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Spy vs Spy: strange story of cybercrime underworld

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In the cyber-world, not only are everyday users at risk of having their personal details stolen, but so too are new cybercriminals as was evident on the underground site leakforums, writes PAUL DUCKLIN, Senior Security Advisor, Sophos.

Not all malware is ransomware, even though ransomware hogs the spotlight these days.

Keyloggers are still popular in the cybe runderworld, because they help crooks to steal  passwords. Armed with  email passwords, for example, crooks can pull off much more audacious crimes than ransomware, such as business email attacks, also known a CEO fraud or wire-wire scams (that’s where a crook logs in with a stolen password to send an email that doesn’t just look as though it came from your CEO’s account, it really did come from her account.)

The fraudulent email in a wire-wire scam won’t be a demand for $300 in bitcoins, which is a typical price-point in ransomware, but an official-sounding corporate instruction to put through a massive funds transfer. The amount may be $100,000 or even more, and the email will typically claim that that the funds are part of time-critical business venture such as an acquisition, to justify both the large sum and the urgency.

In other words, there’s still big money in Keyloggers, and one of the most popular keyloggers these days is KeyBase, a product that was originally sold as a legitimate application before being abandoned in apparent disgust by its author.But KeyBase lives on, with cyber crooks giving it a new home all over the cybercriminal underground.

Dishonour among thieves

Sometimes crooks turn on their own kind, as happened in this story. A user on the popular underground site leakforums, going by the name pahan12, popped up offering a PHP Remote Access Trojan called SLICK RAT.But newbie crooks who ran the installer didn’t get what they paid for. Instead, they ended up infected with the KeyBase data stealer instead, and their stolen passwords were sent off to a data-collection website. (The “Pahan” connection continued here, because the URL contained the text pahan123.)

My guess is that Pahan was after his victims’ logins for leakforums and other hacker sites, in order to build up his rank in the underground, and  went after users on other crime forums, too.,

(Interestingly, Pahan has a history of this sort of double-cross, promoting one cybercrime tool but infecting it with another. In  November 2015, Pahan was offering a malware scrambling tool called Aegis Crypter).

Cryptors take an existing malware program as input, and churn out a modified, scrambled, compressed and obfuscated program file as output, in the hope that this will bypass basic virus-blocking tools. But Pahan’s version of Aegis included its own “secret sauce”: a zombie Trojan called Troj/RxBot than hooks up infected computers to an IRC server from which remote command-and-control instructions can be sent to the network of zombies. The IRC channels on the server that were used by Pahan’s zombie were pahan12 and pahan123.

And in March 2016, a user going by pahann was promoting a version of the KeyBase toolkit, which can be used to generate keylogger files to order.

This KeyBase malware generation toolkit was itself infected, in a weird sort of “malware triangle”.

By this time, things were getting quite complicated for Pahan, who had samples of SLICK RAT for sale that were infected with KeyBase; of Aegis Crypter infected with Troj/RxBot; and of KeyBase infected with COM Surrogate, which delivered Troj/RxBot and Cyborg.

What next?

Things didn’t go so well for the duplicitous Pahan, a.k.a. Pahan12, a.k.a. Pahan123, a.k.a. Pahann, after that… Just last week, when our team of experts  were looking around to see what Pahan had been up to recently, we found a number of  intriguing data and postings relating to him. Amusingly, (if cyber criminality can ever be truly funny), it seems as if Pahan/12/123/n has managed to infect himself with one or more of the malware samples he’s been juggling recently.

So, if you’ve ever wondered what a cybercrook keeps up his sleeve, this might give you some ideas: we can see a ransomware sample, various pre-prepared malware binaries, scanners, a sniffer, remote access tools and more. Maybe his next step will be to scramble his own files with the ransomware we can see stashed there in his Google Drive account?

So, if you had to write the story “What Pahan did next?”…

…what would you say? (And if you could choose, what would you wish for?)

(This article first appeared on Sophos Naked Security, August 16, 2016: https://nakedsecurity.sophos.com/2016/08/16/you-dirty-rat-spy-versus-spy-in-the-cybercrime-underworld/?utm_source=Naked+Security+-+Sophos+List&utm_campaign=a54b497abf-naked%252Bsecurity&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_31623bb782-a54b497abf-455162573 )

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Seedstars seeks tech to reverse land degradation in Africa

A new partnership is offering prizes to young entrepreneurs for coming up with innovations that tackle the loss of arable land in Africa.

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The DOEN Foundation has joined forces with Seedstars, an emerging market startup community, to launch the DOEN Land Restoration Prize, which showcases solutions to environmental, social and financial challenges that focus on land restoration activities in Africa. Stichting DOEN is a Dutch fund that supports green, socially-inclusive and creative initiatives that contribute to a better and cleaner world.

While land degradation and deforestation date back millennia, industrialization and a rising population have dramatically accelerated the process. Today we are seeing unprecedented land degradation, and the loss of arable land at 30 to 35 times the historical rate.

Currently, nearly two-thirds of Africa’s land is degraded, which hinders sustainable economic development and resilience to climate change. As a result, Africa has the largest restoration opportunity of any continent: more than 700 million hectares (1.7 billion acres) of degraded forest landscapes that can be restored. The potential benefits include improved food and water security, biodiversity protection, climate change resilience, and economic growth. Recognizing this opportunity, the African Union set an ambitious target to restore 100 million hectares of degraded land by 2030.

