Along with a spike in the cryptocurrency market, malicious mining software has been actively deployed by criminals in order to make easy money and became a major trend in 2017.
When someone urgently needs to edit a text document or an image, but doesn’t have the time or opportunity to find a trusted source, the most probable solution is to download the first openly distributed or even cracked application they can find, which are rife on the Internet. So, you successfully download and install the program and nothing wrong or suspicious is spotted in its operation. But suddenly, you notice that your PC seems to run much slower than usual and at the end of the month, you receive an electricity bill that is noticeably higher than average. If this sounds familiar, it’s likely that you’ve got a miner.
Along with a spike in the cryptocurrency market, malicious mining software has been actively deployed by criminals in order to make easy money and became a major trend in 2017. This trend was predicted in 2016 by Kaspersky Lab researchers who spotted a comeback of mining software amid the growing popularity of Zcash. Just a year later, miners are everywhere: according to Kaspersky Lab data, by the end of 2017, the number of affected users would exceed two million.
Criminals are using different tools and techniques, such as social engineering campaigns involving adware or cracked software, in order to affect as many PCs as possible. Kaspersky Lab experts recently identified a number of websites, created using one standard design, which have been offering users free, pirated software such as popular computer programs and applications. Taking into consideration how widespread pirated software is, it’s not a difficult task for criminals to generate a special “landing page”. They have even been using domain names similar to the real ones in order to confuse users as much as possible.
But it’s always wise to be careful when someone offers you something for nothing. The real purpose of these websites was to spread a particular mining software. As a result, in the chase for free applications users were putting themselves at a higher risk than they could have imagined. Along with the downloaded archive, users received a miner which was automatically installed together with the desired software. After this, the miner started silently operating on the victim’s PC, using its power to generate cryptocurrency which goes directly back to the criminals.
The installation archive also included text files containing initialisation information – an address of the criminals’ wallet, as well as a mining pool – a special server to unite several participants and distribute a mining task among their computers. In exchange, participants receive their share of cryptocurrency. Due to the fact that mining Bitcoins and other cryptocurrencies is currently a very resource-heavy and time-consuming operation, the pools provide increased efficiency and higher speeds of cryptocurrency production.
Kaspersky Lab researchers have identified that in all cases criminals used the NiceHash project software, which recently suffered a major cybersecurity breach resulting in the theft of millions of dollars’ worth of cryptocurrency. Some of the victims were connected to a mining pool of the same name.
There was one more interesting feature found by Kaspersky Lab experts, which enabled criminals to remotely change a previously set wallet number, pool or miner itself. Thus, criminals gave themselves an opportunity to distribute mining flows and change the final destination for crypto coins anytime they needed, or make a victim’s computer work for another mining pool.
“Although not considered malicious, mining software decreases the device’s system performance, which inevitably affects the user experience, along with increasing the victim’s electricity bill. As a result, the use of seemingly harmless pirated software leads to the victim – at their own expense – augmenting someone else’s wallet. We advise users to remain vigilant and use legal software to avoid such malicious handouts,” says Alexander Kolesnikov, Malware Analyst at Kaspersky Lab.
In order to protect yourself from such incidents and prevent your PC from turning into a mining zombie, Kaspersky Lab recommends the following:
Personal computing devices sales still decline in MEA
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|
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|
“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.”
Gazer cyber-spies exposed
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.