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PCs keep falling

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The Middle East and Africa (MEA) personal computing devices (PCD) market, which is made up of desktops, notebooks, workstations, and tablets, declined 6.2% year on year in Q4 2017, according to the latest insights from International Data Corporation (IDC).

The global technology research and consulting firm’s Quarterly PCD Tracker shows that shipments fell to around 5.9 million units for the three-month period, which represents the lowest quarterly volume recorded for more than five years.

“While the overall decline was almost exactly in line with forecasts, there was a stark difference between the individual product categories, with PC shipments growing healthily and tablet shipments declining faster than expected,” says Fouad Charakla, IDC’s senior research manager for client devices in the Middle East, Turkey, and Africa. “Kenya suffered huge declines in its tablet market after a massive education project that boosted shipments in Q4 2016 was not repeated in Q4 2017.”

With end users continuing to shift to large-screen smartphones, demand for slate tablets is declining across the region, although the delivery of a large education project in Ethiopia saw an increase in shipments to IDC’s ‘Rest of Africa’ grouping of countries. “These devices are increasingly losing significance in the market, with a large portion of them now being purchased for use by children,” says Charakla. “The low prices of these devices, together with their touchscreen interface and the availability of numerous free applications, make them particularly attractive for children’s infotainment.”

The recent introduction of 5% VAT in both the UAE and Saudi Arabia had a considerable impact on the market, with some vendors pushing a much higher sell-in for both countries during Q4 2017. Additionally, Charakla says various market players shipped more aggressively into the UAE during the quarter as the implementation of VAT inevitably complicates the country’s position as a re-export hub.

“As a result of these factors, both the UAE and Saudi PCD markets are expected to experience a slow start to 2018,” says Charakla. “Consumer spending is expected to be hit harder in Saudi Arabia, particularly due to the additional hike in prices of various goods and services since the start of 2018 caused by the doubling of petrol prices. Saudi Arabia has also introduced a so-called ‘dependent tax’ that is applicable to all non-citizen residents, a development that has tightened disposable income even further and caused many expatriates to consider leaving the kingdom.”

Looking at the PC market in isolation, each of the top five vendors maintained their respective positions when compared to the corresponding quarter of 2016:

Middle East & Africa PC Market Vendor Shares – Q4 2016 vs. Q4 2017
Company Q4 2016 Q4 2017
HP Inc. 26.3% 29.0%
Lenovo 20.4% 19.2%
Dell 14.0% 14.9%
ASUS 8.7% 8.8%
Acer Group 5.7% 4.5%
Others 24.9% 23.5%

The top five tablet market players also maintained their respective positions in Q4 2017, although their individual performances varied. Samsung, Lenovo, and TCL all experienced year-on-year declines in their tablet shipments, while Apple recorded moderate growth. The big winner was Huawei, which saw its tablet shipments to the region grow significantly year on year in Q4 2017.

Middle East & Africa Tablet Market Vendor Shares – Q4 2016 vs. Q4 2017
Company Q4 2016 Q4 2017
Samsung 15.9% 17.9%
Lenovo 10.8% 12.8%
Huawei 5.1% 12.3%
Apple 8.7% 11.2%
TCL 4.5% 5.3%
Others 55.1% 40.5%

It is worth noting that, together, HP, Lenovo, and Dell accounted for around 75% of overall commercial PCD shipments in the region during Q4 2017, with the rest of the market’s players primarily focused on serving consumers.

“Looking ahead, the MEA PCD market is expected to experience a significant year-on-year decline for the first quarter of 2018, and will continue shrinking over the coming years as well, albeit at a much slower pace,” says Charakla. “Slate tablets will experience the sharpest fall in shipments, while traditional desktops and traditional notebooks will decline at more moderate rates. By contrast, IDC expects all-in-one desktops, convertible notebooks, ultraslim notebooks, and detachable tablets to all show healthy shipment growth over the coming years.”

“In the shorter term, large volumes of notebooks are expected to be delivered into the education sectors of both Pakistan and the UAE over the coming quarters,” continues Charakla. “It is also important to note that massive education projects, exceeding millions of units, are currently at the early discussion phase in countries such as Turkey and Pakistan and have not yet been incorporated into IDC’s forecast due to the lack of certainty around their scale and timing.”

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Cons exploit Telegram ICO

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Kaspersky Lab researchers have uncovered dozens of highly convincing fake websites claiming to be investment sites for an initial coin offering (ICO) by the Telegram messaging service. Many of these websites appear to belong to the same group. In one case alone, tens of thousands of US dollars’ worth of cryptocurrency were stolen from victims believing they were investing in ‘Grams’, Telegram’s rumoured new currency. Telegram has not officially confirmed an ICO and has warned people about fraudulent investor sites.

