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WannaCry curtain-raiser revealed

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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Cisco gives pre-owned tech a Refresh

In a market of constant upgrades, Cisco Refresh aims to keep quality product away from landfills, writes BRYAN TURNER.

When one gets a new smartphone upgrade, the old device may be used as a backup or can be used by someone else. In business environments, equipment upgrades may not be conducive to keeping old equipment around, which may send older, working equipment to landfills.

This is where Cisco’s Refresh initiative comes in. At Cisco Connect in Sun City this week, Ehrika Gladden, VP and general manager of Cisco Refresh, lifted the lid on a little-known aspect of the company’s strategy. 

“Refresh is Cisco’s global pre-owned equipment business unit,” said Gladden. “It is certified to meet the quality and engineering standards of Cisco. It is licensed for software and it’s also inclusive of a services warranty.

“Our responsibility in 80 countries around the world is tied to both the recovery of assets and the ability to leverage those assets at a lower price point. This ensures our sustainability and proper usage of the Earth’s resources while providing access to small and medium businesses. The products are typically in the range of 20-40% cheaper. The products represent the entire portfolio for Cisco in some part, the majority of that product set is 2+ years in terms of generation.”

Cisco’s Circular Economy initiative ensures a sustainable loop through businesses willing to pay a premium for the latest, cutting-edge solutions, while Cisco markets older, working equipment for resale to those who don’t require the latest solutions. This ensures far less new components need to be used in a product range.

“We are leveraging the model of remanufacturing, refurbishing, recycling, and reusing,” said Gladden. “Depending on the product set, there is a certain set of product yield that we expect. They vary from product to product, but we do have a percentage that doesn’t make it through.

“Those are always reused, meaning we will look at those products and decide to use them completely differently, leveraging the components, remanufacturing back into the overall build process. If that can’t be done, we will go into a recycle process where we melt those products down to reuse them.”

Repairing and refurbishing older products isn’t just that. Cisco is creating repair centres that are owned by third-parties to uplift local ownership.

“The repair centres, as a global manufacturer, is Cisco’s entree into local ownership,” said Gladden. “I want to be precise about what I mean by local ownership. It’s critical for us to have a localised presence, but doing that through ownership. When you look at inclusive economies, those that are participative, to be sustainable – not in the product set, but generationally.

“The ability as a global manufacturer through a local ownership model  isto create a repair centre where a product can be returned, screened, tested, and repaired, leveraging the talent that the Networking Academy is creating.”

Cisco is working closely with local governments to understand where it operates and how to leverage the skills in the market.

Gladden said: “We are also super excited about the National Development Plan and African Union statements which with we align: eradication of poverty, job creation, ownership, healthcare, education, it all fits in the model. So we were very excited to have the opportunity to come to Africa first to announce this. Over the next twelve months, we want to establish our first repair centres, and in the next 3 to 5 years, build that vision into a reality.”

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Why Data Privacy has become a Pipe Dream

If you’re active on WhatsApp, Facebook or any other social platform, you’re not as safe as you thought, writes
AARON THORNTON, MD of Dial a Nerd

As you begin to read this, let’s perform a quick experiment! How many active conversations are you engaged in – right now – on WhatsApp? When was the last time you shared a picture or video on Instagram? Is Facebook currently open and active on one of your devices? And how many internet- connected devices are you using at this moment? Chances are, you have multiple devices running multiple applications most of the time. So what’s the problem, you ask? Since when did checking in with a high school buddy in Australia via Facebook become a dangerous act?  

In reply, we say, read on if you can stomach it!  

Nation-State Hacking & You  

It might seem like a laughably long shot to say that you are a key player in the increasingly sinister and sophisticated world of nation-state hacking. Well, you are. Given that individuals, businesses and governments are now constantly connected, round the clock, consumers and businesses have become fair game in cyber espionage. And as we create and share more and more data, both the value and accessibility of that data increases. According to a report by McAfee, IP theft now accounts for more than 25% of the estimated $600 billion cost of cybercrime to the world economy.    

With data having become the ‘new gold’, nation states are naturally pouring investment and key resources into building advanced cyber warfare tools. Indeed, entire divisions of armed forces as well as the upper echelons of corporate leadership are devising ways to harness data to gain economic, political and social power. At the highest level, tools and platforms are being developed with the specific aim of perpetrating cyber espionage and data theft. No surprise then, that the consumer and business environments are rife with increasingly advanced malware, ransomware and many other malicious hacking tools and methods.  

Still not convinced? Yes, we can smell the scepticism from here! So let’s take a moment to see how this has already played out, beneath our noses.  

Remember the Facebook–Cambridge Analytica data scandal of early 2018? For many, this was a watershed moment in the emerging war for consumer data – and the ensuing tensions between privacy, power and profit. Need a refresh? Well, in 2018, Facebook exposed data on up to 87 million Facebook users to a researcher who worked at Cambridge Analytica, which worked for the Trump campaign. In essence, the data was harvested without user consent and used for political purposes.  

Another chilling but less direct example can be found in Russia’s meddling in the 2016 U.S. elections. According to Politico, Russia launched a massive social media campaign to ‘sow discord’ leading up to the elections. The website reported that as early as 2014, an infamous Russian “troll farm” known as the Internet Research Agency – a company linked to Russian president Putin – developed a strategy using fraudulent bank accounts and other fake identity documents to “spread distrust towards the candidates and the political system in general.” 

When referring to the Russian hacks and their impact on election results, one U.S. Representative sagely noted: “They didn’t just steal data; they weaponized it.” 

Ignorance is not bliss 

Okay, so data is being ‘weaponized’, and ordinary people and businesses are being caught in the crosshairs of cyber warfare. A little bit frightening, but the good news is that savvy individuals like you can take steps to protect personal data and actively combat the creeping influence of juggernauts such as Facebook and Google.  

To begin with, awareness is key. As you engage with various platforms and applications at work and at home, take time to understand how your data is being used and what the terms of use are. Is your data being accessed and sold to advertisers? Have you consented to this? In addition to scrutinizing your consent, also pay close attention to how much data you share online – and the nature of the details you are divulging. Always keep in mind that hackers are employing smart social engineering tactics and using the details of your private life (birthdays, holidays, pet’s names, etc) to trick you into opening infected emails and clicking on malware. Whenever you are online, you are a target – and vigilance at all times is critical. Beyond that, it goes without saying that you must commit to following basic security protocols with your devices. So always keep software up to date and keep your data backed up so that you can reboot or wipe a device if needed.   

Now that we’ve left you sufficiently spooked, you can get back to those demanding WhatsApp/Facebook/Instagram notifications (same company, by the way)…albeit, we hope, with a slightly altered [cyber] worldview!  

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