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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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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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