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Ransomware defence must go beyond just files

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Ransomware is on the increase, and while most threats request money in return for encrypted files, hackers are using other ways to extract payment from their victims, explains DOROS HADJIZENONOS, country manager, Check Point South Africa.

Ransomware is an ever-increasing threat worldwide, claiming new victims on a regular basis with no end in sight. While most ransomware families prevent the victims from accessing their documents, pictures, databases and other files by encrypting them and offering a decryption key in return for a ransom payment, others use different, but no less creative ways to extract payment from their victims. Here are some examples:

IoT ransomware

Smart devices are known to be a soft spot targeted by threat actors for various purposes. In August 2016, security researchers demonstrated their ability to take control of a building’s thermostats and cause them to increase the temperature up to 99 degrees Celsius. This was the first proof of concept of this kind of attack, showing a creative way to put pressure on victims and drive them to pay ransom or risk consequences such as a flood or an incinerated house.

In November 2016, travellers in the San Francisco MUNI Metro were prevented from buying tickets at the stations due to a ransomware attack on MUNI’s network. In this case the attackers demanded $70,000 in BitCoins. In January 2017, a luxurious hotel in Austria was said to suffer an attack on its electronic key system, resulting in guests experiencing difficulties in going in or out of their rooms. The attackers demanded $1,500 in BitCoins. Whether or not this story is accurate, it demonstrates how creative this type of attack can get.

The growing use of IoT devices will likely make this attack vector more and more common in the future. For example, the potential exploitation of vulnerabilities inside smart, implantable cardiovascular defibrillators, can allow an attacker to put a victim’s life at risk until the ransom is paid. As IoTs become more widespread in our everyday life, threat actors will find new, horrifying ways to subjugate victims for profit.

Hostage data ransomware

A more direct approach is to steal data from victims and threaten to expose it unless a ransom payment is received by a certain deadline. This generic modus operandi has been used by different malware families and campaigns. For example, in May 2016, over 10 million customer records of a leading South Korean online shopping mall were stolen, including names, addresses and phone numbers. The attackers demanded a ransom of $2,664 in BitCoins to prevent release of the information online.

Another example is Charger, a screen-locker Android ransomware discovered by Check Point researchers in January 2016. The attackers threatened to sell stolen data from targeted devices unless they receive a ransom of 0.2 BitCoins (approximately $180). The malware is embedded in a mobile app named EnergyRescue, downloaded from Google Play.

DDoS ransomware

Another method for attackers is threatening to conduct a denial of service attack unless a ransom is paid. With the growing use of botnets for DDoS attacks, this attack vector is especially common against banks, and is very attractive as it is far simpler than developing a ‘traditional’ file-encrypting ransomware. This attack vector made headlines in January 2017 when it was used in an attack against the web portal of the British Lloyds Bank. The attackers issued a DDoS threat with a demand of 100 BitCoins (worth approximately $94,000).

Screen lockers

Some ransomware simply prevent victims from using their devices by locking their screens. There are different ways to conduct a screen locking attack, but common features include cancelling all options to close a program or to shut it down. Examples of such ransomware are DeriaLock (December 2016), which targets PCs and demands a payment of $30 for unlocking; and Flocker (May 2015), an Android screen locker which targets smartphones and Android-run smart TVs, and demands an iTunes gift card worth $200 as payment.

Summary

Ransomware attacks are a popular way for threat actors to make easy profits, as the payment is made anonymously using anonymous BitCoin wallets rather than bank transfers. The motivation for victims to cooperate is high, as their personal data is on the line. While most ransomware families encrypt files, some use creative ways to drive victims to pay. By preventing victims from accessing their machines, creating real damage or exposing sensitive data, the attackers are able to bypass the complexities of managing an encryption and decryption process. We estimate that the use of alternative ransomware, especially DDoS and IoT ransomware, will keep on growing in the near future, as IoT devices and web services continue to become more widespread.

