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How WannaCry changed the world

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A year ago, after multiple days of digital bombardment, the cyber-security world changed forever.

Over one weekend, the notorious ransomware attack that would become widely known as WannaCry infected more than 200,000 machines around the world, causing billions of dollars in damages. Ransomware attacks occur all the time, but the speed and the scale of this particular attack – likes of which were never seen before – made international headlines as WannaCry spread to 150 countries. And just a few months ago, we saw WannaCry’s fingerprints on the ransomware attack that shut down the city of Atlanta.

WannaCry changed the cybersecurity game not just through its outsized impact; it made waves because of its outsized influence on the cyber-threat landscape. Marking a turning point in the cybersecurity environment, we were looking at the first global-scaled, multi-vectored cyberattack powered by state-sponsored tools. WannaCry marked a new generation – the fifth generation – of cyber-attacks.

And it certainly wasn’t the last Gen V attack. It’s time for organisations to adjust to our new normal of cyber-attacks, which involves…

Leaked State-Sponsored Tools:

About a month before the WannaCry attack, a hacker group called the Shadow Brothers leaked an exploit developed by the National Security Agency (NSA). This exploit, labeled EternalBlue, would later be used as part of the WannaCry attack.

In the past, cyber criminals traditionally used simplistic, homegrown tools for their hacking activities. WannaCry marked the shift toward using military-grade weapons, hacking tools that are powerful enough for a national cyberdefense agency to use on international cyber-warfare. Just six weeks after WannaCry, NotPetya used the same exploit in its infamous attack on mostly Ukrainian critical infrastructure systems. And just recently, the SamSam ransomware attack that shut down the city of Atlanta relied on DoublePulsar – another NSA-developed exploit.

Cyber-criminals are upgrading their firepower and setting their sights higher than ever before.

Globally Scaled Tools:

As mentioned earlier, the WannaCry’s impact sparked an upswing in severe large-scale cyber-attacks.

In 2015, ransomware attacks caused $325 million in damage. By 2017, the attacks were up 15x at $5 billion, as companies lost productivity through the downtime and reputational hit. Along with the impact, WannaCry spawned hundreds of variants of ransomware. Recorded Future showed that before WannaCry, at the end of January 2017, they were tracking 635 variants of malware. Fast forward to February 2018, where 1,105 different malware variants were discovered – a 74 percent increase from just a year ago.

This globalised ambition is a defining element of the new generation of cyber-attacks – Gen V hackers are thinking bigger than ever before, as more and more criminal organisations are developing lucrative hacking operations.

Multi-Vector Tools:

Cyber-attacks are thought to be “computer hacks,” where they infect your personal computer.

Spreading through cloud networks, remote office servers, and network endpoints, WannaCry was able to “divide and conquer” because it needed just one entry point in order to infect the entire system. This multi-level approach allowed WannaCry to easily overwhelm companies that followed the usual security strategy of picking their favorite product from different vendors for each entry point.

This best-of-breed strategy means that companies often pick one specific product for their mobile devices, a different one for their cloud networks, and another unique product for their network security.

It’s not an illogical strategy, per se, but that’s what WannaCry (and other Gen V attacks) want: a disparate, disconnected defense that isn’t working in unison to cover all bases.

Conclusion: 

As we acclimate to our new normal, organisations simply have no choice but to adapt.

We’re a long ways away from organisations getting up to speed with their cybersecurity infrastructure. Our recent survey revealed that only three percent of companies are equipped today to handle a WannaCry-style Gen V attack.

Three percent.

Taking on an attack like WannaCry requires cyber security that can proactively prevent threats (as opposed to reactively detecting them once the damage is done). To combat Gen V attacks’ multivector approach, organisations must also secure their cloud and mobile system. Together, unified threat prevention systems that secure all vectors are able to defend against these modern, innovative attacks.

Yet today, the vast majority of organisations are as vulnerable to WannaCry as they were exactly a year ago. Whether they’re ready or not, the new normal is here.

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Seedstars seeks tech to reverse land degradation in Africa

A new partnership is offering prizes to young entrepreneurs for coming up with innovations that tackle the loss of arable land in Africa.

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The DOEN Foundation has joined forces with Seedstars, an emerging market startup community, to launch the DOEN Land Restoration Prize, which showcases solutions to environmental, social and financial challenges that focus on land restoration activities in Africa. Stichting DOEN is a Dutch fund that supports green, socially-inclusive and creative initiatives that contribute to a better and cleaner world.

While land degradation and deforestation date back millennia, industrialization and a rising population have dramatically accelerated the process. Today we are seeing unprecedented land degradation, and the loss of arable land at 30 to 35 times the historical rate.

Currently, nearly two-thirds of Africa’s land is degraded, which hinders sustainable economic development and resilience to climate change. As a result, Africa has the largest restoration opportunity of any continent: more than 700 million hectares (1.7 billion acres) of degraded forest landscapes that can be restored. The potential benefits include improved food and water security, biodiversity protection, climate change resilience, and economic growth. Recognizing this opportunity, the African Union set an ambitious target to restore 100 million hectares of degraded land by 2030.

Land restoration is an urgent response to the poor management of land. Forest and landscape restoration is the process of reversing the degradation of soils, agricultural areas, forests, and watersheds thereby regaining their ecological functionality. According to the World Resources Institute, for every $1 invested in land restoration it can yield $7-$30 in benefits, and now is the time to prove it.

