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Manufacturing is main cyber target

In the first half of the year, manufacturing companies were the most susceptible to cyber threats: their ICS computers accounted for about one third of all attacks, according to the Kaspersky Lab report “Threat Landscape for Industrial Automation Systems in H1 2017”.

During the first six months of the year, Kaspersky Lab products blocked attack attempts on 37.6% of ICS computers from which we received anonymised information, totaling several tens of thousands. This figure was almost unchanged compared to the previous period – it is 1.6 percentage points less than in the second half of 2016. The majority of them were in manufacturing companies that produce various materials, equipment and goods. Other highly-affected industries include engineering, education and food & beverage. ICS computers in energy companies accounted for almost 5% of all attacks.

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While the top three countries with attacked industrial computers – Vietnam (71%), Algeria (67.1%) and Morocco (65.4%) remained the same, researchers detected an increase in the percentage of systems attacked in China (57.1%), which came fifth, according to the data released by Kaspersky Lab. Experts also discovered that the main source of threats was the Internet: attempts to download malware or access known malicious or phishing web resources were blocked on 20.4% of ICS computers. The reason of the high statistics for this type of infection lies in interfaces between corporate and industrial networks, availability of limited Internet access from industrial networks, and connection of computers on industrial networks to the Internet via mobile phone operators’ networks.

In total, Kaspersky Lab detected about 18,000 different modifications of malware on industrial automation systems in the first six months of 2017, belonging to more than 2,500 different families.

Ransomware Attacks

In the first half of the year the world has been facing a ransomware epidemic, which also affected industrial companies. Based on the research from Kaspersky Lab ICS CERT, the number of unique ICS computers attacked by encryption Trojans increased significantly and had tripled by June. Overall, experts discovered encryption ransomware belonging to 33 different families. Most of the encryption Trojans were distributed through spam emails disguised as part of the business communication, with either malicious attachments or links to malware downloaders.

The main ransomware statistics from the H1, 2017 report include:

  • 0.5% of computers in the industrial infrastructure of organisations were attacked by encryption ransomware at least once.
  • ICS computers in 63 countries across the globe faced numerous encryption ransomware attacks, the most notorious of which were the WannaCry and ExPetr campaigns.
  • The WannaCry epidemic ranked highest among encryption ransomware families, with 13.4% of all computers in industrial infrastructure attacked. The most affected organisations included healthcare institutions and the government sector.
  • ExPetr was another notorious encryption ransomware campaign from the first half of the year, with at least 50% of the companies attacked being from manufacturing, and Oil & Gas industries.
  • The Top 10 most widespread encryption Trojan families include other ransomware families, such as Locky and Cerber, operating since 2016 and since that time have earned the highest profit for cybercriminals.

“In the first half of the year we’ve seen how weakly protected industrial systems are: pretty much all of the affected industrial computers were infected accidentally and as the result of attacks targeted initially at home users and corporate networks. In this sense, the WannaCry and ExPetr destructive ransomware attacks proved indicative, leading to the disruption of enterprise production cycles around the world, as well as logistical failures, and forced downtime in the work of medical institutions. The results of such attacks can provoke intruders into further actions. Since we are already late with preventive measures, companies should think about proactive protective measures now to avoid ‘firefighting’ in future.” says Evgeny Goncharov, Head of Critical Infrastructure Defense Department, Kaspersky Lab.

In order to protect the ICS environment from possible cyber-attacks, Kaspersky Lab ICS CERT recommends the following:

  • Take an inventory of running network services with special emphasis on services that provide remote access to file system objects.
  • Audit ICS component access isolation, the network activity in the enterprise’s industrial network and at its boundaries, policies and practices related to using removable media and portable devices.
  • Verify the security of remote access to the industrial network as a minimum, and reduce or completely eliminate the use of remote administration tools as a maximum.
  • Keep endpoint security solutions up-to-date.
  • Use advanced methods of protection: deploy tools that provide network traffic monitoring and the detection of cyberattacks on industrial networks.

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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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