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Big rise in spam malware

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The latest Kaspersky Lab Spam and Phishing Report has discovered that although the quantity of spam emails has been decreasing, they have become more criminalised.

At the same time, the level of malicious mailshots has dramatically increased – Kaspersky Lab products prevented 22,890,956 attempts to infect users via emails with malicious attachments in March 2016, twice the number of attempts reported in February 2016.

Since 2012 the level of spam in email traffic has constantly been decreasing. However, the quantity of emails with malicious attachments has increased significantly – in Q1 2016 it was 3.3 times higher than during the same period in 2015. There was also a growing amount of ransomware reported throughout the quarter. This is often propagated through emails with infected attachments – for example Word documents. The main actor on this field in Q1 was the ransomware Trojan Locky, which has been actively distributed via emails in different languages and has targeted at least 114 countries. Locky emails have contained fake information from financial institutions that have deceived users and forced them to open the harmful attachment.

Kaspersky Lab’s findings suggest that spam is becoming more popular for fraudsters to target Internet users, because web browsing is becoming safer. Almost all popular web-browser developers have now implemented security and anti-phishing protection tools, making it harder for cybercriminals to propagate their malware through infected web pages.

During this quarter fraudsters tried to lure users into opening malicious files, gaining their attention with emails about terrorism, a subject which is always in the news. To prevent terrorist attacks many countries have strengthened their security measures and this has therefore become a popular topic for spam emails.

Some spam fraudsters tried to convince recipients that the file attached to their spam email contained a new mobile application, which, after installation, could detect an explosive terrorist device. The email emphasised that the US Department of Defense had discovered this technology and that it was sufficiently simple and accessible. The attachment usually contained an executive file, which was detected as Trojan-Dropper.Win32.Dapato, malware that can steal personal user information, organise DDoS-attacks and install other malicious software.

Well-known Nigerian spammers also used terrorist topics in their emails. According to the Kaspersky Lab report, the quantity of these emails has increased considerably. These spammers previously preferred to send long emails with a detailed story, and links to news to make it more convincing. However, they are now only sending short messages with no detail, asking the recipients to get in touch.

“Unfortunately we are seeing our previous predictions about the criminalisation of spam coming true. Fraudsters are using diverse methods to attract user attention, and to make them drop their guard. Spammers are employing a diversity of languages, social engineering methods, different types of malicious attachments, as well as the partial personalisation of email text to look more convincing. The fake messages often imitate notifications from well-known organisations and services. This is raising spam to a new dangerous level,”  warns Daria Gudkova, Spam Analysis Expert, Kaspersky Lab.

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Earth 2050: memory chips for kids, telepathy for adults

An astonishing set of predictions for the next 30 years includes a major challenge to the privacy of our thoughts.

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By 2050, most kids may be fitted with the latest memory boosting implants, and adults will have replaced mobile devices with direct connectivity through brain implants, powered by thought.

These are some of the more dramatic forecasts in Earth 2050, an award-winning, interactive multimedia project that accumulates predictions about social and technological developments for the upcoming 30 years. The aim is to identify global challenges for humanity and possible ways of solving these challenges. The website was launched in 2017 to mark Kaspersky Lab’s 20th birthday. It comprises a rich variety of predictions and future scenarios, covering a wide range of topics.

Recently a number of new contributions have been added to the site. Among them Lord Martin Rees, the UK’s Astronomer Royal, Professor at Cambridge University and former President of the Royal Society; investor and entrepreneur Steven Hoffman, Peter Tatchell, human rights campaigner, along withDmitry Galov, security researcher and Alexey Malanov, malware analyst at Kaspersky Lab.

