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Spy vs Spy in hacker wars

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Kaspersky Labs has revealed that hackers are now hacking other attack groups, using their tools and stealing victim data, making more difficult to gather accurate threat intelligence.

Sophisticated threat actors are actively hacking other attack groups in order to steal victim data, borrow tools and techniques and re-use each other’s infrastructure – making accurate threat intelligence ever harder for security researchers, according to Kaspersky Lab’s Global Research and Analysis Team (GReAT).

Accurate threat intelligence relies on identifying the patterns and tools that signpost a particular threat actor. Such knowledge allows researchers to better map different attackers’ goals, targets and behaviours, and to help organisations determine their level of risk. When threat actors start hacking each other and taking over tools, infrastructure and even victims, this model quickly starts to break down.

Kaspersky Lab believes that such attacks are likely to be implemented mainly by nation-state backed groups, targeting foreign or less competent actors. It is important that IT security researchers learn how to spot and interpret the signs of these attacks, so that they can present their intelligence in context.

In a detailed review of the opportunities for such attacks, GReAT researchers identified two main approaches: passive and active. Passive attacks involve intercepting other groups’ data in transit, for example as it moves between victims and command and control servers – and are almost impossible to detect. The active approach involves infiltrating another threat actor’s malicious infrastructure.

There is a greater risk of detection in the active approach, but it also offers more benefits as it allows the attacker to extract information on a regular basis, monitor its target and their victims, and potentially even insert its own implants or mount attacks in the name of its victim. The success of active attacks relies heavily on the target making mistakes in operational security.

GReAT has encountered a number of strange and unexpected artefacts while investigating specific threat actors that suggest such active attacks are already happening in-the-wild.

Examples include:

  1. Backdoors installed in another entity’s command-and-control (C&C) infrastructure

Installing a backdoor in a hacked network allows attackers to establish persistence inside the operations of another group. Kaspersky Lab researchers have found what appear to be two in-the-wild examples of such backdoors.

One of these was found in 2013, while analysing a server used by NetTraveler, a Chinese-language campaign targeting activists and organisations in Asia. The second one was found in 2014, while investigating a hacked website used by Crouching Yeti (also known as Energetic Bear), a Russian-language threat actor targeting the industrial sector since 2010. The researchers noticed that, for a brief period of time, the panel managing the C&C network was modified with a tag that pointed to a remote IP in China (likely a false flag). The researchers believe this was also a backdoor belonging to another group, although there are no indicators as to who this might be.

  1. Sharing hacked websites

In 2016, Kaspersky Lab researchers found that a website compromised by the Korean-language DarkHotel also hosted exploit scripts for another targeted attacker, which the team called ScarCruft, a group targeting mainly Russian-, Chinese- and South Korean- organisations. The DarkHotel operation dates from April 2016, while the ScarCruft attacks were implemented a month later, suggesting that ScarCruft may have observed the DarkHotel attacks before launching its own.

  1. Targeting-by-proxy

Infiltrating a group with an established stake in a certain region or industry sector enables an attacker to reduce costs and improve targeting, benefiting from the specialist expertise of its victim.

Some threat actors share rather than steal victims. This is a risky approach if one of the groups is less advanced and gets caught, as the inevitable forensic analysis that follows will also reveal the other intruders. In November 2014, Kaspersky Lab reported that a server belonging to a research institution in the Middle East, known as the Magnet of Threats, simultaneously hosted implants for the highly sophisticated threat actors Regin and Equation Group (English-language), Turla and ItaDuke (Russian-language), as well as Animal Farm (French-language) and Careto (Spanish). In fact, this server was the starting point for the discovery of the Equation Group.

“Attribution is hard at the best of times as clues are rare and easily manipulated, and now we also have to factor in the impact of threat actors hacking each other. As more groups leverage each other’s toolkits, victims and infrastructure, insert their own implants or adopt the identity of their victim to mount further attacks, where will that leave threat hunters trying to build a clear, accurate picture? Our examples hint that some of this is already happening in-the-wild and threat intelligence researchers will need to pause and adapt their thinking when it comes to analysing the work of advanced threat actors,” said Juan Andres Guerrero-Saade, Principal Security Researcher, Global Research and Analysis Team, Kaspersky Lab.

In order to keep pace with the rapidly evolving threat landscape, Kaspersky Lab advises enterprises to implement a full-scale security platform combined with cutting-edge threat intelligence. Kaspersky Lab’s enterprise security portfolio provides businesses with threat prevention through its next-generation endpoint security suite, detection based on the Kaspersky Anti Targeted Attack platform, and prediction and incident response through its threat intelligence services.

Further details on ways in which threat actors acquire and reuse elements of other groups, including tool repurposing and malware clustering, and their ramifications for threat intelligence can be found in the paper, Walking in your enemy’s shadow: when fourth-party collection becomes attribution hell.

Arts and Entertainment

VoD cuts the cord in SA

Some 20% of South Africans who sign up for a subscription video on demand (SVOD) service such as Netflix or Showmax do so with the intention of cancelling their pay television subscription.

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That’s according to GfK’s international ViewScape survey*, which this year covers Africa (South Africa, Kenya and Nigeria) for the first time.

The study—which surveyed 1,250 people representative of urban South African adults with Internet access—shows that 90% of the country’s online adults today use at least one online video service and that just over half are paying to view digital online content. The average user spends around 7 hours and two minutes a day consuming video content, with broadcast television accounting for just 42% of the time South Africans spend in front of a screen.

