  The result is that malicious code is now being mass-produced and unleashed on an industrial scale, by people with little or no coding skills.

In fact, Check Point’s latest annual Security Report shows that more unknown malware has been found in the past two years than in the previous 10 years combined.  While new malware introductions were relatively static in 2010 and 2011, at 18 million per year, this nearly doubled to 34 million in 2012, rose to 83 million in 2013, and reached 142 million in 2014.  What’s worse is the speed at which this is occurring.  On average, organisations were downloading 106 unknown malware types every hour – that’s 48 times more than in 2013.

In a majority of cases, these were existing, known types of malicious files that had simply been modified with minor alterations to a couple of lines of their code – literally, old malware with a new trick, that enabled it to bypass even the most up-to-date antivirus detection.

Building a better trap

To avoid being fooled by these new tricks, an additional method of detection known as threat emulation, or sandboxing, is recommended.  Early versions of this technology worked by intercepting suspicious files as they arrived at the organisation’s gateway, and inspected their contents in a virtualised, quarantined area (the sandbox) for any unusual behaviour, in real time.  If the file’s behavior was found to be malicious, for example attempting to make abnormal registry changes or network connections, it would be quarantined, preventing the infection from reaching the network.

While this approach considerably boosts malware detection rates, criminals have already recognised that the technology is deployed on a percentage of networks, and have responded by implementing further evasion techniques.  As such, a next-generation approach is being introduced:  CPU-level sandboxing.  This enables a deeper, more insightful look at a suspicious file’s activity.

It takes advantage of the fact that there are only a handful of exploitation methods that can be used to download malware and execute it on a host PC.  As it operates at the chip level, below the application or operating system layers, CPU-level sandboxing detects the use of malware exploitation methods by examining activity on the CPU, and the execution flow at the assembly code level while the exploit occurs.  As a result, it strips away any disguises applied to the malware, and pre-empts the possibility of hackers evading detection.

While the speed and accuracy of detection make CPU-level sandboxing a powerful method for detecting unknown attacks, especially existing malware that has been altered using obfuscation tools, it also enables detection of the far more sophisticated (and much rarer) zero-day exploits.  Zero-day malware is effectively hand-built to exploit software vulnerabilities that vendors aren’t even aware of yet.  The ability to block both common and rare, targeted attacks adds a strong, extra defensive layer to organisations’ networks.

Taking the sting from malware

Taking this approach a step further, another emerging threat prevention technique can combine with OS- and CPU-level sandboxing, to virtually eliminate the risk of threats.  This technique is called threat extraction.

It involves a direct approach to threat removal:  as the majority of malware is distributed in infected documents (our Security Report shows that 55% of all infected files were PDFs or Office files), then all documents arriving at an organisation by email should be intercepted, and content that is identified as malware, such as macros, embedded objects and files, and external links, removed.  The threat-free document can then be reconstructed with known safe elements, and forwarded to the intended user, either in the original format or as a locked-down PDF, according to the organisation’s policies.

With the pace of malware attacks showing no signs of slowing down and the evasion techniques and tricks used by malware authors always evolving, the technology deployed to keep businesses secure also needs to evolve, to keep them ahead of new threats.  What was cutting edge in 2014 will simply be the standard for 2015.

* Doros Hadjizenonos, Country Manager, Check Point South Africa

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Welcome to world of 2099

The world of 2099 will be unrecognisable from the world of today, but it can be predicted, says one visionary. ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK met him in Singapore.

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Futuristic structures tower over the landscape. Giant, alien-looking trees light up with dazzling colours amid the hundreds of plant species that grow up their trunks. Cosmetic stores sell their wares via public touch-screens, with products delivered instantly in drawers below the screens.

This is not a vision of the future. It is a sample of Singapore today. But it is also an inkling of the world we may all experience in the future.

Singapore was the venue, last week, of the World Cities Summit, where engineers, politicians, investors and visionaries rubbed shoulders as they talked about the strategies and policies that would enhance urban living in the future.

As part of the Summit, global payment technologies leader Mastercard hosted a small media briefing by one of Singapore’s leading thinkers about the future, Dr Damian Tan, managing director of Vickers Venture Partners. The company’s slogan “We invest in the extraordinary,” offers a small clue to Tan’s perspective.

“We look as far forward as 2099 because, as a venture capital firm, we invest in the long term,” he tells a group of journalists from Africa and the Middle East. “Companies explode in growth because there is value in the future. If there is no growth, they won’t explode.”

The big question that the Smart Cities Summit and Mastercard are trying to help answer is, what will cities look like in the year 2099? Tan can’t give an exact answer, but he offers a framework that helps one approach the question.

“If you want to look at 81 years into the future, and understand the change that will come, you need to double that amount and look into the past. That takes us to 1856. The difference between then and now is the difference you can expect between now and 2099.”

Click here or on the page link below to read on: Page 2: Soldiers and Health in 2099.

  •    Arthur Goldstuck is founder of World Wide Worx and editor-in-chief of Gadget.co.za. Follow him on Twitter on @art2gee and on YouTube

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Street art goes electric

Kaspersky Lab and British street artist D*Face have unveiled the first-ever “art helmet” design at the Formula E finale for electric cars in New York.

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The ‘Save The World’ helmets will be raced by DS Virgin Racing’s drivers, Sam Bird and Alex Lynn, as they traverse the New York street circuit during the final races of the Formula E season.

The announcement signals the first art helmet by a Formula E team, continuing the heritage of art in motorsport and the cybersecurity brand’s commitment to contemporary art, creativity and innovation. D*Face took inspiration from Kaspersky Lab’s tagline, “A Company To Save The World”, and hopes that his colourful work will inspire people to take positive action.

D*Face will announce his first-ever art car design with a custom-made livery for the DS Virgin Racing Team. Its design will be released at the “Art Goes Green” event after Saturday’s race. The helmets and art car are the latest installations in the “Save the World” collection, following a major permanent public mural that was installed in Brooklyn, New York, in May.

D*Face, whose real name is Dean Stockton, said: “It is exciting to work with Kaspersky Lab on this project and create art with a real message of hope for a better future. After all, this is our world and we need to look after it. It will take every one of us to make a real lasting, impactful change. I love the mentality of the DS Virgin Racing Team and that of Formula E by showcasing sport in a way that doesn’t harm the environment, but is still just as exhilarating and fun.

“It is time for us all to stand together and make a change… be that stopping data steals, climate change, plastic waste or using damaging fuels. I want everyone to make a pledge to do one thing that will help make a change.”

As a sponsor of DS Virgin Racing Team, Kaspersky Lab is responsible for protecting the team’s devices against cyber threats. The company sees the technical environment in the global sport of Formula E as the next frontier in furthering its research and development of new technologies to keep vehicles secure in the digital world.

Sylvain Filippi, Managing Director at DS Virgin Racing, said: “The whole team fully supports this great initiative and our thanks got to Kaspersky and D*Face for their collaboration. It’s an honour to have such an innovative artist bring his talents to bear in our team ahead of the season-finale; the car, drivers’ crash helmets and mural all look amazing.”

Aldo Fucelli Pessot del Bo, Head of Global Partnerships and Sponsorships at Kaspersky Lab added: “There is a need for innovation on a global scale, both in contemporary art and in the fast-growing sport of Formula E. Now, for the first time ever, Kaspersky Lab is proudly bringing together the two sectors in an effort to Save the World and unleash creativity, encourage freedom of expression and further innovation.”

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