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Peril of Pokemon Go

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DOROS HADJIZENONOS, Country Manager at Check Point Software Technologies South Africa examines the mobile security implications of Pokemon Go – and how these can be addressed.

Pokémon GO has taken one of the biggest cultural crazes of the late 90s and turned it into the most popular augmented reality game yet created.  The game is free to download to an Android or iOS device, and uses the device’s GPS location capabilities and clock to detect when and where the user is in the game.  It then uses the device’s camera to make Pokémon characters appear in the player’s on-screen surroundings, ready to be ‘caught’.

It’s undoubtedly a hugely clever concept, combining personalised interactivity with an existing, massively popular concept and character set.  So it’s no surprise that Pokémon Go swept to the top of the app download charts within just five hours of being released, and was installed on 7.5M devices in a week – the equivalent of 5% of all Android devices in the US after just 2 days – making it more popular than dating app, Tinder.

However, in their mission to ‘catch ‘em all’, Pokémon GO users could be inadvertently exposing themselves to a range of security risks and cyber threats.  And even if you have no knowledge of, or interest in the game, it could have a huge impact on your business’s information security posture.  Here’s how.

Is it for real?

A very real threat with an app this popular is the legitimacy of the download.  Pokémon GO has initially only been available in a limited set of countries, so enthusiasts have turned to unofficial app stores and download sites.  This massively increases the chance of the game being infected with something damaging.  It took just four days for cybercriminals to exploit this demand and assemble a repackaged download of Pokémon GO, complete with embedded malware.  The malware, DroidJack, specifically targets Android users and once installed can access everything on the device including email, contacts, photos, videos and text messages.  It can even give attackers remote control of the device’s camera or microphone, to enable remote recording.  Clearly, if the phone also contains or even just occasionally accesses sensitive corporate information, then this is a huge problem.

When a download’s popularity exceeds its initial availability, some customers will turn to unofficial channels to obtain it – creating an opportunity for cybercriminals to exploit that demand.  It’s easy to imagine the same scenario applying to future games too.

Capturing your data

Nevertheless, Pokémon GO is being rolled out as quickly as possible, and you might think that so long as users (some of which may be your employees) are all downloading the official version, then there’s no problem.  But that’s not the case – it still presents a security risk.  So let’s take a closer look at how Pokémon GO works.

Once installed on a smartphone, the app accesses that phone’s GPS, clock and camera in order to use the search giant’s location data.  Crucially, the app is closely linked to Google; players have to sign up with a Google.com account, and the developer of the game is owned by Google.  As such, users are essentially giving the legitimate Pokémon GO app permission to see their Gmail, calendars, photos and more. It is an app that is designed, from scratch, to track its users’ whereabouts and behavior.  While they are focused on catching Pokemon, the app is quietly capturing a range of potentially sensitive data from the device.  Is that information that you are willing to share outside of your organisation?

But I’m not the one playing!

Even if you have no desire to download and play Pokémon GO, the chances are that some of your staff – or perhaps one of their kids – will.  In other words, in a company of any size, it’s almost certain that several devices in that company’s mobile estate – whether employee owned or corporate-owned – will have the game downloaded onto it sooner or later.

What’s more, the enormous popularity of Pokémon GO suggests that this will just be the first of many augmented-reality smartphone games, which will still rely on the same access to location data, images and other information from your device.  It’s an issue that is only going to get bigger.

This means that now, more than ever, it is vital for businesses to develop and implement a mobile security strategy for all devices used in their organisation.  Mobile device management (MDM) helps to enforce policies around app downloads and device usage, but is not a complete solution in itself, as some products cannot detect malware or other malicious activity.  The best approach to stopping malware and related exploits is to deploy security on the devices that works with MDM, and is capable of detecting malicious apps or malware that try to embed themselves and steal data.  The solution should be able to inspect and quarantine suspicious apps in the cloud, before they are downloaded on the device.  This way, any threats can be neutralised before they are able to take hold.

There is also an important employee training and corporate policy element to consider. You may not have total control over what staff do with their phones, but you can certainly help them to recognise the potential dangers of downloading content from unofficial app stores or sites, and ensuring that phone data is regularly backed up.

The rush to ‘catch ‘em all’ shows no signs of slowing down yet – just make sure that in the process, your business doesn’t inadvertently catch something much nastier.

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Crouching Yeti strikes

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Kaspersky Lab has uncovered infrastructure used by the Russian-speaking APT group Crouching Yeti, also known as Energetic Bear, which includes compromised servers across the world.

According to the research, numerous servers in different countries were hit since 2016, sometimes in order to gain access to other resources. Others, including those hosting Russian websites, were used as watering holes.

Crouching Yeti is a Russian-speaking advanced persistent threat (APT) group that Kaspersky Lab has been tracking since 2010. It is best known for targeting industrial sectors around the world, with a primary focus on energy facilities, for the main purpose of stealing valuable data from victim systems. One of the techniques the group has been widely using is through watering hole attacks: the attackers injected websites with a link redirecting visitors to a malicious server.