How to protect yourself

We highly recommend you take these steps to protect yourself from ransomware or mitigate their effects:

  • Backup your most important files – Make an offline copy of your files on an external device and an online cloud stage service. This method protects your files not only from ransomware but from other hazards as well. Note: external devices should be used for backup ONLY and be disconnected immediately after the backup is completed.
  • Exercise caution – We usually don’t sense any danger while using our computers or other devices, but it’s there. Threat actors are constantly trying to steal your money, your private data and your machine resources – don’t let them have it. Don’t open e-mails you don’t expect to receive, don’t click links unless you know exactly what they are and where they lead, and if you are asked to run macros on an Office file, DON’T! The only situation in which you should run macros is in the rare case that you know exactly what those macros will do. Additionally, keep track of the latest major malware campaigns to ensure that you will not fall victim to a new and unique phishing technique or download a malicious app, which can lead to malware installation on your computer or theft of your credentials.
  • Have a comprehensive, up-to-date, security solution – High quality security solutions and products protect you from a variety of malware types and attack vectors. Today’s Anti-Virus, IPS and sandboxing solutions can detect and block Office documents that contain malicious macros, and prevent many exploit kits from exploiting your system even prior to the malware infection. Check Point Sandblast solution efficiently detects and blocks ransomware samples, and extracts malicious content from files delivered by spam and phishing campaigns. Installing your IoT devices behind a Security Gateway will keep them safe as well.

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When will we stop calling them phones?

If you don’t remember when phones were only used to talk to people, you may wonder why we still use this term for handsets, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK, on the eve of the 10th birthday of the app.

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Do you remember when handsets were called phones because, well, we used them to phone people?

It took 120 years from the invention of the telephone to the use of phones to send text.

Between Alexander Graham Bell coining the term “telephone” in 1876 and Finland’s two main mobile operators allowing SMS messages between consumers in 1995, only science fiction writers and movie-makers imagined instant communication evolving much beyond voice. Even when BlackBerry shook the business world with email on a phone at the end of the last century, most consumers were adamant they would stick to voice.

It’s hard to imagine today that the smartphone as we know it has been with us for less than 10 years. Apple introduced the iPhone, the world’s first mass-market touchscreen phone, in June 2007, but it is arguable that it was the advent of the app store in July the following year that changed our relationship with phones forever.

That was the moment when the revolution in our hands truly began, when it became possible for a “phone” to carry any service that had previously existed on the World Wide Web.

Today, most activity carried out by most people on their mobile devices would probably follow the order of social media in first place – Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn all jostling for attention – and  instant messaging in close second, thanks to WhatsApp, Messenger, SnapChat and the like. Phone calls – using voice that is – probably don’t even take third place, but play fourth or fifth fiddle to mapping and navigation, driven by Google Maps and Waze, and transport, thanks to Uber, Taxify, and other support services in South Africa like MyCiti,  Admyt and Kaching.

Despite the high cost of data, free public Wi-Fi is also seeing an explosion in use of streaming video – whether Youtube, Netflix, Showmax, or GETblack – and streaming music, particularly with the arrival of Spotify to compete with Simfy Africa.

Who has time for phone calls?

The changing of the phone guard in South Africa was officially signaled last week with the announcement of Vodacom’s annual results. Voice revenue for the 2018 financial year ending 31 March had fallen by 4.6%, to make up 40.6% of Vodacom’s revenue. Total revenue had grown by 8.1%, which meant voice seriously underperformed the group, and had fallen by 4% as a share of revenue, from 2017’s 44.6%.

The reason? Data had not only outperformed the group, increasing revenue by 12.8%, but it had also risen from 39.7% to 42.8% of group revenue,

This means that data has not only outperformed voice for the first time – as had been predicted by World Wide Worx a year ago – but it has also become Vodacom’s biggest contributor to revenue.

