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When ads become dangerous

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Over the past months, the BBC, the New York Times, and other major news and commercial websites became victims of Malvertising attacks. DOROS HADJIZENONOS, Country Manager of Check Point South Africa explains.

One of the most prominent ways malware spreads is by infecting websites and delivering drive-by attacks. When a user visits an infected site an exploit kit is activated. Once activated, the kit checks to see if the machine is vulnerable to one or more of the exploits it contains. If so, it leverages the vulnerability to install malicious software on the user’s device. Since this is a common threat, most websites harden their systems to protect themselves and their visitors from infection.

However, hackers can avoid the need to infect a well-guarded website by infecting the servers that supply advertisements to them instead. This form of attack is called Malvertising and is extremely effective for attackers who wish to reach a broad audience with their malware. The more popular the website, the larger the impact will be.

A Growing Trend

Malvertising is not a new form of an attack, but it has become headline news after several recent occurrences. At the beginning of March, a large Malvertising campaign targeting Baidu’s advertising platform was revealed. Despite having started in October 2015, this campaign’s evasive and elaborate nature enabled it to remain undercover and impact countless users in China for over four months. Two weeks later, several major news sites, including the BBC and New York Times, were hit with a Malvertising campaign. Visitors to these sites were targeted by a ransomware variant, similar to the infamous Cryptolocker attack, served by the Angler exploit kit. The attackers did not stop after the campaign was finally exposed.

They simply changed tactics to target videos as their Malvertising platform, instead of infecting users as they previously had through web banners. The campaign continued successfully targeting the Fox News website, among others.

Another recent Malvertising campaign targeted Australian users with an even more complex attack flow. First, they infiltrated a law firm’s website. Then they created fake advertisements containing the firm’s logo and published them on the Gumtree website, a subsidiary of eBay, which receives 48 million visitors a month. The attackers were able to stay hidden by altering the supplied ads, switching between benign and malicious ones, making it harder for security vendors to identify them.

Why Malvertising?

It is interesting to notice that hackers often attack suppliers who work with the main websites, rather than attacking the sites themselves. Often times, leveraging an attack through a supplier proves an easier path to success than a direct attack on the intended victim. We have seen this pattern with several Malvertising attacks. The same approach was used in the infamous Target hack, in which the attackers infiltrated Target’s network by compromising the network of Target’s suppliers first.

For this reason, we believe that the Malvertising trend will continue to impact major sites and users worldwide. In order to mitigate it, Ad servers must enhance their security measures and ensure the content they supply is legitimate.

How Can You Protect Your Organisation?

What we have learned from recent Malvertising attacks is that education and awareness about these threats are not enough to stay protected. Even the standard security measures that already exist in most organisations are only capable of preventing known threats and are not capable of countering the advanced, continuously evolving tactics of today’s cybercriminals.

Organisations that wish to stay fully protected must elevate their threat prevention strategies and protect themselves, not only from known threats, but also against unknown malware and zero-day threats, like Malvertising. To address this challenge, Check Point offers SandBlast Zero-Day Protection; the most advanced solution to protect against these new and unknown malware and advanced threats.

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Now for hardware-as-a-service

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Integrated ICT and Infrastructure provider Vox has entered into an exclusive partnership with Go Rentals to introduce a Hardware-as-a-Service (HaaS) offering, which is aimed at providing local small and medium businesses (SMEs) with quick, affordable, and scalable access to a wide variety of IT infrastructure – as well as the management thereof.

“Despite an increasingly competitive business environment where every rand counts, many business owners are still buying technology-based equipment outright rather than renting it,” says Barry Kemp, Head of Managed IT at Vox. “The problem with this is that the modern device arena has grown in variety and complexity, making it more difficult to manage, and to reduce the overheads of controlling these devices.”

According to Kemp, there is a global trend being observed in businesses moving away from owning and managing IT infrastructure. This started with the move away from servers and toward cloud-based subscription services, and now organisations are looking to do the same with the remaining on-premise hardware – employees’ desktop systems.

The availability of HaaS changes the way in which local businesses consume IT, by allowing them to direct valuable capital expenditure toward the more efficient and competitive operation of their organisation, rather than spending on hardware products. 

“The rental costs are up to 50% lower than if they buy these products through traditional asset financing methods. Furthermore, using HaaS gives businesses the ability to scale up and down depending on their infrastructure requirements. Customers on a 12 month contract can return up to 10% of the devices rented, while those customers on 24 and 36 month contracts can return up to 20% of the devices – at any time during the contract,” adds Kemp.

More than just a rental

HaaS gives business access to repurposed Tier 1 hardware from vendors such as Dell, HP and Lenovo, equipped with the required specifications (processor, memory, and storage), and come installed with the latest Microsoft Windows operating system, unless an older version is specifically requested by the customer.

Kemp says: “Where HaaS is different from simply renting IT hardware is that businesses get full asset lifecycle management, such as having all company software pre-installed, flexible refresh cycles and upgrades, support and warranty management and transparent and predictable per user monthly fees.”

The ability to upgrade during the contract period means that businesses can keep pace with the latest in technology without needing to invest on depreciating equipment, while ensuring maximum productivity and efficiency for employees. Returned devices are put through a decommissioning process that ensures anonymity, certified data protection, and environmental compliance. 

Businesses further stand to benefit from Vox Care, which incorporates asset management and logistical services for customers. This includes initial delivery and setup in major centres, asset tagging of all rented items, creation, and the repair and/or replacement of faulty machines within three business days – again in the main metropolitan areas. 

Vox Care also assists in the design, testing and deployment of custom images, whereby HaaS clients can have the additional programmes they need (security, productivity tools, business software, etc) easily pre-installed along with the Windows operating system, on all their machines.

Kemp says HaaS customers can get further peace of mind by outsourcing the day to day management of their desktop environment to Vox Managed Services, as well as leverage the company’s knowledge and expertise to manage and host workstation backups to ensure business continuity.

Says Kemp: “Hardware-as-a-Service allows businesses to reduce the total cost of ownership of their hardware and ensure they only pay for what they use. Making the switch to a service model helps them take advantage of the global move in this direction, and to turn their business into a highly functional, flexible, low cost, change your mind whenever you want workplace.”

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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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