The winner of the challenge will be awarded 9 months access to the Seedstars Investment Readiness Program, the hybrid program challenging traditional acceleration models by creating a unique mix to improve startup performance and get them ready to secure investment. They will also access a 10K USD grant.

“Our current economic system does not meet the growing need to improve our society ecologically and socially,” says Saskia Werther, Program Manager at the DOEN Foundation. “The problems arising from this can be tackled only if a different economic system is considered. DOEN sees opportunities to contribute to this necessary change. After all, the world is changing rapidly and the outlines of a new economy are becoming increasingly clear. This new economy is circular and regenerative. Landscape restoration is a vital part of this regenerative economy and social entrepreneurs play an important role to establish innovative business models to counter land degradation and deforestation. Through this challenge, DOEN wants to highlight the work of early-stage restoration enterprises and inspire other frontrunners to follow suit.”

Applications are open now and will be accepted until October 15th. Startups can apply here: http://seedsta.rs/doen

To enter the competition, startups should meet the following criteria:

  • Existing startups/young companies with less than 4 years of existence
  • Startups that can adapt their current solution to the land restoration space
  • The startup must have a demonstrable product or service (Minimum Viable Product, MVP)
  • The startup needs to be scalable or have the potential to reach scalability in low resource areas.
  • The startup can show clear environmental impact (either by reducing a negative impact or creating a positive one)
  • The startup can show a clear social impact
  • Technology startups, tech-enabled startups and/or businesses that can show a clear innovation component (e.g. in their business model)

Also, a specific emphasis is laid, but not limited to: Finance the restoration of degraded land for production and/or conservation purposes; big data and technology to reverse land degradation; resource efficiency optimization technologies, ecosystems impacts reduction and lower carbon emissions; water-saving soil technologies; technologies focused on improving livelihoods and communities ; planning, management and education tools for land restoration; agriculture (with a focus on precision conservation) and agroforestry; clean Energy solutions that aid in the combat of land degradation; and responsible ecotourism that aids in the support of land restoration.

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The dark side of apps

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Mobile device security threats are on the rise and it’s not hard to see why. In 2019 the number of worldwide mobile phone users is forecast to reach 4.68 billion of which 2.7 billion are smartphone users. So, if you are looking for a target, it certainly makes sense to go where the numbers are. Think about it, unsecured Wi-Fi connections, network spoofing, phishing attacks, ransomware, spyware and improper session handling – mobile devices make for the perfect easy target. In fact, according to Kaspersky, mobile apps are often the cause of unintentional data leakage.

“Apps pose a real problem for mobile users, who give them sweeping permissions, but don’t always check security,” says Riaan Badenhorst, General Manager for Kaspersky in Africa. “These are typically free apps found in official app stores that perform as advertised, but also send personal – and potentially corporate – data to a remote server, where it is mined by advertisers or even cybercriminals. Data leakage can also happen through hostile enterprise-signed mobile apps. Here, mobile malware uses distribution code native to popular mobile operating systems like iOS and Android to spread valuable data across corporate networks without raising red flags.”

In fact, according to recent reports, 6 Android apps that were downloaded a staggering 90 million times from the Google Play Store were found to have been loaded with the PreAMo malware, while another recent threat saw 50 malware-filled apps on the Google Play Store infect over 30 million Android devices. Surveillance malware was also loaded onto fake versions of Android apps such as Evernote, Google Play and Skype.

Considering that as of 2019, Android users were able to choose between 2.46 million apps, while Apple users have almost 1.96 million app options to select from, and that the average person has 60-90 apps installed on their phone, using around 30 of them each month and launching 9 per day – it’s easy to see how viral apps take several social media channels by storm.

“In this age where users jump onto a bandwagon because it’s fun or trendy, the Fear of Missing Out (FOMO) can overshadow basic security habits – like being vigilant on granting app permissions,” says Bethwel Opil, Enterprise Sales Manager at Kaspersky in Africa. “In fact, accordingly to a previous Kaspersky study, the majority (63%) of consumers do not read license agreements and 43% just tick all privacy permissions when they are installing new apps on their phone. And this is exactly where the danger lies – as there is certainly ‘no harm’ in joining online challenges or installing new apps.”

However, it is dangerous when users just grant these apps limitless permissions into their contacts, photos, private messages, and more. “Doing so allows the app makers possible, and even legal, access to what should remain confidential data. When this sensitive data is hacked or misused, a viral app can turn a source into a loophole which hackers can exploit to spread malicious viruses or ransomware,” adds Badenhorst. 

As such, online users should always have their thinking caps on and be more careful when it comes to the internet and their app habits including:

  • Only download apps from trusted sources. Read the reviews and ratings of the apps as well
  • Select apps you wish to install on your devices wisely
  • Read the license agreement carefully
  • Pay attention to the list of permissions your apps are requesting. Only give apps permissions they absolutely insist on, and forgo any programme that asks for more than necessary
  • Avoid simply clicking “next” during an app installation
  • For an additional security layer, be sure to have a security solution installed on your device

“While the app market shows no signs of slowing down, it is changing,” says Opil. “Consumers download the apps they love on their devices which in turn gives them access to content that is relevant and useful. The future of apps will be in real-world attribution, influenced by local content and this type of tailored in-app experience will lead consumers to share their data more willing in a trusted, premium app environment in exchange for more personalised experiences. But until then, proceed with caution.”

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