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Banking malware back in Play Store

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An Android banking trojan that was first reported by ESET earlier this year has found its way to Google Play, now stealthier than ever.

Dubbed BankBot, the banking trojan has been evolving throughout the year, resurfacing in different versions on and outside Google Play. The variant ESET discovered on Google Play in early September 2017, is the first one to successfully combine the recent steps of BankBot’s evolution: improved code obfuscation, a sophisticated payload dropping functionality, and a cunning infection mechanism abusing Android’s Accessibility Service.

Misuse of Android Accessibility has been previously observed in many different trojans, mostly outside Google Play. Recent analyses have confirmed that the crooks spreading BankBot managed to upload an app with the Accessibility-abusing functionality to Google Play, only without the banking malware payload.

The “complete puzzle” featuring the banking malware payload that manged to sneak into Google Play masqueraded as a game name Jewels Star Classic (it is important to note that the attackers misused the name of popular legitimate game series Jewels Star by the developer ITREEGAMER, which is in no way connected to this malicious campaign).

ESET has notified Google’s security team of the malicious app, installed by up to 5000 users before getting removed from the store.

What makes it dangerous?

In this campaign, the crooks have put together a set of techniques with rising popularity among Android malware authors – abusing Android Accessibility Service, impersonating Google, and setting a timer delaying the onset of malicious activity to evade Google’s security measures.

The techniques combined make it very difficult for the victim to recognise the threat in time.  Because the malware impersonates Google and waits for 20 minutes before displaying the first alert, the victim has very little chance to connect its activity to the Jewel Star classic app they have recently downloaded. On top of that, the many different names the malware uses throughout the infection process significantly complicate efforts to locate and manually remove it.

How to clean an infected device

If you are downloading many different apps from Google Play and elsewhere, you might want to check if you haven’t reached for this malware.

Checking your device for Jewel’s Star Classic is not enough, as the attackers frequently change up the apps misused for BankBot’s distribution. To see if your device has been infected, we recommend you go after the following indicators:

  • Presence of an app named “Google Update”
  • Active device administrator named “System Update”
  • Repeated appearance of the “Google Service” alert

If you can’t find any of the mentioned indicators, your device may well have been infected with this BankBot variant.

To manually clean your device, you would first need to disable device administrator rights for “System Update”, then proceed uninstalling both “Google Update” and the associated trojanised app.

ESET security products detect and block this variant of BankBot as Android/Spy.Banker.LA. 

How to stay safe?

Besides using a reliable mobile security solution, there are other things you can do to avoid falling victim to mobile malware:

  • Whenever possible, favour official app stores over alternative ones. Although not flawless, Google Play does employ advanced security mechanisms, which doesn’t have to be the case with alternative stores
  • When in doubt about installing an app, check its popularity by number of installs, ratings and content of reviews
  • After running anything that you’ve installed on your mobile device, pay attention to what permissions and rights it requests. If an app asks for intrusive permissions – even more so if Accessibility related, read them with caution and only grant them if absolutely sure of the apps reliability.

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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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