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Botnet taken down

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ESET, in collaboration with Microsoft, the FBI, Interpol, Europe, and other stakeholders in cybersecurity – have taken down a major botnet operation known as Gamarue, which has been infecting victims since 2011.

A coordinated take-down started on November 29th, 2017 and as a result of this joint effort, law enforcement agencies across the globe were able to make an arrest and obstruct activity of the malware family responsible for infecting more than 1.1 million systems per month.

ESET and Microsoft researchers shared technical analysis, statistical information, and known command control (C&C) servers’ domains to help disrupt the malicious activity of the group. ESET also shared its historical knowledge of Gamarue, gained from the continual monitoring of the malware and its impact on users over the past few years.

What is Gamarue?

Created by cybercriminals in September 2011, and sold as a crime-kit on the Dark Web in underground forums, the purpose of the Gamarue family was to steal credentials and to download and install additional malware onto users’ systems.

This malware family is a customizable bot, which allows the owner to create and use custom plugins. One such plugin allows the cybercriminal to steal content entered by users in web forms while another enables criminals to connect back and control compromised systems.

Its popularity has resulted in a number of independent Gamarue botnets in the wild. In fact, ESET found that its samples have been distributed across the globe through social media, instant messaging, removable media, spam, and exploit kits.

How did ESET and Microsoft researchers gather intelligence?

Using ESET Threat Intelligence service, ESET researchers were able to build a bot that could communicate with the threat’s C&C server. Consequently, ESET and Microsoft were able to closely track Gamarue’s botnets for the past year and a half, identifying their C&C servers for takedown and monitoring what was installed on victims’ systems. The two companies have since compiled a list of all of the domains used by the cybercriminals as C&C servers.

In the past, Wauchos has been the most detected malware family amongst ESET users, so when we were approached by Microsoft to take part in a joint disruption effort against it, to better protect our users and the general public at large, it was a no-brainer to agree,said Jean-Ian Boutin, Senior Malware Research at ESET. “This particular threat has been around for several years now and it is constantly reinventing itself – which can make it hard to monitor. But by using ESET Threat Intelligence and by working collaboratively with Microsoft researchers, we have been able to keep track of changes in the malware’s behavior and consequently provide actionable data which has proven invaluable in these takedown efforts.”

What should users do if they suspect their systems have been compromised?

Cybercriminals have traditionally used Gamarue to target home users to steal credentials from websites through its form grabber plugin. However, ESET researchers have recently seen the malware being used to install various spam bots onto compromised machines in a so-called pay-per-install scheme.

ESET is advising users that fear their Windows system might be compromised to download and use the ESET Online Scanner, which will remove any threats, including Gamarue, found on the system. To learn about a more complex way to protect your devices from botnets, please visit ESET’s dedicated site.

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Small South African town goes smartphone-only

Vodacom partners with farming business to upgrade all residents of Wakkerstroom from 2G devices to smartphones

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All residents of the small town of Wakkerstroom, which straddles Mpumalanga and kwaZulu-Natal provinces, have had their 2G feature phones upgraded to 3G devices.

The initiative is a result of Vodacom partnering with BPG Langfontein, a farming business that employs the majority of the people living in Wakkerstroom. It is now the first smartphone-only town in South Africa. This is a model the network provider says it hopes to replicate across the country as part of its mission to connect people who live in deep rural areas and are still dependent on 2G networks.

Wakkerstroom, is the second oldest town in Mpumalanga province, on the KwaZulu-Natal border, 27 km east of Volksrust and 56 km south-east of Amersfoort.  

“There are growing expectations for big corporates the size of Vodacom to serve a social purpose, and for us to use our resources and core capabilities to make a significant contribution in transforming the lives of ordinary people,” says Zakhele Jiyane, Managing Executive for Vodacom Mpumalanga. “We are helping to remove communication barriers, so that citizens in the area can be part of the digital revolution and reap the associated benefits. By moving the more than 1400 farm workers from 2G to 3G devices, this will also free much needed spectrum and this spectrum can be re-farmed to provide for faster networks such as 3G and 4G.

“Crucially, the move opens a new world of connectivity for farm workers in Wakkerstroom. As a result, most people in the area will now be able to use the Vodacom network to connect on the net and access online government services, eHealth services such as Mum&Baby and eCommerce. Learners can now surf the internet for the first time and access Vodacom’s eSchool free of charge and those who are actively looking for jobs can start using their smartphones and tablets to apply for jobs over the internet on Vodacom’s zero-rated career sites. This will be key for driving growth to the benefit of people living in this area.”