That scenario is being played out across all mobile network operators. In the same way, instant messaging began destroying SMS revenues as far back as five years ago – to the extent that SMS barely gets a mention in annual reports.

Data overtaking voice revenues signals the demise of voice as the main service and key selling point of mobile network operators. It also points to mobile phones – let’s call them handsets – shifting their primary focus. Voice quality will remain important, but now more a subset of audio quality rather than of connectivity. Sound quality will become a major differentiator as these devices become primary platforms for movies and music.

Contact management, privacy and security will become critical features as the handset becomes the storage device for one’s entire personal life.

Integration with accessories like smartwatches and activity monitors, earphones and earbuds, virtual home assistants and virtual car assistants, will become central to the functionality of these devices. Why? Because the handsets will control everything else? Hardly.

More likely, these gadgets will become an extension of who we are, what we do and where we are. As a result, they must be context aware, and also context compatible. This means they must hand over appropriate functions to appropriate devices at the appropriate time. 

I need to communicate only using my earpiece? The handset must make it so. I have to use gesture control, and therefore some kind of sensor placed on my glasses, collar or wrist? The handset must instantly surrender its centrality.

There are numerous other scenarios and technology examples, many out of the pages of science fiction, that point to the changing role of the “phone”. The one thing that’s obvious is that it will be silly to call it a phone for much longer.

  • Arthur Goldstuck is founder of World Wide Worx and editor-in-chief of Gadget.co.za. Follow him on Twitter on @art2gee and on YouTube
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MTN 5G test gets 520Mbps

MTN and Huawei have launched Africa’s first 5G field trial with an end-to-end Huawei 5G solution.

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The field trial demonstrated a 5G Fixed-Wireless Access (FWA) use case with Huawei’s 5G 28GHz mmWave Customer Premises Equipment (CPE) in a real-world environment in Hatfield Pretoria, South Africa. Speeds of 520Mbps downlink and 77Mbps uplink were attained throughout respectively.

“These 5G trials provide us with an opportunity to future proof our network and prepare it for the evolution of these new generation networks. We have gleaned invaluable insights about the modifications that we need to do on our core, radio and transmission network from these pilots. It is important to note that the transition to 5G is not just a flick of a switch, but it’s a roadmap that requires technical modifications and network architecture changes to ensure that we meet the standards that this technology requires. We are pleased that we are laying the groundwork that will lead to the full realisation of the boundless opportunities that are inherent in the digital world.” says Babak Fouladi, Group Chief Technology & Information Systems Officer, at MTN Group.

Giovanni Chiarelli, Chief Technology and Information Officer for MTN SA said: “Next generation services such as virtual and augmented reality, ultra-high definition video streaming, and cloud gaming require massive capacity and higher user data rates. The use of millimeter-wave spectrum bands is one of the key 5G enabling technologies to deliver the required capacity and massive data rates required for 5G’s Enhanced Mobile Broadband use cases. MTN and Huawei’s joint field trial of the first 5G mmWave Fixed-Wireless Access solution in Africa will also pave the way for a fixed-wireless access solution that is capable of replacing conventional fixed access technologies, such as fibre.”

“Huawei is continuing to invest heavily in innovative 5G technologies”, said Edward Deng, President of Wireless Network Product Line of Huawei. “5G mmWave technology can achieve unprecedented fiber-like speed for mobile broadband access. This trial has shown the capabilities of 5G technology to deliver exceptional user experience for Enhanced Mobile Broadband applications. With customer-centric innovation in mind, Huawei will continue to partner with MTN to deliver best-in-class advanced wireless solutions.”

“We are excited about the potential the technology will bring as well as the potential advancements we will see in the fields of medicine, entertainment and education. MTN has been investing heavily to further improve our network, with the recent “Best in Test” and MyBroadband best network recognition affirming this. With our focus on providing the South Africans with the best customer experience, speedy allocation of spectrum can help bring more of these technologies to our customers,” says Giovanni.

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