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ShadowHammer attacks million ASUS users worldwide

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Kaspersky Lab has uncovered a new advanced persistent threat (APT) campaign that has affected a large number of users through what is known as a supply chain attack. Its research found that threat actors behind Operation ShadowHammer have targeted users of the ASUS Live Update Utility, by injecting a backdoor into it at least between June and November 2018. Kaspersky Lab experts estimate that the attack may have affected more than a million users worldwide.

A supply chain attack is one of the most dangerous and effective infection vectors, increasinglyexploited in advanced operations over the last few years – as we have seen with ShadowPad or CCleaner. It targets specific weaknesses in the interconnected systems of human, organisational, material, and intellectual resources involved in the product life cycle: from initial development stage through to the end user. While a vendor’s infrastructure can be secure, there could be vulnerabilities in its providers’ facilities that would sabotage the supply chain, leading to a devastating and unexpected data breach.

The actors behind ShadowHammer targeted the ASUS Live Update Utility as the initial source of infection. This is a pre-installed utility in most new ASUS computers, for automatic BIOS, UEFI, drivers and applications updates. Using stolen digital certificates used by ASUS to sign legitimate binaries, the attackers have tampered older versions of ASUS software, injecting their own malicious code. Trojanized versions of the utility were signed with legitimate certificates and were hosted on and distributed from official ASUS update servers – which made them mostly invisible to the vast majority of protection solutions.

While this means that potentially every user of the affected software could have become a victim, actors behind ShadowHammer were focused on gaining access to several hundreds of users, which they had prior knowledge about. As Kaspersky Lab’s researchers discovered, each backdoor code contained a table of hardcoded MAC addresses – the unique identifier of network adapters used to connect a computer to a network. 

Once running on a victim’s device, the backdoor verified its MAC address against this table. If the MAC address matched one of the entries, the malware downloaded the next stage of malicious code. Otherwise, the infiltrated updater did not show any network activity, which is why it remained undiscovered for such a long time. In total, security experts were able to identify more than 600 MAC addresses. These were targeted by over 230 unique backdoored samples with different shellcodes.

The modular approach and extra precautions taken when executing code, to prevent accidental code or data leakage indicates that it was very important for the actors behind this sophisticated attack to remain undetected, while hitting some very specific targets with surgical precision. Deep technical analysis shows that the arsenal of the attackers is very advanced and reflects a very high level of development within the group.

The search for similar malware has revealed software from three other vendors in Asia, all backdoored with very similar methods and techniques. Kaspersky Lab has reported the issue to Asus and other vendors.

“The selected vendors are extremely attractive targets for APT groups that might want to take advantage of their vast customer base,” said Vitaly Kamluk, Director of Global Research and Analysis Team, APAC, at Kaspersky Lab. “It is not yet very clear what the ultimate goal of the attackers was and we are still researching who was behind the attack. However, techniques used to achieve unauthorised code execution, as well as other discovered artefacts suggest that ShadowHammer is probably related to the BARIUM APT, which was previously linked to the ShadowPad and CCleaner incidents, among others. This new campaign is yet another example of how sophisticated and dangerous a smart supply chain attack can be nowadays.”

In order to avoid falling victim to a targeted attack by a known or unknown threat actor, Kaspersky Lab researchers recommend implementing the following measures:

  • In addition to adopting must-have endpoint protection, implement a corporate grade security solution which detects advanced threats on the network level at an early stage, such as Kaspersky Anti Targeted Attack Platform;
  • For endpoint level detection, investigation and timely remediation of incidents, we recommend implementing EDR solutions such as Kaspersky Endpoint Detection and Response or contacting a professional incident response team;
  • Integrate Threat Intelligence feeds into your SIEM and other security controls in order to get access to the most relevant and up-to-date threat data and prepare for future attacks.

Kaspersky Lab will present full findings on Operation ShadowHammer at the Security Analyst Summit 2019 in Singapore, running from 9 to 11 April.

A blog summarising the attack as well as a special tool designed to validate whether users’ devices were a target can also be found on Securelist

Click here to read Asus’ response.