Recently Kaspersky Lab has discovered a number of servers, compromised by the group, belonging to different organisations based in Russia, the U.S., Turkey and European countries, and not limited to industrial companies. According to researchers, they were hit in 2016 and 2017 with different purposes. Thus, besides watering hole, in some cases they were used as intermediaries to conduct attacks on other resources.

In the process of analysing infected servers, researchers identified numerous websites and servers used by organisations in Russia, U.S., Europe, Asia and Latin America that the attackers had scanned with various tools, possibly to find a server that could be used to establish a foothold for hosting the attackers’ tools and to subsequently develop an attack. Some of the sites scanned may have been of interest to the attackers as candidates for waterhole. The range of websites and servers that captured the attention of the intruders is extensive. Kaspersky Lab researchers found that the attackers had scanned numerous websites of different types, including online stores and services, public organisations, NGOs, manufacturing, etc.

Also, experts found that the group used publicly available malicious tools, designed for analyzing servers, and for seeking out and collecting information. In addition, a modified sshd file with a preinstalled backdoor was discovered. This was used to replace the original file and could be authorised with a ‘master password’.

“Crouching Yeti is a notorious Russian-speaking group that has been active for many years and is still successfully targeting industrial organisations through watering hole attacks, among other techniques. Our findings show that the group compromised servers not only for establishing watering holes, but also for further scanning, and they actively used open-sourced tools that made it much harder to identify them afterwards,” said Vladimir Dashchenko, Head of Vulnerability Research Group at Kaspersky Lab ICS CERT.

“The group’s activities, such as initial data collection, the theft of authentication data, and the scanning of resources, are used to launch further attacks. The diversity of infected servers and scanned resources suggests the group may operate in the interests of the third parties,” he added.

Kaspersky Lab recommends that organisations implement a comprehensive framework against advanced threats comprising of dedicated security solutions for targeted attack detection and incident response, along with expert services and threat intelligence. As a part of Kaspersky Threat Management and Defense, our anti-targeted attack platform detects an attack at early stages by analysing suspicious network activity, while Kaspersky EDR brings improved endpoint visibility, investigation capabilities and response automation. These are enhanced with global threat intelligence and Kaspersky Lab’s expert services with specialisation in threat hunting and incident response.

More details on this recent Crouching Yeti activity can be found on the Kaspersky Lab ICS CERT website.

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R5m in software fines

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South African companies paid almost R5.2 million in damages for using unlicensed software in 2017 up from R3.6 million in 2016.

This is according to data from BSA | The Software Alliance, a non-profit, global trade association created to advance the goals of the software industry and its hardware partners.

The significant increase in unlicensed software payments – which includes settlements as well as the cost of acquiring new software to become compliant – is the result of more accurate leads from informers, says Darren Olivier, Partner at Adams & Adams, legal counsel for BSA. In 2017 BSA received 281 reports in South Africa alleging the use of unlicensed software products of BSA member companies – this up considerably up from 230 leads in 2016.

“BSA’s recent social media campaign also helped to create awareness among local companies about the need to comply with existing legislation in order to avoid legal action,” Olivier says.

The result has been a 13% increase in settlements paid in 2017, with the settlements total reaching almost R2.5 million.

While the average settlement paid by companies in 2017 was around R36 094, in some cases the amount owed was far greater, as is evidenced by Shereno Printers, a print and design company based in Gauteng, which ended up paying a hefty settlement amount of R260 000 last year in an out of court settlement.

The company’s case was in line with a broader trend, which saw the print and design industry as a whole rank among the top sectors plagued by unlicensed software.

Aside from settlements, companies also paid more than R2.6 million in licenses purchased to legalise their unlicensed software.

And the ramifications of software piracy extend beyond financial implications. “It also results in potential job losses and loss in tax revenue. This is not to mention the financial and reputational damage brought about by security breaches and lost data,” comments Olivier.

As unlicensed software has not been updated with the latest security features, it leaves businesses vulnerable to cyberattack, he explains.

This is a particular problem for companies operating in South Africa where economic crime has recently reached record levels, according to the Global Economic Crime Survey. Indeed, 77% of South African organisations have experienced some form of economic crime. What’s more, instances of cybercrime totalled 29% of economic crimes reported.

This in turn, raises questions around government policy and the adequacy of existing copyright legislation, which only enables the registration of copyright in films, but not in computer programs.

Olivier notes that it is likely the percentage of unlicensed software on South African computers has increased over the past year. “We received many more leads this year, which is an indicator that the amount of pirated software is greater than in previous years,” he comments.

Often unlicensed software is not so much a case of deliberate piracy as it is a result of poor software asset management (SAM).

“For this reason, the BSA encourages all businesses to ensure they have effective SAM practices in place. Companies should be able to confirm what software they are using and are licensed to use – this will help them to identify unlicensed software and can also bring about cost savings. Even the most basic SAM practices such as regular inventories and software use policies can help,” says Chair of the BSA SA Committee, Billa Coetsee.

With this in mind the BSA offers a range of SAM solutions, not only to help organisations reduce legal and security risks, but also to create business value.

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