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Old Malware, New Tricks

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There’s been an explosion in new malware over the past two years. But how new is this malware, really? How serious is the threat, and how should it be countered?  DOROS HADJIZENONOS of Check Point South Africa looks at the issues.|There’s been an explosion in new malware over the past two years. But how new is this malware, really? How serious is the threat, and how should it be countered?  DOROS HADJIZENONOS of Check Point South Africa looks at the issues.

Taking the path of least resistance is natural – it’s why rivers flow around mountains, and electricity finds the easiest route to earth.  It also explains why there has been such an explosion in new malware in the past couple of years.  While there remains a select handful of coders who will painstakingly develop sophisticated, advanced and complex new threats the vast majority of would-be hackers are taking a much easier route to achieve their goals.

They’ve seen the rewards that are possible from a malware attack, and they’re also aware of the easily-available tools that automate the assembly of new malware, or enable small modifications to existing malware types, rendering them undetectable by conventional antivirus products.  The result is that malicious code is now being mass-produced and unleashed on an industrial scale, by people with little or no coding skills.

In fact, Check Point’s latest annual Security Report shows that more unknown malware has been found in the past two years than in the previous 10 years combined.  While new malware introductions were relatively static in 2010 and 2011, at 18 million per year, this nearly doubled to 34 million in 2012, rose to 83 million in 2013, and reached 142 million in 2014.  What’s worse is the speed at which this is occurring.  On average, organisations were downloading 106 unknown malware types every hour – that’s 48 times more than in 2013.

In a majority of cases, these were existing, known types of malicious files that had simply been modified with minor alterations to a couple of lines of their code – literally, old malware with a new trick, that enabled it to bypass even the most up-to-date antivirus detection.

Building a better trap

To avoid being fooled by these new tricks, an additional method of detection known as threat emulation, or sandboxing, is recommended.  Early versions of this technology worked by intercepting suspicious files as they arrived at the organisation’s gateway, and inspected their contents in a virtualised, quarantined area (the sandbox) for any unusual behaviour, in real time.  If the file’s behavior was found to be malicious, for example attempting to make abnormal registry changes or network connections, it would be quarantined, preventing the infection from reaching the network.

While this approach considerably boosts malware detection rates, criminals have already recognised that the technology is deployed on a percentage of networks, and have responded by implementing further evasion techniques.  As such, a next-generation approach is being introduced:  CPU-level sandboxing.  This enables a deeper, more insightful look at a suspicious file’s activity.

It takes advantage of the fact that there are only a handful of exploitation methods that can be used to download malware and execute it on a host PC.  As it operates at the chip level, below the application or operating system layers, CPU-level sandboxing detects the use of malware exploitation methods by examining activity on the CPU, and the execution flow at the assembly code level while the exploit occurs.  As a result, it strips away any disguises applied to the malware, and pre-empts the possibility of hackers evading detection.

While the speed and accuracy of detection make CPU-level sandboxing a powerful method for detecting unknown attacks, especially existing malware that has been altered using obfuscation tools, it also enables detection of the far more sophisticated (and much rarer) zero-day exploits.  Zero-day malware is effectively hand-built to exploit software vulnerabilities that vendors aren’t even aware of yet.  The ability to block both common and rare, targeted attacks adds a strong, extra defensive layer to organisations’ networks.

Taking the sting from malware

Taking this approach a step further, another emerging threat prevention technique can combine with OS- and CPU-level sandboxing, to virtually eliminate the risk of threats.  This technique is called threat extraction.

It involves a direct approach to threat removal:  as the majority of malware is distributed in infected documents (our Security Report shows that 55% of all infected files were PDFs or Office files), then all documents arriving at an organisation by email should be intercepted, and content that is identified as malware, such as macros, embedded objects and files, and external links, removed.  The threat-free document can then be reconstructed with known safe elements, and forwarded to the intended user, either in the original format or as a locked-down PDF, according to the organisation’s policies.

With the pace of malware attacks showing no signs of slowing down and the evasion techniques and tricks used by malware authors always evolving, the technology deployed to keep businesses secure also needs to evolve, to keep them ahead of new threats.  What was cutting edge in 2014 will simply be the standard for 2015.

