Africa’s mobile phone market started 2017 off with a drastic quarter-on-quarter (QoQ) decline according to the latest figures announced by International Data Corporation (IDC).
The global technology research and consulting firm’s newly released Quarterly Mobile Phone Tracker shows that overall shipments for the first quarter of the year in Africa totaled 54.5 million units, down -8.2% on Q4 2016. The prime driver of this downturn was a stark -17.6% decline in the smartphone segment, with shipments falling from 25.8 million units in Q4 2016 to 21.2 million units in Q1 2017.
When viewed year on year (YoY), the overall mobile market was up 8.4%, primarily due to feature phone shipments growing from 26.6 million units in Q1 2016 to 33.3 million units in Q1 2017. Feature phones have now been rising as a proportion of the total market for more than a year, which highlights the continuing importance of basic mobile communications in many parts of Africa, particularly in rural areas.
The drop in smartphone shipments in Q1 2017 was caused by substantial QoQ declines in the continent’s three largest smartphone markets – South Africa (-13.6%), Nigeria (-8.1%), and Egypt (-11.5%). “In South Africa, the drop was mainly due to high levels of stock in the channel from previous quarters,” says Nabila Popal, a senior research manager at IDC. “Nigeria’s decline was caused by the ongoing recession in the overall economy as well as difficulties in accessing foreign currencies for imports, while continuing exchange-rate difficulties were also behind the major decline seen in Egypt.”
The smartphone markets in Morocco and Algeria also performed poorly in Q1 2017, although the QoQ declines were much less drastic at -2.2% and -1.5%, respectively. “Morocco’s economy was significantly impacted by a stalemate in the government that is delaying the disbursement of budgetary funds, while Algeria’s unstable politics continue to dampen consumers’ willingness to make discretionary purchases,” says Soufiane Bouhaji, a research analyst at IDC. “Tunisia was the only market in North Africa to record a QoQ increase in smartphone shipments (0.5%) in Q1 2017 and that was mainly due to the country’s healthier macroeconomic environment.”
The East African markets performed stronger than any other region in Africa in terms of smartphone shipments for Q1 2017, with Tanzania and Uganda seeing substantial QoQ increases of 8.1% and 11.6%, respectively. The Kenyan market, which has seen big gains in smartphone shipments over the last two years, was more subdued in Q1 2017, with shipments declining slightly by -1.3 % QoQ.
In terms of vendor rankings, Samsung remains the continent’s leading smartphone vendor, with 29.8% share in Q1 2017, up on the previous two quarters but slightly down on Q1 2016. Its big rival in Africa, the China-based Transsion group, took second place with 23.9% share of the smartphone market, thanks to its diversified portfolio of mid-range phones and strong focus on the ˂$150 price segment. In the feature phone space however, it is Transsion that dominates not Samsung, with its Tecno and itel brands accounting for three out of every five feature phones shipped across the continent in Q1 2017.
“IDC expects Africa’s overall smartphone market to slowly rebound from its current lull to a state of growth,” says Bouhaji. “Despite the tough macroeconomic conditions currently inhibiting much of the region, smartphone prices continue to fall and this will drive their adoption across Africa. Almost 40% of all smartphones shipped in Africa in Q1 2017 were priced below $80, up from 28% just two years earlier. Mobile data charges are also becoming more affordable, while increasing use of video-sharing applications and improving penetration of over-the-top services are further encouraging smartphone adoption.”
IDC is forecasting that Africa’s smartphone shipments will remain flat this year, but for growth to resume in 2018 as the economy gradually recovers.
Cons exploit Telegram ICO
Kaspersky Lab researchers have uncovered dozens of highly convincing fake websites claiming to be investment sites for an initial coin offering (ICO) by the Telegram messaging service. Many of these websites appear to belong to the same group. In one case alone, tens of thousands of US dollars’ worth of cryptocurrency were stolen from victims believing they were investing in ‘Grams’, Telegram’s rumoured new currency. Telegram has not officially confirmed an ICO and has warned people about fraudulent investor sites.
In late 2017, stories started to circulate that the Telegram messaging service was launching an initial coin offering (ICO) to finance a blockchain platform based on its TON (Telegram Open Network) technology. Unverified technical documentation was posted online, but there appears to have been no confirmation from Telegram itself. The resulting confusion seems to have allowed fraudsters to capitalise on investor interest by creating fake sites and stealing vast sums of money.
