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Ransomware doubles

Out of all recognised malware incidents globally, the percentage of ransomware attacks increased from 5.5% to 10.5% between July and December 2016 according to Check Point Software Technologies’ H2 2016 Global Threat Intelligence Trends report.

The report highlights the key tactics cyber-criminals are using to attack businesses, and gives a detailed overview of the cyber-threat landscape in the top malware categories: ransomware, banking and mobile. It is based on threat intelligence data drawn from Check Point’s ThreatCloud World Cyber Threat Map between July and December 2016.

Key trends

Check Point researchers detected a number of key trends during the period:

·         The Monopoly in the Ransomware Market – thousands of new ransomware variants were observed in 2016, and in recent months we witnessed a change in the ransomware landscape as it became more and more centralised, with a few significant malware families dominating the market and hitting organisations of all sizes.

·         DDoS Attacks via IoT Devices – in August 2016, the infamous Mirai Botnet was discovered – a first of its kind- the Internet-of-Things (IoT) Botnet, which attacks vulnerable Internet-enabled digital such as video recorders (DVR) and surveillance cameras (CCTV). It turns them into bots, using the compromised devices to launch multiple high-volume Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks. It is now clear that vulnerable IoT devices are in use in almost every home, and massive DDoS attacks that are based on such will persist.

·         New File Extensions Used in Spam Campaigns – the most prevalent infection vector used in malicious spam campaigns throughout the second half 2016 was downloaders based on Windows Script engine (WScript). Downloaders written in Javascript (JS) and VBScript (VBS) dominated the mal-spam distribution field, together with similar yet less familiar formats such as JSE, WSF, and VBE.

Top malware during H2 2016:

1.       Conficker (14.5%) – Worm that allows remote operations and malware download. The infected machine is controlled by a botnet, which contacts its Command & Control server to receive instructions.

2.       Sality (6.1%) – Virus that allows remote operations and downloads of additional malware to infected systems by its operator. Its main goal is to persist in a system and provide means for remote control and installing further malware.

3.       Cutwail (4.6%) – Botnet mostly involved in sending spam e-mails, as well as some DDOS attacks. Once installed, the bots connect directly to the command and control server, and receive instructions about the emails they should send. After they are done with their task, the bots report back to the spammer exact statistics regarding their operation.

4.       JBossjmx (4.5%) – Worm that targets systems having a vulnerable version of JBoss Application Server installed. The malware creates a malicious JSP page on vulnerable systems that executes arbitrary commands. Moreover, another Backdoor is created that accepts commands from a remote IRC server.

5.       Locky (4.3%) – Ransomware, which started its distribution in February 2016, and spreads mainly via spam emails containing a downloader disguised as a Word or Zip file attachment, which then downloads and installs the malware that encrypts the user files.

Top ransomware during H2 2016:

The percentage of ransomware attacks out of all recognised attacks globally almost doubled in the second half of 2016, from 5.5% to 10.5%. The most common variants detected were:

1.       Locky 41% – The third most common ransomware in H1, which increased dramatically in the second half of the year.

2.       Cryptowall 27% – Ransomware that started as a Cryptolocker doppelgänger, but eventually surpassed it. After the takedown of Cryptolocker, Cryptowall became one of the most prominent ransomwares to date. Cryptowall is known for its use of AES encryption and for conducting its C&C communications over the Tor anonymous network. It is widely distributed via exploit kits, malvertising and phishing campaigns.

3.       Cerber 23% – the world’s biggest ransomware-as-a-service scheme.  Cerber is a franchise scheme, with its developer recruiting affiliates who spread the malware for a cut of the profits.

Top Mobile Malware during H2 2016:

1.       Hummingbad 60% – Android malware first revealed by Check Point research team that establishes a persistent rootkit on the device, installs fraudulent applications and with slight modifications could enable additional malicious activity such as installing a key-logger, stealing credentials and bypassing encrypted email containers used by enterprises.

