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New ransomware threat: Bluekeep is coming for you

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Remember the panic that hit organisations around the world on May 12th, 2017 when machine after machine displayed the WannaCryptor ransom screen? Well, we might have a similar incident on our hands in the coming days, weeks or months if companies don’t update or otherwise protect their older Windows systems right away. The reason is BlueKeep, a ‘wormable’ critical Remote Code Execution (RCE) vulnerability in Remote Desktop Services that could soon become the new go-to vector for spreading malware, says Carey van Vlaanderen,  CEO at ESET South Africa.

A patch by Microsoft for supported, as well as some unsupported, operating systems has been available since May 14th

The BlueKeep vulnerability was found in Remote Desktop Services (also known as Terminal Services). If successfully exploited in the future, it could enable access to the targeted computer via a backdoor with no credentials or user interaction needed.

To make the bad news even worse, the vulnerability is ‘wormable’. This means that future exploits might use it to spread malware within or outside of networks in similar ways to what was seen with WannaCryptor.

Following Microsoft’s release of these latest patches, security researchers were able to create several working proofs-of-concept, but at the time of writing, none of these have been publicly released and there are no known cases of the flaw being exploited in the wild.

The flaw, listed as CVE-2019-0708, affects multiple in-support and out-of-support versions of Microsoft’s operating systems. Users of Windows 7, Windows Server 2008 R2, and Windows Server 2008 with automatic updates enabled are protected. Microsoft also issued special updates for two non-supported versions – namely Windows XP and Windows Server 2003 – which are available via this site. Windows 8 and Windows 10 are not affected by the vulnerability.

Microsoft has not released patches for Windows Vista, despite this version also being affected by the vulnerability. The only solution here is to disable Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP) completely or only allow its use when accessed via VPN.

It is important to note that any company using misconfigured RDP over the internet is putting its users and resources at risk. Apart from vulnerabilities such as BlueKeep, attackers also try to brute force their way into company machines and internal systems.

The BlueKeep case bears a strong resemblance to the events from two years ago. On March 14th, 2017, Microsoft released fixes for a wormable vulnerability in the Server Message Block (SMB) protocol, advising all users to patch their Windows machines immediately.

The reason for this was the EternalBlue exploit – a malicious tool allegedly designed by and stolen from the National Security Agency (NSA) – which targeted the SMB loophole. A month later, EternalBlue leaked online and in a few weeks became the vehicle for the two most damaging cyberattacks in recent history – WannaCry(ptor) and NotPetya (Diskcoder.C).

A similar scenario might unfold with BlueKeep given its wormable nature. Right now, it is only a matter of time until someone publishes a working exploit, or a malware author starts selling one on the underground markets. Should that happen, it will probably become very popular among less skilled cybercriminals and a lucrative asset for its originator.

BlueKeep will also show if organizations around the world learned a lesson after the large 2017 outbreaks and improved their security posture and patching routines.

To sum it up, organisations and users are advised to:

1.       Patch, patch, patch. If you or your organisation run a supported version of Windows, update it to the latest version. If possible, enable automatic updates. If you are still using unsupported Windows XP or Windows Server 2003 – for whatever reason – download and apply the patches as soon as possible.

2.       Disable Remote Desktop Protocol. Despite RDP itself not being vulnerable, Microsoft advises organisation to disable it until the latest patches have been applied. Further, to minimize your attack surface, RDP should only be enabled on devices where it really is used and needed.

3.       Configure RDP properly. If your organisation absolutely must use RDP, avoid exposing it to the public internet. Only devices on the LAN, or accessing via a VPN, should be able to establish a remote session. Another option is to filter RDP access using firewall, whitelisting only a specific IP range. The security of your remote sessions can be further improved by using multi-factor authentication.

4.       Enable Network Level Authentication (NLA). BlueKeep can be partially mitigated by having NLA enabled, as it requires the user to authenticate before a remote session is established and the flaw can be misused. However, as Microsoft adds, “affected systems are still vulnerable to Remote Code Execution (RCE) exploitation if the attacker has valid credentials that can be used to successfully authenticate.”

5.       Use a reliable multi-layered security solution that can detect and mitigate the attacks exploiting the flaw on the network level.

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Tech promotes connections across groups in emerging markets

Digital technology users say they more regularly interact with people from diverse backgrounds

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Smartphone users – especially those who use social media – say they are more regularly exposed to people who have different backgrounds. They are also more connected with friends they don’t see in person, a Pew Research Center survey of adults in 11 emerging economies finds.

South Africa, included in the study, has among the most consistent levels of connection across age groups and education levels and in terms of cross-cultural connections. This suggests both that smartphones have had a greater democratisation impact in South Africa, but also that the country is more geared to diversity than most others. Of 11 countries surveyed, it has the second-lowest spread between those using smartphones and those not using them in terms of exposure to other religious groups.

Across every country surveyed, those who use smartphones are more likely than those who use less sophisticated phones or no phones at all to regularly interact with people from different religious groups. In most countries, people with smartphones also tend to be more likely to interact regularly with people from different political parties, income levels and racial or ethnic backgrounds. 