The new visions for 2050 consider, among other things:

  • The replacement of mobile devices with direct connectivity through brain implants, powered by thought – able to upload skills and knowledge in return – and the impact of this on individual consciousness and privacy of thought.
  • The ability to transform all life at the genetic level through gene editing.
  • The potential impact of mistakes made by advanced machine-learning systems/AI.
  • The demise of current political systems and the rise of ‘citizen governments’, where ordinary people are co-opted to approve legislation.
  • The end of the techno-industrial age as the world runs out of fossil fuels, leading to economic and environmental devastation.
  • The end of industrial-scale meat production, as most people become vegan and meat is cultured from biopsies taken from living, outdoor reared livestock.

The hypothetical prediction for 2050 from Dmitry Galov, security researcher at Kaspersky Lab is as follows: “By 2050, our knowledge of how the brain works, and our ability to enhance or repair it is so advanced that being able to remember everything and learn new things at an outrageous speed has become commonplace. Most kids are fitted with the latest memory boosting implants to support their learning and this makes education easier than it has ever been. 

“Brain damage as a result of head injury is easily repaired; memory loss is no longer a medical condition, and people suffering from mental illnesses, such as depression, are quickly cured.  The technologies that underpin this have existed in some form since the late 2010s. Memory implants are in fact a natural progression from the connected deep brain stimulation implants of 2018.

“But every technology has another side – a dark side. In 2050, the medical, social and economic impact of memory boosting implants are significant, but they are also vulnerable to exploitation and cyber-abuse. New threats that have appeared in the last decade include the mass manipulation of groups through implanted or erased memories of political events or conflicts, and even the creation of ‘human botnets’. 

“These botnets connect people’s brains into a network of agents controlled and operated by cybercriminals, without the knowledge of the victims themselves.  Repurposed cyberthreats from previous decades are targeting the memories of world leaders for cyber-espionage, as well as those of celebrities, ordinary people and businesses with the aim of memory theft, deletion of or ‘locking’ of memories (for example, in return for a ransom).  

“This landscape is only possible because, in the late 2010s when the technologies began to evolve, the potential future security vulnerabilities were not considered a priority, and the various players: healthcare, security, policy makers and more, didn’t come together to understand and address future risks.”

For more information and the full suite of inspirational and thought-provoking predictions, visit Earth 2050.

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How load-shedding is killing our cellphone signals

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Extensive load-shedding, combined with the theft of cell tower backup batteries and copper wire, is placing a massive strain on mobile network providers.

MTN says the majority of MTN’S sites have been equipped with battery backup systems to ensure there is enough power on site to run the system for several hours when local power goes out and the mains go down. 

“With power outages on the rise, these back-up systems become imperative to keeping South Africa connected and MTN has invested heavily in generators and backup batteries to maintain communication for customers, despite the lack of electrical power,” the operator said in a statement today.

However, according to Jacqui O’Sullivan, Executive: Corporate Affairs, at MTN SA, “The high frequency of the cycles of load shedding have meant batteries were unable to fully recharge. They generally have a capacity of six to 12 hours, depending on the site category, and require 12 to 18 hours to recharge.”

An additional challenge is that criminals and criminal syndicates are placing networks across the country at risk. Batteries, which can cost R28 000 per battery and upwards, are sought after on black markets – especially in neighbouring countries. 

“Although MTN has improved security and is making strides in limiting instances of theft and vandalism with the assistance of the police, the increase in power outages has made this issue even more pressing,” says O’Sullivan.

Ernest Paul, General Manager: Network Operations at SA’s leading network provider MTN, says the brazen theft of batteries is an industry-wide problem and will require a broader initiative driven by communities, the private sector, police and prosecutors to bring it to a halt.

“Apart from the cost of replacing the stolen batteries and upgrading the broken infrastructure, communities suffer as the network degrades without the back-up power. This is due to the fact that any coverage gaps need to be filled. The situation is even more dire with the rolling power cuts expected due to Eskom load shedding.”

Loss of services and network quality can range from a 2-5km radius to 15km on some sites and affect 5,000 to 20,000 people. On hub sites, network coverage to entire suburbs and regions can be lost.

Click here to read more about efforts to combat copper theft.

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