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Preventing Petya

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Check Point’s Incident Response Team has identified a new variant of the Petya malware and is offering some key tips on how to avoid being held up for ransom.

Check Point’s Incident Response Team has been responding to multiple global infections caused by a new variant of the Petya malware, which first appeared in 2016 and is currently moving laterally within customer networks.  It appears to be using the ‘EternalBlue’ exploit which May’s WannaCry attack also exploited.  It was first signaled by attacks on financial institutions in the Ukraine, but soon started spreading more widely, particularly across Europe, the Americas and Asia.

The ransomware is propagating fast across business networks in the same way WannaCry did last month.  However, unlike other ransomware types including WannaCry, Petya does not encrypt files on infected machines individually:  instead it locks up the machine’s entire hard disk drive.

How the attack happened

The attack started in Ukraine and caused massive disruption to the country’s critical infrastructure, before spreading further in Europe, infecting a number of businesses.

It has been speculated the source of the infection was a compromised software update to a tax accounting software package called M.E. Doc, which was pushed out to the company’s customers, although this has been disputed by M.E. Doc.

Within 24 hours of the attack starting, the method by which victims can pay the ransom fee has been rendered useless:  an email address provided by the criminals has been shut down by the hosting provider, while the Bitcoin wallet in which ransoms are supposed to be deposited has not been accessed.  The wallet reportedly contains less than $10,000 worth of Bitcoin.

At the same time as the Petya attack, the Check Point research team detected the simultaneous distribution of the Loki bot through infected RTF documents, which install a credential-stealing application to infected devices. However, at this stage, the two attacks do not appear to be directly connected.

Key takeaways from the attack

Check Point believes there are three main takeaways from this latest global ransomware attack:

  1. This attack could have been avoided, and the ones we will see in the future can be avoided too. With more than 93% of Enterprises failing to deploy the technologies available to protect them from these kinds of attack it is not surprising that they are spreading so quickly. As such business must deploy the solutions that prevent these types of attacks, and keep their security patching regimes up to date.
  2. It’s time for company, government and organisational leadership to drive the cyber security agenda. These global attacks demonstrate that we need to invest in the future of cyber security. It is critical that modern cyber security technologies are deployed from governmental level down to prevent them happening again. We know that these attacks will continue to happen again and again – so we need to take steps to protect ourselves against them.
  3. Fragmented security is part of the problem. There are too many disjointed technologies focused on detecting an attack after the damage is done. To address this organisations of all sizes, and in all sectors, need a unified architecture, such as Check Point Infinity, that is focused on preventing the attacks before they hit.

How can you protect yourself and your organisation?

This attack demonstrates two major trends:  first, how effectively new variants of malware can be created and spread on a global scale at incredible speed.  Second, despite the impact of WannaCry, many companies are still not well prepared to prevent these types of attacks from infiltrating the network.

These attacks have the potential to create massive damage, as seen by the impact on critical infrastructure in the Ukraine.  And the consequences of such a rapid spread of infections can have a dramatic effect on day to day lives, crippling critical services and disrupting daily routines.

·       Apply all security patches immediately

As security patches for the vulnerabilities exploited by the Petya and WannaCry ransomware have been available for several months, organisations should apply those patches on their networks immediately.  They should also ensure that they roll out and apply new patches as they become available.

·       Block attacks before they take hold with Next Generation Threat Prevention

Enterprises also need to focus on preventing attacks before they take hold.  In these types of attacks, detecting the attack after it has happened is simply too late:  the damage is already done.  Next Generation Threat Prevention is essential, to scan for, block and filter out suspicious files content before it reaches networks. It’s also essential that staff are educated about the potential risks of incoming emails from unknown parties, or suspicious-looking emails that appear to come from known contacts.

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Android Go puts reliable smartphones in budget pockets

Nokia, Vodacom and Huawei have all launched entry-level smartphones running the Android Go edition, and all deliver a smooth experience, writes BRYAN TURNER.

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Three new and notable Android Go smartphones have recently hit the market, namely the Nokia 1, the Vodafone Smart Kicka 4 and the Huawei Y3 (2018). These phones run one of the most basic versions of Android while still delivering a fairly smooth user experience.

Historically, consumers purchasing smartphones in the budget bracket would have a hit-and-miss experience with processing speed, smoothness of user interface, and app stability. The Google-supported Android Go edition operating system optimises the user experience by stripping out non-important visual effects to speed up the phone. Thish allows for more memory to be used by apps. 