Vodacom has already deployed 4G base stations in Wakkestroom as part of this initiative.

For the next phase of this project, says Vodacom, it is going to educate the farm workers about data and the benefits of the Internet. Vodacom will also look at various ways in which it can help empower members of this community in areas of education, gender-based violence and health.

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10 more African countries join Facebook fact-checking

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Facebook today announced the expansion of its Third-Party Fact-Checking programme to 10 additional African countries, which now join  Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa, Cameroon and Senegal in the project,

In partnership with Agence France-Presse (AFP), the France 24 Observers, Pesa Check and Dubawa, this programme forms part of its work in helping assess the accuracy and quality of news people find on Facebook, whilst reducing the spread of misinformation on its platform.

Working with a network of fact-checking organizations, certified by the non-partisan International Fact-Checking Network, third-party fact-checking will now be available in Ethiopia, Zambia, Somalia and Burkina Faso through AFP, Uganda and Tanzania through both Pesa Check and AFP, Democratic Republic of Congo and Cote d’Ivoire through the France 24 Observers and AFP, Guinea Conakry through the France 24 Observers, and Ghana through Dubawa.

Feedback from the Facebook community is one of many signals Facebook uses to raise potentially false stories to fact-checkers for review. Local articles will be fact-checked alongside the verification of photos and videos. If one of our fact-checking partners identifies a story as false, Facebook will show it lower in News Feed, significantly reducing its distribution.

Kojo Boakye, Facebook Head of Public Policy, Africa, said: “The expansion of third-party fact-checking to now cover 15 countries in a little over a year shows firsthand our commitment and dedication to the continent, alongside our recent local language expansion as part of this programme. Taking steps to help tackle false news on Facebook is a responsibility we take seriously, we know misinformation is a problem, and these are important steps in continuing to address this issue. We know that third-party fact-checking alone is not the solution, it is one of many initiatives and programmes we are investing in to help to improve the quality of information people see on Facebook. While we’ve made great progress, we will keep investing to ensure Facebook remains a place for all ideas, but not for the spread of false news.”

When third-party fact-checkers fact-check a news story, Facebook will show these in Related Articles immediately below the story in News Feed. Page Admins and people on Facebook will also receive notifications if they try to share a story or have shared one in the past that’s been determined to be false, empowering people to decide for themselves what to read, trust, and share.

Providing fact-checking in English and French across eight countries, Phil Chetwynd, AFP Global News Director said: “AFP is delighted to be expanding its fact-checking project with Facebook. We are known for the high quality of our journalism from across Africa and we will be leveraging our unparalleled network of bureaus and journalists on the continent to combat misinformation.”

Eric Mugendi, Managing Editor from Pesa Check who will provide fact-checking services in Swahili and English added: “Social networks like Facebook haven’t just changed how Africans consume the news. Social media is often the primary access to digital content or the ‘Internet’ for many Africans. They shape our perceptions of the world, our public discourse, and how we interact with public figures. This project helps us dramatically expand our fact-checking to debunk claims that could otherwise cause real-world harm. The project helps us respond more quickly and directly. We’re seeing real positive results in our interactions with both publishers and the public itself. The project also helps our fact-checks reach a far larger audience than we would otherwise. This has helped us better understand the information vacuum and other viral dynamics that drive the spread of false information in Africa. Our growing impact is a small but tangible contribution to better informed societies in Africa.”

Caroline Anipah, Programme Officer, Dubawa (Ghana) said: “Dubawa is excited to be in Ghana where the misinformation and disinformation have become widespread as a result of technological advancement and increasing internet penetration. Dubawa intends to raise the quality of information available to the public with the ultimate aim of curbing the spread of misinformation and disinformation and promoting good governance and accountability.”

Derek Thomson, editor-in-chief of the France 24 Observers, said: “Our African users are constantly sending us questionable images and messages they’ve received via social media, asking us ‘Is this true? Can you check it?’ It’s our responsibility as fact-checking journalists to verify the information that’s circulating, and get the truth back out there. Participating in the Facebook programme helps ensure that our fact-checks are reaching the people who shared the false news in the first place.”

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