The Center’s new report is the third in a series exploring digital connectivity among populations in emerging economies based on nationally representative surveys of adults in Colombia, India, Jordan, Kenya, Lebanon, Mexico, the Philippines, Tunisia, South Africa, Venezuela and Vietnam. Earlier reports examined attitudes toward misinformation and mobile technology’s social impact

The survey finds that smartphone and social media use are intertwined: A median of 91% of smartphone users in these countries also use social media or messaging apps, while a median of 81% of social media users say they own or share a smartphone. And, as with smartphone users, social media and messaging app users stand apart from non-users in how often they interact with people who are different from them. For example, 52% of Mexican social media users say they regularly interact with people of a different income level, compared with 28% of non-users. 

These results do not show with certainty that smartphones or social media are the cause of people feeling like they have more diverse networks. For example, those who have resources to buy and maintain a smartphone are likely to differ in many key ways from those who don’t, and it could be that some combination of those differences drives this phenomenon. Still, statistical modelling indicates that smartphone and social media use are independent predictors of greater social network diversity when other factors such as age, education and sex are held constant. 

Other key findings in the report include: 

  • Mobile phones and social media are broadening people’s social networks. More than half in most countries say they see in person only about half or fewer of the people they call or text. Mobile phones are also allowing many to stay in touch with people who live far away: A median of 93% of mobile phone users across the 11 countries surveyed say their phones have mostly helped them keep in touch with those who are far-flung. When it comes to social media, large shares report relationships with “friends” online who are distinct from those they see in person. A median of 46% of Facebook users across the 11 countries report seeing few or none of their Facebook friends in person regularly, compared with a median of 31% of Facebook users who often see most or all of their Facebook friends in person. 
  • Social activities and information seeking on subjects like health and education top the list of mobile activities. The survey asked mobile phone users about 10 different activities they might do on their mobile phones – activities that are social, information-seeking or commercial in nature. Among the most commonly reported activities are casual, social activities. For example, a median of 82% of mobile phone users in the 11 countries surveyed say they used their phone over the past year to send text messages and a median of 69% of users say they took pictures or videos. Many mobile phone users are also using their phones to find new information. For example, a median of 61% of mobile phone users say they used their phones over the past year to look up information about health and medicine for themselves or their families. This is more than the proportion that reports using their phones to get news and information about politics (median of 47%) or to look up information about government services (37%). Additionally, around half or more of mobile phone users in nearly all countries report having used their phones over the past 12 months to learn something important for work or school. 
  • Digital divides emerge in the new mobile-social environment. People with smartphones and social media – as well as younger people, those with higher levels of education, and men – are in some ways reaping more benefits than others, potentially contributing to digital divides. 
    • People with smartphones are much more likely to engage in activities on their phones than people with less sophisticated devices – even if the activity itself is quite simple. For example, people with smartphones are more likely than those with feature or basic phones to send text messages in each of the 11 countries surveyed, even though the activity is technically feasible from all mobile phones. Those who have smartphones are also much more likely to look up information for their households, including about health and government services. 
    •  There are also major differences in mobile usage by age and education level in how their devices are – or are not – broadening their horizons. Younger people are more likely to use their phones for nearly all activities asked about, whether those activities are social, information-seeking or commercial. Phone users with higher levels of education are also more likely to do most activities on their phones and to interact with those who are different from them regularly than those with lower levels of education. 
    •  Gender, too, plays a role in what people do with their devices and how they are exposed to different people and information. Men are more likely than women to say they encounter people who are different from them, whether in terms of race, politics, religion or income. And men tend to be more likely to look up information about government services and to obtain political news and information. 

These findings are drawn from a Pew Research Center survey conducted among 28,122 adults in 11 countries from Sept. 7 to Dec. 7, 2018. In addition to the survey, the Center conducted focus groups with participants in Kenya, Mexico, the Philippines and Tunisia in March 2018, and their comments are included throughout the report. 

Read the full report at https://www.pewinternet.org/2019/08/22/in-emerging-economies-smartphone-and-social-media-users-have-broader-social-networks.

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Nokia to be first with Android 10

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Nokia is likely to be the first smartphone brand to roll out Android 10, after its manufacturer, HMD Global, announced that the Android 10 software upgrade would start in the fourth quarter of 2019.

Previously named Android Q, it was given the number after Google announced it was ditching sweet and dessert names due to confusion in different languages. Android 10 is due for release at the end of the year.

Juho Sarvikas, chief product officer of HMD Global said: “With a proven track record in delivering software updates fast, Nokia smartphones were the first whole portfolio to benefit from a 2-letter upgrade from Android Nougat to Android Oreo and then Android Pie. We were the fastest manufacturer to upgrade from Android Oreo to Android Pie across the range. 

“With today’s roll out plan we look set to do it even faster for Android Pie to Android 10 upgrades. We are the only manufacturer 100% committed to having the latest Android across the entire portfolio.”

HMD Global has given a guarantee that Nokia smartphone owners benefit from two years of OS upgrades and 3 years of security updates.

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