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Peril of checking into Darkhotel

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Kaspersky Lab has discovered that the “Darkhotel”, a spying crew famous for infiltrating Wi-Fi networks in luxury hotels to compromise corporate executives has been using a zero-day vulnerability from Hacking Team’s collection.

Following the public leak of files belonging to Hacking Team – the company known for selling “legal spyware” to some governments and law enforcement agencies – a number of cyberespionage groups have started using, for their own malicious purposes,  the tools Hacking Team provided to its customers to carry out attacks. This includes several exploits targeting Adobe Flash Player and Windows OS. At least one of these has been re-purposed by the powerful cyberespionage actor, “Darkhotel”.

Kaspersky Lab has discovered that the “Darkhotel”, an elite spying crew uncovered by its experts in 2014 and famous for infiltrating Wi-Fi networks in luxury hotels to compromise selected corporate executives, has been using a zero-day vulnerability from Hacking Team’s collection since the beginning of July, straight after the notorious leak of Hacking Team files on July, 5th.  Not known to have been a client of Hacking Team, the Darkhotel group appears to have grabbed the files once they became publicly available.

This is not the group’s only zero-day; Kaspersky Lab estimates that over the past few years it may have gone through half a dozen or more zero-days targeting Adobe Flash Player, apparently investing significant money in supplementing its arsenal. In 2015, the Darkhotel group extended its geographical reach around the world while continuing to spearphish targets in North and South Korea, Russia, Japan, Bangladesh, Thailand, India, Mozambique and Germany.

Collateral assistance from Hacking Team:

Kaspersky Lab’s security researchers have registered new techniques and activities from Darkhotel, a known advanced persistent threat (APT) actor that has been active for almost eight years. In attacks dated 2014 and earlier, the group misused stolen code-signing certificates and employed unusual methods like compromising hotel Wi-Fi to place spying tools on targets’ systems. In 2015, many of these techniques and activities have been maintained, but Kaspersky Lab has also uncovered new variants of malicious executable files, the ongoing use of stolen certificates, relentless spoofing social-engineering techniques and the deployment of Hacking Team’s zero-day vulnerability:

·         Ongoing use of stolen certificates. The Darkhotel group appears to maintain a stockpile of stolen certificates and deploys their downloaders and the backdoors signed with them to cheat the targeted system. Some of the more recent revoked certificates include Xuchang Hongguang Technology – the company whose certificates were used in previous attacks performed by the threat actor.

·         Relentless spearphishing. The Darkhotel APT is indeed persistent: it tries to spearphish a target, and if it doesn’t succeed returns several months later for another try with much the same social-engineering schemes.

·         Deployment of Hacking Team’s zero-day exploit. The compromised website, tisone360.com, contains a set of backdoors and exploits. The most interesting of these is the Hacking Team Flash zero-day vulnerability.

“Darkhotel has returned with yet another Adobe Flash Player exploit hosted on a compromised website, and this time it appears to have been driven by the Hacking Team leak. The group has previously delivered a different Flash exploit on the same website, which we reported as a zero-day to Adobe in January 2014. Darkhotel seems to have burned through a pile of Flash zero-day and half-day exploits over the past few years, and it may have stockpiled more to perform precise attacks on high-level individuals globally. From previous attacks we know that Darkhotel spies on CEOs, senior vice presidents, sales and marketing directors and top R&D staff,” said Kurt Baumgartner, Principal Security Researcher at Kaspersky Lab. 

Since last year, the group has worked hard to enhance its defensive techniques, for example by expanding its anti-detection technology list. The 2015 version of the Darkhotel downloader is designed to identify anti-virus technologies from 27 vendors, with the intention of bypassing them.

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Samsung unleashes the beast

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Most new smartphone releases of the past few years have been like cat-and-mouse games with consumers and each other. It has been as if morsels of cheese are thrown into the box to make it more interesting: a little extra camera here, a little more battery there, and incremental changes to size, speed (more) and weight (less). Each change moves the needle of innovation ever-so-slightly. Until we find ourselves, a few years later, with a handset that is revolutionary compared to six years ago, but an anti-climax relative to six months before.

And then came Samsung. Probably stung by the “incremental improvement” phrase that has become almost a cliché about new Galaxy devices, the Korean giant chose to unleash a beast last week.

The new Galaxy Note 9 is not only the biggest smartphone Samsung has ever released, but one of the biggest flagship handsets that can still be called a phone. With a 6.4” display, it suddenly competes with mini-tablets and gaming consoles, among other devices that had previously faced little contest from handsets.