Land restoration is an urgent response to the poor management of land. Forest and landscape restoration is the process of reversing the degradation of soils, agricultural areas, forests, and watersheds thereby regaining their ecological functionality. According to the World Resources Institute, for every $1 invested in land restoration it can yield $7-$30 in benefits, and now is the time to prove it.

The winner of the challenge will be awarded 9 months access to the Seedstars Investment Readiness Program, the hybrid program challenging traditional acceleration models by creating a unique mix to improve startup performance and get them ready to secure investment. They will also access a 10K USD grant.

“Our current economic system does not meet the growing need to improve our society ecologically and socially,” says Saskia Werther, Program Manager at the DOEN Foundation. “The problems arising from this can be tackled only if a different economic system is considered. DOEN sees opportunities to contribute to this necessary change. After all, the world is changing rapidly and the outlines of a new economy are becoming increasingly clear. This new economy is circular and regenerative. Landscape restoration is a vital part of this regenerative economy and social entrepreneurs play an important role to establish innovative business models to counter land degradation and deforestation. Through this challenge, DOEN wants to highlight the work of early-stage restoration enterprises and inspire other frontrunners to follow suit.”

Applications are open now and will be accepted until October 15th. Startups can apply here: http://seedsta.rs/doen

To enter the competition, startups should meet the following criteria:

  • Existing startups/young companies with less than 4 years of existence
  • Startups that can adapt their current solution to the land restoration space
  • The startup must have a demonstrable product or service (Minimum Viable Product, MVP)
  • The startup needs to be scalable or have the potential to reach scalability in low resource areas.
  • The startup can show clear environmental impact (either by reducing a negative impact or creating a positive one)
  • The startup can show a clear social impact
  • Technology startups, tech-enabled startups and/or businesses that can show a clear innovation component (e.g. in their business model)

Also, a specific emphasis is laid, but not limited to: Finance the restoration of degraded land for production and/or conservation purposes; big data and technology to reverse land degradation; resource efficiency optimization technologies, ecosystems impacts reduction and lower carbon emissions; water-saving soil technologies; technologies focused on improving livelihoods and communities ; planning, management and education tools for land restoration; agriculture (with a focus on precision conservation) and agroforestry; clean Energy solutions that aid in the combat of land degradation; and responsible ecotourism that aids in the support of land restoration.

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The dark side of apps

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Mobile device security threats are on the rise and it’s not hard to see why. In 2019 the number of worldwide mobile phone users is forecast to reach 4.68 billion of which 2.7 billion are smartphone users. So, if you are looking for a target, it certainly makes sense to go where the numbers are. Think about it, unsecured Wi-Fi connections, network spoofing, phishing attacks, ransomware, spyware and improper session handling – mobile devices make for the perfect easy target. In fact, according to Kaspersky, mobile apps are often the cause of unintentional data leakage.

“Apps pose a real problem for mobile users, who give them sweeping permissions, but don’t always check security,” says Riaan Badenhorst, General Manager for Kaspersky in Africa. “These are typically free apps found in official app stores that perform as advertised, but also send personal – and potentially corporate – data to a remote server, where it is mined by advertisers or even cybercriminals. Data leakage can also happen through hostile enterprise-signed mobile apps. Here, mobile malware uses distribution code native to popular mobile operating systems like iOS and Android to spread valuable data across corporate networks without raising red flags.”

In fact, according to recent reports, 6 Android apps that were downloaded a staggering 90 million times from the Google Play Store were found to have been loaded with the PreAMo malware, while another recent threat saw 50 malware-filled apps on the Google Play Store infect over 30 million Android devices. Surveillance malware was also loaded onto fake versions of Android apps such as Evernote, Google Play and Skype.

Considering that as of 2019, Android users were able to choose between 2.46 million apps, while Apple users have almost 1.96 million app options to select from, and that the average person has 60-90 apps installed on their phone, using around 30 of them each month and launching 9 per day – it’s easy to see how viral apps take several social media channels by storm.

“In this age where users jump onto a bandwagon because it’s fun or trendy, the Fear of Missing Out (FOMO) can overshadow basic security habits – like being vigilant on granting app permissions,” says Bethwel Opil, Enterprise Sales Manager at Kaspersky in Africa. “In fact, accordingly to a previous Kaspersky study, the majority (63%) of consumers do not read license agreements and 43% just tick all privacy permissions when they are installing new apps on their phone. And this is exactly where the danger lies – as there is certainly ‘no harm’ in joining online challenges or installing new apps.”

However, it is dangerous when users just grant these apps limitless permissions into their contacts, photos, private messages, and more. “Doing so allows the app makers possible, and even legal, access to what should remain confidential data. When this sensitive data is hacked or misused, a viral app can turn a source into a loophole which hackers can exploit to spread malicious viruses or ransomware,” adds Badenhorst. 

As such, online users should always have their thinking caps on and be more careful when it comes to the internet and their app habits including:

  • Only download apps from trusted sources. Read the reviews and ratings of the apps as well
  • Select apps you wish to install on your devices wisely
  • Read the license agreement carefully
  • Pay attention to the list of permissions your apps are requesting. Only give apps permissions they absolutely insist on, and forgo any programme that asks for more than necessary
  • Avoid simply clicking “next” during an app installation
  • For an additional security layer, be sure to have a security solution installed on your device

“While the app market shows no signs of slowing down, it is changing,” says Opil. “Consumers download the apps they love on their devices which in turn gives them access to content that is relevant and useful. The future of apps will be in real-world attribution, influenced by local content and this type of tailored in-app experience will lead consumers to share their data more willing in a trusted, premium app environment in exchange for more personalised experiences. But until then, proceed with caution.”

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