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Politics and sport hot spam topics

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In the second quarter of 2016 the level of spam in overall email traffic equaled 57.3%, according to the quarterly report on Spam and Phishing by Kaspersky Lab. This is a four percentage points increase compared to Q2 2015, and one percentage point increase in comparison to the previous quarter.

During the past quarter, political topics were among one of the most interesting for spammers. The upcoming US elections and the candidates involved gave fraudsters a good opportunity to target users. Among other hot topics of the quarter were the Olympic Games in Brazil, with both spammers and phishers earning money from sports fans.

Donald Trump became  one of the main topics for the majority of spam emails related to politics. In these emails spammers told their targets about Mr. Trump’s unique methods of making money and invited them to copy Mr. Trump with their own business. To learn more, users were invited to click on the link in the email. The link led to a fake news portal with an article about how Mr. Trump made his money. To start making money themselves, users had to fill in their personal information in the online form on the webpage. The user earned no money but cybercriminals obtained sensitive data.

“Spammers are quite frequently trying to use breaking news and speculate on famous people. Donald Trump was not an exception. Users should be aware of this and remain vigilant in order to mitigate their risk. We also see that social networks are highly attractive for spammers and phishers. If one of your friends is starting to behave differently online and sending provocative links or even tag you or one of your friends under suspicious posts, it’s likely his account has been compromised. Do not click on those links and do not install any software that the system might suggest. Common sense can prevent nearly all infections of this type. In addition, think twice before opening attachments in emails, the risk of infection to your computer is very high”,  warns Daria Gudkova, Spam Analysis Expert, Kaspersky Lab.

The Anti-Phishing system was triggered 32,363,492 times on the computers of Kaspersky Lab users. In Q2 2015, the system was triggered 30,807,071 times, which is almost a 5% increase. The largest percentage of users affected by phishing attacks was in China (20.22%) followed by Brazil (18.63%) and Algeria (14.3%). It is worth noting that the percentage of affected users in Q2 2015 was lower, the top three countries were: Brazil (9.74%), India (8.3%) and China (7.23%). The numbers doubled compared to the same quarter of 2015.

An unusual anomaly in the volume of malicious spam traffic was discovered in Q2 – from 1 June to 21 June, when the company’s experts registered a tremendous decrease in malicious spam email campaigns. During that time, there was a 20-fold drop in the average number of spam emails with zip archives, compared to the overall average for the quarter. At the same time, the Necurs botnet mysteriously reduced its fraudulent activities. Kaspersky Lab experts don’t have solid proof that these two events are connected, but it is likely. Several sources on the web reported that the operators behind the Necurs botnet experienced some technical issues resulting in an outage. These problems were apparently quickly fixed, as after 21 June the malicious spam email flow recovered, along with the botnet operations.

In order to stay safe and not fall into the fraudsters trap, Kaspersky Lab encourages you to stay wise while you are online. Do not click on the links and allow the installation of any plugins from suspicious online recourses. In addition, do not disable the Anti-Phishing and Anti-Spam components on your security solutions.

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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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