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WannaCry curtain-raiser revealed

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The WannaCry ransomware campaign wasn’t the first to use the EternalBlue and DoublePulsar exploits. ESET has revealed that they were first used at the end of April when hackers Monero cryptocurrency mining software.

The massive campaign that spread the WannaCry (aka WannaCryptor) ransomware wasn’t the only recent large-scale infection misusing the EternalBlue and DoublePulsar exploits, leaked by Shadow Brokers. The same mechanism was misused by black-hats as early as the end of April, when they opted for the off-the-shelf Monero cryptocurrency mining software, instead of the encrypting payload.

This campaign detected as Win32/CoinMiner.AFR and Win32/CoinMiner.AFU started only a few days after the NSA tools leaked online. ESET had network detections for the vulnerability deployed on April 25th – three days before the first attack attempts by these miners for Monero cryptocurrency.

The biggest uptick was recorded only hours before the mining ransomware’s global outbreak, on May 10th. On that day, mining malware detections increased from hundreds of detections per day to thousands. We have seen such attempts in as many as 118 countries, with Russia, Taiwan and Ukraine topping the list.

However, the mining software consumed system resources so intensely that in some cases it rendered the infected machines unresponsive.

Interestingly the CoinMiner attacks also blocked the 445 port used by the EternalBlue exploit to get into the machine, essentially closing the door to any subsequent infection using the same vector – including WannaCry. If the miners hadn’t taken this precaution, the number of WannaCry infections could have been even greater than reported.

So how bad was the WannaCry attack?

According to ESET telemetry, since Friday, the machines of more than 14.000 users who have enabled ESET LiveGrid, has reported as many as 66.000 WannaCry attack attempts on their devices.

These attacks mainly targeted Russian computers, with over 30.000 attacks, followed by Ukraine and Taiwan, where in both cases they were close to the 8.000 mark.

The chaos that ensued after WannaCry’s global outbreak seems to have motivated other black-hats to scale up their efforts too. We have seen a significant increase in the number of malicious emails sent out by the notorious Nemucod operators, spreading another ransomware.

Also, WannaCry fakes have emerged. These try to ride the wave of its fame by using the same GUI and layout. However, the encrypting capability was missing in all seen instances.

What should you do to stay safe?

  1. Since the EternalBlue exploit uses a vulnerability in Windows that has been already patched by Microsoft, the first thing would be to verify the completion of the update and the patch to your operating system.
  2. Use a reliable security solution that utilises multiple layers to protect you from similar threats in the future.
  3. It is best practice to keep backups on a remote hard disk or location that will not be hit in case of a network infection.
  4. We recommend that users do not pay ransoms – be it a case of the true WannaCry or any other ransomware. There have been no reported cases where pursuing such a step would lead to decryption. On the contrary, there have been multiple stories documenting the opposite – no decryptor or key being sent after the payment was made. Also, there seems to be no way for the attackers to match the payment to the specific victim who sent it to one of the shared BitCoin wallets.

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Samsung A51: Saviour of the mid-range

For a few years, Samsung has delivered some less than favourable mid-range devices compared to the competition. The Galaxy A51 is here to change all that, writes BRYAN TURNER.

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It’s not often one can look at a mid-range phone and mistake it for a flagship. That’s what you can expect to experience when taking the Galaxy A51 out into the open.

Samsung went back to the drawing board with its new range of devices, and it shows. The latest Galaxy A range features some of the highest quality, budget-friendly devices we’ve seen so far. The Samsung Galaxy A51 is one of the best phones we’ve seen in a while, not just aesthetically, but in what it packs into a sub-R7000 price tag.

Looking at the device briefly, it’s very easy to mistake it for a flagship. It features a four-camera array on the back, and an Infinity-O punch-hole display – both of which are features of the high-end Samsung devices. In fact, it features a similar camera array as the Galaxy Note10 Lite but features an additional lens in the array. The cameras line up in an L-shape, clearly avoiding looking like a stovetop.

Apart from the camera array, the back of the handset features a striking pattern called Prism Crush, a pattern of pastel shades that come in black, white, blue, and pink. For the review, we used the Prism Crush Blue colour and it looks really great. The feel is clearly plastic, which isn’t too surprising for a mid-range device, but the design is definitely something that will make users opt for a clear case. It’s also great to see a design pattern that deviates from the standard single iridescent colours many manufacturers have copied from Huawei’s design.

Along the sides, it features a metal-like frame, but again, it’s plastic. On the left side, we find a SIM and microSD card tray while the right side houses the power button and volume rocker. The bottom of the phone features a very welcome USB Type-C port and a 3.5mm headphone jack, which isn’t too uncommon for mid-range phones.

On the front, the device is pretty much all screen, at an 87.4% screen-to-body ratio, thanks to a tiny chin at the bottom and the small punch hole for the camera. The earpiece has also been hidden inside the frame in attempts to maximise this screen-to-body ratio. When powered on, the 6.5-inch display looks vivid and sharp. That’s because Samsung opted to put a Super AMOLED display into this midrange unit, giving it a resolution of 1080 x 2400 (at 405 ppi) in a 20:9 format. This makes the display FullHD+, and perfect for consuming video content like Netflix and YouTube in HD.

Hidden underneath the display is an in-screen fingerprint sensor, which is very surprising to find in a mid-range device. While it is extremely accurate, it takes some getting used to because the sensor is so large that one needs to put one’s entire finger over the right part of the display to unlock it. Most other types of non-in-screen fingerprint sensors don’t mind a partial fingerprint. The display itself feels nothing like the back and that’s because it’s not plastic, but rather Gorilla Glass 3, to prevent the screen from shattering easily.

