Internet threat news
It is no over-exaggeration to say that APT 28, also called Fancy Bear, has become a thorn in the side of law enforcement and security researchers. Fancy Bear is believed to have links with Russian military and intelligence agencies including the GRU, or the Main Directorate of the General Staff of the Russian Armed Forces for those wanting the entire name, which is the main intelligence agency serving the Russian armed forces. Fancy Bear is one of the most active advanced persistent threat groups on the planet and is believed to have played a pivotal role in the attacks upon the Democratic National Committee, both in 2016 and in 2018. Now Microsoft, in a blog post, that the group is actively targeting political organizations engaged in the upcoming the upcoming 2019 European Parliament election, due to be held in May 2019.
According to Tom Burt, Corporate Vice President of Customer Security & Trust at Microsoft, the Redmond based tech giant has recently detected activity targeting democratic institutions in Europe. The detections are as a result of Microsoft’s expansion of its Threat Intelligence Center (MSTIC) and Digital Crimes Unit (DCU) to protect customers across the globe. The malicious activity is also not isolated to the political sphere but often extend to think tanks and non-profit organizations working on topics related to democracy, electoral integrity, and public policy. These are organizations that are often in contact with government officials and other policymakers. As an example of this Microsoft detected attacks targeting employees of the German Council on Foreign Relations and European offices of The Aspen Institute and The German Marshall Fund. It was also stated that researchers detected attacks dating to between September and December 2018 targeting 104 accounts belonging to employees at various organizations, with the organizations been domiciled in Belgium, France, Germany, Poland, Romania, and Serbia.
Security researchers at Avast discovered a new malware strain which is being distributed via Facebook Messenger and Skype. This may come as another blow to Facebook’s reputation that is limping from one public relations nightmare to the next. News of the new Malware quickly followed the release of the UK’s Digital, Culture, Media, and Sport select committee’s investigation report. The investigation took 18 months to complete and had the mandate to investigate Facebook’s role into the dissemination of fake news. The over a hundred-page report found that Facebook may be guilty of purposefully obstructing its inquiry and failing to tackle attempts by Russia to manipulate elections. The report went further and labeled the social media giant as “digital gangsters”.
In a report published over the weekend by Avast will not have the same effect as the report mentioned above, however, malware has the ability to ruin a day for multiple individuals and companies do not want their applications used to distribute malware no matter how big they are. In the report researchers described that the new threat can be seen as a “multi-stage malware”, meaning that the malware deploys in stages. This is a common tactic used by malware authors to avoid detection and allow for the deployment of other malware strains at a later date. Avast discovered the malware in August 2018 and have noticed the malware had been updated on a monthly basis. The firm noticed though that in January 2019 the malware has been updated on a daily basis.
Popular YouTubers are akin to other celebrities in daily life. They have hordes of fans following their exploits with many of those fans wishing some of the stardom would rub off on them. Hackers are now exploiting this desire and leveraging famous YouTubers in a phishing scam. Phishing still remains a popular method of getting users to hand over vital information and often involves hackers trying to lure unsuspecting victims to the site to trick them into disclosing their login, password, credit card number, PIN, or simply to redirect traffic to generate click revenue. This is more often than not by hackers creating authentic looking emails or websites to act as the lure and trick victims, often including some form of social engineering to get the user, now a victim, to enter information without question.
In articles published by both Kaspersky Labs and RiskIQ details how the scam operates and the eventual goal. Many instances of cybercrime go unreported in the larger news networks, however, given our fascination with famous individuals this event has been covered by the BBC and the Verge. In summary, the scam involves the sending of an email to the target from what would appear to be a famous YouTuber with the email often stating that the recipient stands in line to win something, be that an iPhone X or something else of value. In order to be entered into the competition the recipient just has to follow a few simple steps involving a few mouse clicks. If this is done the recipient is now the victim.
In what may prove to be a world first security researcher’s at ESET discovered a piece of clipper malware which replaces victims Bitcoin and Ethereum wallet addresses with the attackers own. Clipper malware, often also referred as a clipboard hijacker, is designed to access the computer’s data buffer, commonly referred to as the clipboard, for anything that resembles a cryptocurrency wallet address. If such an address is found those addresses are removed and replaced with the attackers in the hope that the victim will transfer funds to the attacker's address. Given that wallet addresses are long and far from easily recalled from memory clippers are proven a low tech but effective means of stealing from victims.