* Doros Hadjizenonos, Country Manager, Check Point South Africa

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Prepare your cam to capture the Blood Moon

On 27 July 2018, South Africans can witness a total lunar eclipse, as the earth’s shadow completely covers the moon.

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Also known as a blood or red moon, a total lunar eclipse is the most dramatic of all lunar eclipses and presents an exciting photographic opportunity for any aspiring photographer or would-be astronomers.

“A lunar eclipse is a rare cosmic sight. For centuries these events have inspired wonder, interest and sometimes fear amongst observers. Of course, if you are lucky to be around when one occurs, you would want to capture it all on camera,” says Dana Eitzen, Corporate and Marketing Communications Executive at Canon South Africa.

Canon ambassador and acclaimed landscape photographer David Noton has provided his top tips to keep in mind when photographing this occasion.   In South Africa, the eclipse will be visible from about 19h14 on Friday, 27 July until 01h28 on the Saturday morning. The lunar eclipse will see the light from the sun blocked by the earth as it passes in front of the moon. The moon will turn red because of an effect known as Rayleigh Scattering, where bands of green and violet light become filtered through the atmosphere.

A partial eclipse will begin at 20h24 when the moon will start to turn red. The total eclipse begins at about 21h30 when the moon is completely red. The eclipse reaches its maximum at 22h21 when the moon is closest to the centre of the shadow.

David Noton advises:

  1. Download the right apps to be in-the-know

The sun’s position in the sky at any given time of day varies massively with latitude and season. That is not the case with the moon as its passage through the heavens is governed by its complex elliptical orbit of the earth. That orbit results in monthly, rather than seasonal variations, as the moon moves through its lunar cycle. The result is big differences in the timing of its appearance and its trajectory through the sky. Luckily, we no longer need to rely on weight tables to consult the behaviour of the moon, we can simply download an app on to our phone. The Photographer’s Ephemeris is useful for giving moonrise and moonset times, bearings and phases; while the Photopills app gives comprehensive information on the position of the moon in our sky.  Armed with these two apps, I’m planning to shoot the Blood Moon rising in Dorset, England. I’m aiming to capture the moon within the first fifteen minutes of moonrise so I can catch it low in the sky and juxtapose it against an object on the horizon line for scale – this could be as simple as a tree on a hill.

 

  1. Invest in a lens with optimal zoom  

On the 27th July, one of the key challenges we’ll face is shooting the moon large in the frame so we can see every crater on the asteroid pockmarked surface. It’s a task normally reserved for astronomers with super powerful telescopes, but if you’ve got a long telephoto lens on a full frame DSLR with around 600 mm of focal length, it can be done, depending on the composition. I will be using the Canon EOS 5D Mark IV with an EF 200-400mm f/4L IS USM Ext. 1.4 x lens.

  1. Use a tripod to capture the intimate details

As you frame up your shot, one thing will become immediately apparent; lunar tracking is incredibly challenging as the moon moves through the sky surprisingly quickly. As you’ll be using a long lens for this shoot, it’s important to invest in a sturdy tripod to help capture the best possible image. Although it will be tempting to take the shot by hand, it’s important to remember that your subject is over 384,000km away from you and even with a high shutter speed, the slightest of movements will become exaggerated.

  1. Integrate the moon into your landscape

Whilst images of the moon large in the frame can be beautifully detailed, they are essentially astronomical in their appeal. Personally, I’m far more drawn to using the lunar allure as an element in my landscapes, or using the moonlight as a light source. The latter is difficult, as the amount of light the moon reflects is tiny, whilst the lunar surface is so bright by comparison. Up to now, night photography meant long, long exposures but with cameras such as the Canon EOS-1D X Mark II and the Canon EOS 5D Mark IV now capable of astonishing low light performance, a whole new nocturnal world of opportunities has been opened to photographers.

  1. Master the shutter speed for your subject 

The most evocative and genuine use of the moon in landscape portraits results from situations when the light on the moon balances with the twilight in the surrounding sky. Such images have a subtle appeal, mood and believability.  By definition, any scene incorporating a medium or wide-angle view is going to render the moon as a tiny pin prick of light, but its presence will still be felt. Our eyes naturally gravitate to it, however insignificant it may seem. Of course, the issue of shutter speed is always there; too slow an exposure and all we’ll see is an unsightly lunar streak, even with a wide-angle lens.

