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Preventing Petya

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Check Point’s Incident Response Team has identified a new variant of the Petya malware and is offering some key tips on how to avoid being held up for ransom.

Check Point’s Incident Response Team has been responding to multiple global infections caused by a new variant of the Petya malware, which first appeared in 2016 and is currently moving laterally within customer networks.  It appears to be using the ‘EternalBlue’ exploit which May’s WannaCry attack also exploited.  It was first signaled by attacks on financial institutions in the Ukraine, but soon started spreading more widely, particularly across Europe, the Americas and Asia.

The ransomware is propagating fast across business networks in the same way WannaCry did last month.  However, unlike other ransomware types including WannaCry, Petya does not encrypt files on infected machines individually:  instead it locks up the machine’s entire hard disk drive.

How the attack happened

The attack started in Ukraine and caused massive disruption to the country’s critical infrastructure, before spreading further in Europe, infecting a number of businesses.

It has been speculated the source of the infection was a compromised software update to a tax accounting software package called M.E. Doc, which was pushed out to the company’s customers, although this has been disputed by M.E. Doc.

Within 24 hours of the attack starting, the method by which victims can pay the ransom fee has been rendered useless:  an email address provided by the criminals has been shut down by the hosting provider, while the Bitcoin wallet in which ransoms are supposed to be deposited has not been accessed.  The wallet reportedly contains less than $10,000 worth of Bitcoin.

At the same time as the Petya attack, the Check Point research team detected the simultaneous distribution of the Loki bot through infected RTF documents, which install a credential-stealing application to infected devices. However, at this stage, the two attacks do not appear to be directly connected.

Key takeaways from the attack

Check Point believes there are three main takeaways from this latest global ransomware attack:

  1. This attack could have been avoided, and the ones we will see in the future can be avoided too. With more than 93% of Enterprises failing to deploy the technologies available to protect them from these kinds of attack it is not surprising that they are spreading so quickly. As such business must deploy the solutions that prevent these types of attacks, and keep their security patching regimes up to date.
  2. It’s time for company, government and organisational leadership to drive the cyber security agenda. These global attacks demonstrate that we need to invest in the future of cyber security. It is critical that modern cyber security technologies are deployed from governmental level down to prevent them happening again. We know that these attacks will continue to happen again and again – so we need to take steps to protect ourselves against them.
  3. Fragmented security is part of the problem. There are too many disjointed technologies focused on detecting an attack after the damage is done. To address this organisations of all sizes, and in all sectors, need a unified architecture, such as Check Point Infinity, that is focused on preventing the attacks before they hit.

How can you protect yourself and your organisation?

This attack demonstrates two major trends:  first, how effectively new variants of malware can be created and spread on a global scale at incredible speed.  Second, despite the impact of WannaCry, many companies are still not well prepared to prevent these types of attacks from infiltrating the network.

These attacks have the potential to create massive damage, as seen by the impact on critical infrastructure in the Ukraine.  And the consequences of such a rapid spread of infections can have a dramatic effect on day to day lives, crippling critical services and disrupting daily routines.

·       Apply all security patches immediately

As security patches for the vulnerabilities exploited by the Petya and WannaCry ransomware have been available for several months, organisations should apply those patches on their networks immediately.  They should also ensure that they roll out and apply new patches as they become available.

·       Block attacks before they take hold with Next Generation Threat Prevention

Enterprises also need to focus on preventing attacks before they take hold.  In these types of attacks, detecting the attack after it has happened is simply too late:  the damage is already done.  Next Generation Threat Prevention is essential, to scan for, block and filter out suspicious files content before it reaches networks. It’s also essential that staff are educated about the potential risks of incoming emails from unknown parties, or suspicious-looking emails that appear to come from known contacts.

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Money talks and electronic gaming evolves

Computer gaming has evolved dramatically in the last two years, as it follows the money, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK in the second of a two-part series.

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The clue that gaming has become big business in South Africa was delivered by a non-gaming brand. When Comic Con, an American popular culture convention that has become a mecca for comics enthusiasts, was hosted in South Arica for the first time last month, it used gaming as the major drawcard. More than 45 000 people attended.

The event and its attendance was expected to be a major dampener for the annual rAge gaming expo, which took place just weeks later. Instead, rAge saw only a marginal fall in visitor numbers. No less than 34 000 people descended on the Ticketpro Dome for the chaos of cosplay, LAN gaming, virtual reality, board gaming and new video games. 

