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Cyber crooks recruit from the inside

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Cybercriminals are using insiders to gain access to telecommunications networks and subscriber data, recruiting disaffected employees through underground channels or blackmailing staff using compromising information gathered from open sources.

Telecommunications providers are a top target for cyber-attack. They operate and manage the world’s networks, voice and data transmissions and store vast amounts of sensitive data. This makes them highly attractive to cybercriminals in search of financial gain, as well as nation-state sponsored actors launching targeted attacks, and even competitors.

To achieve their goals, cybercriminals often use insiders as part of their malicious ‘toolset’, to help them breach the perimeter of a telecommunications company and perpetrate their crimes. The global research based on 2016 Corporate IT Security Risks Survey by Kaspersky Lab and B2B International, reveals that 28% of all cyber-attacks, and 38% of targeted attacks now involve malicious activity by insiders. The intelligence report examines popular ways of involving insiders in telecoms-related criminal schemes and gives examples of the things insiders are used for.

Compromising employees

According to the Kaspersky Lab researchers, attackers engage or entrap telecoms employees in the following ways:

·         Using publically available or previously stolen data sources to find compromising information on employees of the company they want to hack. They then blackmail targeted individuals – forcing them to hand over their corporate credentials, provide information on internal systems or distribute spear-phishing attacks on their behalf.

·         Recruiting willing insiders through underground message boards or through the services of “black recruiters”. These insiders are paid for their services and can also be asked to identify co-workers who could be engaged through blackmail.

The blackmailing approach has grown in popularity, following online data breaches such as the Ashley Madison leak, as these provide attackers with material they can use to threaten or embarrass individuals. In fact, data-leak related extortion has now become so widespread that the FBI issued a Public Service Announcement on 1 June warning consumers of the risk and its potential impact.

 The insiders most in demand

According to the Kaspersky Lab researchers, if an attack on a cellular service provider is planned, criminals will seek out employees who can provide fast track access to subscriber and company data or SIM card duplication/illegal reissuing. If the target is an Internet service provider, the attackers will try to identify those who can enable network mapping and man-in-the-middle attacks.

However, insider threats can take all forms. The Kaspersky Lab researchers noted two non-typical examples, one of which involved a rogue telecoms employee leaking 70 million prison inmate calls, many of which breached client-attorney privilege. In another example, an SMS center support engineer was spotted on a popular DarkNet forum advertising their ability to intercept messages containing OTP (One-Time Passwords) for the two-step authentication required to login to customer accounts at a popular fintech company.

“The human factor is often the weakest link in corporate IT security. Technology alone is rarely enough to completely protect the organisation in world where attackers don’t hesitate to exploit insider vulnerability. Companies can start by looking at themselves the way an attacker would. If vacancies carrying your company name, or some of your data, start appearing on underground message boards, then somebody, somewhere has you in their sights. And the sooner you know about it the better you can prepare,” said Denis Gorchakov, security expert, Kaspersky Lab.

In order to protect the organisation from insider threat, Kaspersky Lab advises the following:

·         Educate your staff about responsible cyber-security behaviour and the dangers to look out for, and introduce robust policies about the use of corporate email addresses;

·         Use Threat Intelligence Services to understand why cybercriminals might be looking at your company and to find out if someone is offering an insider “service” in your organisation;

·         Restrict access to the most sensitive information and systems;

·         Do a regular security audit of the company’s IT infrastructure.

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Money talks and electronic gaming evolves

Computer gaming has evolved dramatically in the last two years, as it follows the money, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK in the second of a two-part series.

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The clue that gaming has become big business in South Africa was delivered by a non-gaming brand. When Comic Con, an American popular culture convention that has become a mecca for comics enthusiasts, was hosted in South Arica for the first time last month, it used gaming as the major drawcard. More than 45 000 people attended.

The event and its attendance was expected to be a major dampener for the annual rAge gaming expo, which took place just weeks later. Instead, rAge saw only a marginal fall in visitor numbers. No less than 34 000 people descended on the Ticketpro Dome for the chaos of cosplay, LAN gaming, virtual reality, board gaming and new video games. 

It proved not only that there was room for more than one major gaming event, but also that a massive market exists for the sector in South Africa. And with a large market, one also found numerous gaming niches that either emerged afresh or will keep going over the years. One of these, LAN (for Local Area Network) gaming, which sees hordes of players camping out at the venue for three days to play each other on elaborate computer rigs, was back as strong as ever at rAge.

