In 2016 business ransomware attacks increased three-fold, representing a change from an attack every 2 minutes in January to one every 40 seconds in October.
In 2016 ransomware attacks on business increased three-fold: which represents a change from an attack every 2 minutes in January to one every 40 seconds by October. For individuals, the rate of increase went from every 20 seconds to every 10 seconds. With more than 62 new families of ransomware introduced during the year, the threat grew so aggressively that Kaspersky Lab has named ransomware its key topic for 2016.
The Story of the Year paper forms part of Kaspersky Lab’s annual Kaspersky Security Bulletin that looks back over the year’s major threats and data and predicts what to expect in 2017. Among other things, 2016 revealed the extent to which the Ransomware-as-a-Service business model now appeals to criminals who lack the skills, resources or inclination to develop their own. Under the arrangement, code creators offer their malicious product ‘on demand’, selling uniquely modified versions to customers who then distribute it through spam and websites, paying a commission to the creator – the main financial beneficiary.
“The classic ‘affiliate’ business model appears to be working as effectively for ransomware as it does for other types of malware. Victims often pay up so money keeps flowing through the system. Inevitably this has led to us seeing new cryptors appear almost daily,” said Fedor Sinitsyn, Senior Malware Analyst, Kaspersky Lab.
The Evolution of Ransomware in 2016
In 2016, ransomware continued its rampage across the world, becoming more sophisticated and diverse and tightening its hold on data and devices, individuals and businesses.
· Attacks on businesses increased significantly. According to Kaspersky Lab research, one in every five businesses worldwide suffered an IT security incident as a result of a ransomware attack and one in every five smaller business never got their files back, even after paying.
· Some industry sectors were harder hit than others, but our research shows there is no such thing as a low-risk sector: with the highest rate of attack around 23% (Education) and the lowest 16% (Retail and Leisure).
· ‘Educational’ ransomware, developed to give system administrators a tool to simulate ransomware attacks was quickly and ruthlessly exploited by criminals, giving rise to Ded_Cryptor and Fantom, among others.
· New approaches to ransomware attacks seen for the first time in 2016 included disk encryption, where attackers block access to, or encrypt, not just a couple of files, but all of them at once – Petya is one example. Dcryptor, also known as Mamba, went one step further, locking down the entire hard drive, with the attackers brute-forcing passwords for remote access to a victim machine.
· The ransomware Shade demonstrated ability to change its approach to a victim if an infected computer turned out to belong to financial services, downloading and installing spyware instead of encrypting the victim’s files.
· There was a marked rise in low-quality; unsophisticated ransomware Trojans with software flaws and sloppy errors in the ransom notes – increasing the likelihood of victims never recovering their data.
Fortunately, 2016 also saw the world begin to unite to fight back. The No More Ransom project, launched in July, brings together law enforcement and security vendors to track down and disrupt the big ransomware families, helping individuals to get their data back and undermining the criminals’ lucrative business model.
The latest versions of Kaspersky Lab products for smaller companies have been enhanced with anti-cryptomalware functionality. In addition, a new, free anti-ransomware tool has been made available for all businesses to download and use, regardless of the security solution they use.
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|
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|
“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.”
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.