Kaspersky Lab researchers have discovered dozens of such sites, possibly belonging to the same group, claiming to sell tokens for ‘Grams’ and inviting investors to pay with cryptocurrencies including Bitcoin, Ethereum, lice litecoin, dash and Bitcoin dash. A record of transactions on one site revealed that the scammers were able to steal at least $35,000 US dollars’ worth of Ethereum from investors.
The researchers found that some of the websites were so convincing that even after Telegram and others began to issue warnings, they were still able to recruit potential investors. Most use a secure connection, require registration and generate a unique online wallet for each new victim, making it harder to track the money.
Judging by the content of the fake websites, it appears they may have common ownership. For example, several have the exactly the same ‘Our Team’ section.
“ICOs are a fairly risky investment and many people don’t yet fully understand how they work, so it is not surprising that high quality fake websites, with seemingly reassuring features such as a secure connection and registration are successful at luring people in. People wishing to invest in an ICO would do well to check with the company behind it and make sure they know exactly who they are giving their money to, or they may never see it again,” said Nadezhda Demidova, Lead Web-Content Analyst, Kaspersky Lab.
Kaspersky Lab offers the following advice for users considering investing in an ICO:
- Check for warning signs: for example, some of the fake Telegram ICO websites had the same wrong image next to the name of Telegram’s Chief Product Officer.
- Do your homework: always check with the brand’s official site to verify the legitimacy of the investment site and, if necessary contact the company’s ICO teams before investing any money or currency.
- Use reliable security solutions such as Kaspersky Internet Security and Kaspersky Internet Security for Android, which will warn you if you try to visit fake internet pages.
Crouching Yeti strikes
Kaspersky Lab has uncovered infrastructure used by the Russian-speaking APT group Crouching Yeti, also known as Energetic Bear, which includes compromised servers across the world.
According to the research, numerous servers in different countries were hit since 2016, sometimes in order to gain access to other resources. Others, including those hosting Russian websites, were used as watering holes.
Crouching Yeti is a Russian-speaking advanced persistent threat (APT) group that Kaspersky Lab has been tracking since 2010. It is best known for targeting industrial sectors around the world, with a primary focus on energy facilities, for the main purpose of stealing valuable data from victim systems. One of the techniques the group has been widely using is through watering hole attacks: the attackers injected websites with a link redirecting visitors to a malicious server.
Recently Kaspersky Lab has discovered a number of servers, compromised by the group, belonging to different organisations based in Russia, the U.S., Turkey and European countries, and not limited to industrial companies. According to researchers, they were hit in 2016 and 2017 with different purposes. Thus, besides watering hole, in some cases they were used as intermediaries to conduct attacks on other resources.
In the process of analysing infected servers, researchers identified numerous websites and servers used by organisations in Russia, U.S., Europe, Asia and Latin America that the attackers had scanned with various tools, possibly to find a server that could be used to establish a foothold for hosting the attackers’ tools and to subsequently develop an attack. Some of the sites scanned may have been of interest to the attackers as candidates for waterhole. The range of websites and servers that captured the attention of the intruders is extensive. Kaspersky Lab researchers found that the attackers had scanned numerous websites of different types, including online stores and services, public organisations, NGOs, manufacturing, etc.
Also, experts found that the group used publicly available malicious tools, designed for analyzing servers, and for seeking out and collecting information. In addition, a modified sshd file with a preinstalled backdoor was discovered. This was used to replace the original file and could be authorised with a ‘master password’.
“Crouching Yeti is a notorious Russian-speaking group that has been active for many years and is still successfully targeting industrial organisations through watering hole attacks, among other techniques. Our findings show that the group compromised servers not only for establishing watering holes, but also for further scanning, and they actively used open-sourced tools that made it much harder to identify them afterwards,” said Vladimir Dashchenko, Head of Vulnerability Research Group at Kaspersky Lab ICS CERT.
“The group’s activities, such as initial data collection, the theft of authentication data, and the scanning of resources, are used to launch further attacks. The diversity of infected servers and scanned resources suggests the group may operate in the interests of the third parties,” he added.
Kaspersky Lab recommends that organisations implement a comprehensive framework against advanced threats comprising of dedicated security solutions for targeted attack detection and incident response, along with expert services and threat intelligence. As a part of Kaspersky Threat Management and Defense, our anti-targeted attack platform detects an attack at early stages by analysing suspicious network activity, while Kaspersky EDR brings improved endpoint visibility, investigation capabilities and response automation. These are enhanced with global threat intelligence and Kaspersky Lab’s expert services with specialisation in threat hunting and incident response.
More details on this recent Crouching Yeti activity can be found on the Kaspersky Lab ICS CERT website.