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How employees hide hacks

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Employees hide IT security incidents in 40% of businesses around the world (this figure is 48% for South African businesses) – according to a new report from Kaspersky Lab and B2B International.

The “Human Factor in IT Security: How Employees are Making Businesses Vulnerable from Within” report goes on to reveal that 46% of global IT security incidents caused by employees each year, this business vulnerability must be addressed on many levels, not just through the IT security department.

Walking hackers to your door

Uninformed or careless employees are one of the most likely causes of a cybersecurity incident — second only to malware. While malware is becoming more and more sophisticated, the sad reality is that the evergreen human factor can pose an even greater danger.

In particular, employee carelessness is one of the biggest chinks in corporate cybersecurity armor when it comes to targeted attacks. While advanced hackers might always use custom-made malware and hi-tech techniques to plan a heist, they will likely start with exploiting the easiest entry point – human nature.

According to the global research, every third (28%) targeted attack on businesses in the last year had phishing/social engineering at its source. For example, a careless accountant could easily open a malicious file disguised as an invoice from one of a company’s numerous contractors. This could shut down the entire organisation’s infrastructure, making the accountant an unwitting accomplice to attackers.

“Cybercriminals often use employees as an entry point to get inside the corporate infrastructure. Phishing emails, weak passwords, fake calls from tech support – we’ve seen it all. Even an ordinary flash card dropped in the office parking lot or near the secretary’s desk could compromise the entire network — all you need is someone inside, who doesn’t know about, or pay attention to security, and that device could easily be connected to the network where it could reap havoc,” says David Jacoby, Security Researcher at Kaspersky Lab.

Sophisticated targeted attacks do not happen to organisations every day – but conventional malware does strike at mass. Unfortunately though, the research also shows that even where malware is concerned, unaware and careless employees are also often involved, causing malware infections in 59% of incidents in South Africa.

Hide and seek: why HR and top management should get involved

Staff hiding the incidents they have been involved in may lead to dramatic consequences, increasing the overall damage caused. Even one unreported event could indicate a much larger breach, and security teams need to be able to quickly identify the threats they are up against to choose the right mitigation tactics.

But staff would rather put organisations at risk than report a problem because they fear punishment, or are embarrassed that they are responsible for something going wrong. Some companies have introduced strict rules and impose extra responsibility on employees, instead of encouraging them to simply be vigilant and cooperative. This means that cyberprotection not only lies in the realm of technology, but also in an organisation’s culture and training. That’s where top management and HR need to get involved.

“The problem of hiding incidents should be communicated not only to employees, but also to top management and HR departments. If employees are hiding incidents, there must be a reason why. In some cases, companies introduce strict, but unclear policies and put too much pressure on staff, warning them not to do this or that, or they will be held responsible if something goes wrong. Such policies foster fears, and leave employees with only one option — to avoid punishment whatever it takes. If your cybersecurity culture is positive, based on an educational approach instead of a restrictive one, from the top down, the results will be obvious,” comments Slava Borilin, Security Education Program Manager at Kaspersky Lab.

Borilin also recalls an industrial security model, where a reporting and ‘learn by mistake’ approach are at the heart of the business. For instance, in his recent statement, Tesla’s Elon Musk requested every incident affecting worker safety to be reported directly to him, so that he can play a central role in change.

The human factor: corporate climate and beyond

Organisations around the world are already waking up to the problem of their staff making their businesses vulnerable: 59% of companies surveyed in South Africa admit that staff are the biggest weakness in their IT security. The need to implement personnel-focused measures is becoming more and more evident: 29% of local businesses are looking to improve security through delivering training to staff, making this the second most popular method of cyber defense, second only to the deployment of more sophisticated software (38%).

The best way of protecting organisations from human-related cyberthreats is to combine the right tools with the right practices. This should involve HR and management efforts, to motivate and encourage employees to be watchful and seek help in the case of an incident. Security awareness training for staff, delivering clear guidelines instead of multipage documents, building strong skills and motivation and fostering the right working atmosphere, are the first steps organisations should take.

In terms of security technologies, most of the threats aimed at targeting unaware or careless employees – including phishing – can be addressed with endpoint security solutions. These can cover the particular needs of SMB and enterprise companies in terms of functionality, pre-configured protection or advanced security settings, to minimise risks.

To read the full report “Human Factor in IT Security: How Employees are Making Businesses Vulnerable from Within”, please visit our blog.

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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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