It offers almost ever cutting edge introduced to the Galaxy S9 and S9+ smartphones earlier this year, including the market-leading f1.5 aperture lens, and an f2.4. telephoto lens, each weighing in at 12 Megapixels. The front lens is equally impressive, with an f1.7 aperture – first introduced on the Note 8 as the widest yet on a selfie camera.

So far, so S9. However, the Note range has always been set apart by its S Pen stylus, and each edition has added new features. Born as a mere pen that writes on screens, it evolved through the likes of pressure sensitivity, allowing for artistic expression, and cut-and-paste text with translation-on-the-fly.

(Click here or below to read more about the Samsung Galaxy S Pen stylus) Samsung Galaxy S9 Features)

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SA ride permit system ‘broken’

Despite the amendments to the National Land Transport Act, ALON LITS, General Manager, Uber in Sub Saharan Africa, believes that many premature given that the necessary, well-functioning systems and processes are not yet in place to make these regulatory changes viable.

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The spirit and intention of the amendments to the National Land Transport Act No 5  (NLTA), 2009 put forward by the Ministry of Transport are to be commended. It is especially pleasing that these amendments include ridesharing and e-hailing operators and drivers as legitimate participants in the country’s public transport system, which point to government’s willingness to embrace the changes and innovation taking place in the country’s transport industry.

However, there are aspects of the proposed amendments that are, at best, premature given that the necessary, well-functioning systems and processes are not yet in place to make these regulatory changes viable.

Of particular concern are the significant financial penalties that will need to be paid by ridesharing and e-hailing companies whose independent operators are found to be transporting passengers without a legal permit issued by the relevant local authority. These fines can be as high as R100 000 per driver operating without a permit. Apart from being an excessive penalty it is grossly unfair given that a large number of local authorities don’t yet have functioning permit issuing systems and processes in place.

The truth is that the operating permit issuance system in South Africa is effectively broken. The application and issuance processes for operating licenses are fundamentally flawed and subject to extensive delays, sometimes over a year in length.  This situation is exacerbated by the fact that it is very difficult for applicants whose permit applications haven’t yet been approved to get reasons for the extensive delays on the issuing of those permits.

Uber has had extensive first-hand experience with the frustratingly slow process of applying for these permits, with drivers often having to wait months and, in some cases more than a year, for their permits.

Sadly, there appears to be no sense of urgency amongst local authorities to prioritise fixing the flawed permit issuing systems and processes or address the large, and growing, backlogs of permit applications. As such, in order for the proposed stringent permit enforcement rules to be effective and fair to all role players, the long-standing issues around permit issuance first need to be addressed. At the very least, before the proposed legislation amendments are implemented, the National Transport Ministry needs to address the following issues:

  1. Efficient processes and systems must be put in place in all local authorities to allow drivers to easily apply for the operating permits they require
  2. Service level agreements need to be put in place with local authorities whereby they are required to assess applications and issue permits within the prescribed 60-day period.
  3. Local authorities need to be given deadlines by which their current permit application backlogs must be addressed to allow for faster processing of new applications once the amendments are promulgated.

If the Transport Ministry implements the proposed legislation amendments before ensuring that these permit issuance challenges are addressed, many drivers will be faced with the difficult choice of either having to operate illegally whilst awaiting their approved permits and risking significant fines and/or arrest, or stopping operations until they receive their permits, thereby losing what is, for many of them, their only source of income.

As such, if the Ministry of Transport is not able to address these particular challenges, it is only reasonable to ask it to reconsider this amendment and delay its implementation until the necessary infrastructure is in place to ensure it does not impact negatively on the country’s transport industry. The legislators must have been aware of the challenges of passing such a significant law, as the Amendment Bill allows for the Minister to use his discretion to delay implementation of provisions for up to 5 years.

Fair trade and healthy competition are the cornerstones of any effective and growing economy. However, these clauses (Section 66 (7) and Section 66A) of the NLTA amendment, as well as the proposal that regulators be given authority to define the geographic locations or zones in which vehicles may operate, are contrary to the spirit of both. As a good corporate citizen, Uber is committed to supplementing and enhancing South Africa’s national transport system and contributing positively to the industry. If passed into law without the revisions suggested above, these new amendments will limit our business and many others from playing the supportive roles we all can, and should, in growing the SA transport and tourism industries as well as many other key economic sectors.

What’s more, if passed as they currently stand, the amendments will effectively limit South African consumers from having full access to the range of convenient transport options they deserve; which has the potential to harm the reputation and credibility of the entire transport industry.

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