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Spy vs Spy: strange story of cybercrime underworld

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In the cyber-world, not only are everyday users at risk of having their personal details stolen, but so too are new cybercriminals as was evident on the underground site leakforums, writes PAUL DUCKLIN, Senior Security Advisor, Sophos.

Not all malware is ransomware, even though ransomware hogs the spotlight these days.

Keyloggers are still popular in the cybe runderworld, because they help crooks to steal  passwords. Armed with  email passwords, for example, crooks can pull off much more audacious crimes than ransomware, such as business email attacks, also known a CEO fraud or wire-wire scams (that’s where a crook logs in with a stolen password to send an email that doesn’t just look as though it came from your CEO’s account, it really did come from her account.)

The fraudulent email in a wire-wire scam won’t be a demand for $300 in bitcoins, which is a typical price-point in ransomware, but an official-sounding corporate instruction to put through a massive funds transfer. The amount may be $100,000 or even more, and the email will typically claim that that the funds are part of time-critical business venture such as an acquisition, to justify both the large sum and the urgency.

In other words, there’s still big money in Keyloggers, and one of the most popular keyloggers these days is KeyBase, a product that was originally sold as a legitimate application before being abandoned in apparent disgust by its author.But KeyBase lives on, with cyber crooks giving it a new home all over the cybercriminal underground.

Dishonour among thieves

Sometimes crooks turn on their own kind, as happened in this story. A user on the popular underground site leakforums, going by the name pahan12, popped up offering a PHP Remote Access Trojan called SLICK RAT.But newbie crooks who ran the installer didn’t get what they paid for. Instead, they ended up infected with the KeyBase data stealer instead, and their stolen passwords were sent off to a data-collection website. (The “Pahan” connection continued here, because the URL contained the text pahan123.)

My guess is that Pahan was after his victims’ logins for leakforums and other hacker sites, in order to build up his rank in the underground, and  went after users on other crime forums, too.,

(Interestingly, Pahan has a history of this sort of double-cross, promoting one cybercrime tool but infecting it with another. In  November 2015, Pahan was offering a malware scrambling tool called Aegis Crypter).

Cryptors take an existing malware program as input, and churn out a modified, scrambled, compressed and obfuscated program file as output, in the hope that this will bypass basic virus-blocking tools. But Pahan’s version of Aegis included its own “secret sauce”: a zombie Trojan called Troj/RxBot than hooks up infected computers to an IRC server from which remote command-and-control instructions can be sent to the network of zombies. The IRC channels on the server that were used by Pahan’s zombie were pahan12 and pahan123.

And in March 2016, a user going by pahann was promoting a version of the KeyBase toolkit, which can be used to generate keylogger files to order.

This KeyBase malware generation toolkit was itself infected, in a weird sort of “malware triangle”.

By this time, things were getting quite complicated for Pahan, who had samples of SLICK RAT for sale that were infected with KeyBase; of Aegis Crypter infected with Troj/RxBot; and of KeyBase infected with COM Surrogate, which delivered Troj/RxBot and Cyborg.

What next?

Things didn’t go so well for the duplicitous Pahan, a.k.a. Pahan12, a.k.a. Pahan123, a.k.a. Pahann, after that… Just last week, when our team of experts  were looking around to see what Pahan had been up to recently, we found a number of  intriguing data and postings relating to him. Amusingly, (if cyber criminality can ever be truly funny), it seems as if Pahan/12/123/n has managed to infect himself with one or more of the malware samples he’s been juggling recently.

So, if you’ve ever wondered what a cybercrook keeps up his sleeve, this might give you some ideas: we can see a ransomware sample, various pre-prepared malware binaries, scanners, a sniffer, remote access tools and more. Maybe his next step will be to scramble his own files with the ransomware we can see stashed there in his Google Drive account?

So, if you had to write the story “What Pahan did next?”…

…what would you say? (And if you could choose, what would you wish for?)

(This article first appeared on Sophos Naked Security, August 16, 2016: https://nakedsecurity.sophos.com/2016/08/16/you-dirty-rat-spy-versus-spy-in-the-cybercrime-underworld/?utm_source=Naked+Security+-+Sophos+List&utm_campaign=a54b497abf-naked%252Bsecurity&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_31623bb782-a54b497abf-455162573 )

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Online retail gets real

After decades of experience in selling online, retailers still seek out the secret of reaching the digital consumer, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK.

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It’s been 23 years since the first pizza and the first bunch of flowers was sold online. One would think, after all this time, that retailers would know exactly what works, and exactly how the digital consumer thinks.

Yet, in shopping-mad South Africa, only 4% of adults regularly shop online. One could blame high data costs, low levels of tech-savviness, or lack of trust. However, that doesn’t explain why a population where more than a quarter of people have a debit or credit card and almost 40% of people use the Internet is staying away.

The new Online Retail in South Africa 2019 study, conducted by World Wide Worx with the support of Visa and Platinum Seed, reveals that growth is in fact healthy, but is still coming off a low base. This year, the total sale of retail products online is expected to pass the R14-billion mark, making up 1.4% of total retail.

This figure represents 25% growth over 2017, and comes after the same rate of growth was seen in 2017. At this rate, it is clear that online retail is going mainstream, driven by aggressive marketing, and new shopping channels like mobile shopping. 

But it is equally clear that not all retailers are getting it right. According to the study, the unwillingness of business to reinvest revenue in developing their online presence is one of the main barriers to long-term success. Only one in five companies surveyed invested more than 20% of their online turnover back into their online store. Over half invested less than 10% back.

