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The spy that came from the router

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Kaspersky Lab has discovered ‘Slingshot’ malware which attacks and infects victims through compromised routers and can run in kernel mode, giving it complete control over victim devices.

Kaspersky Lab researchers have uncovered a sophisticated threat used for cyber-espionage in the Middle East and Africa from at least 2012 until February 2018. The malware, which researchers have called ‘Slingshot’, attacks and infects victims through compromised routers and can run in kernel mode, giving it complete control over victim devices. According to researchers, many of the techniques used by this threat actor are unique and it is extremely effective at stealthy information gathering, hiding its traffic in marked data packets that it can intercept without trace from everyday communications. 

The Slingshot operation was discovered after researchers found a suspicious keylogger program and created a behavioural detection signature to see if that code appeared anywhere else. This triggered a detection that turned out to be an infected computer with a suspicious file inside the system folder named scesrv.dll. The researchers decided to investigate this further. Analysis of the file showed that despite appearing legitimate, the scesrv.dll module had malicious code embedded into it. Since this library is loaded by ‘services.exe’, a process that has system privileges, the poisoned library gained the same rights. The researchers realised that a highly advanced intruder had found its way into the very core of the computer.

The most remarkable thing about Slingshot is probably its unusual attack vector. As researchers uncovered more victims, they found that many seemed to have been initially infected through hacked routers. During these attacks, the group behind Slingshot appears to compromise the routers and place a malicious dynamic link library inside it that is in fact a downloader for other malicious components. When an administrator logs in to configure the router, the router’s management software downloads and runs the malicious module on the administrator’s computer. The method used to hack the routers in the first place remains unknown.

Following infection, Slingshot loads a number of modules onto the victim device, including two huge and powerful ones: Cahnadr, and GollumApp. The two modules are connected and able to support each other in information gathering, persistence and data exfiltration.

Slingshot’s main purpose seems to be cyberespionage. Analysis suggests it collects screenshots, keyboard data, network data, passwords, USB connections, other desktop activity, clipboard data and more, although its kernel access means it can steal whatever it wants.

The advanced, persistent threat also incorporates a number of techniques to help it evade detection: including encrypting all strings in its modules, calling system services directly in order to bypass security-product hooks, using a number of Anti-debugging techniques, and selecting which process to inject depending on the installed and running security solution processes, and more.

Slingshot works as a passive backdoor: it does not have a hardcoded command and control (C&C) address but obtains it from the operator by intercepting all network packages in kernel mode and checking to see if there are two hardcoded magic constants in the header. If this is the case, it means that that package contains the C&C address. After that, Slingshot establishes an encrypted communication channel to the C&C and starts to transmit data for exfiltration over it.

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The malicious samples investigated by the researchers were marked as ‘version 6.x’, which suggests the threat has existed for a considerable length of time. The development time, skill and cost involved in creating Slingshot’s complex toolset is likely to have been extremely high. Taken together, these clues suggest that the group behind Slingshot is likely to be highly organised and professional and probably state-sponsored. Text clues in the code suggest it is English-speaking. However, accurate attribution is always hard, if not impossible to determine, and increasingly prone to manipulation and error.

So far, researchers have seen around 100 victims of Slingshot and its related modules, located in Kenya, Yemen, Afghanistan, Libya, Congo, Jordan, Turkey, Iraq, Sudan, Somalia and Tanzania. Most of the victims appear to be targeted individuals rather than organisations, but there are some government organisations and institutions.  Kenya and the Yemen account for most of the victims observed so far.

“Slingshot is a sophisticated threat, employing a wide range of tools and techniques, including kernel mode modules that have to date only been seen in the most advanced predators. The functionality is very precious and profitable for the attackers, which could explain why it has been around for at least six years,” said Alexey Shulmin, Lead Malware Analyst, Kaspersky Lab.

All Kaspersky Lab products successfully detect and block this threat.

To avoid falling victim to such an attack, Kaspersky Lab researchers recommend implementing the following measures:

  • Users of Mikrotik routers should upgrade to the latest software version as soon as possible to ensure protection against known vulnerabilities. Further, Mikrotik Winbox no longer downloads anything from the router to the user’s computer.
  • Use a proven corporate grade security solution in combination with anti-targeted attack technologies and threat intelligence, like Kaspersky Threat Management and Defense solution. These are capable of spotting and catching advanced targeted attacks by analysing network anomalies and give cybersecurity teams full visibility over the network and response automation;
  • Provide security staff with access to the latest threat intelligence data, which will arm them with helpful tools for targeted attack research and prevention, such as indicators of compromise (IOC), YARA and customised advanced threat reporting;
  • If you spot early indicators of a targeted attack, consider managed protection services that will allow you to proactively detect advanced threats, reduce dwell time and arrange timely incident response.

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Load-shedding leads
local searches

South Africans are searching in the dark, according to the latest Google Search trends.

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With more 1 million search queries generated in the space of 76 hours, load-shedding was by far the top trending search on Google South Africa this week.

Valentine’s Day came a distant second.

