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Malware behind Android alternative

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ESET researchers have recently discovered a Turkish alternative Android app that has been spreading malware across all android apps.

ESET researchers discovered that CepKutusu.com, a Turkish alternative Android app store was spreading malware under the guise of all offered Android apps.

When users browsed the Turkish alternative app store CepKutusu.com and proceeded to downloading an app, the “Download now” button led to banking malware instead of the desired app. A few weeks after ESET researchers turned to the store’s operator with the discovery of the attack, the store ceased the malicious activity.

Interestingly, although ESET researchers found the misdirection from a legitimate app to the malicious one to be general – meaning that every single app was set to be replaced with the banking malware, the crooks behind the campaign added an exception. Probably to increase the chance to stay longer under the radar, they introduced a seven-day window of not serving malware after a malicious download. In practice, after the user downloads the infected app, a cookie is set to prevent the malicious system from prevailing, leading to the user being served clean links for next seven days. After this period passes, the user gets redirected to malware once they try to download any application from the store.

The malicious app distributed by the store at the time of the investigation was remotely controlled banking malware capable of intercepting and sending SMS, displaying fake activity, as well as downloading and installing other apps.

When installed, the malware doesn’t mimic the app the user intended to install. Instead, it imitates Flash Player.

Figure 1 – The malicious app served to a user who thinks they are downloading the Clash of Clans game and the legitimate game served to the same user within the seven day period, respectively.

Figure 1 – The malicious app served to a user who thinks they are downloading the Clash of Clans game and the legitimate game served to the same user within the seven day period, respectively.

To gain more insight on this attack and its wider implications, we turned to Lukáš Štefanko, Malware Researcher at ESET, who specializes in Android malware and who discovered the malware-distributing app store.

An app store serving its customers with malware on a mass scale – that sounds like a big threat. On the other hand, serving Flash Player instead of whatever customers wanted – that’s a rather thin disguise… What’s your take on this?

First, let me say that this is the first time I’ve seen an entire Android market infected like that. Within the Windows ecosystem and in browsers, this technique is known to have been used for some time but in the Android ecosystem, it’s really a new attack vector.

As for the impact, what we saw in this particular case was most probably a test. The crooks misused their control of the app store in the simplest manner. Replacing the links to all apps with a link to a single malicious app requires virtually no effort – but it also gives the store’s customers a fair chance to detect the scam. If you got lured into downloading a popular game and ended up with Flash Player instead… I think you’d uninstall it straight away and report the issue, right?

This might explain why we have seen only a few hundred infections.

From this point of view, it doesn’t sound like a big deal …

Well, like I said, it was probably a test. I can imagine a scenario in which the crooks who control the store’s back end append a malicious functionality to each of the apps in the store. Serving those interested in a particular game with a trojanized version of that game… That would remove the biggest red flag and the number of victims might rise significantly.

As for the attribution of this attack – have you found any traces?

There are three possible scenarios here: an app store built with the intention to spread malware; a legitimate app store turned malicious by an employee with bad intentions; and a legitimate app store becoming a victim of a remote attacker.

As for scenarios two and three, I would think that such an attack wouldn’t go unnoticed by a legitimate store. User complaints, suspicious server logs and changes in code should be sufficient indicators for its operators…. The more that the malware was being distributed via the store for weeks. Also of interest in this regard is that we contacted the store operators with our findings but haven’t received any reaction.

How to protect yourself

Recommendations by ESET

·        If possible, always favor downloading apps from official app stores.
This piece of advice is infinitely repeated for a good reason – there’s no guarantee of any security measures in alternative app stores, making them a great place for malware authors to spread their “work”, and not just via single malicious apps, but also on a mass scale, as illustrated in this case.

·         Be cautious when downloading content from the internet. Pay attention to anything suspicious in file name, size and extension – this is where many threats can still be recognized and avoided in time.

·         Use a reliable mobile security solution to protect you from the latest threats. As for the threat hidden in the alternative app store, ESET detects it as Android/Spy.Banker.IE and prevents it from getting downloaded.

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Smart home arrives in SA

The smart home is no longer a distant vision confined to advanced economies, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK.

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The smart home is a wonderful vision for controlling every aspect of one’s living environment via remote control, apps and sensors. But, because it is both complex and expensive, there has been little appetite for it in South Africa.

The two main routes for smart home installation are both fraught with peril – financial and technical.