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Notre Dame, Scoop Makhathini, GoT, top week in search

From fire disaster to social media disaster, the top Google searches this week covered a wide gamut of themes.

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Paris and the whole world looked on in shock as the 856-year-old medieval Catholic cathedral crumbled into ash. The tragic infernal destruction of this tourist attraction of historical and religious significance led South Africans to generate more than 200 000 search queries for “Notre Dame Cathedral” on Monday. Authorities are investigating the cause of the fire that razed the architectural icon.

In other top trending searches on Google this week, radio presenter Siyabonga Ngwekazi, AKA Scoop Makhathini, went viral when it appeared he had taken to Twitter to expose his girlfriend, Akhona Carpede, for cheating on him. Scoop has since come out to say that he was not responsible for the bitter rant and that his account was hacked. “Scoop Makhathini” generated more than 20 000 search queries on Wednesday.

Fans generated more than 20 000 search queries for “Sam Smith” on Tuesday ahead of the the British superstar’s Cape Town performance at the Grand West Casino. Smith ended up cutting his performance short that night due to vocal strain.

Local Game of Thrones superfans were beside themselves on Sunday, searching the internet high and low for the first episode of the American fantasy drama’s eighth season. “Game of Thrones, season 8, episode 1” generated more than 100 000 queries on Google Search on the weekend.

As the festivities kicked off in California with headliners such as Childish Gambino and Ariana Grande, South Africans generated more than 2 000 search queries for “Coachella” on Saturday.

South Africans generated more than 5 000 search queries for “Wendy Williams” on Friday  as it emerged that the American talk show host had filed for divorce from her husband Kevin Hunter after 21 years of marriage. Hunter has long been rumored to have been cheating on Williams, which reportedly finally led to the divorce.

Search trends information is gleaned from data collated by Google based on what South Africans have been searching for and asking Google. Google processes more than 40 000 search queries every second. This translates to more than a billion searches per day and 1.2 trillion searches per year worldwide. Live Google search trends data is available at https://www.google.co.za/trends/hottrends#pn=p40

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5G smartphones to hit 5M sales in 2019

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According to the latest research from Strategy Analytics, global smartphone shipments will reach a modest 5 million units in 2019. Early 5G smartphone models will be expensive and available in limited volumes. Samsung, LG and Huawei will be the early 5G smartphone leaders this year, followed by Apple next year.

Ken Hyers, Director at Strategy Analytics, said, “We forecast global 5G smartphone shipments will reach a modest 5 million units in 2019. Less than 1 percent of all smartphones shipped worldwide will be 5G-enabled this year. Global 5G smartphone shipments are tiny for now, due to expensive device pricing, component bottlenecks, and restricted availability of active 5G networks.”

Ville Petteri-Ukonaho, senior analyst at Strategy Analytics, added, “Samsung will be the early 5G smartphone leader in the first half of 2019, due to initial launches across South Korea and the United States. We predict LG, Huawei, Xiaomi, Motorola and others will follow later in the year, followed by Apple iPhone with its first 5G model during the second half of 2020. The iPhone looks set to be at least a year behind Samsung in the 5G smartphone race and Apple must be careful not to fall too far behind.”

Neil Mawston, executive director at Strategy Analytics, added, “The short-term outlook for 5G smartphones is weak, but the long-term opportunity remains huge. We forecast 1 billion 5G smartphones to ship worldwide per year by 2025. The introduction of 5G networks, by carriers like Verizon or China Mobile, opens up high-speed, ultra-low-latency services such as 8K video, streaming games, and augmented reality for business. The next big question for the mobile industry is how much extra consumers are really willing to pay, if anything, for those emerging 5G smartphones and services.”

Strategy Analytics provides a snapshot analyses for the outlook for 5G smartphone market in this Insight report: 5G Smartphones : From Zero to a Billion

Strategy Analytics provides a deep-dive into the air-interface technologies that will power phones through 2024 across 88 countries here: Global Handset Sales Forecast by 88 Countries and 19 Technologies : 2003 to 2024

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