It proved not only that there was room for more than one major gaming event, but also that a massive market exists for the sector in South Africa. And with a large market, one also found numerous gaming niches that either emerged afresh or will keep going over the years. One of these, LAN (for Local Area Network) gaming, which sees hordes of players camping out at the venue for three days to play each other on elaborate computer rigs, was back as strong as ever at rAge.

MWeb provided an 8Gbps line to the expo, to connect all these gamers, and recorded 120TB in downloads and 15Tb in uploads – a total that would have used up the entire country’s bandwidth a few years ago.

“LANs are supposed to be a thing of the past, yet we buck the trend each year,” says Michael James, senior project manager and owner of rAge. “It is more of a spectacle than a simple LAN, so I can understand.”

New phenomena, often associated with the flavour of the moment, also emerge every year.

“Fortnite is a good example this year of how we evolve,” says James. “It’s a crazy huge phenomenon and nobody was servicing the demand from a tournament point of view. So rAge and Xbox created a casual LAN tournament that anyone could enter and win a prize. I think the top 10 people got something each round.”

Read on to see how esports is starting to make an impact in gaming.

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Blockchain unpacked

Blockchain is generally associated with Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies, but these are just the tip of the iceberg, says ESET Southern Africa.

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This technology was originally conceived in 1991, when Stuart Haber and W. Scott Stornetta described their first work on a chain of cryptographically secured blocks, but only gained notoriety in 2008, when it became popular with the arrival of Bitcoin. It is currently gaining demand in other commercial applications and its annual growth is expected to reach 51% by 2022 in numerous markets, such as those of financial institutions and the Internet of Things (IoT), according to MarketWatch.

What is blockchain?

A blockchain is a unique, consensual record that is distributed over multiple network nodes. In the case of cryptocurrencies, think of it as the accounting ledger where each transaction is recorded.

A blockchain transaction is complex and can be difficult to understand if you delve into the inner details of how it works, but the basic idea is simple to follow.

Each block stores:

–           A number of valid records or transactions.
–           Information referring to that block.
–           A link to the previous block and next block through the hash of each block—a unique code that can be thought of as the block’s fingerprint.

Accordingly, each block has a specific and immovable place within the chain, since each block contains information from the hash of the previous block. The entire chain is stored in each network node that makes up the blockchain, so an exact copy of the chain is stored in all network participants.

As new records are created, they are first verified and validated by the network nodes and then added to a new block that is linked to the chain.

How is blockchain so secure?

Being a distributed technology in which each network node stores an exact copy of the chain, the availability of the information is guaranteed at all times. So if an attacker wanted to cause a denial-of-service attack, they would have to annul all network nodes since it only takes one node to be operative for the information to be available.

Besides that, since each record is consensual, and all nodes contain the same information, it is almost impossible to alter it, ensuring its integrity. If an attacker wanted to modify the information in a blockchain, they would have to modify the entire chain in at least 51% of the nodes.

In blockchain, data is distributed across all network nodes. With no central node, all participate equally, storing, and validating all information. It is a very powerful tool for transmitting and storing information in a reliable way; a decentralised model in which the information belongs to us, since we do not need a company to provide the service.

What else can blockchain be used for?

Essentially, blockchain can be used to store any type of information that must be kept intact and remain available in a secure, decentralised and cheaper way than through intermediaries. Moreover, since the information stored is encrypted, its confidentiality can be guaranteed, as only those who have the encryption key can access it.

Use of blockchain in healthcare

Health records could be consolidated and stored in blockchain, for instance. This would mean that the medical history of each patient would be safe and, at the same time, available to each doctor authorised, regardless of the health centre where the patient was treated. Even the pharmaceutical industry could use this technology to verify medicines and prevent counterfeiting.

Use of blockchain for documents

Blockchain would also be very useful for managing digital assets and documentation. Up to now, the problem with digital is that everything is easy to copy, but Blockchain allows you to record purchases, deeds, documents, or any other type of online asset without them being falsified.

Other blockchain uses

This technology could also revolutionise the Internet of Things  (IoT) market where the challenge lies in the millions of devices connected to the internet that must be managed by the supplier companies. In a few years’ time, the centralised model won’t be able to support so many devices, not to mention the fact that many of these are not secure enough. With blockchain, devices can communicate through the network directly, safely, and reliably with no need for intermediaries.

Blockchain allows you to verify, validate, track, and store all types of information, from digital certificates, democratic voting systems, logistics and messaging services, to intelligent contracts and, of course, money and financial transactions.

Without doubt, blockchain has turned the immutable and decentralized layer the internet has always dreamed about into a reality. This technology takes reliance out of the equation and replaces it with mathematical fact.

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