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SA rises to 22 in cyber victim charts

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 Check Point Software Technologies has revealed that an increase in video-on-demand and an increase in e-commerce over the festive season could be why South Africa shot up the list of countries most attacked by cybercriminals in January 2016.

South Africa appeared at number 22 on the list last month, up from 67th in December. Namibia remains the most-attacked country for the second month in a row, with Ethiopia ranking in the 10th position. After spending two months in the top 20, Nigeria improved its ranking to 30th position, from 17th, while Kenya slid 10 places to 54th.

“We’ve seen an increase in phishing attacks targeting video-on-demand users, who are tricked into handing over their passwords under the guise that their accounts need to be updated,” says Doros Hadjizenonos, Country Manager of Check Point South Africa. “These mails also install malware onto the user’s PC, which steals personal information, such as banking details, without the user knowing.”

A rise in e-commerce and online shopping over the festive season is another reason for the increase in cyber-attacks, says Hadjizenonos. “Cybercriminals also use phishing to get users to visit dodgy websites and download fake apps. Tactics often involve ‘discounts’ when shopping online or through a retailer’s app. What consumers are often unaware of is that, even though the app or URL look legitimate, they have been designed with the sole purpose of stealing information.”

Based on threat intelligence drawn from its ThreatCloud World Cyber Threat Map, which tracks how and where cyberattacks are taking place worldwide in real time, Check Point identified more than 1,500 different malware families during January, continuing the trend first seen in December 2015 when the number of active families rose by 25%.

While the Conficker and Sality families remained the two most commonly used malwares for the second month running, collectively accounting for 34% of all attacks globally, Dorkbot, associated with DDoS attacks and exploits targeting sensitive data, was a new entry to the top three, responsible for 5% of attacks during the month.

The top three malware families, which accounted for 39% of the total attacks in January were:

1.      ↔ Conficker – accounted for 24% of all recognised attacks; machines infected by Conficker are controlled by a botnet. It also disables security services, leaving computers even more vulnerable to other infections.

2.      ↑Sality – virus that allows remote operations and downloads of additional malware to infected systems by its operator. Its main goal is to persist in a system and provide means for remote control and installing further malware.

3.      ↑Dorkbot – IRC-based Worm designed to allow remote code execution by its operator, as well as download additional malware to the infected system, with the primary motivation being to steal sensitive information and launch denial-of-service attacks.

Check Point’s research also revealed the most prevalent mobile malware during January 2015, and once again attacks against Android devices were significantly more common than iOS. The top three mobile malware were:

1.      ↑ AndroRAT – malware that is able to pack itself with a legitimate mobile application and install without the user’s knowledge, allowing a hacker full remote control of an Android device.

2.      ↓ Xinyin – observed as a Trojan-Clicker that performs Click Fraud on Chinese ad sites.

3.      ↑Leech – malware designed to send text messages from infected mobile devices to premium rate numbers hard-coded within the file.

“The increase in DDoS attacks against public websites has been well publicised in the past couple of months, and the fact that the Dorkbot family is becoming more prevalent underlines the fact that businesses need to be taking steps to protect themselves against such attacks. The range and volume of attacks that organisations face has continued to grow in the early stages of 2016, highlighting the challenges they face in securing their networks. As such it is critical that organisations deploy protection to prevent them being exploited and ensure that their data is secure,” says Hadjizenonos.

The ThreatCloud Map is powered by Check Point’s ThreatCloud intelligence, the largest collaborative network to fight cybercrime, which delivers threat data and attack trends from a global network of threat sensors. The ThreatCloud database holds over 250 million addresses analysed for bot discovery, over 11 million malware signatures and over 5.5 million infected websites, and identifies millions of malware types daily.

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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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