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Ransomware hits 174 cities

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2019 has been the “year of ransomware attacks on municipalities” according to Kaspersky security experts. This comes after the company’s researchers observed that at least 174 municipal institutions, with more than 3,000 subset organisations, have been targeted by ransomware during the last year. This represents a 60% increase at least, from the figure in 2018. While threat actors’ demands would sometimes reach up to $5,000,000, actual costs and damages sustained during attacks are estimated to be larger. These are among the main findings of Kaspersky’s Security Bulletin: Story of the Year 2019.

Ransomware is a notorious headache for the corporate sector, affecting businesses around the world for a number of years. As if that wasn’t enough, 2019 has seen the rapid development of an earlier trend, where malware distributors have targeted municipal organisations. Researchers note that while these targets might be less capable of paying a large ransom, they are more likely to agree to cybercriminals’ demands. Blocking any municipal services directly affects the welfare of citizens and results, not only in financial losses but other socially significant and sensitive consequences.

Judging by publicly available information, the ransom amounts varied greatly, reaching up to $5,300,000 and $1,032,460 on average. The researchers noted that these figures do not accurately represent the final costs of an attack, as the long-term consequences are far more devastating.

“One must always keep in mind that paying extortionists is a short-term solution which only encourages criminals and keeps them funded to quite possibly return. In addition, once the city has been attacked, the whole infrastructure is compromised and requires an incident investigation and a thorough audit. This inevitably results in costs that are additional to ransom. At the same time, based on our observations cities might be sometimes inclined to pay because they usually cover the cyber risks with help of insurance and allocating budgets for incident response. However the better approach would be also investing in proactive measures like proven security and backup solutions as well as regular security audit,” comments Fedor Sinitsyn, a security researcher at Kaspersky. “While the trend of attacks on municipalities is only growing, it can be stifled and nipped in the bud by adjusting the approach to cybersecurity and what is more important by the refusal to pay ransoms and broadcasting this decision as an official statement.”

The malware that was most often cited as a culprit varies too, yet three families were named as the most notorious, by Kaspersky researchers: Ryuk, Purga and Stop. Ryuk appeared on the threat landscape more than a year ago and has since been active all over the world, both in public and in the private sector. Its distribution model usually involves delivery via backdoor malware which in turn spreads by the means of phishing with a malicious attachment disguised as a financial document. Purga malware has been known since 2016, yet only recently municipalities have been discovered to fall victims to this trojan, having various attack vectors – from phishing to brute force attacks. Stop cryptor is a relative novice as it is only one year old. It propagates by hiding inside software installers. This malware has been popular, number seven in the top 10 most popular cryptors ranking of Q3 2019.

To avoid such malware infiltrating organisations, Kaspersky has the following recommendations:

  • It is essential to install all security updates as soon as they appear. Most cyberattacks are possible by exploiting vulnerabilities that have already been reported and addressed, so installing the latest security updates lowers the chances of an attack
  • Protect remote access to corporate networks by VPN and use secure passwords for domain accounts
  • Always update your operating system to eliminate recent vulnerabilities and use a robust security solution with updated databases
  • Always have fresh back-up copies of your files so you can replace them in case they are lost (e.g. due to malware or a broken device) and store them not only on the physical object but also in cloud storage for greater reliability
  • Remember that ransomware is a criminal offence. You shouldn’t pay a ransom. If you become a victim, report it to your local law enforcement agency. Try to find a decryptor on the internet first – some of them are available for free here:https://noransom.kaspersky.com
  • Educating the staff in cybersecurity hygiene is necessary to prevent attacks from happening. Kaspersky Interactive Protection Simulation Games offer a special scenario for local public administration that is focused on threats relevant for them
  • Use a security solution for organisation to protect business data from ransomware such as Kaspersky Endpoint Security for Business. The product has behaviour detection, anomaly control and exploit prevention capabilities that detect known and unknown threats and prevent malicious activity
  • One can enhance their preferred third-party security solution with free KasperskyAnti-Ransomware Tool

Read the whole story of the year atSecurelist.com.

The full list of Kaspersky Security Bulletin stories with results from 2019 and predictions for 2020 is available by following this link.