On the surface, the industry looks healthy, as a surprisingly high 71% of online retailers surveyed say they are profitable. But this brings to mind the early days of Amazon.com, in 1996, when founder Jeff Bezos was asked when it would become profitable.

He declared that it would not be profitable for at least another five years. And if it did, he said, it would be in big trouble. He meant that it was so important for long-term sustainability that Amazon reinvest all its revenues in customer systems, that it could not afford to look for short-term profits.

According to the South African study, the single most critical factor in the success of online retail activities is customer service. A vast majority, 98% of respondents, regarded it as important. This positions customer service as the very heart of online retail. For Amazon, investment back into systems that would streamline customer service became the key to the world’s digital wallets.

In South Africa online still make up a small proportion of overall retail, but for the first time we see the promise of a broader range of businesses in terms of category, size, turnover and employee numbers. This is a sign that our local market is beginning to mature. 

Clothing and apparel is the fastest growing sector, but is also the sector with the highest turnover of businesses. It illustrates the dangers of a low barrier to entry: the survival rate of online stores in this sector is probably directly opposite to the ease of setting up an online apparel store.

A fast-growing category that was fairly low on the agenda in the past, alcohol, tobacco and vaping, has benefited from the increased online supply of vapes, juices and accessories. It also suggests that smoking bans, and the change in the legal status of marijuana during the survey, may have boosted demand. 

In the coming weeks, we can expect online retail to fall under the spotlight as never before. Black Friday, a shopping tradition imported “wholesale” from the United States, is expected to become the biggest online shopping day of the year in South Africa, as it is in the USA.

Initially, it was just a gimmick in South Africa, attempting to cash in on what was a purely American tradition of insane sales on the Friday after Thanksgiving Day, which occurs on the third Thursday of November every year. It is followed by Cyber Monday, making the entire weekend one of major promotions and great bargains.

It has grown every year in South Africa since its first introduction about six years ago, and last year it broke into the mainstream, with numerous high profile retailers embracing it, and many consumers experiencing it for the first time. 

It is now positioned as the prime bargain day of the year for consumers, and many wait in anticipation for it, as they do in the USA. Along with Cyber Monday, it provides an excuse for retailers to go all out in their marketing, and for consumers to storm the display shelves or web pages. South African shoppers, clearly, are easily enticed by bargains.

Word of mouth around Black Friday has also grown massively in the past two years, driven by both media and shoppers who have found ridiculous bargains. As news spreads that the most ridiculous of the bargains are to be had online, even those who were reticent of digital shopping will be tempted to convert.

The Online Retail in SA 2019 report has shown over the years that, as people become more experienced in using the Internet, their propensity to shop online increases. This is part of the World Wide Worx model known as the Digital Participation Curve. The key missing factor in the Curve is that most retailers do not know how to convert that propensity into actual online shopping behaviour. Black Friday will be one of the keys to conversion.

Carry on reading to find out about the online retailers of the year.

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Reliable satellite Internet?

MzansiSat, a satellite-Internet business, aims to beam Internet connections to places in South Africa which don’t have access to cabled and mobile network infrastructure, writes BRYAN TURNER.

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Stellenbosch-based MzansiSat promises to provide cheap wholesale Internet to Internet Service Providers for as little as R25 per Gigabyte. Providers who offer more expensive Internet services could benefit greatly from partnering with MzansiSat, says the company. 

“Using MzansiSat, we hope that we can carry over cost-savings benefits to the consumer,” says Victor Stephanopoli, MzansiSat chief operating officer.

The company, which has been spun off from StellSat, has been looking to increase its investor portfolio while it waits for spectrum approval. The additional investment will allow MzansiSat’s satellite to operate in more regions across Africa.

The MzansiSat satellite is being built by Thales Alenia Space, a French company which is also acting as technical partner to MzansiSat. In addition to building the satellite, Thales Alenia Space will also be assisting MzansiSat in coordinating the launch. The company intends to launch the satellite into the 56°E orbital slot in a geostationary orbit, which enables communication almost anywhere in Africa. The launch is expected to happen in 2022. 

The satellite will have 76 transponders, 48 of which will be Ku-band and 28 C-band. Ku-band is all about high-speed performance, while C-band deals with weather-resistance. The design intention is for customers of MzansiSat to choose between very cheap, reliable data and very fast, power-efficient data. 

C-band is an older technology, which makes bandwidth cheaper and almost never affected by rain but requires bigger dishes and slower bandwidth compared to Ku-band connections. On the other hand, Ku-band is faster, experiences less microwave interference, and requires less power to run – but is less reliable with bad weather conditions.

MzansiSat’s potential military applications are significant, due to the nature of the military being mobile and possibly in remote areas without connectivity.  Connectivity everywhere would be potentially be life-saving.

Consumers in remote areas will benefit, even though satellite is higher in latency than fibre and LTE connections. While this level of latency is high (a fifth of a second in theory), satellite connections are still adequate for browsing the Internet and watching online content. 

The Internet of Things (IoT) may see the benefits of satellite Internet before consumers do. The applications of IoT in agriculture are vast, from hydration sensors to soil nutrient testers, and can be realised with an Internet connection which is available in a remote area.

Stephanopoli says that e-learning in remote areas can also benefit from MzansiSat’s presence, as many school resources are becoming readily available online. 

“Through our network, the learning experience can be beamed into classrooms across the country to substitute or complement local resources within the South African schooling system.”

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