Detected as Android/Clipper.C by ESET researchers, the malware masquerades as the legitimate service MetaMask in order to trick users to download the malware. These malware strains have not been seen in large amounts targeting mobile devices. Rather, the majority of instances have been seen infecting desktop devices. They are still incredibly new malware with Windows PC’s seen infected in the wild in 2017. It arrived on Android in 2018 but only on non-official app stores, known for distributing various malware variants to those not using official app stores that have a level of protection. That was until February 1, 2018, when researchers discovered the clipper on Google Play Store, Android’s official app store.
The malware authors behind the GandCrab ransomware are continually giving law enforcement and security researcher headache after a headache. Not only does the author’s continually evolve the malware to include newer features, but they also keep evolving their business, if it can be called one, model. Despite setbacks, the group seems to come back stronger. In a combined effort Europol and Bitdefender released a decryption tool for many of the versions of GandCrab seen in the wild. Such a concerted effort to thwart GandCrab operators left them bruised but not out. The latest version, 5.1, has no decryption as of yet, although a removal guide is available on this platform. Further, the business model has now included measures to help dishonest data recovery firms hide costs to bump up their margins.
In a recent report published by security firm, Coveware illustrated how dishonest data-recovery firms have found a business ally in the malware authors behind GandCrab. In essence, the GandCrab TOR website allows dishonest data-recovery companies to hide the actual ransom cost from victims. This is done in a variety of ways but one such method includes the awarding of coupons to recovery firms who frequently access GandCrab's TOR site.
A report published by blockchain analysis firm Chainalysis has revealed that two separate hacker groups are responsible for up to 60% of all publicly reported cryptocurrency exchange hacks. Further, it is estimated that the two groups combined have stolen approximately 1 billion USD worth of cryptocurrency since the start of their operations. Chainalysis may not be the first name the public thinks of when it comes to cybersecurity, however, the group has earned a solid reputation for illuminating what it terms cryptocrime. The firm made headlines when working with Google it was discovered that that 95% of all ransomware payments made since the start of 2014 were converted into fiat currency via the BTC-e exchange portal. Their investigation led to the arrest of Alexander Vinnick, the CEO of BTC-e at the time.
According to Chainalysis the two prominent groups tracked over a period of years, called Alpha and Beta respectively by the firm, on average stole 90 million USD per hack. Through their analysis, they found that the biggest group is Alpha but that does not mean Beta is by any means too small to ignore. Both groups specialize in breaching exchange portals in order to steal cryptocurrency. They then move the stolen currency through a complex network of wallets and exchanges in an attempt to disguise their origin.
It is no secret that the US faces many cybersecurity threats to national and business interests. With government workers returning to jobs after a lengthy government shutdown over President Trump’s planned border wall the true cost of how the shutdown impacted cybersecurity can be calculated. However, not all government bodies were completely hamstrung. In a combined operation between the US Department of Justice (DOJ), the FBI's Los Angeles Field Office and, the US Air Force Office of Special Investigations (AFOSI) announced that operations were underway to take down Joanap, a botnet operated by North Korean hacker groups. On January 30, 2018, the US Department of Justice announced its efforts about the operation which had been active since October 2018. The DOJ provided court documents which included a court order and a search warrant to provide the public with more information.
Based on the documents provided, readers will be provided with a unique insight into how the operation was made possible and conducted. The operation started with the authorities operating servers which mimicked infected computers part of the botnet, and silently mapped other infected hosts. This was made possible purely because of the way the botnet had been constructed. The botnet relies upon peer-to-peer (P2P) communications system where infected hosts relay commands introduced in the botnet's network from one to another, instead of reporting to one central command-and-control server. In its simplest form P2P communication relies on creating a network architecture that partitions tasks or workloads between peers. Peers have equal privileges, it is this fact that was the botnet’s Achilles heel.
Last week new ransomware variants come to light which grabbed more than a few headlines. First, we had Phobos, operated by the group behind the Dharma ransomware family, then secondly hAnt which targeted mining rigs. Towards the end of last week, it would seem that those using trojans in financially motivated cybercrimes did not want to be forgotten. Two trojans were discovered by two separate security firms, both looking to steal victims’ money but in two different ways.
First discovered in 2015 the RTM Trojan, or Read-the-Manual, was used in campaigns designed to target predominantly Russian speakers. In a new campaign, it is again Russian speakers who appear to be the main target of the campaign. The latest campaign has been analyzed and tracked by Palo Alto Network's Unit 42 security team and rests on convincing users into downloading and executing the RTM banking trojan, also sometimes called Redaman. This is done by using the threats of debt and missing payments to scare users into inadvertently downloading the malware.
It has been a busy week in the news for ransomware. First, it emerged a new family called Phobos was discovered and been used by the group behind the Crysis and Dharma families of ransomware. Then reports emerged of another new ransomware called Anatova. Then finally, although the week has not ended yet, another new ransomware has been seen infecting Bitcoin mining rigs in China called hAnt.
