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Paradise Papers shows deeper cyber peril

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A year after the Panama Papers, a massive leak of confidential information from the Bermuda law firm Appleby Group Services, dubbed the Paradise Papers, has shone another light on the use of offshore accounts, writes RUDI DICKS, Head of Cyber Security at BDO Cyber and Forensics Lab

A new set of data taken from an offshore law firm again threatens to expose the hidden wealth of individuals and show how corporations, hedge funds and others may have skirted taxes. A year after the Panama Papers, a massive leak of confidential information from the Bermuda law firm Appleby Group Services, dubbed the Paradise Papers, has shone another light on the use of offshore accounts.

1.    What are your views / interpretation on / of the ‘Paradise Papers’ data leaks?

Appleby publicly stated that it was not the subject of a leak but of an illegal computer hack. Their systems were accessed by an intruder who deployed the tactics of a professional hacker and covered his/her tracks to the extent that the forensic investigation concluded that there was no definitive evidence that any data had left their systems. While the mechanics of the breach itself have yet to be revealed, this was clearly a targeted attack. Law firms are particularly susceptible to hacking as they house a treasure trove of sensitive data that, when compromised, can result in sometimes irrecoverable damage.

The paradise papers, like the panama papers is an excellent example of the reputational harm that attackers can cause, rather than financial. Here we saw many wealthy people shown to have offshore accounts in tax havens. Most of these transactions are perfectly legal but the implication is that these wealthy and often famous people are skirting their tax obligations. For the company that these documents were stolen from, this leak will most likely destroy the business.

This class of events demonstrates why law firms must protect their clients’ confidential information. No amount of cyber insurance, data backup strategies, nor business continuity planning can ever put this genie back in the bottle.

2.    In your opinion, should we concentrate on the content aspect of these leaks or the security aspect?

For Appleby, the concern is with the content because their clients will be far less likely to conduct sensitive business with them in the future. By releasing the Paradise Papers, the aim of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) was to expose significant failures and weaknesses inside the offshore industry. As per ICIJ, “those stories and others they are pursuing serve the public interest by bringing accountability to the offshore industry, its users and operators. Other parts of the data are of a private nature and of no interest to the public. ICIJ will not release personal data en masse but will continue to mine the full data with its media partners.” The content released will certainly have far-reaching impacts for those affected.

For security specialists, the concern is with how this happened, and making sure we do everything possible to ensure that the same attack vectors cannot be used against our clients. This event, allegedly conducted by external hackers, could likely have been detected and mitigated. What ends in a business disrupting event often begins with the ‘click’ on a harmless looking link. Sometimes it involves complex social engineering, credential harvesting and clandestine operations inside the network to locate and slowly exfiltrate valuable data. Thus, considering heightened cyber risks, organisations have to make sure that they are taking reasonable steps to protect their clients’ confidential data. These include:

·         Ensuring that software used is up-to-date and that available patches are implemented as soon as reasonably practical.

·         Configuring Intrusion Prevention Systems and Firewalls policies to reject information gathering events

·         Reviewing access controls regularly to ensure that they are up to date and that they restrict electronic data users to their necessary business functions.

·         Utilising antivirus and malware detection software.

·         Conducting periodic cybersecurity audits and penetration testing.

·         Requiring multi-factor authentication for remote access into computer systems and for very sensitive internal access points.

·         Requiring rotating complex passwords.

·         Monitoring the activity of authorised users to detect any unauthorised file access, as well as, any large-scale downloading, copying or tampering with confidential information.

·         Conducting regular cybersecurity awareness training together with phishing attacks.

3.    With ‘Offshore Leaks’, ‘Panama Leaks’, ‘Paradise Papers’ – what should we be aware of / conclude?

We are living in an age of internet activism or hacktivism, which is the subversive use of computers and computer networks to promote a political agenda or a social change. With roots in hacker culture and hacker ethics, its ends are often related to the free speech, human rights, or freedom of information movements. Hacktivists seek to expose social injustice. The hack is a reminder that cybercrime is sometimes motivated by loftier aspirations than making money.

4.    How come hackers can still obtain sensitive information when security conscious companies invest so much in safeguarding their data?

