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How to survive Meltdown and Spectre

ESET has found new vulnerabilities called Spectre and Meltdown that affect almost all Intel, AMD and ARM processors, allowing hackers to access a computer’s memory.

ESET says it is one of the few third-party security solutions already compatible with Microsoft’s emergency patches, released on 3 January, for vulnerabilities called Spectre and Meltdown that affect almost all Intel, AMD and ARM processors.

Many types of computing devices, with many different vendors’ processors and operating systems are susceptible. Apple’s iPhones, iPads and Mac computers are all vulnerable.

The vulnerabilities affect the microprocessors in the majority of the world’s computers, including mobile devices and cloud networks, and can allow hackers to access the entire contents of a computer’s memory.

The Spectre and Meltdown vulnerabilities are bi-products of optimization techniques designed to increase the performance of modern processors.

These techniques are called “out-of-order” and “speculative” execution. They allow the processor to make better use of time it would have to spend waiting unnecessarily before executing the next instruction to pre-compute further results which may or may not be used in the execution flow.

These pre-computed results, if not used, are discarded – but, as researchers have shown, there are side-effects left by such precomputation which are not disposed of thoroughly enough and can sometimes be leaked to the potential attacker.

As stated by the authors of the papers describing the vulnerabilities, there are theoretical ways antivirus could detect the problem. However, detection would have an extremely negative impact on the device’s performance and significantly influence user experience; it would be a less effective approach than prevention. Therefore, we recommend that ESET users keep track of any related patches for their systems and apply them as soon as possible. 

While ESET protects against potential malware infection, it says users should also take these steps to securecomputers and data:

·         Make sure your browser is up to date. For Chrome or Firefox users:

o    Mozilla has released information describing their response, including how Firefox 57 will address these security flaws.

o    Google has stated, “Chrome 64, due to be released January 23, will contain mitigations to protect against exploitation.” In the meantime, you can enable “Site Isolation” found in current stable versions of Chrome to provide better protection.

·         Make sure you update your ESET software, then update your Windows OS to protect against this exploit. To update ESET:

ESET Home products (NOD32 Antivirus, Internet Security, Smart Security Premium)

o    ESET Business products (Endpoint Antivirus, Endpoint Security, File and Mail Security and Virtualization Security)

·         Customers should review ESET’s Knowledgebase article for important updates.

·         If you have a cloud-based server or have a website hosted by hosting provider, check to see what mitigations they have implemented already to prevent Meltdown.

Here is a list of affected vendors and their respective advisories and/or patch announcements:

Vendor

Advisory/Announcement

Amazon (AWS)

AWS-2018-013: Processor Speculative Execution Research Disclosure

Apple

HT208331: About the security content of macOS High Sierra 10.13.2, Security Update 2017-002 Sierra, and Security Update 2017-005 El Capitan

HT208394: About speculative execution vulnerabilities in ARM-based and Intel CPUs

ARM

Vulnerability of Speculative Processors to Cache Timing Side-Channel Mechanism

Azure

Securing Azure customers from CPU vulnerability

Microsoft Cloud Protections Against Speculative Execution Side-Channel Vulnerabilities

Google’s Project Zero

Reading Privileged Memory with a Side-Channel

IBM

Potential CPU Security Issue

Intel

INTEL-SA-00088 Speculative Execution and Indirect Branch Prediction Side Channel Analysis Method

Microsoft

Security Advisory 180002: Guidance to mitigate speculative execution side-channel vulnerabilities

Windows Client guidance for IT Pros to protect against speculative execution side-channel vulnerabilities

Windows Server guidance to protect against speculative execution side-channel vulnerabilities

Important information regarding the Windows security updates released on January 3, 2018 and anti-virus software

Mozilla

Mozilla Foundation Security Advisory 2018-01: Speculative execution side-channel attack (“Spectre”)

Red Hat

Kernel Side-Channel Attacks – CVE-2017-5754 CVE-2017-5753 CVE-2017-5715

VMware

NEW VMSA VMSA-2018-0002 VMware ESXi, Workstation and Fusion updates address side-channel analysis due to speculative execution

Xen

Advisory XSA-254: Information leak via side effects of speculative execution

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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
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

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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