What’s interesting about this device is finding accessories which aren’t quite available in phone stores yet. When browsing online for screen protectors, one has to be on the lookout for screen protectors that are compatible with the in-screen fingerprint sensor. Make sure to check out the reviews of users before purchasing them.

In terms of software, Samsung has made a great deal of effort to make the experience slick. Gone are the days of TouchWiz (thank goodness) and now we have OneUI in its second version. OneUI makes the phone easier to use by putting most of the interaction on the bottom half of the screen and most of the view on the top part of the screen, where one’s thumbs don’t usually reach.

Out of the box, the device came with Android 10. This is a huge step forward in terms of commitment to running the latest software for major feature updates as well as for Android security patches to keep the device secure.

It also has most of the cool features from the flagship devices, like Samsung Pay, Bixby, and Link to Windows. Samsung Pay is an absolute pleasure to use, even if it still confuses the person taking your payments. From linking my cards, I have stopped taking my wallet out with me because all merchants that accept tap-to-pay will accept Samsung Pay on the A51.

Bixby is useful if you’re in the Samsung app ecosystem, especially for owners of SmartThings devices like Samsung TVs and SmartThings-enabled smart home devices. Otherwise, Google Assistant is still accessible for those who still want to use the standard Google experience.

Link to Windows is an interesting feature that started with the Galaxy Note10 and has since trickled down into the mid-range. It allows users to send SMS messages, view recently taken photos, and receive notifications from the phone, all on a Windows 10 PC. This can be enabled by going to the Your Phone app found in the start menu.

The rear camera is phenomenal for a mid-range device and features a 48MP wide sensor. The photos come out as 12MP images, which is a common trick of many manufacturers to achieve high-quality photography. It does this by combining 4 pixels into a single superpixel to get the best colours out of the picture, while still remaining sharp. It also performs surprisingly well in low light, which is not something we were expecting from a mid-range device.

The 12MP ultra-wide angle lens spans 123-degrees, which is very wide and also useful for getting shots in where one can’t move back further. It’s not as great as the main lens but does the trick for getting everyone in for a group photo in a galley kitchen.

The 5MP depth-sensing lens supplements the portrait mode, which adds a blur effect to the background of the photo – the same lens as its predecessor, the Galaxy A50. It features a 32MP wide-angle selfie camera, which is perfect for fitting everyone into a large group selfie.

The processor is an Exynos 9611, which is an Octa-core processor. It performs well in most situations, and there is software built in to give games a boost, so it performs well with graphically intensive games too. In terms of RAM, there are 4GB, 6GB, and 8GB variants, so keep an eye out for which one you are trying. For the review, we had the 4GB, and it performs well with multitasking and day-to-day tasks.

For storage, it comes in a 128GB model on Samsung’s website, which seems to be the standard size. This is extremely welcome in the mid-range segment and is the largest we’ve seen for internal storage capacity as a starting point.

At a recommended selling price of R6,999, the Samsung Galaxy A51 marks the beginning of a great era for Samsung, because it provides a feature-rich handset at an affordable price.

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Prepare now for 2030

Traditional businesses are toast unless they start preparing for the future now, warns ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK

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Don’t say you haven’t been warned. Various forecasts point to the likelihood that technologies using artificial intelligence will generate up to 15% of the world’s gross domestic product by 2030. PwC suggests that it will add $15.7-trillion to the global economy. 

That, in turn, will ensure that a sizeable proportion of the world’s business will be conducted on advanced digital platforms. In other words, the 15% is just the springboard for vast swathes of activity that will dominate business. Those that stick to the old way of doing things will simply be left out of the new economy.

This means traditional businesses are already toast, but only if they decide not to start preparing now.

“This future economy is something that should be on everybody’s mind and in every government’s strategy,” says Mohammed Amin, Dell Technologies senior vice president for Middle East, Russia, Africa and Turkey. During a visit to South Africa this week, he said it was no longer a matter of selling technology for its own sake.

“If you’re not part of this wagon to the future, you need to jump on it. The world’s IT companies are not pushing digital transformation and multi-cloud strategy just for the sake of selling technology. We’re doing it to optimise your business and to help make you part of the future.”

He says three primary trends need to be leveraged by business.

“I believe that artificial intelligence is the ship that is going to take us for the future. The fuel is going to be data. And infrastructure will be software-defined. You have to build an agile, dynamic infrastructure to thrive in this future.”

Amin, an Egyptian-Canadian, points to the sensation created by his late compatriot, the Egyptian diva Umm Kulthum, who died 45 years ago. Last year, she appeared in the world’s first hologram concert, at the World Youth Forum in Egypt. Then, in December, she performed – as a hologram – for paying audiences in Saudi Arabia and Dubai. 

“Imagine people paying for tickets to watch a hologram. It means the world is open to this. It is moving so fast, and we are in the heart of this.”

It is also an example of how technology companies are no longer focused only on technology but also on enhancing human lives. 

“We’re involved in so many projects, from healthcare to education. Education especially is very important, because it is shifting from ‘what to learn’ to ‘how to learn’. It’s an amazing shift. You need to know how to learn because you will need to experience and learn in so many fields to be qualified for the future.”

Amin does not believe doomsday prophecies of much of the world’s population being rendered jobless by robots and AI. However, some “straightforward” jobs will be readily replaceable. Even lawyers and general practice doctors, for example, could be replaced by smartphone apps.

“The job market will grow, but the profile required is going to change. Jobs will be available, but for certain profiles. By 2030, 85% of the job market will be for jobs we don’t know today. This is the challenge that education faces.” 

  • Arthur Goldstuck is founder of World Wide Worx and editor-in-chief of Gadget.co.za. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram on @art2gee

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