No matter how much a company invests in latest security technologies, the human factor remains the weakness link. The lack of effective cybersecurity training for all employees is the root cause of companies failing to keep their data safe. It is extremely pertinent to every organisation to protect its reputation, competitive advantage and operational stability against social engineering with effective company-wide security awareness. BDO’s cybersecurity education program sets employees up for success by instilling cutting edge knowledge and practical know-how into the workplace. Through integrated communication and hacker-led training, BDO helps organisation fight cybercrime strategically and beyond the scope of technology.

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Which IoT horse should you back?

The emerging IoT is evolving at a rapid pace with more companies entering the market. The development of new product and communication systems is likely to continue to grow over the next few years, after which we could begin to see a few dominant players emerge, says DARREN OXLEE, CTOf of Utility Systems.

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But in the interim, many companies face a dilemma because, in such a new industry, there are so many unknowns about its trajectory. With the variety of options available (particularly regarding the medium of communication), there’s the a question of which horse to back.

Many players also haven’t fully come to grips with the commercial models in IoT (specifically, how much it costs to run these systems).

Which communication protocol should you consider for your IoT application? Depends on what you’re looking for. Here’s a summary of the main low-power, wide area network (LPWAN) communications options that are currently available, along with their applicability:

SIGFOX 

SigFox has what is arguably the most traction in the LPWAN space, thanks to its successful marketing campaigns in Europe. It also has strong support from vendors including Texas Instruments, Silicon Labs, and Axom.

It’s a relatively simple technology, ultra-narrowband (100 Hz), and sends very small data (12 bytes) very slowly (300 bps). So it’s perfect for applications where systems need to send small, infrequent bursts of data. Its lack of downlink capabilities, however, could make it unsuitable for applications that require two-way communication.

LORA 

LoRaWAN is a standard governed by the LoRa Alliance. It’s not open because the underlying chipset is only available through Semtech – though this should change in future.

Its functionality is like SigFox: it’s primarily intended for uplink-only applications with multiple nodes, although downlink messages are possible. But unlike SigFox, LoRa uses multiple frequency channels and data rates with coded messages. These are less likely to interfere with one another, increasing the concentrator capacity.

RPMA 

Ingenu Technology Solutions has developed a proprietary technology called Random Phase Multiple Access (RPMA) in the 2.4 GHz band. Due to its architecture, it’s said to have a superior uplink and downlink capacity compared to other models.

It also claims to have better doppler, scheduling, and interference characteristics, as well as a better link budget of 177 dB compared to LoRa’s 157 dB and SigFox’s 149 dB. Plus, it operates in the 2.4 GHz spectrum, which is globally available for Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, so there are no regional architecture changes needed – unlike SigFox and LoRa.

LTE-M 

LTE-M (LTE Cat-M1) is a cellular technology that has gained traction in the United States and is specifically designed for IoT or machine‑to‑machine (M2M) communications.

It’s a low‑power wide‑area (LPWA) interface that connects IoT and M2M devices with medium data rate requirements (375 kb/s upload and download speeds in half duplex mode). It also enables longer battery lifecycles and greater in‑building range compared to standard cellular technologies like 2G, 3G, or LTE Cat 1.

Key features include:

·       Voice functionality via VoLTE

·       Full mobility and in‑vehicle hand‑over

·       Low power consumption

·       Extended in‑building range

NB-IOT 

Narrowband IoT (NB‑IoT or LTE Cat NB1) is part of the same 3GPP Release 13 standard3 that defined LTE Cat M1 – both are licensed as LPWAN technologies that work virtually anywhere. NB-IoT connects devices simply and efficiently on already established mobile networks and handles small amounts of infrequent two‑way data securely and reliably.

NB‑IoT is well suited for applications like gas and water meters through regular and small data transmissions, as network coverage is a key issue in smart metering rollouts. Meters also tend to be in difficult locations like cellars, deep underground, or in remote areas. NB‑IoT has excellent coverage and penetration to address this.

MY FORECAST

The LPWAN technology stack is fluid, so I foresee it evolving more over the coming years. During this time, I suspect that we’ll see:

1.     Different markets adopting different technologies based on factors like dominant technology players and local regulations

2.     The technologies diverging for a period and then converging with a few key players, which I think will be SigFox, LoRa, and the two LTE-based technologies

3.     A significant technological shift in 3-5 years, which will disrupt this space again

So, which horse should you back?

I don’t believe it’s prudent to pick a single technology now; lock-in could cause serious restrictions in the long-term. A modular, agile approach to implementing the correct communications mechanism for your requirements carries less risk.