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Nokia 7.2: The sweet-spot for mid-range

Nokia has hit one of the best quality-to-price ratios with the Nokia 7.2. BRYAN TURNER tested the device.

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Cameras are often the main factor in selecting a smartphone today. Nokia is no stranger to the high-end camera smartphone market, and its legacy shows with the latest Nokia 7.2.

In many aspects, the device looks and feels like an expensive flagship, yet it carries a mid-range R6000 price tag. From its vivid PureDisplay technology to an ultra-wide camera lens, it’s quite something to experience this device – especially knowing the price.

Before powering it on, one notices the sleek design. The front features a large, 6.3” screen, with a 19.5:9 aspect ratio. Like many phones nowadays, it features a notch, but it is smaller than the usual earpiece-and-camera notch. Instead, it features a small notch for the front camera only. It hides the front earpiece away in a slim cutout, just under the outer frame. While it’s not the highest screen-to-body (STB) ratio, it has a pretty slim bezel with an 83.34% STB ratio. It loses some of this to an elegant chin on the bottom that shows the Nokia logo. This is all protected by a Gorilla glass certification, which makes it a little more difficult to shatter on an impact.

It’s encased by a Polycarbonate composite outer frame, which seems metal-like but will withstand more knocks than an aluminium frame. On the right side, it features a volume rocker and a power button and, on the left side, a Google Assistant button, which starts listening for commands when pressed. Above the button is the SIM and SD card tray. On the top, it houses a very welcome 3.5mm headphone jack. On the bottom, it has a speaker grille and a USB Type-C port. Overall, the positioning of the buttons takes some getting used to because the Assistant button and power button are similarly sized, and many smartphones place the lock button on the opposite side of the volume rocker.

The back features a frosted Gorilla glass panel, like the front. The frosted design is quite understated and yet another elegant design feature of the device. A fingerprint sensor sits in the middle and, towards the top, the device has a circular camera bump, not too different from the Huawei Mate 30 series. The bump features two lenses, a depth sensor, and a flash. The camera system has been made in partnership with Zeiss optics to produce high-quality photography.

The back of the Nokia 7.2, showing off the 3 camera array

When powering on the device, one is greeted with the Android One logo, which is Nokia’s promise that its users will always be among the first to get the latest Android security and feature updates. This is one of the defining purchase points for users looking to get this device, as it features the purest, unedited version of Android available.

This, in turn, allows the device to run the latest software by Google that enables the device to get better over time. This is done by using Google’s Artificial Intelligence engine, which learns how one uses the device and optimises apps and services accordingly. That translates to the phone’s battery life actually extending over time, instead of deteriorating like other smartphones that are weighed down by battery hungry apps. The concept was pioneered by Huawei in the Mate 9.

The rear camera is excellent for snapping pictures and features a 48MP Sony sensor for accurate colour reproduction. This puts the device in the league of the Google Pixel and Apple iPhone devices, which also use Sony sensors. By default, the device is set to take pictures at 12MP, which is what makes the photos look great, as it blends 4 pixels into one for a high level of sharpness and colour accuracy, but users can bump up the resolution to the full 48MP if they want to zoom in a bit more.

The 8MP wide-angle lens spans 118-degrees, and proves extremely useful for getting everyone in the shot. It also features some great colour accuracy. The 5MP depth-sensing lens is purely for the portrait mode, which adds a blur effect to the background of the photo. It features a 20MP selfie camera, which also provides excellent sharpness and a portrait mode.

Picture taken with the Nokia 7.2 in Pro mode

The most impressive part of this system is the Pro camera setting, which can help take photos from excellent to extraordinary. We managed to get some excellent low light photography by adjusting the shutter speed, ISO, and exposure. The setting is pretty easy to use and it’s worth it for users to learn how it works.

The PureDisplay also helps make photos and video look great. The 7.2’s PureDisplay has a 2160 x 1080 resolution, at 401 pixels per inch (ppi). It also makes use of HDR10 and covers 96% of the DCI-P3 colour gamut, which makes the colours very vibrant. Some of these display features are not even found in some high-end phones on the market, so it’s very surprising that this tech is in a mid-range device.

At this price, there is one drawback: the processor. It houses a Qualcomm Snapdragon 660, which is neither bad nor good. It performs well in many situations, but begins to stutter on heavier graphical applications like Fortnite and PUBG Mobile. That said, all other applications of the device work perfectly, and multi-tasking is very fluid between regular apps.

