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Meet the real Matrix: the Swiss Army Knife of hacking

Matrix is a family of ransomware that scans for more victims once inserted into a network.

The premise of The Matrix, that we all live in a computer simulation, may be science-fiction, but in the world of hacking, it is an equally ominous name.

It is a family of ransomware described by network and endpoint security leaders Sophos as “the Swiss Army Knife of the ransomware world”.

The malware has been operating since 2016 and Sophos has tracked 96 samples in the wild. Like previous targeted ransomware, including BitPaymer, Dharma and SamSam, the attackers who are infecting computers with Matrix have been breaking in to enterprise networks and infecting those computers over Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP), a built-in remote access tool for Windows computers. However, unlike these other ransomware families, Matrix only targets a single machine on the network, rather than spreading widely through an organisation. 

SophosLabs reverse engineered the evolving code and techniques employed by the attackers, as well as the methods and ransom notes used to attempt to extract money from victims. According to its report, the Matrix criminals evolved their attack parameters over time, with new files and scripts added to deploy different tasks and payloads onto the network.

Matrix ransom notes are embedded in the attack code, but victims don’t know how much they must pay until they contact the attackers. For most of Matrix’s existence, the authors used a cryptographically-protected anonymous instant messaging service, called bitmsg.me. However, that service has now been discontinued and the authors have reverted to using normal email accounts. 

The threat actors behind Matrix make their demand for cryptocurrency ransom in the form of a U.S. dollar value equivalent. This is unusual, as demands for cryptocurrency normally come as a specific value in cryptocurrency, not the dollar equivalent. It’s unclear whether the ransom demand is a deliberate attempt at misdirection, or just an attempt to surf wildly fluctuating cryptocurrency exchange rates. Based on the communications SophosLabs had with the attackers, ransom demands were for US$2,500, but the attackers eventually reduced the ransom when researchers stopped responding to demands.

Sophos says Matrix is very much the Swiss Army Knife of the ransomware world, with newer variants able to scan and find potential computer victims once inserted into the network. While sample volumes are small, that doesn’t make it any less dangerous; Matrix is evolving and newer versions are appearing as the attackers are improving on lessons learned from each attack.

In  Sophos’ 2019 Threat Report, it highlighted the forecast that targeted ransomware will be driving hacker behaviour, and organisations need to remain vigilant and work to ensure they are not an easy target.

Read on for Sophos recommendations on four security measures that should be implemented immediately.

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Veeam passes $1bn, prepares for cloud’s ‘Act II’

Leader in cloud-data management reveals how it will harness the next growth phase of the data revolution, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK

Veeam Software, the quiet leader in backup solutions for cloud data management,has announced that it has passed $1-billion in revenues, and is preparing for the next phase of sustained growth in the sector.

Now, it is unveiling what it calls Act II, following five years of rapid growth through modernisation of the data centre. At the VeeamON 2019conferencein Miami this week, company co-founder Ratmir Timashev declared that the opportunities in this new era, focused on managing data for the hybrid cloud, would drive the next phase of growth.

“Veeam created the VMware backup market and has dominated it as the leader for the last decade,” said Timashev, who is also executive vice president for sales and marketing at the organisation. “This was Veeam’s Act I and I am delighted that we have surpassed the $1 billion mark; in 2013 I predicted we’d achieve this in less than six years. 

“However, the market is now changing. Backup is still critical, but customers are now building hybrid clouds with AWS, Azure, IBM and Google, and they need more than just backup. To succeed in this changing environment, Veeam has had to adapt. Veeam, with its 60,000-plus channel and service provider partners and the broadest ecosystem of technology partners, including Cisco, HPE, NetApp, Nutanix and Pure Storage, is best positioned to dominate the new cloud data management in our Act II.”

In South Africa, Veeam expects similar growth. Speaking at the Cisco Connect conference in Sun City this week, country manager Kate Mollett told Gadget’s BRYAN TURNER that the company was doing exceptionally well in this market.

“In financial year 2018, we saw double-digit growth, which was really very encouraging if you consider the state of the economy, and not so much customer sentiment, but customers have been more cautious with how they spend their money. We’ve seen a fluctuation in the currency, so we see customers pausing with big decisions and hoping for a recovery in the Rand-Dollar. But despite all of the negatives, we have double digit growth which is really good. We continue to grow our team and hire.

“From a Veeam perspective, last year we were responsible for Veeam Africa South, which consisted of South Africa, SADC countries, and the Indian Ocean Islands. We’ve now been given the responsibility for the whole of Africa. This is really fantastic because we are now able to drive a single strategy for Africa from South Africa.”

Veeam has been the leading provider of backup, recovery and replication solutions for more than a decade, and is growing rapidly at a time when other players in the backup market are struggling to innovate on demand.

“Backup is not sexy and they made a pretty successful company out of something that others seem to be screwing up,” said Roy Illsley, Distinguished Analyst at Ovum, speaking in Miami after the VeeamOn conference. “Others have not invested much in new products and they don’t solve key challenges that most organisations want solved. Theyre resting on their laurels and are stuck in the physical world of backup instead of embracing the cloud.”

Illsley readily buys into the Veeam tagline. “It just works”. 

“They are very good at marketing but are also a good engineering comany that does produce the goods. Their big strength, that it just works, is a reliable feature they have built into their product portfolio.”

Veeam said in statement from the event that, while it had initially focused on server virtualisation for VMware environments, in recent years it had expanded this core offering. It was now delivering integration with multiple hypervisors, physical servers and endpoints, along with public and software-as-a-service workloads, while partnering with leading cloud, storage, server, hyperconverged (HCI) and application vendors.

This week, it  announced a new “with Veeam”program, which brings in enterprise storage and hyperconverged (HCI) vendors to provide customers with comprehensive secondary storage solutions that combine Veeam software with industry-leading infrastructure systems. Companies like ExaGrid and Nutanix have already announced partnerships.

Timashev said: “From day one, we have focused on partnerships to deliver customer value. Working with our storage and cloud partners, we are delivering choice, flexibility and value to customers of all sizes.”

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‘Energy scavenging’ funded

As the drive towards a 5G future gathers momentum, the University of Surrey’s research into technology that could power countless internet enabled devices – including those needed for autonomous cars – has won over £1M from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) and industry partners.

Surrey’s Advanced Technology Institute (ATI) has been working on triboelectric nanogenerators (TENG), an energy harvesting technology capable of ‘scavenging’ energy from movements such as human motion, machine vibration, wind and vehicle movements to power small electronic components. 

TENG energy harvesting is based on a combination of electrostatic charging and electrostatic induction, providing high output, peak efficiency and low-cost solutions for small scale electronic devices. It’s thought such devices will be vital for the smart sensors needed to enable driverless cars to work safely, wearable electronics, health sensors in ‘smart hospitals’ and robotics in ‘smart factories.’ 

The ATI will be partnered on this development project with the Georgia Institute of Technology, QinetiQ, MAS Holdings, National Physical Laboratory, Soochow University and Jaguar Land Rover. 

Professor Ravi Silva, Director of the ATI and the principal investigator of the TENG project, said: “TENG technology is ideal to power the next generation of electronic devices due to its small footprint and capacity to integrate into systems we use every day. Here at the ATI, we are constantly looking to develop such advanced technologies leading towards our quest to realise worldwide “free energy”.

“TENGs are an ideal candidate to power the autonomous electronic systems for Internet of Things applications and wearable electronic devices. We believe this research grant will allow us to further the design of optimized energy harvesters.”

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