After news emerged last Sunday of the impending stage 3 load shedding, South Africans had generated more than 1-million load-shedding search queries by the time Tuesday came around:

  • “Loadshedding schedule” – generated more than 100k searches on Sunday
  • “Load shedding schedule” – generated more than 100k searches on Sunday
  • “Eskom load shedding” – generated more than 100k searches on Sunday
  • “Load shedding Cape Town” – generated more than 50k searches on Sunday
  • “Load shedding schedule” – generated more than 400k on Monday
  • “Load shedding Johannesburg” – generated more than 20k searches on Monday
  • Load shedding schedule” generated more than 200k search queries on Tuesday

Leading up to Valentine’s Day, South Africans generated close to 300k search queries related to the romantic festival, including searches for quotes and gift ideas:

  • “Valentines Day” generated more than 100k search queries on Thursday
  • “Happy Valentines Day Images” and “Valentines Day Images” generated more than 10k search queries each on Thursday, with “Happy Valentines Day 2019” generating more than 20k search queries on Wednesday
  • “Valentines Day Specials 2019” generated more than 5k search queries on Thursday
  • “Love quotes” generated more than 5k search queries on Thursday
  • “Valentines Day quotes” generated more than 100k search queries and “Valentine messages” generated more than 50 000 search queries on Wednesday

Search trends information is gleaned from data collated by Google based on what South Africans have been searching for and asking Google. Google processes more than 40 000 search queries every second. This translates to more than a billion searches per day and 1.2 trillion searches per year worldwide. Live Google search trends data is available at https://www.google.co.za/trends/hottrends#pn=p40

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Showmax invites
student films

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Thanks to the growing popularity of video-on-demand services, there’s a new opportunity to help kickstart the careers of local filmmakers.

Numerous Hollywood blockbusters (District 9Tomb Raider 2018, and The Avengers: Age of Ultron to name a few) have featured substantial shoots in Johannesburg and Cape Town. While providing great opportunities for SA’s production talent, aspiring writers and directors don’t get the same benefit.

So where can local creatives showcase their work? Broadcast TV isn’t a natural home for unknown short films, and while self-publishing platforms are readily available hosting options, it’s tough to get noticed and get traffic when competing with videos from across the planet.

But with the emergence of video-on-demand services into the mainstream, there’s now a solution. The African film school AFDA has teamed up with the streaming service Showmax to give local talent a much larger platform than ever before. From 18 February, eighteen of the best recent short films made by AFDA students from their Johannesburg, Cape Town, Durban and Port Elizabeth campuses will be live on Showmax. Drama, documentary, fantasy, and animation are all represented, in pieces running from under eight minutes to almost half-an-hour long. The full list of movies is included below.

Teresa Passchier, CEO of AFDA, said: “AFDA, Africa’s number-one school for the Creative Economy, is proud to kickstart this exciting and meaningful journey with Showmax and AFDA students, ensuring emerging young African filmmakers’ voices are heard and given a platform. It’s ground-breaking to share young, local, culturally relevant content on the same platform as Hollywood blockbusters. I am certain that this unique initiative will serve to boost and develop the African film industry and the careers of many young South African and African students alike.”

Included in the short films coming to Showmax are the award winners Junior and O-PunchaJunior, directed by Bert Dijkstra, picked up the Audience Award in the Made in South Africa Competition at the shnit Worldwide Shortfilmfestival Awards 2017. O-Puncha, directed by Adam Hansen, won two awards at the 5th annual Eldorado Film Festival: Best Student Made Short, and Best Editing – Alexander La Cock.

Another celebrated film is Sicela Amanzi directed by Mlu Godola, which talks to the subject of water shortage. The film’s heroine Zoleka is a mild-mannered young woman forced to go to extreme lengths when a small community’s only source of water unexpectedly collapses. The power of films like this is they shine a light on critical topical issues in new ways.

Speaking about working with the film school, Candice Fangueiro, Head of Content for Showmax, said: “There’s immense depth of filmmaking talent in Africa and it’s a privilege to be able to give that talent a home and a platform. Showmax is becoming part of the fabric of film and TV production in Africa, and importantly we’re doing this as a partner rather than just as a consumer. This is a key competitive advantage of being local and something we aim to continue to work on.”

AFDA is an Academy Award-winning institution, founded in 1994, and the first and only African film school to win an Oscar – for the Best Foreign Student film in 2006, the postgraduate film Elalini, directed by Tristan Holmes.

The full list of AFDA short films coming to Showmax is as follows:

Film titleDirectorGenre
Lullaby from the CryptKeenan Lott & Raven DavidsAnimation
Ko Ga CherenyaneSibonokuhle MyatazaDocumentary
IzilwaneKyllian RouxDrama
MallemeuleJaco Van BoschDrama
Canal StreetBrodie MuirheadDrama
On the FenceWarrick BewsDrama
The Righteous FewLindo LangaDrama
Hlogoma PeakLuke AhrensDrama
Frozen FlameCameron HeathmanAnimation
WolfBrett van DortFantasy
The Walk HomeSisanda DyantyiDrama
BearWesley RoodtDrama
JuniorBert DijkstraDrama
O-PunchaAdam HansenDrama
UmngenoSiphosethu NdungeDrama
DoreenLuvuyo Equiano NyawoseDrama
ForeverLindo LangaMusical
Sicela AmanziMlu GodolaDrama

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