The first is to call on a specialist installation company. Surprisingly, there are many in South Africa. Google “smart home” +”South Africa”, and thousands of results appear. The problem is that, because the industry is so new, few have built up solid track records and reputations. Costs vary wildly, few standards exist, and the cost of after-sales service will turn out to be more important than the upfront price.

The second route is to assemble the components of a smart home, and attempt self-installation. For the non-technical, this is often a non-starter. Not only does one need a fairly good knowledge of Wi-Fi configuration, but also a broad understanding of the Internet of Things (IoT) – the ability for devices to sense their environment, connect to each other, and share information.

The good news, though, is that it is getting easier and more cost effective all the time.

My first efforts in this direction started a few years ago with finding smart plugs on Amazon.com. These are power adaptors that turn regular sockets into “smart sockets” by adding Wi-Fi and an on-off switch, among other. A smart lightbulb was sourced from Gearbest in China. At the time, these were the cheapest and most basic elements for a starter smart home environment.

Via a smartphone app, the light could be switched on from the other side of the world. It sounds trivial and silly, but on such basic functions the future is slowly built.

Fast forward a year or two, and these components are available from hundreds of outlets, they have plummeted in cost, and the range of options is bewildering. That, of course, makes the quest even more bewildering. Who can be trusted for quality, fulfilment and after-sales support? Which products will be obsolete in the next year or two as technology advances even more rapidly?

These are some of the challenges that a leading South African technology distributor, Syntech, decided to address in adding smart home products to its portfolio. It selected LifeSmart, a global brand with proven expertise in both IoT and smart home products.

Equally significantly, LifeSmart combines IoT with artificial intelligence and machine learning, meaning that the devices “learn” the best ways of connecting, sharing and integrating new elements. Because they all fall under the same brand, they are designed to integrate with the LifeSmart app, which is available for Android and iOS phones, as well as Android TV.

Click here to read about how LifeSmart makes installing smart home devices easier.

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Matrics must prepare for AI

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students writing a test

By Vian Chinner, CEO and founder of Xineoh.

Many in the matric class of 2018 are currently weighing up their options for the future. With the country’s high unemployment rate casting a shadow on their opportunities, these future jobseekers have been encouraged to look into which skills are required by the market, tailoring their occupational training to align with demand and thereby improving their chances of finding a job, writes Vian Chinner – a South African innovator, data scientist and CEO of the machine learning company specialising in consumer behaviour prediction, Xineoh.

With rapid innovation and development in the field of artificial intelligence (AI), all careers – including high-demand professions like engineers, teachers and electricians – will look significantly different in the years to come.

Notably, the third wave of internet connectivity, whereby our physical world begins to merge with that of the internet, is upon us. This is evident in how widespread AI is being implemented across industries as well as in our homes with the use of automation solutions and bots like Siri, Google Assistant, Alexa and Microsoft’s Cortana. So much data is collected from the physical world every day and AI makes sense of it all.

Not only do new industries related to technology like AI open new career paths, such as those specialising in data science, but it will also modify those which already exist. 

So, what should matriculants be considering when deciding what route to take?

For highly academic individuals, who are exceptionally strong in mathematics, data science is definitely the way to go. There is, and will continue to be, massive demand internationally as well as locally, with Element-AI noting that there are only between 0 and 100 data scientists in South Africa, with the true number being closer to 0.

In terms of getting a foot in the door to become a successful data scientist, practical experience, working with an AI-focused business, is essential. Students should consider getting an internship while they are studying or going straight into an internship, learning on the job and taking specialist online courses from institutions like Stanford University and MIT as they go.

This career path is, however, limited to the highly academic and mathematically gifted, but the technology is inevitably going to overlap with all other professions and so, those who are looking to begin their careers should take note of which skills will be in demand in future, versus which will be made redundant by AI.

In the next few years, technicians who are able to install and maintain new technology will be highly sought after. On the other hand, many entry level jobs will likely be taken care of by AI – from the slicing and dicing currently done by assistant chefs, to the laying of bricks by labourers in the building sector.

As a rule, students should be looking at the skills required for the job one step up from an entry level position and working towards developing these. Those training to be journalists, for instance, should work towards the skill level of an editor and a bookkeeping trainee, the role of financial consultant.

This also means that new workforce entrants should be prepared to walk into a more demanding role, with more responsibility, than perhaps previously anticipated and that the country’s education and training system should adapt to the shift in required skills.

The matric classes of 2018 have completed their schooling in the information age and we should be equipping them, and future generations, for the future market – AI is central to this.

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