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WannaCry curtain-raiser revealed

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The WannaCry ransomware campaign wasn’t the first to use the EternalBlue and DoublePulsar exploits. ESET has revealed that they were first used at the end of April when hackers Monero cryptocurrency mining software.

The massive campaign that spread the WannaCry (aka WannaCryptor) ransomware wasn’t the only recent large-scale infection misusing the EternalBlue and DoublePulsar exploits, leaked by Shadow Brokers. The same mechanism was misused by black-hats as early as the end of April, when they opted for the off-the-shelf Monero cryptocurrency mining software, instead of the encrypting payload.

This campaign detected as Win32/CoinMiner.AFR and Win32/CoinMiner.AFU started only a few days after the NSA tools leaked online. ESET had network detections for the vulnerability deployed on April 25th – three days before the first attack attempts by these miners for Monero cryptocurrency.

The biggest uptick was recorded only hours before the mining ransomware’s global outbreak, on May 10th. On that day, mining malware detections increased from hundreds of detections per day to thousands. We have seen such attempts in as many as 118 countries, with Russia, Taiwan and Ukraine topping the list.

However, the mining software consumed system resources so intensely that in some cases it rendered the infected machines unresponsive.

Interestingly the CoinMiner attacks also blocked the 445 port used by the EternalBlue exploit to get into the machine, essentially closing the door to any subsequent infection using the same vector – including WannaCry. If the miners hadn’t taken this precaution, the number of WannaCry infections could have been even greater than reported.

So how bad was the WannaCry attack?

According to ESET telemetry, since Friday, the machines of more than 14.000 users who have enabled ESET LiveGrid, has reported as many as 66.000 WannaCry attack attempts on their devices.

These attacks mainly targeted Russian computers, with over 30.000 attacks, followed by Ukraine and Taiwan, where in both cases they were close to the 8.000 mark.

The chaos that ensued after WannaCry’s global outbreak seems to have motivated other black-hats to scale up their efforts too. We have seen a significant increase in the number of malicious emails sent out by the notorious Nemucod operators, spreading another ransomware.

Also, WannaCry fakes have emerged. These try to ride the wave of its fame by using the same GUI and layout. However, the encrypting capability was missing in all seen instances.

What should you do to stay safe?

  1. Since the EternalBlue exploit uses a vulnerability in Windows that has been already patched by Microsoft, the first thing would be to verify the completion of the update and the patch to your operating system.
  2. Use a reliable security solution that utilises multiple layers to protect you from similar threats in the future.
  3. It is best practice to keep backups on a remote hard disk or location that will not be hit in case of a network infection.
  4. We recommend that users do not pay ransoms – be it a case of the true WannaCry or any other ransomware. There have been no reported cases where pursuing such a step would lead to decryption. On the contrary, there have been multiple stories documenting the opposite – no decryptor or key being sent after the payment was made. Also, there seems to be no way for the attackers to match the payment to the specific victim who sent it to one of the shared BitCoin wallets.

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Android Go puts reliable smartphones in budget pockets

Nokia, Vodacom and Huawei have all launched entry-level smartphones running the Android Go edition, and all deliver a smooth experience, writes BRYAN TURNER.

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Three new and notable Android Go smartphones have recently hit the market, namely the Nokia 1, the Vodafone Smart Kicka 4 and the Huawei Y3 (2018). These phones run one of the most basic versions of Android while still delivering a fairly smooth user experience.

Historically, consumers purchasing smartphones in the budget bracket would have a hit-and-miss experience with processing speed, smoothness of user interface, and app stability. The Google-supported Android Go edition operating system optimises the user experience by stripping out non-important visual effects to speed up the phone. Thish allows for more memory to be used by apps. 

Google also ensures that all smartphones running Android Go will receive feature and security updates as they are released by Google. This is a major selling point for these smartphones, as users of this smartphone will always be running the latest software, with virtually no manufacturer bloatware.

Vodafone Smart Kicka 4

At the lowest entry-level, the Vodafone Smart Kicka 4 performs well as a communicator for emails and WhatsApp messages. The 4” screen represents a step up for entry-level Android phones, which were previously standardised at 3.5”.