 

On a clear night, mastering the shutter speed of your camera is integral to capturing the moon – exposing at 1/250 sec @ f8 ISO 100 (depending on focal length) is what you’ll need to stop the motion from blurring and if you are to get the technique right, with the high quality of cameras such as the Canon EOS 5DS R, you might even be able to see the twelve cameras that were left up there by NASA in the 60’s!

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How Africa can embrace AI

Currently, no African country is among the top 10 countries expected to benefit most from AI and automation. But, the continent has the potential to catch up with the rest of world if we act fast, says ZOAIB HOOSEN, Microsoft Managing Director.

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To play catch up, we must take advantage of our best and most powerful resource – our human capital. According to a report by the World Economic Forum (WEF), more than 60 percent of the population in sub-Saharan Africa is under the age of 25.

These are the people who are poised to create a future where humans and AI can work together for the good of society. In fact, the most recent WEF Global Shapers survey found that almost 80 percent of youth believe technology like AI is creating jobs rather than destroying them.

Staying ahead of the trends to stay employed

AI developments are expected to impact existing jobs, as AI can replicate certain activities at greater speed and scale. In some areas, AI could learn faster than humans, if not yet as deeply.

According to Gartner, while AI will improve the productivity of many jobs and create millions more new positions, it could impact many others. The simpler and less creative the job, the earlier, a bot for example, could replace it.

It’s important to stay ahead of the trends and find opportunities to expand our knowledge and skills while learning how to work more closely and symbiotically with technology.

Another global study by Accenture, found that the adoption of AI will create several new job categories requiring important and yet surprising skills. These include trainers, who are tasked with teaching AI systems how to perform; explainers, who bridge the gap between technologist and business leader; and sustainers, who ensure that AI systems are operating as designed.

It’s clear that successfully integrating human intelligence with AI, so they co-exist in a two-way learning relationship, will become more critical than ever.

Combining STEM with the arts

Young people have a leg up on those already in the working world because they can easily develop the necessary skills for these new roles. It’s therefore essential that our education system constantly evolves to equip youth with the right skills and way of thinking to be successful in jobs that may not even exist yet.

As the division of tasks between man and machine changes, we must re-evaluate the type of knowledge and skills imparted to future generations.

For example, technical skills will be required to design and implement AI systems, but interpersonal skills, creativity and emotional intelligence will also become crucial in giving humans an advantage over machines.

“At one level, AI will require that even more people specialise in digital skills and data science. But skilling-up for an AI-powered world involves more than science, technology, engineering and math. As computers behave more like humans, the social sciences and humanities will become even more important. Languages, art, history, economics, ethics, philosophy, psychology and human development courses can teach critical, philosophical and ethics-based skills that will be instrumental in the development and management of AI solutions.” This is according to Microsoft president, Brad Smith, and EVP of AI and research, Harry Shum, who recently authored the book “The Future Computed”, which primarily deals with AI and its role in society.

Interestingly, institutions like Stanford University are already implementing this forward-thinking approach. The university offers a programme called CS+X, which integrates its computer science degree with humanities degrees, resulting in a Bachelor of Arts and Science qualification.

Revisiting laws and regulation

For this type of evolution to happen, the onus is on policy makers to revisit current laws and even bring in new regulations. Policy makers need to identify the groups most at risk of losing their jobs and create strategies to reintegrate them into the economy.

Simultaneously, though AI could be hugely beneficial in areas such as curbing poor access to healthcare and improving diagnoses for example, physicians may avoid using this technology for fear of malpractice. To avoid this, we need regulation that closes the gap between the pace of technological change and that of regulatory response. It will also become essential to develop a code of ethics for this new ecosystem.

Preparing for the future

With the recent convergence of a transformative set of technologies, economies are entering a period in which AI has the potential overcome physical limitations and open up new sources of value and growth.

To avoid missing out on this opportunity, policy makers and business leaders must prepare for, and work toward, a future with AI. We must do so not with the idea that AI is simply another productivity enhancer. Rather, we must see AI as the tool that can transform our thinking about how growth is created.

It comes down to a choice of our people and economies being part of the technological disruption, or being left behind.

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