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Anti-ransom success

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A year ago the No More Ransom initiative was launched by the Dutch National Police, Europol, McAfee and Kaspersky Lab. Today there are more than 100 partners, as major ransomware attacks continue to dominate the news.

No better cure than prevention

Ransomware has soared since 2012, with criminals lured by the promise of profit and ease of implementation. Every quarter there are more new ransomware families, more variants of existing families, and more attacks.  The threat continues to evolve, becoming stealthier and more destructive, and targeting businesses more than individuals because the potential returns are much higher.

The indiscriminate WannaCry attack in mid-May claimed more than 300,000 business victims across 150 countries in its first few days, crippling critical infrastructure and businesses. Some organisations are still struggling to recover from ExPetr attacks of 27 June.

The total number of users who encountered ransomware between April 2016 and March 2017 rose by 11.4% compared to the previous 12 months, from 2,315,931 to 2,581,026 users around the world.

No More Ransom’s first year in numbers

The site now carries 54 decryption tools, provided by 9 partners and covering 104 kinds (families) of ransomware.  These tools have been downloaded 225.000 times and have managed to decrypt more than 28,000 devices.

The portal has had more than 24.5 million page views since its launch, with a consolidated average of 0.4 million per day. On 14 May alone, during the WannaCry crisis, 150,000 people visited the website.

The No More Ransom platform is now available in 26 languages, with the most recent additions Bulgarian, Chinese, Czech, Greek, Hungarian, Indonesian, Malay, Norwegian, Romanian, Swedish, Tamil and Thai.

More than 100 partners: no boundaries between private, public or competitors

No More Ransom now has over 104 partners, including Associated, Supporting and Founding members.

The most recent joins include, from the private sector: Bitsight, Fortinet, Claranet, CERT.BE, vpnMentor, KISA (Korean Internet & Security Agency), Global Forum on Cyber Expertise (GFCE), Bournemouth University (BU), EST Security, TWCERT/CC, Abelssoft, Ascora GmbH, InterWorks, LLC and CSA Singapore. Three new law enforcement agencies have joined from Czech Republic, Greece, and Iran.

The success of the No More Ransom initiative is a shared success, one that cannot be achieved by law enforcement or private industry alone. By joining forces, we enhance our ability to take on the criminals and stop them from harming people, businesses and critical infrastructure, once and for all.

Law enforcement globally, in close cooperation with private partners, has ongoing investigations into ransomware criminals and infrastructure. However, prevention is no doubt better than cure. Internet users need to avoid becoming a victim in the first place. Many up to date prevention tips are available on www.nomoreransom.org. If you do become a victim, it is important not to pay the ransom and report your infection to the police.

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Personal computing devices sales still decline in MEA

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The Middle East and Africa (MEA) personal computing devices (PCD) market, which is made up of desktops, notebooks, workstations, and tablets, suffered a decline of -7.3% year on year in Q2 2017, according to the latest insights from International Data Corporation (IDC).

The global technology research and consulting firm’s Quarterly PCD Tracker for Q2 2017 shows that PCD shipments fell to around 6 million units for the quarter.

“As forecast, the market followed a similar pattern to recent quarters, with the downturn primarily stemming from a decline in shipments of slate tablets and desktops,” says Fouad Charakla, IDC’s senior research manager for client devices in the Middle East, Turkey, and Africa. “This was the result of desktop users increasingly switching to mobile devices such as notebooks or even refurbished notebooks, while users of slate tablets shifted to smartphones. These trends translated into year-on-year declines of -21.9% for desktops and -15.7% for slate tablets in Q2 2017, while shipments of notebooks and detachable tablets increased 11.0% and 63.3%, respectively over the same period.”

“Market sentiment in the region remained low overall, although an aggressive push from some slate tablet vendors meant the market declined much slower than expected,” continues Charakla. “At the same time, heightened competition has also made it harder for certain players to sustain their slate tablet businesses and generate profits, causing them to lose interest in the slate tablet market altogether. Despite this, slate tablets are still the most popular computing device among home users in the region.”

Looking at the region’s key markets, IDC’s research shows that when compared to Q2 2016 overall PCD shipments were down -11.4% in the UAE, -8.9% in Turkey, and -6.7% in the ‘Rest of Middle East’ sub-region (comprising Iran, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Palestine, and Afghanistan). South Africa and Saudi Arabia bucked this trend, recording year-on-year increases of 3.5% and 9.6%, respectively.