2.       Triada 9% – Modular Backdoor for Android which grants superuser privileges to downloaded malware, and helps it to get embedded into system processes. Triada has also been seen spoofing URLs loaded in the browser.

3.       Ztorg 7% – Trojan that uses root privileges to download and install applications on the mobile phone without the user’s knowledge.

Top banking malware:

1.       Zeus 33% – Trojan that targets Windows platforms and often used to steal banking information by man-in-the-browser keystroke logging and form grabbing.

2.       Tinba 21% – Banking Trojan that steals the victim’s credentials using web-injects, activated as the users try to login to their bank website.

3.       Ramnit 16% – Banking Trojan that steals banking credentials, FTP passwords, session cookies and personal data.

Doros Hadjizenonos, Country Manager of Check Point South Africa commented: “The report demonstrates the nature of today’s cyber environment, with ransomware attacks growing rapidly. This is simply because they work, and generate significant revenues for attackers. Organisations are struggling to effectively counteract the threat: many don’t have the right defenses in place, and may not have educated their staff on how to recognize the signs of a potential ransomware attack in incoming emails.”

“Additionally our data demonstrates that a small number of families are responsible for the majority of attacks, while thousands of other malware families are rarely seen,” continued Hajizenonos. “Most cyber threats are global and cross-regional, yet the APAC region, stands out as its Top Malware Families chart includes 5 families which do not appear in the other regional charts.”

The statistics in this report are based on data drawn from the ThreatCloud World Cyber Threat Map. Check Point’s ThreatCloud is the largest collaborative network to fight cybercrime, delivering the most up-to-date threat data and cyberattack trends from a global network of threat sensors. The ThreatCloud database identifies millions of malware types daily, and contains more than 250 million addresses analysed for bot discovery, as well as over 11 million malware signatures and 5.5 million infected websites.

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Personal computing devices sales still decline in MEA

The Middle East and Africa (MEA) personal computing devices (PCD) market, which is made up of desktops, notebooks, workstations, and tablets, suffered a decline of -7.3% year on year in Q2 2017, according to the latest insights from International Data Corporation (IDC).

The global technology research and consulting firm’s Quarterly PCD Tracker for Q2 2017 shows that PCD shipments fell to around 6 million units for the quarter.

“As forecast, the market followed a similar pattern to recent quarters, with the downturn primarily stemming from a decline in shipments of slate tablets and desktops,” says Fouad Charakla, IDC’s senior research manager for client devices in the Middle East, Turkey, and Africa. “This was the result of desktop users increasingly switching to mobile devices such as notebooks or even refurbished notebooks, while users of slate tablets shifted to smartphones. These trends translated into year-on-year declines of -21.9% for desktops and -15.7% for slate tablets in Q2 2017, while shipments of notebooks and detachable tablets increased 11.0% and 63.3%, respectively over the same period.”

“Market sentiment in the region remained low overall, although an aggressive push from some slate tablet vendors meant the market declined much slower than expected,” continues Charakla. “At the same time, heightened competition has also made it harder for certain players to sustain their slate tablet businesses and generate profits, causing them to lose interest in the slate tablet market altogether. Despite this, slate tablets are still the most popular computing device among home users in the region.”

Looking at the region’s key markets, IDC’s research shows that when compared to Q2 2016 overall PCD shipments were down -11.4% in the UAE, -8.9% in Turkey, and -6.7% in the ‘Rest of Middle East’ sub-region (comprising Iran, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Palestine, and Afghanistan). South Africa and Saudi Arabia bucked this trend, recording year-on-year increases of 3.5% and 9.6%, respectively.

A massive education delivery in Pakistan acted as a key driver for notebook shipments in the region overall. Similarly, the education sector was the biggest driver of detachable tablet shipments, triggered by a huge delivery in Kenya, as well as two other deliveries in Pakistan and Turkey, which enabled this category to achieve the fastest growth of all the PCD categories.