The commercial model is also hugely important. The cellular and telecommunications companies will understandably want to maximise their returns and you’ll want to position yourself to share an equitable part of the revenue.

So: do your homework. And good luck!

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Ms Office hack attacks up 4X

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Exploits, software that takes advantage of a bug or vulnerability, for Microsoft Office in-the-wild hit the list of cyber headaches in Q1 2018. Overall, the number of users attacked with malicious Office documents rose more than four times compared with Q1 2017. In just three months, its share of exploits used in attacks grew to almost 50% – this is double the average share of exploits for Microsoft Office across 2017. These are the main findings from Kaspersky Lab’s Q1 IT threat evolution report.

Attacks based on exploits are considered to be very powerful, as they do not require any additional interactions with the user and can deliver their dangerous code discreetly. They are therefore widely used; both by cybercriminals looking for profit and by more sophisticated nation-backed state actors for their malicious purposes.

The first quarter of 2018 experienced a massive inflow of these exploits, targeting popular Microsoft Office software. According to Kaspersky Lab experts, this is likely to be the peak of a longer trend, as at least ten in-the-wild exploits for Microsoft Office software were identified in 2017-2018 – compared to two zero-day exploits for Adobe Flash player used in-the-wild during the same time period.

The share of the latter in the distribution of exploits used in attacks is decreasing as expected (accounting for slightly less than 3% in the first quarter) – Adobe and Microsoft have put a lot of effort into making it difficult to exploit Flash Player.

After cybercriminals find out about a vulnerability, they prepare a ready-to-go exploit. They then frequently use spear-phishing as the infection vector, compromising users and companies through emails with malicious attachments. Worse still, such spear-phishing attack vectors are usually discreet and very actively used in sophisticated targeted attacks – there were many examples of this in the last six months alone.

For instance, in late 2017, Kaspersky Lab’s advanced exploit prevention systems identified a new Adobe Flash zero-day exploit used in-the-wild against our customers. The exploit was delivered through a Microsoft Office document and the final payload was the latest version of FinSpy malware. Analysis of the payload enabled researchers to confidently link this attack to a sophisticated actor known as ‘BlackOasis’. The same month, Kaspersky Lab’s experts published a detailed analysis of СVE-2017-11826, a critical zero-day vulnerability used to launch targeted attacks in all versions of Microsoft Office. The exploit for this vulnerability is an RTF document containing a DOCX document that exploits СVE-2017-11826 in the Office Open XML parser. Finally, just a couple of days ago, information on Internet Explorer zero day CVE-2018-8174 was published. This vulnerability was also used in targeted attacks.

“The threat landscape in the first quarter again shows us that a lack of attention to patch management is one of the most significant cyber-dangers. While vendors usually issue patches for the vulnerabilities, users often can’t update their products in time, which results in waves of discreet and highly effective attacks once the vulnerabilities have been exposed to the broad cybercriminal community,” notes Alexander Liskin, security expert at Kaspersky Lab.

Other online threat statistics from the Q1, 2018 report include:

  • Kaspersky Lab solutions detected and repelled 796,806,112 malicious attacks from online resources located in 194 countries around the world.
  • 282,807,433 unique URLs were recognised as malicious by web antivirus components.
  • Attempted infections by malware that aims to steal money via online access to bank accounts were registered on 204,448 user computers.
  • Kaspersky Lab’s file antivirus detected a total of 187,597,494 unique malicious and potentially unwanted objects.
  • Kaspersky Lab mobile security products also detected:
    • 1,322,578 malicious installation packages.
    • 18,912 mobile banking Trojans (installation packages).

To reduce the risk of infection, users are advised to:

  • Keep the software installed on your PC up to date, and enable the auto-update feature if it is available.
  • Wherever possible, choose a software vendor that demonstrates a responsible approach to a vulnerability problem. Check if the software vendor has its own bug bounty program.

·         Use robust security solutions , which have special features to protect against exploits, such as Automatic Exploit Prevention.

·         Regularly run a system scan to check for possible infections and make sure you keep all software up to date.

  • Businesses should use a security solution that provides vulnerability, patch management and exploit prevention components, such as Kaspersky Endpoint Security for Business. The patch management feature automatically eliminates vulnerabilities and proactively patches them. The exploit prevention component monitors suspicious actions of applications and blocks malicious files executions.
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