A massive education delivery in Pakistan acted as a key driver for notebook shipments in the region overall. Similarly, the education sector was the biggest driver of detachable tablet shipments, triggered by a huge delivery in Kenya, as well as two other deliveries in Pakistan and Turkey, which enabled this category to achieve the fastest growth of all the PCD categories.

“While a component shortage prevented market players from reducing their prices too much, the average price of consumer notebooks experienced a considerable year-on-year decline in Q2 2017,” says Charakla. “This played a key role in driving demand from the consumer segment, and was reflected in the growing popularity of lower-priced notebook models.”

Looking at the PC market’s vendor rankings, each of the top five vendors maintained their respective positions compared to the previous quarter, with the top four all gaining share.

Middle East & Africa PC Market Vendor Shares – Q2 2016 vs. Q2 2017

Brand Q2 2016 Q2 2017
HP Inc. 23.7% 27.6%
Lenovo 19.8% 21.5%
Dell 16.3% 16.7%
ASUS 8.7% 9.4%
Acer Group 5.9% 4.1%
Others 25.7% 20.7%

Although Samsung continued to lead the tablet market, the vendor rankings in the space saw quite a few changes, with Huawei catapulting itself to second place. Lenovo also climbed up a position compared to the previous quarter, causing Apple to drop to fourth place.

Middle East & Africa Tablet Market Vendor Shares – Q2 2016 vs. Q2 2017

Brand Q2 2016 Q2 2017
Samsung 20.5% 18.9%
Huawei 11.2% 15.8%
Lenovo 12.7% 9.8%
Apple 9.1% 8.8%
Alcatel 2.9% 5.0%
Others 43.5% 41.7%

“Looking to the future, the MEA PCD market is expected to decline at a faster rate than previously forecast for 2017 as a whole,” says Charakla. “Technological shifts are playing a pivotal role in deciding the future of this market, with demand for certain products shifting to other PCD products and beyond (i.e., smartphones). Accordingly, shipments of slate tablets are expected to continue declining over the coming years as demand is cannibalized by smartphones. Meanwhile, the ongoing shift to mobile computing will see growth in the desktop market remain close to flat throughout IDC’s forecast period ending 2021. Notebook shipments will experience very slow growth beyond 2018, while detachable tablets will remain the fastest growing PCD category, eating away share from other computing devices.”

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Gazer cyber-spies exposed

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ESET has released new research into the activities of the Turla cyberespionage group, and specifically a previously undocumented backdoor that has been used to spy on consulates and embassies worldwide.

ESET’s research team are the first in the world to document the advanced backdoor malware, which they have named “Gazer”, despite evidence that it has been actively deployed in targeted attacks against governments and diplomats since at least 2016.

Gazer’s success can be explained by the advanced methods it uses to spy on its intended targets, and its ability to remain persistent on infected devices, embedding itself out of sight on victim’s computers in an attempt to steal information for a long period of time.

ESET researchers have discovered that Gazer has managed to infect a number of computers around the world, with the most victims being located in Europe. Curiously, ESET’s examination of a variety of different espionage campaigns which used Gazer has identified that the main target appears to have been Southeastern Europe as well as countries in the former Soviet Union Republic.

The attacks show all the hallmarks of past campaigns launched by the Turla hacking group, namely:

  • Targeted organisations are embassies and ministries;
  • Spearphishing delivers a first-stage backdoor such as Skipper;
  • A second stealthier backdoor (Gazer in this instance, but past examples have included Carbon and Kazuar) is put in place;
  • The second-stage backdoor receives encrypted instructions from the gang via C&C servers, using compromised, kegitimate websites as a proxy.

Another notable similarity between Gazer and past creations of the Turla cyberespionage group become obvious when the malware is analysed. Gazer makes extra efforts to evade detection by changing strings within its code, randomizing markers, and wiping files securely.

In the most recent example of the Gazer backdoor malware found by ESET’s research team, clear evidence was seen that someone had modified most of its strings, and inserted phrases related to video games throughout its code.

Don’t be fooled by the sense of humour that the Turla hacking group are showing here, falling foul of computer criminals is no laughing manner.

All organisations, whether governmental, diplomatic, law enforcement, or in traditional business, need to take today’s sophisticated threats serious and adopt a layered defence to reduce the chances of a security breach.

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