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.
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.”
Hacking the ads
Kaspersky Lab’s researchers have discovered a new botnet that cashes-in on aggressive advertising, mostly in Germany and the US. Criminals infect their victims’ computers with the Magala Trojan Clicker, generating fake ad views, and making up to 350$ from each machine.
Contextual online advertising is a lifesaver for small enterprises that are usually unable to promote their products and services and increase potential customer awareness in other ways. The most common way to build a channel of supply and communication for these organisations is to purchase ads from legal advertising companies. However, if the latter are unscrupulous, small companies will flush money down the drain, and customers simply will not see the ad. This is exactly what happens with the Magala botnet.
Its authors compromise computers with malware, which then generates fake views and clicks for ads, thus switching machines into zombie mode and making a profit for the malware’s authors. Once propagated, Magala imitates a user click on a particular webpage, boosting ad click counts. The main victims are those paying for the ad; typically, they are small enterprise owners dealing with fraudulent advertisers.
The Magala infection vector is quite simple – it propagates computers via compromised websites and discreetly installs its required adware. Magala then contacts the remote server and requests a list of search queries for click counts that need to be boosted. Using this list, the programme begins to send search queries and click on each of the first 10 links in the search results, with an interval of 10 seconds between each click.
According to Kaspersky Lab’s researchers, an average cost per click (CPC) in a campaign like this is 0.07 USD. The cost per thousand (CPM) comes to 2.2 USD. Ideally, a botnet consisting of 1000 infected computers clicking 10 website addresses from each search result, and performing 500 search requests with no overlaps in the search results, could ideally mean the virus writer earns up to 350 USD from each infected computer.
“Although this type of advertising fraud has long been known, the emergence of new botnets focusing on that area indicates that there is still a demand on half-legitimate promotion. Trying to cut their costs, small businesses go for that option, but spoil their ad efforts as a result. The success of Magala is yet another wake-up call for users to make the most of solid security solutions and keep all their software updated – in order to not fall victim to cybercriminals,” concludes Sergey Yunakovsky, security expert at Kaspersky Lab.
To learn more about Magala Trojan Clicker, please read the blog post, available on Securelist.com.