The display is bright and very responsive, while the limited screen real estate leaves the navigation keys off the screen as touch buttons. It uses 3G connectivity, which might seem like an outdated technology, but is good enough to stream SD videos and music. Vodacom has also thrown in some data gifts if the smartphone is activated before the end of September 2018. 

Its camera functionalities might be a slight let down for the aspirant Instagrammer, with a 2MP rear flash camera and a 0.3MP selfie snapper. Speed wise, the keyboard pops up quickly, which is a huge improvement from the Smart Kicka 3. However, this phone will not play well with graphics-intensive games. 

Nokia 1

Next up is the Nokia 1, which adds a much better 5MP camera, improved battery life and a bigger 4.5” screen. It supports LTE, which allows this smartphone to download and upload at the speed of flagships. It also sports the Nokia brand name, which many consumers trust.

Although the front camera is 2MP, the quality is extremely grainy, even with good lighting. This disqualifies this smartphone for the social media selfie snapper, but the 5MP rear camera will work for the landscape and portrait photographer. 

The screen also redeems this smartphone, providing a display which represents colours truly and has great viewing angles. Xpress-on back covers allows the use of interchangeable, multi-coloured back covers, which has proven to be a successful sales point for mid-range smartphones in the past. 

Huawei Y3 (2018)

The most capable of the Android Go edition competitors, the Huawei Y3 (2018) packs an even bigger screen at 5”, as well as an improved 8MP rear camera and HD video recording. The screen is the brightest and most vibrant of the three smartphones, but seems to be calibrated to show colours a little more saturated than they actually are. 

Nevertheless, the camera outperforms the other smartphones with good colour replication and great selfie capabilities via the 2MP front camera – far superior to the Nokia 1 despite the same spec. LTE also comes standard with this smartphone and Vodacom throws in 4G/LTE data goodies until the end of September 2018. The battery, however, is not removable and may only be replaced by a warranty technician.

Comparing the 3

All three smartphones have removable back covers, which provide access to the battery, SIM card and SD card slots. The smartphones have Micro USB ports on the bottom with headphone jacks on the top. The built-in speakers all performed well, with the Y3 (2018) housing an exceptionally loud built-in speaker. 

Although all at different price points, all three phones remain similar in performance and speed. The differentiators are apparent in the components, like camera quality and screen quality. It would be fair to rank the quality of the camera and battery life by respective market prices. The Vodafone Smart Kicka 4 performed well, for its R399 retail price. The Nokia 1, on the other hand, lags quite a bit in features when compared to the Huawei Y3 (2018), bwith oth retailing at R999.

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SA gets digital archive

As the world entered the centenary of Nelson Mandela’s birth on Mandela Day, 18 July 2018, South Africa celebrated the launch of a digital living archive. 

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The southafrica.co.za  site carries content about the country’s collective heritage in South Africa’s eleven official languages.

Designed as a nation building,  educational and brand promotion web based tool, the free-to-view platform features award-winning photographic and written content by leading South African photographers, authors, academics and photojournalists.

The emphasis is on quality, credible, factual content that celebrates a collective heritage in terms of the following: Cultural Heritage; Natural Heritage; Education; History; Agriculture; Industry; Mining; and Travel.

At the same time as reflecting on the nation’s history, southafrica.co.za celebrates South Africa’s natural, cultural and economic assets so that the youth can learn about their nation in their home language.

Southafrica.co.za Founder and CEO Hans Gerrizen conceptualised southafrica.co.za as a means for youth and communities from outlying areas to benefit from the digital age in terms of the web tool’s empowering educational component.

“We can only stand to deepen our collective experience of democracy and become a more forward planning nation if we know facts about our nation’s past and present in everyone’s home language,” he says.

Southafrica.co.za, with sister company Siyabona Africa, is the organiser and sponsor of the Mandela: 100 Moments photographic exhibition that runs until 30 September at Cape Town’s V&A Waterfront-based Nelson Mandela Gateway to Robben Island.  The 3-month exhibition, which runs daily from 08h00 until 15h00, is showcasing one hundred iconic Nelson Mandela images taken by veteran South African photojournalist and self-taught lensman Peter Magubane.

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