In late 2017, stories started to circulate that the Telegram messaging service was launching an initial coin offering (ICO) to finance a blockchain platform based on its TON (Telegram Open Network) technology. Unverified technical documentation was posted online, but there appears to have been no confirmation from Telegram itself. The resulting confusion seems to have allowed fraudsters to capitalise on investor interest by creating fake sites and stealing vast sums of money.

Kaspersky Lab researchers have discovered dozens of such sites, possibly belonging to the same group, claiming to sell tokens for ‘Grams’ and inviting investors to pay with cryptocurrencies including Bitcoin, Ethereum, lice litecoin, dash and Bitcoin dash. A record of transactions on one site revealed that the scammers were able to steal at least $35,000 US dollars’ worth of Ethereum from investors.

The researchers found that some of the websites were so convincing that even after Telegram and others began to issue warnings, they were still able to recruit potential investors. Most use a secure connection, require registration and generate a unique online wallet for each new victim, making it harder to track the money.

Judging by the content of the fake websites, it appears they may have common ownership. For example, several have the exactly the same ‘Our Team’ section.

“ICOs are a fairly risky investment and many people don’t yet fully understand how they work, so it is not surprising that high quality fake websites, with seemingly reassuring features such as a secure connection and registration are successful at luring people in. People wishing to invest in an ICO would do well to check with the company behind it and make sure they know exactly who they are giving their money to, or they may never see it again,” said Nadezhda Demidova, Lead Web-Content Analyst, Kaspersky Lab.

Kaspersky Lab offers the following advice for users considering investing in an ICO:

  • Check for warning signs: for example, some of the fake Telegram ICO websites had the same wrong image next to the name of Telegram’s Chief Product Officer.
  • Do your homework: always check with the brand’s official site to verify the legitimacy of the investment site and, if necessary contact the company’s ICO teams before investing any money or currency.
  • Use reliable security solutions such as Kaspersky Internet Security and Kaspersky Internet Security for Android, which will warn you if you try to visit fake internet pages.
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Crouching Yeti strikes

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Kaspersky Lab has uncovered infrastructure used by the Russian-speaking APT group Crouching Yeti, also known as Energetic Bear, which includes compromised servers across the world.

According to the research, numerous servers in different countries were hit since 2016, sometimes in order to gain access to other resources. Others, including those hosting Russian websites, were used as watering holes.

Crouching Yeti is a Russian-speaking advanced persistent threat (APT) group that Kaspersky Lab has been tracking since 2010. It is best known for targeting industrial sectors around the world, with a primary focus on energy facilities, for the main purpose of stealing valuable data from victim systems. One of the techniques the group has been widely using is through watering hole attacks: the attackers injected websites with a link redirecting visitors to a malicious server.

Recently Kaspersky Lab has discovered a number of servers, compromised by the group, belonging to different organisations based in Russia, the U.S., Turkey and European countries, and not limited to industrial companies. According to researchers, they were hit in 2016 and 2017 with different purposes. Thus, besides watering hole, in some cases they were used as intermediaries to conduct attacks on other resources.

In the process of analysing infected servers, researchers identified numerous websites and servers used by organisations in Russia, U.S., Europe, Asia and Latin America that the attackers had scanned with various tools, possibly to find a server that could be used to establish a foothold for hosting the attackers’ tools and to subsequently develop an attack. Some of the sites scanned may have been of interest to the attackers as candidates for waterhole. The range of websites and servers that captured the attention of the intruders is extensive. Kaspersky Lab researchers found that the attackers had scanned numerous websites of different types, including online stores and services, public organisations, NGOs, manufacturing, etc.

Also, experts found that the group used publicly available malicious tools, designed for analyzing servers, and for seeking out and collecting information. In addition, a modified sshd file with a preinstalled backdoor was discovered. This was used to replace the original file and could be authorised with a ‘master password’.

“Crouching Yeti is a notorious Russian-speaking group that has been active for many years and is still successfully targeting industrial organisations through watering hole attacks, among other techniques. Our findings show that the group compromised servers not only for establishing watering holes, but also for further scanning, and they actively used open-sourced tools that made it much harder to identify them afterwards,” said Vladimir Dashchenko, Head of Vulnerability Research Group at Kaspersky Lab ICS CERT.

“The group’s activities, such as initial data collection, the theft of authentication data, and the scanning of resources, are used to launch further attacks. The diversity of infected servers and scanned resources suggests the group may operate in the interests of the third parties,” he added.

Kaspersky Lab recommends that organisations implement a comprehensive framework against advanced threats comprising of dedicated security solutions for targeted attack detection and incident response, along with expert services and threat intelligence. As a part of Kaspersky Threat Management and Defense, our anti-targeted attack platform detects an attack at early stages by analysing suspicious network activity, while Kaspersky EDR brings improved endpoint visibility, investigation capabilities and response automation. These are enhanced with global threat intelligence and Kaspersky Lab’s expert services with specialisation in threat hunting and incident response.

More details on this recent Crouching Yeti activity can be found on the Kaspersky Lab ICS CERT website.

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