Africa’s smartphone revolution is showing signs of a slowdown according to the latest figures compiled by International Data Corporation (IDC).
The global technology research and consulting services firm says the continent’s smartphone market totaled 95.37 million units in 2016. And while this is up 3.4% year on year, it represents a considerable deceleration from the double-digit growth rates seen in the previous two years, with demand being hampered by the currency fluctuations that are affecting the continent.
Overall, 215.33 million mobile handsets were shipped in Africa during 2016, up 10.1% on the previous year. However, it was feature phones that were largely responsible for this growth, with shipments increasing 16.1% year on year in 2016 to total 119.97 million units. This growth saw feature phones increase their unit share of Africa’s overall handset market from 53% in 2015 to 56% in 2016.
“Africa has always been a tough market for mobile phone companies to crack, and in 2016 that challenge got even harder,” says Simon Baker, program director for mobile devices at IDC CEMA. “Many African economies struggled throughout 2016, and this had an inevitable knock-on effect on the smartphone market, which had previously experienced a very strong 2015. It was a particularly tough year in Nigeria, with the devaluation of the naira causing a drop in confidence in the distribution channel. And while North African markets saw an increase in overall handset shipments in 2016, the pace of growth slowed year on year due to exchange-rate fluctuations in Egypt and security issues in Algeria.”
Samsung continued to lead the African smartphone market in 2016, largely through a reworked product portfolio that now includes more mid- to low-range models. However, at 28 million units, its 2016 smartphone shipments in Africa showed little growth from the figures recorded in 2015. The second-placed smartphone vendor was Transsion, widely known throughout Africa via its itel, Infinix, and Tecno brands. And in terms of feature phone shipments, Transsion comfortably outperformed its main competitors in 2016.
Chinese vendors have been showing more interest in the African market in recent quarters and expanding into new countries. However, this expansion strategy is delivering mixed results across the continent. Of the big international Chinese vendors, Huawei posted year-on-year shipment growth to remain as Africa’s number-three smartphone vendor in 2016, while Lenovo saw flat growth and ZTE and Alcatel both suffered slight declines.
“Price competitiveness has become a key issue in many African markets,” says Ramazan Yavuz, research manager for mobile devices in Africa at IDC CEMA. “To grow significantly in these markets, vendors have to be able to address the continent’s large low-income population by providing phones that are priced very competitively. As such, global vendors are cautious of the lower-priced Chinese brands now entering the market and are keeping a close eye on them.”
3G handsets continue to account for more than half of all new smartphone shipments in Africa, although 4G devices saw year-on-year growth of more than 50% in 2016. IDC is predicting that 4G handsets will account for more than half of new smartphone shipments in Africa by 2018, as prices for entry-level 4G phones drop and the number of 4G networks across the continent grows. For example, Egypt saw the launch of a major 4G network towards the end of 2016, and more countries are set to follow suit in 2017.
Cons exploit Telegram ICO
Kaspersky Lab researchers have uncovered dozens of highly convincing fake websites claiming to be investment sites for an initial coin offering (ICO) by the Telegram messaging service. Many of these websites appear to belong to the same group. In one case alone, tens of thousands of US dollars’ worth of cryptocurrency were stolen from victims believing they were investing in ‘Grams’, Telegram’s rumoured new currency. Telegram has not officially confirmed an ICO and has warned people about fraudulent investor sites.
In late 2017, stories started to circulate that the Telegram messaging service was launching an initial coin offering (ICO) to finance a blockchain platform based on its TON (Telegram Open Network) technology. Unverified technical documentation was posted online, but there appears to have been no confirmation from Telegram itself. The resulting confusion seems to have allowed fraudsters to capitalise on investor interest by creating fake sites and stealing vast sums of money.
Kaspersky Lab researchers have discovered dozens of such sites, possibly belonging to the same group, claiming to sell tokens for ‘Grams’ and inviting investors to pay with cryptocurrencies including Bitcoin, Ethereum, lice litecoin, dash and Bitcoin dash. A record of transactions on one site revealed that the scammers were able to steal at least $35,000 US dollars’ worth of Ethereum from investors.
The researchers found that some of the websites were so convincing that even after Telegram and others began to issue warnings, they were still able to recruit potential investors. Most use a secure connection, require registration and generate a unique online wallet for each new victim, making it harder to track the money.
Judging by the content of the fake websites, it appears they may have common ownership. For example, several have the exactly the same ‘Our Team’ section.
“ICOs are a fairly risky investment and many people don’t yet fully understand how they work, so it is not surprising that high quality fake websites, with seemingly reassuring features such as a secure connection and registration are successful at luring people in. People wishing to invest in an ICO would do well to check with the company behind it and make sure they know exactly who they are giving their money to, or they may never see it again,” said Nadezhda Demidova, Lead Web-Content Analyst, Kaspersky Lab.
Kaspersky Lab offers the following advice for users considering investing in an ICO:
- Check for warning signs: for example, some of the fake Telegram ICO websites had the same wrong image next to the name of Telegram’s Chief Product Officer.
- Do your homework: always check with the brand’s official site to verify the legitimacy of the investment site and, if necessary contact the company’s ICO teams before investing any money or currency.
- Use reliable security solutions such as Kaspersky Internet Security and Kaspersky Internet Security for Android, which will warn you if you try to visit fake internet pages.
Crouching Yeti strikes
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.