At a recommended selling price of R6,000, the Nokia 7.2 is one of the most feature rich and aesthetically pleasing devices available in this price range.

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Voice interface move digital wars to ‘first mile’

By RICHARD MULLINS, Managing Director for EMEA at Acceleration

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Anyone who often travels on the London tube will notice people around them – usually students and young professionals – speaking into their smartphones even in sections of the underground without Wi-Fi or cellular coverage. They’re not sweet-talking their mobile devices, but cueing up a series of WhatsApp voice messages to be sent to their friends and colleagues as soon as they walk back into an area with an Internet connection.

This shift away from text-based and visual communication to multi-sensory (voice and visual) is one of the most significant trends to emerge from the next wave of artificial intelligence technologies. Many members of Generations X and Y abandoned voice calls for instant messaging once they got smartphones; now, the next generation are becoming more vocal in how they interact with – and through – machines.

We’re already seeing rising adoption of conversational voice interfaces, as young and imperfect as the technology still is. Research from comScore predicts that half of all searches will be performed via voice by 2020, while a study by Voicebot.ai indicates that nearly one in five US adults own a smart speaker or have access to one in their homes.

This trend is one reason that we are seeing the battle for the digital customer move away from the ‘last mile’ to the ‘first mile’ at a rapid speed. Now that the giants of ecommerce have largely solved the ‘last mile’ challenge of reliable logistics and rapid delivery, they are looking at ways they can tighten their grip on the first digital mile, where customers engage with and discover content, product and services.

Raising the stakes

This race to own the customer interface is not new, but the stakes are rising. We already live in a world with two major smartphone platforms (Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android), and now a handful of companies (Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Apple and Amazon) are seeking to own the voice interface with smart devices like speakers, kitchen appliances and home security systems.

Most consumers are today using voice conversation interfaces for simple content requests – Alexa, give me the news headlines; Siri, play my party mix – and the experience can be somewhat clunky. However, technology is improving exponentially, as we saw earlier this year when Google demoed its assistant phoning a hairdresser to make an appointment on behalf of a user.

Such interfaces are likely to become the place where a high proportion of customers are converted and complete transactions in the next few years. In other words, the likes of Apple and Google will have even more power over what consumers see, hear and interact with than they do today. Brands should be thinking about how they will prepare themselves for this future.

One of the first considerations is how they can use voice to engage with customers in an increasingly natural and simple nature. Today, it is usually easy to tell when you are speaking to a virtual assistant or chatbot, but in future, these interfaces will become harder to tell humans and machines apart, unless you are told.

This is an opportunity to offer personalised service in an automated manner—the human touch at machine scale. Brands that offer the best experiences through their conversational interfaces will have a competitive advantage. This will not just be about the AI driving the interaction, but also about how brands use data to personalise interactions and make them more relevant to customers.

How will you reach your customers?

Brands also need to decide how they will reach their customers in the first place – will they create services for platforms like Alexa and focus on mobile apps? Or will they try to take control of more of the digital first mile themselves? This will be a daunting challenge, but the rewards may be significant since the companies in the digital first mile will control the data and own the customer.

For this reason, we can expect to see those companies with the resources to do so focus on owning more of the customer interface and becoming the gateways to service and commerce for their client base. They will partner with other big brands to create platforms, experiences and digital destinations where customers can purchase a variety of goods and services.

Consider examples such as how Discovery’s Vitality weaves together healthcare, lifestyle brands and financial services, then think about how they might evolve in a digital world. Brands have long cooperated through strategies such as white label products, sponsorship agreements and distribution deals, but the next wave of digital change will take it to a new level.

As this shakes out in the years to come, brands will need to focus on building a technical architecture that enables them to rapidly partner with other brands to roll out innovative solutions and services. They will also need to consider how and where they will capture customer data and which touchpoints they can use to own the customer relationship.

The challenges will not be purely technical in nature. There is the human element of blending AI and people into ‘teams’ that deliver the best possible customer experience. Companies will also need to think about their business models and where they fit into the value chain. Those that align AI and data behind a coherent business strategy will be the ones who will win the first digital mile.

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