MWeb provided an 8Gbps line to the expo, to connect all these gamers, and recorded 120TB in downloads and 15Tb in uploads – a total that would have used up the entire country’s bandwidth a few years ago.

“LANs are supposed to be a thing of the past, yet we buck the trend each year,” says Michael James, senior project manager and owner of rAge. “It is more of a spectacle than a simple LAN, so I can understand.”

New phenomena, often associated with the flavour of the moment, also emerge every year.

“Fortnite is a good example this year of how we evolve,” says James. “It’s a crazy huge phenomenon and nobody was servicing the demand from a tournament point of view. So rAge and Xbox created a casual LAN tournament that anyone could enter and win a prize. I think the top 10 people got something each round.”

Read on to see how esports is starting to make an impact in gaming.

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Blockchain unpacked

Blockchain is generally associated with Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies, but these are just the tip of the iceberg, says ESET Southern Africa.

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This technology was originally conceived in 1991, when Stuart Haber and W. Scott Stornetta described their first work on a chain of cryptographically secured blocks, but only gained notoriety in 2008, when it became popular with the arrival of Bitcoin. It is currently gaining demand in other commercial applications and its annual growth is expected to reach 51% by 2022 in numerous markets, such as those of financial institutions and the Internet of Things (IoT), according to MarketWatch.

What is blockchain?

A blockchain is a unique, consensual record that is distributed over multiple network nodes. In the case of cryptocurrencies, think of it as the accounting ledger where each transaction is recorded.

A blockchain transaction is complex and can be difficult to understand if you delve into the inner details of how it works, but the basic idea is simple to follow.

Each block stores:

–           A number of valid records or transactions.
–           Information referring to that block.
–           A link to the previous block and next block through the hash of each block—a unique code that can be thought of as the block’s fingerprint.

Accordingly, each block has a specific and immovable place within the chain, since each block contains information from the hash of the previous block. The entire chain is stored in each network node that makes up the blockchain, so an exact copy of the chain is stored in all network participants.

As new records are created, they are first verified and validated by the network nodes and then added to a new block that is linked to the chain.

How is blockchain so secure?

Being a distributed technology in which each network node stores an exact copy of the chain, the availability of the information is guaranteed at all times. So if an attacker wanted to cause a denial-of-service attack, they would have to annul all network nodes since it only takes one node to be operative for the information to be available.

Besides that, since each record is consensual, and all nodes contain the same information, it is almost impossible to alter it, ensuring its integrity. If an attacker wanted to modify the information in a blockchain, they would have to modify the entire chain in at least 51% of the nodes.

In blockchain, data is distributed across all network nodes. With no central node, all participate equally, storing, and validating all information. It is a very powerful tool for transmitting and storing information in a reliable way; a decentralised model in which the information belongs to us, since we do not need a company to provide the service.

What else can blockchain be used for?

Essentially, blockchain can be used to store any type of information that must be kept intact and remain available in a secure, decentralised and cheaper way than through intermediaries. Moreover, since the information stored is encrypted, its confidentiality can be guaranteed, as only those who have the encryption key can access it.

Use of blockchain in healthcare

Health records could be consolidated and stored in blockchain, for instance. This would mean that the medical history of each patient would be safe and, at the same time, available to each doctor authorised, regardless of the health centre where the patient was treated. Even the pharmaceutical industry could use this technology to verify medicines and prevent counterfeiting.

Use of blockchain for documents

Blockchain would also be very useful for managing digital assets and documentation. Up to now, the problem with digital is that everything is easy to copy, but Blockchain allows you to record purchases, deeds, documents, or any other type of online asset without them being falsified.

Other blockchain uses

This technology could also revolutionise the Internet of Things  (IoT) market where the challenge lies in the millions of devices connected to the internet that must be managed by the supplier companies. In a few years’ time, the centralised model won’t be able to support so many devices, not to mention the fact that many of these are not secure enough. With blockchain, devices can communicate through the network directly, safely, and reliably with no need for intermediaries.

Blockchain allows you to verify, validate, track, and store all types of information, from digital certificates, democratic voting systems, logistics and messaging services, to intelligent contracts and, of course, money and financial transactions.

Without doubt, blockchain has turned the immutable and decentralized layer the internet has always dreamed about into a reality. This technology takes reliance out of the equation and replaces it with mathematical fact.

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