“While a component shortage prevented market players from reducing their prices too much, the average price of consumer notebooks experienced a considerable year-on-year decline in Q2 2017,” says Charakla. “This played a key role in driving demand from the consumer segment, and was reflected in the growing popularity of lower-priced notebook models.”

Looking at the PC market’s vendor rankings, each of the top five vendors maintained their respective positions compared to the previous quarter, with the top four all gaining share.

Middle East & Africa PC Market Vendor Shares – Q2 2016 vs. Q2 2017

Brand Q2 2016 Q2 2017
HP Inc. 23.7% 27.6%
Lenovo 19.8% 21.5%
Dell 16.3% 16.7%
ASUS 8.7% 9.4%
Acer Group 5.9% 4.1%
Others 25.7% 20.7%

Although Samsung continued to lead the tablet market, the vendor rankings in the space saw quite a few changes, with Huawei catapulting itself to second place. Lenovo also climbed up a position compared to the previous quarter, causing Apple to drop to fourth place.

Middle East & Africa Tablet Market Vendor Shares – Q2 2016 vs. Q2 2017

Brand Q2 2016 Q2 2017
Samsung 20.5% 18.9%
Huawei 11.2% 15.8%
Lenovo 12.7% 9.8%
Apple 9.1% 8.8%
Alcatel 2.9% 5.0%
Others 43.5% 41.7%

“Looking to the future, the MEA PCD market is expected to decline at a faster rate than previously forecast for 2017 as a whole,” says Charakla. “Technological shifts are playing a pivotal role in deciding the future of this market, with demand for certain products shifting to other PCD products and beyond (i.e., smartphones). Accordingly, shipments of slate tablets are expected to continue declining over the coming years as demand is cannibalized by smartphones. Meanwhile, the ongoing shift to mobile computing will see growth in the desktop market remain close to flat throughout IDC’s forecast period ending 2021. Notebook shipments will experience very slow growth beyond 2018, while detachable tablets will remain the fastest growing PCD category, eating away share from other computing devices.”

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Gazer cyber-spies exposed

ESET has released new research into the activities of the Turla cyberespionage group, and specifically a previously undocumented backdoor that has been used to spy on consulates and embassies worldwide.

ESET’s research team are the first in the world to document the advanced backdoor malware, which they have named “Gazer”, despite evidence that it has been actively deployed in targeted attacks against governments and diplomats since at least 2016.

Gazer’s success can be explained by the advanced methods it uses to spy on its intended targets, and its ability to remain persistent on infected devices, embedding itself out of sight on victim’s computers in an attempt to steal information for a long period of time.

ESET researchers have discovered that Gazer has managed to infect a number of computers around the world, with the most victims being located in Europe. Curiously, ESET’s examination of a variety of different espionage campaigns which used Gazer has identified that the main target appears to have been Southeastern Europe as well as countries in the former Soviet Union Republic.

The attacks show all the hallmarks of past campaigns launched by the Turla hacking group, namely:

  • Targeted organisations are embassies and ministries;
  • Spearphishing delivers a first-stage backdoor such as Skipper;
  • A second stealthier backdoor (Gazer in this instance, but past examples have included Carbon and Kazuar) is put in place;
  • The second-stage backdoor receives encrypted instructions from the gang via C&C servers, using compromised, kegitimate websites as a proxy.

Another notable similarity between Gazer and past creations of the Turla cyberespionage group become obvious when the malware is analysed. Gazer makes extra efforts to evade detection by changing strings within its code, randomizing markers, and wiping files securely.

In the most recent example of the Gazer backdoor malware found by ESET’s research team, clear evidence was seen that someone had modified most of its strings, and inserted phrases related to video games throughout its code.

Don’t be fooled by the sense of humour that the Turla hacking group are showing here, falling foul of computer criminals is no laughing manner.

All organisations, whether governmental, diplomatic, law enforcement, or in traditional business, need to take today’s sophisticated threats serious and adopt a layered defence to reduce the chances of a security breach.

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