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Cyber spies, miners and worms attack energy sector

Kaspersky solutions were triggered on almost half of industrial control system (ICS) computers in the energy sector globally in the first six months of 2019.

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The top three cyberthreats were worms, spyware, and cryptocurrency miners – together, they combined to make almost 14% of the share of targeted computers. These are among the main findings of the Kaspersky ICS CERT report on the industrial threat landscape in the first half of 2019.

Industrial cyber incidents are among the most dangerous as they may result in production downtime and tangible financial losses and are quite hard to overcome. This is especially the case when the incident occurs in critical, life-supporting sectors, such as energy. Statistics for H1 2019, automatically processed by Kaspersky security technologies, have shown that those who manage energy solutions should not let their guard down. Overall, during the observed period of time, Kaspersky products were triggered on 41.6% of ICS computers in the energy sector. A large number of conventional malware samples –– not designed for ICS — were blocked.

Among the malicious programmes which were blocked, the greatest danger was posed by cryptocurrency miners (2.9%), worms (7.1%), and a variety of versatile spyware (3.7%). Infection with such malware can negatively affect the availability and integrity of ICS and other systems that are part of the industrial network. Among these detected threats, some are of particular interest.

This includes AgentTesla, specialised Trojan Spy malware, designed to steal authentication data, screenshots, and data captured from the web camera and keyboard. In all of the analysed cases, the attackers sent data via compromised mailboxes at various companies. Aside from malware threat, Kaspersky products also identified and blocked cases of the Meterpreter backdoor which was being used to remotely control computers on the industrial networks of energy systems. Attacks that use the backdoor are targeted and stealthy and are often conducted in manual mode. The ability of the attackers to control infected ICS computers stealthily and remotely poses a huge threat to industrial systems. Last but not least, the company’s solutions detected and blocked Syswin, a new wiper worm written in Python and packed into the Windows executable format. This threat can have a significant impact on ICS computers due to its ability to self-propagate and destroy data.

The energy sector was not the only one to face malicious objects and activities. Other industries, analysed by Kaspersky experts, have also shown no reason for relief with automotive manufacturing (39.3%) and building automation (37.8%) taking the second and the third places in terms of percentage of the number of ICS computers on which malicious objects were blocked.

Other findings of the report include:

  • On average, ICS computers do not operate entirely inside a security perimeter typical of corporate environments, and are, to a large extent, protected from many threats, which are also relevant to home users, using their own measures and tools. In other words, tasks related to protecting the corporate segment and the ICS segment are to some extent unrelated.
  • In general, the level of malicious activity inside the ICS segment is connected with the ‘background’ malware activity in the country.
  • On average, in countries where the situation with the security of the ICS segment is favorable, the low levels of attacked ICS computers are attributable to protection measures and tools that are used rather than a generally low background level of malicious activity.
  • Self-propagating malicious programmes are very active in some countries. In the cases analysed, these were worms (malicious Worm class objects) designed to infect removable media (USB flash drives, removable hard drives, mobile phones, etc.). It appears that infections with worms via removable media is the most common scenario that could happen to ICS computers.

Kirill Kruglov, security researcher at Kaspersky, says: “The collected statistics, as well as analysis into industrial cyberthreats, are a proven asset for assessing current trends and predicting what type of danger we should all prepare for. This report has identified that security experts should be particularly cautious about malicious software that aims to steal data, spy on critically important objects, penetrate the perimeter and destroy the data. All of these types of incident could cause lots of trouble for industry.”

Kaspersky ICS CERT recommends implementing the following technical measures:

  • Regularly update operating systems, application software and security solutions on systems that are part of the enterprise’s industrial network.
  • Restrict network traffic on ports and protocols used on edge routers and inside the organisation’s OT networks.
  • Audit access control for ICS components in the enterprise’s industrial network and at its boundaries.
  • Provide dedicated regular training and support for employees as well as partners and suppliers with access to your OT/ICS network.
  • Deploy dedicated endpoint protection solution such asKaspersky Industrial CyberSecurity on ICS servers, workstations and HMIs to secure OT and industrial infrastructure from random cyberattacks; and network traffic monitoring, analysis and detection solutions for better protection from targeted attacks. 

Read the full version on Kaspersky ICS CERT.

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Small SA 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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Facebook fact-checking goes to 10 more African countries

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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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