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Hacked servers on sale

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Kaspersky Lab researchers have investigated a global forum where cybercriminals can buy and sell access to compromised servers for as little as $6 each.

The xDedic marketplace, which appears to be run by a Russian-speaking group, currently lists 70,624 hacked Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP) servers for sale. Many of the servers host or provide access to popular consumer websites and services and some have software installed for direct mail, financial accounting and Point-of-Sale (PoS) processing. They can be used to target the owners’ infrastructures or as a launch-pad for wider attacks, while the owners, including government entities, corporations and universities, have little or no idea of what’s happening.

xDedic is a powerful example of a new kind of cybercriminal marketplace: well-organised and supported and offering everyone from entry-level cybercriminals to APT groups fast, cheap and easy access to legitimate organisational infrastructure that keeps their crimes below the radar for as long as possible.

A European internet service provider (ISP) alerted Kaspersky Lab to the existence of xDedic and the companies worked together to investigate how the forum operates. The process is simple and thorough: hackers break into servers, often through brute-force attacks, and bring the credentials to xDedic. The hacked servers are then checked for their RDP configuration, memory, software, browsing history and more – all features that customers can search through before buying.  After that, they are added to a growing online inventory that includes access to:

·         Servers belonging to government networks, corporations and universities

·         Servers tagged for having access to or hosting certain websites and services, including gaming, betting, dating, online shopping, online banking and payment, cell phone networks, ISPs and browsers

·         Servers with pre-installed software that could facilitate an attack, including direct mail, financial and PoS software

·         All supported by a range of hacking and system information tools.

From as little as $6 per server, members of the xDedic forum can access all of a server’s data and also use it as a platform for further malicious attacks. This could potentially include targeted attacks, malware, DDoS, phishing, social-engineering and adware attacks, among others.

The servers’ legitimate owners, reputable organisations including: government networks, corporations and universities, are often unaware that their IT infrastructure has been compromised. Further, once a campaign has been completed, the attackers can put access to the server back up for sale and the whole process can begin again.

The xDedic marketplace seems to have opened for business some time in 2014, and has grown significantly in popularity since the middle of 2015. In May 2016, it listed 70,624 servers from 173 countries for sale, posted in the names of 416 different sellers.  The top 10 countries affected are: South Africa, Brazil, China, Russia, India, Spain, Italy, France, Australia and Malaysia.

The group behind xDedic claims that it merely provides a trading platform and has no links or affiliations to the sellers.

“xDedic is further confirmation that cybercrime-as-a-service is expanding through the addition of commercial ecosystems and trading platforms. Its existence makes it easier than ever for everyone, from low-skilled malicious attackers to nation-state backed APTs, to engage in potentially devastating attacks in a way that is cheap, fast and effective. The ultimate victims are not just the consumers or organisations targeted in an attack, but also the unsuspecting owners of the servers: they are likely to be completely unaware that their servers are being hijacked again and again for different attacks, all conducted right under their nose,” said Costin Raiu, Director, Global Research and Analysis Team, Kaspersky Lab.

Kaspersky Lab advises organisations to:

·         Install a robust security solution as part of a comprehensive, multi-layered approach to IT infrastructure security

·         Enforce the use of strong passwords as part of the server authentication process

·         Implement a continuous process of patch management

·         Undertake a regular security audit of the IT infrastructure

·         Consider investing in threat intelligence services which will keep the organisation informed of emerging threats and offer an insight into the criminal perspective to help them assess their level of risk.

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Personal computing devices sales still decline in MEA

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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
HP Inc. 23.7% 27.6%
Lenovo 19.8% 21.5%
Dell 16.3% 16.7%
ASUS 8.7% 9.4%
Acer Group 5.9% 4.1%
Others 25.7% 20.7%

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
Samsung 20.5% 18.9%
Huawei 11.2% 15.8%
Lenovo 12.7% 9.8%
Apple 9.1% 8.8%
Alcatel 2.9% 5.0%
Others 43.5% 41.7%

“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.”

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Gazer cyber-spies exposed

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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.

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