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Hack Attack: Understanding the anatomy of cyber crime

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How do hackers hack? How do they gain access to a network? ANVEE ALDERTON, channel manager at Trend Micro Southern Africa, helps us understand cyber-attacks.

Our idea of hackers is that of sinister individuals, all working alone, hunkered over computers in a darkened room. This is actually a far cry from the truth. Hackers, these days, are sophisticated, organised and look a lot like you and me.

Investigation and security company Nuix recently published The Black Report, in which it surveyed hackers and penetration testers. The survey showed that cyber criminals can access a network within six to 24 hours in order to extract data. The report also revealed that 75% of companies that have been penetrated don’t do more than peripheral reinforcement of security.

What does this tell us? Attacks are getting far more complex in nature, with many hackers working in groups, or syndicates. Spread out through the globe, and with access to a relative amount of funds, these groups are able to perform in-depth attacks. More than that, they are regularly developing new malicious software.

I am often asked why hackers launch attacks. There are three primary reasons:

  • For the challenge. Some hackers like to test their skills or choose difficult targets to improve their skills.
  • For financial gain. Information can be bought and sold as with anything else. Scammers, rival companies and even nation states pay highly for sensitive data.
  • To disrupt and cause chaos for businesses – usually as a statement or as a form of activism.

There are several ways that a hacker can access your network. The first, is using a method called “social engineering”. This means that the hacker interacts with someone in the target business and cons them out of the information that they need.

Hackers also use more sophisticated means of gaining access by exploiting vulnerabilities, using backdoor controls and going as far as stealing and using valid credentials. They may also employ stealth, using methods undetectable to standard security systems. This is the kind of thing that is regularly portrayed in film and TV.

Once the hacker has what he needs, he is able to target network and leave behind malware, leaving him free to move around the network as he pleases. The information, or data, that has been deemed valuable, is then extracted.

This would logically mean that this specific cyber-attack is completed, that the hacker has moved on, and there is no longer a threat. This, however, is not the case. Most companies don’t detect the hacker’s presence for days or even months. This means that they can continue to remove valuable new data on a regular basis.

The institutions that they target are financial institutions, healthcare organisations, major retailers and more. This means that your personal information is exposed and fair game to the hackers involved.

The threats that a company can face can include ransomware, where malware is used to block the company’s access to their own data. The hacker then demands a sum of money in order to release the data – effectively, they hold your information to ransom. There is no guarantee, however, that once the ransom is paid that the data would be released.

Phishing and whaling is also a popular means of sending malicious links. Convincing subject lines, coupled with legitimate seeming addresses, means that people click through and inadvertently are exposed to malware.

Most common of all are scams. We all know to avoid sending R 1 000.00 to a fictitious foreign businessman, however, scams are not always that easy to spot. Information can be gained by scammers posing as a person from a bank or a service provider, and in that way, obtain personal information which they can use to access accounts.

A holistic approach to security is preferred, with a multi-level approach that relies on endpoint security, employee education and detection systems in addition to the traditional use of firewalls and antivirus.

Hackers not only cost a business money, but credibility as well. It is vital to have the right kind of security and education on all levels.

What does that mean? Prevention is the first place to start with an integrated approach. Vulnerabilities and potential threats need to be assessed and endpoints, servers and applications need to be proactively secured. Prevention also involves a human component: staff need to be educated about not opening suspicious links or clicking through to suspect sites.

It’s also important to be able to detect the more advanced forms of malware that managed to slip through the first stage. Risk assessment and analysis provides insight into the impact of threats.

Finally, if there is a threat present, it is important to respond immediately with creating a real-time signature which is shared with all endpoints and gateway security. This is how you avoid future attacks.

It’s not enough to just do one thing, for example, protection. An integrated approach to cyber security is more effective and can not only save a company money, but their reputation as well.

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Welcome to world of 2099

The world of 2099 will be unrecognisable from the world of today, but it can be predicted, says one visionary. ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK met him in Singapore.

