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Ransomware doubles

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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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Small South African town goes smartphone-only

Vodacom partners with farming business to upgrade all residents of Wakkerstroom from 2G devices to smartphones

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All residents of the small town of Wakkerstroom, which straddles Mpumalanga and kwaZulu-Natal provinces, have had their 2G feature phones upgraded to 3G devices.

The initiative is a result of Vodacom partnering with BPG Langfontein, a farming business that employs the majority of the people living in Wakkerstroom. It is now the first smartphone-only town in South Africa. This is a model the network provider says it hopes to replicate across the country as part of its mission to connect people who live in deep rural areas and are still dependent on 2G networks.

Wakkerstroom, is the second oldest town in Mpumalanga province, on the KwaZulu-Natal border, 27 km east of Volksrust and 56 km south-east of Amersfoort.  

“There are growing expectations for big corporates the size of Vodacom to serve a social purpose, and for us to use our resources and core capabilities to make a significant contribution in transforming the lives of ordinary people,” says Zakhele Jiyane, Managing Executive for Vodacom Mpumalanga. “We are helping to remove communication barriers, so that citizens in the area can be part of the digital revolution and reap the associated benefits. By moving the more than 1400 farm workers from 2G to 3G devices, this will also free much needed spectrum and this spectrum can be re-farmed to provide for faster networks such as 3G and 4G.

“Crucially, the move opens a new world of connectivity for farm workers in Wakkerstroom. As a result, most people in the area will now be able to use the Vodacom network to connect on the net and access online government services, eHealth services such as Mum&Baby and eCommerce. Learners can now surf the internet for the first time and access Vodacom’s eSchool free of charge and those who are actively looking for jobs can start using their smartphones and tablets to apply for jobs over the internet on Vodacom’s zero-rated career sites. This will be key for driving growth to the benefit of people living in this area.”

Vodacom has already deployed 4G base stations in Wakkestroom as part of this initiative.

For the next phase of this project, says Vodacom, it is going to educate the farm workers about data and the benefits of the Internet. Vodacom will also look at various ways in which it can help empower members of this community in areas of education, gender-based violence and health.

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10 more African countries join Facebook fact-checking

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Facebook today announced the expansion of its Third-Party Fact-Checking programme to 10 additional African countries, which now join  Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa, Cameroon and Senegal in the project,

In partnership with Agence France-Presse (AFP), the France 24 Observers, Pesa Check and Dubawa, this programme forms part of its work in helping assess the accuracy and quality of news people find on Facebook, whilst reducing the spread of misinformation on its platform.

Working with a network of fact-checking organizations, certified by the non-partisan International Fact-Checking Network, third-party fact-checking will now be available in Ethiopia, Zambia, Somalia and Burkina Faso through AFP, Uganda and Tanzania through both Pesa Check and AFP, Democratic Republic of Congo and Cote d’Ivoire through the France 24 Observers and AFP, Guinea Conakry through the France 24 Observers, and Ghana through Dubawa.

Feedback from the Facebook community is one of many signals Facebook uses to raise potentially false stories to fact-checkers for review. Local articles will be fact-checked alongside the verification of photos and videos. If one of our fact-checking partners identifies a story as false, Facebook will show it lower in News Feed, significantly reducing its distribution.

Kojo Boakye, Facebook Head of Public Policy, Africa, said: “The expansion of third-party fact-checking to now cover 15 countries in a little over a year shows firsthand our commitment and dedication to the continent, alongside our recent local language expansion as part of this programme. Taking steps to help tackle false news on Facebook is a responsibility we take seriously, we know misinformation is a problem, and these are important steps in continuing to address this issue. We know that third-party fact-checking alone is not the solution, it is one of many initiatives and programmes we are investing in to help to improve the quality of information people see on Facebook. While we’ve made great progress, we will keep investing to ensure Facebook remains a place for all ideas, but not for the spread of false news.”

When third-party fact-checkers fact-check a news story, Facebook will show these in Related Articles immediately below the story in News Feed. Page Admins and people on Facebook will also receive notifications if they try to share a story or have shared one in the past that’s been determined to be false, empowering people to decide for themselves what to read, trust, and share.

Providing fact-checking in English and French across eight countries, Phil Chetwynd, AFP Global News Director said: “AFP is delighted to be expanding its fact-checking project with Facebook. We are known for the high quality of our journalism from across Africa and we will be leveraging our unparalleled network of bureaus and journalists on the continent to combat misinformation.”

Eric Mugendi, Managing Editor from Pesa Check who will provide fact-checking services in Swahili and English added: “Social networks like Facebook haven’t just changed how Africans consume the news. Social media is often the primary access to digital content or the ‘Internet’ for many Africans. They shape our perceptions of the world, our public discourse, and how we interact with public figures. This project helps us dramatically expand our fact-checking to debunk claims that could otherwise cause real-world harm. The project helps us respond more quickly and directly. We’re seeing real positive results in our interactions with both publishers and the public itself. The project also helps our fact-checks reach a far larger audience than we would otherwise. This has helped us better understand the information vacuum and other viral dynamics that drive the spread of false information in Africa. Our growing impact is a small but tangible contribution to better informed societies in Africa.”

Caroline Anipah, Programme Officer, Dubawa (Ghana) said: “Dubawa is excited to be in Ghana where the misinformation and disinformation have become widespread as a result of technological advancement and increasing internet penetration. Dubawa intends to raise the quality of information available to the public with the ultimate aim of curbing the spread of misinformation and disinformation and promoting good governance and accountability.”

Derek Thomson, editor-in-chief of the France 24 Observers, said: “Our African users are constantly sending us questionable images and messages they’ve received via social media, asking us ‘Is this true? Can you check it?’ It’s our responsibility as fact-checking journalists to verify the information that’s circulating, and get the truth back out there. Participating in the Facebook programme helps ensure that our fact-checks are reaching the people who shared the false news in the first place.”

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