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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.

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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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Google announces its ‘Netflix for gaming’

The new gaming platform, Stadia, promises high-definition gaming on TVs, computers, and mobile devices, writes BRYAN TURNER.

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Google has announced that it has moved into the gaming space, and it focuses on two big aspects of gaming: streaming of games for gamers, which will allow gamers to game anywhere with a fast, low-latency Internet connection; and audiences that watch gamers in-game.

This is a big move in making gaming accessible to more gamers, as it reduces hardware costs, by utilising the benefits of low-latency cloud computing. This will be achieved by using a globally connected network of Google data centres. Gamers who stream games are most likely already using a high-speed, low-latency Internet connection, so access to the Stadia platform will be an added expense.

Through the Stadia platform, gamers will be able to access a large library of games at all times, with no installation time, on virtually any screen. Scaling of hardware like CPU, GPU, memory, and storage is also possible, as one would for cloud server resources.

Google will be leveraging its other platforms, like YouTube, with Stadia streaming. It claims that 200-million people are watching game-related content daily on YouTube. This allows, for example, Stadia players to jump in with other Stadia players – no downloads, no updates, no patches, and no installs.

For console players, Google has designed a custom controller.

The controller was designed to establish a direct connection from the Stadia controller to Google’s data centre through Wi-Fi for the best possible gaming performance. The controller also includes a button for instant capture, saving, and sharing gameplay in 4K resolution. It sports a Google Assistant button and built-in microphone, as many Google products do, for voice control. 

The device is expected to be released later this year, pending FCC approval.

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Nintendo announces Stranger Things 3 game

The Netflix Original show is set to launch a retro-style game on the Nintendo Switch.

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In collaboration with Netflix, developer BonusXP has created Stranger Things 3: The Game. It is the official companion game to Season 3 of the hit original series. The game and latest season are expected to launch on US Independence Day, the 4th of July, a date that will, of course, stick in American gamers’ memories.

This adventure game blends a distinctively retro 16-bit art style, reminiscent of games from the time when the series was set. It is claimed to have modern gameplay mechanics to deliver nostalgic fun with a fresh new twist. Players will be able to experience their favourite show through a mix of exploration, puzzles, and combat.

Just ad in the show, teamwork is at the heart of Stranger Things 3: The Game. Players can team up in a two-player local co-operative, or in single player mode alongside an AI partner. Players can choose to play as one of twelve characters from the show, each with different abilities and attributes. Together, they’ll play through familiar events from the series, while also uncovering never-before-seen Stranger Things secrets, ensuring a fun experience for those new to the world of Stranger Things as well as for those familiar with the series.

Key Features:

  • Experience the show in a new way, exploring the eerie world of Hawkins to uncover new mysteries beyond what’s seen in Season 3.
  • Jump right into the action of this pick-up-and-play adventure: gameplay mechanics that allow players from beginner to advanced skill levels to get in on the fun.
  • Take your game to a higher level by trying out different character combinations and collecting all the secrets the expansive world of Hawkins has to offer.
  • Team up with a friend, leveraging drop-in/drop-out local co-op to take on the mysterious monsters of Hawkins together. While playing solo, use a collection of “buddy commands” to control both characters and still experience all the fun.
  • Choose from 12 playable characters, each with their own unique talents and stats.

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