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Swarms are attacking

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The most recent Global Threat Landscape Report from Fortinet says that automated and sophisticated swarm attacks are accelerating, making it increasingly difficult for organisations to protect users, applications and devices.

The Fortinet Q4 Global Threat Landscape Report notes that the sophistication of attacks targeting organisations is accelerating at an unprecedented rate. While digital transformation is reshaping business on the one hand, on the other it is opening up the attack surface for cybercriminals to take advantage of new, disruptive opportunities to attack.

Anton Jacobsz, managing director at value-added distributor, Networks Unlimited, which distributes Fortinet throughout Africa, says, “Cyber attackers are making use of newer swarm-like capabilities, while simultaneously targeting multiple vulnerabilities, devices, and access points. This combination creates rapid threat development that is becoming increasingly difficult for many organisations to defend against. Organisations need to adopt strategies based on automation and integration to address these problems of adversarial speed and scale.”

The threat data in the Fortinet Q4 Global Threat Landscape Report reinforces many of the predictions unveiled by the Fortinet FortiGuard Labs global research team for 2018, which had previously predicted the rise of self-learning hivenets and swarmbots, as clarified in a blog entry which noted that: “…cybercriminals will eventually replace botnets built with mindless zombie devices with intelligent clusters of compromised devices to create more effective attacks. This would be a hivenet instead of a botnet. It would be able to use millions of interconnected devices, or swarmbots, to simultaneously identify and tackle different attack vectors, enabling attacks at an unprecedented scale…

“…unlike individual zombies, individual swarmbots are smart. They are able to talk to each other, take action based on shared local intelligence, use swarm intelligence to act on commands without the botnet herder instructing them to do so, and recruit and train new members of the hive. As a result, as a hivenet identifies and compromises more devices it will be able to grow exponentially, and thereby widen its ability to simultaneously attack multiple victims.”

Deeper analysis into the Fortinet Q4 Global Threat Landscape reinforces this earlier insight. The report detected an average of 274 attacks per surveyed firm, which was a significant increase of 82 percent over the previous quarter. The number of malware families also increased by 25 percent (to 3,317) and unique variants grew 19 percent (to 17,671). This indicates a dramatic growth in volume as well as a significant evolution in the malware itself. Organisations must safeguard their networks and data from this onslaught of attacks coming from both corporate and employee devices.

Other notable findings from the report included the following:

·        Encrypted traffic using HTTPS and SSL grew as a percentage of total network traffic to an average high of nearly 60 percent. Encryption can help protect data in motion as it moves between core, cloud, and endpoint environments, but it also represents a challenge for traditional security solutions. This is because this additional layer of security for sensitive data can also disguise more malicious content, such as malware.  Some conventional network security tools cannot inspect SSL encrypted traffic, enabling malware hidden within that traffic to bypass security controls.

·        Three of the top twenty attacks identified targeted Internet of Things (IoT) devices, and exploit activity quadrupled against devices like Wi-Fi cameras. In addition, unlike previous attacks, which focused on exploiting a single vulnerability, new IoT botnets such as Reaper and Hajime can target multiple vulnerabilities simultaneously. This multi-vector approach is much harder to combat. Reaper’s flexible framework means that its code is easily updated to swarm faster by running new and more malicious attacks as they become available. For example, exploit volume associated with Reaper exhibited a jump from 50,000 to 2.7 million over a few days before dropping back to normal.

·        The Q4 2017 report noted that several strains of ransomware topped the list of malware variants, with Locky being the most widespread malware variant, followed by GlobeImposter. A new strain of Locky emerged, tricking recipients with spam before requesting a ransom. There was also a shift by cybercriminals from only accepting Bitcoin for payment to other forms of digital currency such as Monero.

·        Cryptomining malware also increased globally – cybercriminals are recognising the growth in digital currencies and are now ‘cryptojacking’ to mine cryptocurrencies on computers using CPU resources in the background without a user knowing. Cryptojacking involves loading a script into a web browser – nothing is installed or stored on the computer.

The final word goes to John Maddison, senior vice president: products and solutions at Fortinet, who notes in a blog published by Fortinet: “2017 was another landmark year for cybersecurity. In reviewing our quarterly Threat Landscape reports, it is clear that 2017 has been notable primarily for three things: the rapid digital transformation and expansion of the potential attack surface, the increasing sophistication of cyber attacks, and a lapse in basic cybersecurity hygiene, largely being driven by digital transformation coupled with the growing cybersecurity skills gap.”

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Crouching Yeti strikes

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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.

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R5m in software fines

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South African companies paid almost R5.2 million in damages for using unlicensed software in 2017 up from R3.6 million in 2016.

This is according to data from BSA | The Software Alliance, a non-profit, global trade association created to advance the goals of the software industry and its hardware partners.

The significant increase in unlicensed software payments – which includes settlements as well as the cost of acquiring new software to become compliant – is the result of more accurate leads from informers, says Darren Olivier, Partner at Adams & Adams, legal counsel for BSA. In 2017 BSA received 281 reports in South Africa alleging the use of unlicensed software products of BSA member companies – this up considerably up from 230 leads in 2016.

“BSA’s recent social media campaign also helped to create awareness among local companies about the need to comply with existing legislation in order to avoid legal action,” Olivier says.

The result has been a 13% increase in settlements paid in 2017, with the settlements total reaching almost R2.5 million.

While the average settlement paid by companies in 2017 was around R36 094, in some cases the amount owed was far greater, as is evidenced by Shereno Printers, a print and design company based in Gauteng, which ended up paying a hefty settlement amount of R260 000 last year in an out of court settlement.

The company’s case was in line with a broader trend, which saw the print and design industry as a whole rank among the top sectors plagued by unlicensed software.

Aside from settlements, companies also paid more than R2.6 million in licenses purchased to legalise their unlicensed software.

And the ramifications of software piracy extend beyond financial implications. “It also results in potential job losses and loss in tax revenue. This is not to mention the financial and reputational damage brought about by security breaches and lost data,” comments Olivier.

As unlicensed software has not been updated with the latest security features, it leaves businesses vulnerable to cyberattack, he explains.

This is a particular problem for companies operating in South Africa where economic crime has recently reached record levels, according to the Global Economic Crime Survey. Indeed, 77% of South African organisations have experienced some form of economic crime. What’s more, instances of cybercrime totalled 29% of economic crimes reported.

This in turn, raises questions around government policy and the adequacy of existing copyright legislation, which only enables the registration of copyright in films, but not in computer programs.

Olivier notes that it is likely the percentage of unlicensed software on South African computers has increased over the past year. “We received many more leads this year, which is an indicator that the amount of pirated software is greater than in previous years,” he comments.

Often unlicensed software is not so much a case of deliberate piracy as it is a result of poor software asset management (SAM).

“For this reason, the BSA encourages all businesses to ensure they have effective SAM practices in place. Companies should be able to confirm what software they are using and are licensed to use – this will help them to identify unlicensed software and can also bring about cost savings. Even the most basic SAM practices such as regular inventories and software use policies can help,” says Chair of the BSA SA Committee, Billa Coetsee.

With this in mind the BSA offers a range of SAM solutions, not only to help organisations reduce legal and security risks, but also to create business value.

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