Google also ensures that all smartphones running Android Go will receive feature and security updates as they are released by Google. This is a major selling point for these smartphones, as users of this smartphone will always be running the latest software, with virtually no manufacturer bloatware.

Vodafone Smart Kicka 4

At the lowest entry-level, the Vodafone Smart Kicka 4 performs well as a communicator for emails and WhatsApp messages. The 4” screen represents a step up for entry-level Android phones, which were previously standardised at 3.5”.

The display is bright and very responsive, while the limited screen real estate leaves the navigation keys off the screen as touch buttons. It uses 3G connectivity, which might seem like an outdated technology, but is good enough to stream SD videos and music. Vodacom has also thrown in some data gifts if the smartphone is activated before the end of September 2018. 

Its camera functionalities might be a slight let down for the aspirant Instagrammer, with a 2MP rear flash camera and a 0.3MP selfie snapper. Speed wise, the keyboard pops up quickly, which is a huge improvement from the Smart Kicka 3. However, this phone will not play well with graphics-intensive games. 

Nokia 1

Next up is the Nokia 1, which adds a much better 5MP camera, improved battery life and a bigger 4.5” screen. It supports LTE, which allows this smartphone to download and upload at the speed of flagships. It also sports the Nokia brand name, which many consumers trust.

Although the front camera is 2MP, the quality is extremely grainy, even with good lighting. This disqualifies this smartphone for the social media selfie snapper, but the 5MP rear camera will work for the landscape and portrait photographer. 

The screen also redeems this smartphone, providing a display which represents colours truly and has great viewing angles. Xpress-on back covers allows the use of interchangeable, multi-coloured back covers, which has proven to be a successful sales point for mid-range smartphones in the past. 

Huawei Y3 (2018)

The most capable of the Android Go edition competitors, the Huawei Y3 (2018) packs an even bigger screen at 5”, as well as an improved 8MP rear camera and HD video recording. The screen is the brightest and most vibrant of the three smartphones, but seems to be calibrated to show colours a little more saturated than they actually are. 

Nevertheless, the camera outperforms the other smartphones with good colour replication and great selfie capabilities via the 2MP front camera – far superior to the Nokia 1 despite the same spec. LTE also comes standard with this smartphone and Vodacom throws in 4G/LTE data goodies until the end of September 2018. The battery, however, is not removable and may only be replaced by a warranty technician.

Comparing the 3

All three smartphones have removable back covers, which provide access to the battery, SIM card and SD card slots. The smartphones have Micro USB ports on the bottom with headphone jacks on the top. The built-in speakers all performed well, with the Y3 (2018) housing an exceptionally loud built-in speaker. 

Although all at different price points, all three phones remain similar in performance and speed. The differentiators are apparent in the components, like camera quality and screen quality. It would be fair to rank the quality of the camera and battery life by respective market prices. The Vodafone Smart Kicka 4 performed well, for its R399 retail price. The Nokia 1, on the other hand, lags quite a bit in features when compared to the Huawei Y3 (2018), bwith oth retailing at R999.

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SA gets digital archive

As the world entered the centenary of Nelson Mandela’s birth on Mandela Day, 18 July 2018, South Africa celebrated the launch of a digital living archive. 

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The southafrica.co.za  site carries content about the country’s collective heritage in South Africa’s eleven official languages.

Designed as a nation building,  educational and brand promotion web based tool, the free-to-view platform features award-winning photographic and written content by leading South African photographers, authors, academics and photojournalists.

The emphasis is on quality, credible, factual content that celebrates a collective heritage in terms of the following: Cultural Heritage; Natural Heritage; Education; History; Agriculture; Industry; Mining; and Travel.

At the same time as reflecting on the nation’s history, southafrica.co.za celebrates South Africa’s natural, cultural and economic assets so that the youth can learn about their nation in their home language.

Southafrica.co.za Founder and CEO Hans Gerrizen conceptualised southafrica.co.za as a means for youth and communities from outlying areas to benefit from the digital age in terms of the web tool’s empowering educational component.

“We can only stand to deepen our collective experience of democracy and become a more forward planning nation if we know facts about our nation’s past and present in everyone’s home language,” he says.

Southafrica.co.za, with sister company Siyabona Africa, is the organiser and sponsor of the Mandela: 100 Moments photographic exhibition that runs until 30 September at Cape Town’s V&A Waterfront-based Nelson Mandela Gateway to Robben Island.  The 3-month exhibition, which runs daily from 08h00 until 15h00, is showcasing one hundred iconic Nelson Mandela images taken by veteran South African photojournalist and self-taught lensman Peter Magubane.

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