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Futuristic structures tower over the landscape. Giant, alien-looking trees light up with dazzling colours amid the hundreds of plant species that grow up their trunks. Cosmetic stores sell their wares via public touch-screens, with products delivered instantly in drawers below the screens.

This is not a vision of the future. It is a sample of Singapore today. But it is also an inkling of the world we may all experience in the future.

Singapore was the venue, last week, of the World Cities Summit, where engineers, politicians, investors and visionaries rubbed shoulders as they talked about the strategies and policies that would enhance urban living in the future.

As part of the Summit, global payment technologies leader Mastercard hosted a small media briefing by one of Singapore’s leading thinkers about the future, Dr Damian Tan, managing director of Vickers Venture Partners. The company’s slogan “We invest in the extraordinary,” offers a small clue to Tan’s perspective.

“We look as far forward as 2099 because, as a venture capital firm, we invest in the long term,” he tells a group of journalists from Africa and the Middle East. “Companies explode in growth because there is value in the future. If there is no growth, they won’t explode.”

The big question that the Smart Cities Summit and Mastercard are trying to help answer is, what will cities look like in the year 2099? Tan can’t give an exact answer, but he offers a framework that helps one approach the question.

“If you want to look at 81 years into the future, and understand the change that will come, you need to double that amount and look into the past. That takes us to 1856. The difference between then and now is the difference you can expect between now and 2099.”

Click here or on the page link below to read on: Page 2: Soldiers and Health in 2099.

  •    Arthur Goldstuck is founder of World Wide Worx and editor-in-chief of Gadget.co.za. Follow him on Twitter on @art2gee and on YouTube

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Street art goes electric

Kaspersky Lab and British street artist D*Face have unveiled the first-ever “art helmet” design at the Formula E finale for electric cars in New York.

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The ‘Save The World’ helmets will be raced by DS Virgin Racing’s drivers, Sam Bird and Alex Lynn, as they traverse the New York street circuit during the final races of the Formula E season.

The announcement signals the first art helmet by a Formula E team, continuing the heritage of art in motorsport and the cybersecurity brand’s commitment to contemporary art, creativity and innovation. D*Face took inspiration from Kaspersky Lab’s tagline, “A Company To Save The World”, and hopes that his colourful work will inspire people to take positive action.

D*Face will announce his first-ever art car design with a custom-made livery for the DS Virgin Racing Team. Its design will be released at the “Art Goes Green” event after Saturday’s race. The helmets and art car are the latest installations in the “Save the World” collection, following a major permanent public mural that was installed in Brooklyn, New York, in May.

D*Face, whose real name is Dean Stockton, said: “It is exciting to work with Kaspersky Lab on this project and create art with a real message of hope for a better future. After all, this is our world and we need to look after it. It will take every one of us to make a real lasting, impactful change. I love the mentality of the DS Virgin Racing Team and that of Formula E by showcasing sport in a way that doesn’t harm the environment, but is still just as exhilarating and fun.

“It is time for us all to stand together and make a change… be that stopping data steals, climate change, plastic waste or using damaging fuels. I want everyone to make a pledge to do one thing that will help make a change.”

As a sponsor of DS Virgin Racing Team, Kaspersky Lab is responsible for protecting the team’s devices against cyber threats. The company sees the technical environment in the global sport of Formula E as the next frontier in furthering its research and development of new technologies to keep vehicles secure in the digital world.

Sylvain Filippi, Managing Director at DS Virgin Racing, said: “The whole team fully supports this great initiative and our thanks got to Kaspersky and D*Face for their collaboration. It’s an honour to have such an innovative artist bring his talents to bear in our team ahead of the season-finale; the car, drivers’ crash helmets and mural all look amazing.”

Aldo Fucelli Pessot del Bo, Head of Global Partnerships and Sponsorships at Kaspersky Lab added: “There is a need for innovation on a global scale, both in contemporary art and in the fast-growing sport of Formula E. Now, for the first time ever, Kaspersky Lab is proudly bringing together the two sectors in an effort to Save the World and unleash creativity, encourage freedom of expression and further innovation.”

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