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Politics and sport hot spam topics

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In the second quarter of 2016 the level of spam in overall email traffic equaled 57.3%, according to the quarterly report on Spam and Phishing by Kaspersky Lab. This is a four percentage points increase compared to Q2 2015, and one percentage point increase in comparison to the previous quarter.

During the past quarter, political topics were among one of the most interesting for spammers. The upcoming US elections and the candidates involved gave fraudsters a good opportunity to target users. Among other hot topics of the quarter were the Olympic Games in Brazil, with both spammers and phishers earning money from sports fans.

Donald Trump became  one of the main topics for the majority of spam emails related to politics. In these emails spammers told their targets about Mr. Trump’s unique methods of making money and invited them to copy Mr. Trump with their own business. To learn more, users were invited to click on the link in the email. The link led to a fake news portal with an article about how Mr. Trump made his money. To start making money themselves, users had to fill in their personal information in the online form on the webpage. The user earned no money but cybercriminals obtained sensitive data.

“Spammers are quite frequently trying to use breaking news and speculate on famous people. Donald Trump was not an exception. Users should be aware of this and remain vigilant in order to mitigate their risk. We also see that social networks are highly attractive for spammers and phishers. If one of your friends is starting to behave differently online and sending provocative links or even tag you or one of your friends under suspicious posts, it’s likely his account has been compromised. Do not click on those links and do not install any software that the system might suggest. Common sense can prevent nearly all infections of this type. In addition, think twice before opening attachments in emails, the risk of infection to your computer is very high”,  warns Daria Gudkova, Spam Analysis Expert, Kaspersky Lab.

The Anti-Phishing system was triggered 32,363,492 times on the computers of Kaspersky Lab users. In Q2 2015, the system was triggered 30,807,071 times, which is almost a 5% increase. The largest percentage of users affected by phishing attacks was in China (20.22%) followed by Brazil (18.63%) and Algeria (14.3%). It is worth noting that the percentage of affected users in Q2 2015 was lower, the top three countries were: Brazil (9.74%), India (8.3%) and China (7.23%). The numbers doubled compared to the same quarter of 2015.

An unusual anomaly in the volume of malicious spam traffic was discovered in Q2 – from 1 June to 21 June, when the company’s experts registered a tremendous decrease in malicious spam email campaigns. During that time, there was a 20-fold drop in the average number of spam emails with zip archives, compared to the overall average for the quarter. At the same time, the Necurs botnet mysteriously reduced its fraudulent activities. Kaspersky Lab experts don’t have solid proof that these two events are connected, but it is likely. Several sources on the web reported that the operators behind the Necurs botnet experienced some technical issues resulting in an outage. These problems were apparently quickly fixed, as after 21 June the malicious spam email flow recovered, along with the botnet operations.

In order to stay safe and not fall into the fraudsters trap, Kaspersky Lab encourages you to stay wise while you are online. Do not click on the links and allow the installation of any plugins from suspicious online recourses. In addition, do not disable the Anti-Phishing and Anti-Spam components on your security solutions.

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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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