China is widely regarded as the country where the highest concentration of mining farms can be found. Thus, it is of no coincidence that the majority of hAnt infections have been reported coming from China. Initially, news of the infections broke on Yibenchain.com with a later article in English been published on ZDNet. According to the article on ZDNet the ransomware was first discovered in August 2018, however, a new campaign targeting mining farms seems to have started earlier this month.
Discovered in December 2018, a new ransomware variant called Phobos was discovered by researchers at Covewave which it would seem is a combination of the Dharma and Crysis ransomware variants. The naming of the new ransomware variant will pique the interest of those fond of Greek Mythology as Phobos was the god of fear who was the son of Ares and a brother to Deimos the god of terror. With such a strong name questions will be asked as to whether the malware is indeed something to be scared of.
In the report published by Coveware what readers will initially find the most striking is the similarities to the Dharma ransomware variant that has been used so successfully over the years. These similarities go so far as to use the same attack vector that Dharma has, namely open or poorly secured RDP ports. The leveraging of unsecured RDP or Remote Desktop Protocols ports is a favored attack method of hackers. In September 2018, the FBI warned businesses owners to secure these ports as a spike in attempts to gain a foothold in a network was seen exploiting this attack vector. One such attack campaign seen was a campaign using the Crysis ransomware, a closely related cousin to Phobos.
Data breaches have become a no longer ignorable fact of life. A fair amount of articles on this publication have dealt with breaches in their varying forms. From the record-breaking Equifax breach which was unrivaled in scale, to how much cash is to be made by hackers selling data acquired from a breach, 1.7 million USD for those interested. Even the consequences facing companies if breached. While the Equifax breach set all kinds of records for all the wrong reasons, news surfacing about “Collection #1” smashes all those nefarious records.
On January 17, 2019, security researcher Troy Hunt published an article detailing the discovery of email addresses and passwords exposed online. Mr. Hunt has called the breach “Collection #1” and the numbers are truly staggering. It consists of email addresses and passwords totaling 2,692,818,238 rows. In total, there are 1,160,253,228 unique combinations of email addresses and passwords with unique email addresses totaling 772,904,991. Then there are 21,222,975 unique passwords. It took the writer three read through attempts to try to make sense of the numbers and they are still unfathomable.
Remote Access Trojans, or RAT, are a favored malware variant of hackers and other cybercriminals across the globe. The use of such trojans is as varied and diverse as those using them illegally. They have been seen in cyber espionage campaigns to financial fraud campaigns and are a stable tool in any hacker’s bag of tricks. Simply put a RAT is merely is a back door to a targeted system that gives the hacker administrative control over the system. They are normally downloaded invisibly and predominantly spread via malicious emails.
Often when security researchers discuss an interesting aspect of a piece of malware, those infected will see it as more frustrating than interesting. NanoCore can remain on a system even once its processes are killed is such an aspect. Interesting to some, frustrating to those affected. In a report published by researchers at Fortinet noticed that a recently found sample of the NanoCore RAT which is able to prevent users from killing its processes.
The Ryuk ransomware, named after a character from the popular Death Note anime, has become known as targeted ransomware. Discovered in August 2018, it was seen been used by hackers to first scope out potential targets. Once a suitable target was found the ransomware gained access to the targeted computer via Remote Desktop Services and then proceed to steal credentials. This targeted approach allowed hackers to target businesses and other high profile targets in order to extort greater sums of money. Now new research suggests that the operators of Ryuk and the infamous TrickBot have partnered up to earn even more money from their illicit trade.
Ryuk made international headlines when it was linked to a ransomware attack which affected the newspaper distribution networks of large media houses including the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, and Los Angeles Times. It has been estimated that those behind Ryuk have already netted approximately 3.7 million USD. New research published by both FireEye and CrowdStrike show that those behind Ryuk are looking to extort even more funds by partnering with the group behind TrickBot.
It is the best practice to enable two-factor authentication, often simply referred to as 2FA, when one can. Beyond best practice, it is recommended by experts to enable 2FA to prevent becoming a victim of the numerous phishing campaigns that stalk the Internet on a daily basis. Two events that have recently arisen that may be the beginning of the end for 2FA, or at the very least far more secure versions of it. The first of these events being a penetration testing tool released by a Polish security researcher capable of bypassing 2FA in a phishing attack. The second being a research report released by Amnesty International which details how APT groups are able to bypass 2FA using phishing tactics. While developed by different interested parties these developments may signal a significant eroding of trust in the widely trusted 2FA protocols.
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