Consumers in South Africa spend nearly as much of their daily viewing time – 39% of the total – watching free digital video sources such as YouTube and Facebook as they do on linear television. People aged 18 to 24 years spend more than eight hours a day watching video content as they tend to spend more time with free digital video than people above their age.

Says Benjamin Ballensiefen, managing director for Sub Sahara Africa at GfK: “The media industry is experiencing a revolution as digital platforms transform viewers’ video consumption behaviour. The GfK ViewScape study is one of the first to not only examine broadcast television consumption in Kenya, Nigeria and South Africa, but also to quantify how linear and online forms of content distribution fit together in the dynamic world of video consumption.”

The study finds that just over a third of South African adults are using streaming video on demand (SVOD) services, with only 16% of SVOD users subscribing to multiple services. Around 23% use per-pay-view platforms such as DSTV Box Office, while about 10% download pirated content from the Internet. Around 82% still sometimes watch content on disc-based media.

“Linear and non-linear television both play significant roles in South Africa’s video landscape, though disruption from digital players poses a growing threat to the incumbents,” says Molemo Moahloli, general manager for media research & regional business development at GfK Sub Sahara Africa. “Among most demographics, usage of paid online content is incremental to consumption of linear television, but there are signs that younger consumers are beginning to substitute SVOD for pay-television subscriptions.”

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New data rules raise business trust challenges

When the General Data Protection Regulation comes into effect on May 25th, financial services firms will face a new potential threat to their on-going challenges with building strong customer relationships, writes DARREL ORSMOND, Financial Services Industry Head at SAP Africa.

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The regulation – dubbed GDPR for short – is aimed at giving European citizens control back over their personal data. Any firm that creates, stores, manages or transfers personal information of an EU citizen can be held liable under the new regulation. Non-compliance is not an option: the fines are steep, with a maximum penalty of €20-million – or nearly R300-million – for transgressors.

GDPR marks a step toward improved individual rights over large corporates and states that prevents the latter from using and abusing personal information at their discretion. Considering the prevailing trust deficit – one global EY survey found that 60% of global consumers worry about hacking of bank accounts or bank cards, and 58% worry about the amount of personal and private data organisations have about them – the new regulation comes at an opportune time. But it is almost certain to cause disruption to normal business practices when implemented, and therein lies both a threat and an opportunity.

The fundamentals of trust

GDPR is set to tamper with two fundamental factors that can have a detrimental effect on the implicit trust between financial services providers and their customers: firstly, customers will suddenly be challenged to validate that what they thought companies were already doing – storing and managing their personal data in a manner that is respectful of their privacy – is actually happening. Secondly, the outbreak of stories relating to companies mistreating customer data or exposing customers due to security breaches will increase the chances that customers now seek tangible reassurance from their providers that their data is stored correctly.

The recent news of Facebook’s indiscriminate sharing of 50 million of its members’ personal data to an outside firm has not only led to public outcry but could cost the company $2-trillion in fines should the Federal Trade Commission choose to pursue the matter to its fullest extent. The matter of trust also extends beyond personal data: in EY’s 2016 Global Consumer Banking Survey, less than a third of respondents had complete trust that their banks were being transparent about fees and charges.

This is forcing companies to reconsider their role in building and maintaining trust with its customers. In any customer relationship, much is done based on implicit trust. A personal banking customer will enjoy a measure of familiarity that often provides them with some latitude – for example when applying for access to a new service or an overdraft facility – that can save them a lot of time and energy. Under GDPR and South Africa’s POPI act, this process is drastically complicated: banks may now be obliged to obtain permission to share customer data between different business units (for example because they are part of different legal entities and have not expressly received permission). A customer may now allow banks to use their personal data in risk scoring models, but prevent them from determining whether they qualify for private banking services.

What used to happen naturally within standard banking processes may be suddenly constrained by regulation, directly affecting the bank’s relationship with its customers, as well as its ability to upsell to existing customers.

The risk of compliance

Are we moving to an overly bureaucratic world where even the simplest action is subject to a string of onerous processes? Compliance officers are already embedded within every function in a typical financial services institution, as well as at management level. Often the reporting of risk processes sits outside formal line functions and end up going straight to the board. This can have a stifling effect on innovation, with potentially negative consequences for customer service.

A typical banking environment is already creaking under the weight of close to 100 acts, which makes it difficult to take the calculated risks needed to develop and launch innovative new banking products. Entire new industries could now emerge, focusing purely on the matter of compliance and associated litigation. GDPR already requires the services of Data Protection Officers, but the growing complexity of regulatory compliance could add a swathe of new job functions and disciplines. None of this points to the type of innovation that the modern titans of business are renowned for.

A three-step plan of action

So how must banks and other financial services firms respond? I would argue there are three main elements to successfully navigating the immediate impact of the new regulations:

Firstly, ensuring that the technologies you use to secure, manage and store personal data is sufficiently robust. Modern financial services providers have a wealth of customer data at their disposal, including unstructured data from non-traditional sources such as social media. The tools they use to process and safeguard this data needs to be able to withstand the threats posed by potential data breaches and malicious attacks.

Secondly, rethinking the core organisational processes governing their interactions with customers. This includes the internal measures for setting terms and conditions, how customers are informed of their intention to use their data, and how risk is assessed. A customer applying for medical insurance will disclose deeply personal information about themselves to the insurance provider: it is imperative the insurer provides reassurance that the customer’s data will be treated respectfully and with discretion and with their express permission.

Thirdly, financial services firms need to define a core set of principles for how they treat customers and what constitutes fair treatment. This should be an extension of a broader organisational focus on treating customers fairly, and can go some way to repairing the trust deficit between the financial services industry and the customers they serve.

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