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Cyber Security

Why Are Cybercriminals Increasing Their Focus on Mobile Devices?



Written by Ram Narayanan, Country Manager at Check Point Software Technologies, Middle East

A survey carried out in the last year revealed that almost half (49%) of organizations worldwide are unable to detect an attack or breach on employee-owned devices. At a time when workforces around the world are becoming increasingly distributed, there’s a genuine risk that the mobile arena could soon become the new corporate cybersecurity battleground.

From mobile spyware that can assume complete control of iOS and Android devices via zero-click exploits, to trojans deployed via malicious apps that can harvest users’ credentials, organizations have never been more at risk from mobile threats. What’s more, any notion that hybrid working and a BYOD (bring your own device) culture were simply part of a temporary response to the COVID-19 pandemic can now also be laid to rest.

In data published as recently as February 2022, Statista reported that 30% of the world’s workforce now work exclusively from home. The same survey indicated that around 60% of companies are now actively facilitating hybrid working, giving their employees the freedom to choose where they log on. But how many of these organizations are fully prepared for the security demands of a truly mobile workforce?

As outlined in our 2022 Security Report, the number of weekly cyberattacks on corporate networks peaked at an average of 900 attacks per organization in Q4 2021. Across the entire year, we recorded a staggering 50% increase in weekly attacks from 2020. Far from being a coincidence, it’s more likely that cybercriminals are simply taking advantage of the expanding mobile ecosystem that organizations worldwide now occupy.

The emerging mobile threat
We’ve seen some concerning developments in the mobile threat landscape throughout the past year. Our report referenced NSO’s Pegasus, notorious for its ability to gain full control of iOS and Android devices via an elaborate zero-click exploit. NSO, the group responsible for the spyware, is currently one of the highest-profile vendors of “access-as-a-service” malware, selling packaged hacking solutions that enable affiliate threat actor groups to target mobile devices without the need for homegrown resources.

In 2019, Pegasus was used to leverage WhatsApp and infect more than 1,400 user devices, from senior government officials to journalists and even human rights activists. More recently, in 2021, it was widely reported that Pegasus had been used to target the mobile devices of more than 50,000 devices around the world, including those of high-level business executives. Pegasus is noted for its sophisticated infection and data exfiltration capabilities, and as such we think it’s likely to inspire similar malware threats. As mentioned in our report, a Macedonian-based group has already created the Predator spyware in Pegasus’ wake, designed to infect target devices via single-click links sent over WhatsApp.

Both Pegasus and Predator are representative of a general shift toward social media and messaging apps as a way to steal credentials and infiltrate corporate networks. In August 2021, an Android trojan known as FlyTrap was found to have compromised more than 10,000 Facebook accounts across more than a hundred countries. Not long after, a fraudulent version of WhatsApp designed to deliver the Triada banking trojan made its way onto the Android store, putting thousands of devices at risk. Toward the end of the year, in November, a new malware known as MasterFred gained traction by using fake login overlays to steal credit card information from Twitter and Instagram users.

These emerging mobile malware threats aren’t just designed to impact individuals; they’re designed to extort and steal data from corporate networks at a time when the lines between personal and business-owned devices are becoming increasingly blurred. WhatsApp Business launched in 2018 and already has more than 100 million users, all of them using the messaging app to exchange potentially sensitive business information. This emerging mobile threat is real, and this is most likely only the beginning.

SMS phishing
Another worrying trend we’ve witnessed is a rise in SMS phishing or “Smishing” attempts. Using SMS messages as an attack vector may seem rudimentary, but as with email phishing, it’s still disconcertingly effective. In our report, we noted that the FluBot botnet had made a return in 2021 despite being dismantled by authorities earlier in the year. It spread convincing security update warnings, parcel delivery alerts, and voicemail notifications to users that, if they clicked on the link, would infect their device.

UltimaSMS also launched in 2021, a widespread SMS scam that leveraged more than 150 apps on the Google Play Store to sign victims up to a “premium” SMS subscription service without their knowledge, stealing money and additional access privileges as a result. With an increasing number of users bringing their smartphones to work or using their smartphones at home to access work-based information, the risk caused by Smishing – or any phishing campaign for that matter – cannot be ignored.

Banking and mobile malware
The banking malware landscape has been a hive of activity for years now, dominated by adaptive, difficult-to-detect malware families that extort business and harvest financial information. Trickbot rose from second place to become the most prevalent banking trojan in 2021, responsible for nearly a third (30%) of all global incidents according to our own research. Trickbot is incredibly versatile and uses sophisticated techniques such as anti-analysis to get around the defenses of financial and technology companies, including those that deal in cryptocurrency.

Qbot and Dridex are two other prominent banking trojans that exhibit botnet-like features, used by ransomware campaigns to drop malware onto infected devices. Dridex was even among the first malware to be distributed via the Log4j vulnerability that put countless businesses at risk toward the end of 2021.

In September 2021, we uncovered a wave of malicious Android applications that targeted the PIX payment system and its mobile banking apps. These applications abused Android’s Accessibility Services (AAS) in order to siphon money from PIX transactions while remaining largely undetected.

This was yet another incident that we expect to inspire further similar moves from other threat actors within the mobile banking space – not good news for a generation of accountants, c-suite executives, and business owners that are now more likely than ever to rely on mobile or remote-access banking.

How organizations can keep their guard up
From malicious apps and mobile ransomware to SMS phishing and OS exploits, the mobile threat landscape is a complex one for organizations to navigate, particularly with employee-owned devices in the equation. How can a company strike a balance between protection and privacy? What can businesses do about devices that are inherently vulnerable? Aren’t MDM (mobile device management) solutions enough to keep company data safe?

The difficulty with mobile devices is that they’re vulnerable to several attack vectors, including the application, network, and OS layers. If an organization wants to proactively guard against mobile malware instead of simply reacting to infections as they occur, it needs more than the basic level of monitoring afforded by most MDM solutions.

As our mobile ecosystem continues to expand, the attack surface area available to threat actors will expand right along with it. It’s never been clearer that mobile security is no longer an option for businesses. Instead, they should be looking to broaden their capabilities while taking a more holistic approach to guarding their increasingly distributed endpoints.

Cyber Security

CrowdStrike Announces New Features for the CrowdStrike Falcon Platform



CrowdStrike has introduced the industry’s first AI-powered Indicators of Attack (IoAs), new innovations for fileless attack prevention at scale and enhanced visibility for stealthy cloud intrusions. Delivered on the CrowdStrike Falcon platform and powered by the CrowdStrike Security Cloud, these new detection and response capabilities stop emerging attack techniques and enable organizations to optimize the threat detection and response lifecycle with speed, scale and accuracy.

More than a decade ago, CrowdStrike invented IoAs, which brought a fundamentally new approach to stopping breaches based on real adversary behaviour, irrespective of the malware or exploit used in an attack. CrowdStrike has also pushed the boundaries of applying AI in cybersecurity to identify and stop the most advanced, emerging attacks. Now, CrowdStrike is leveraging powerful AI techniques to create new IoAs at machine speed and scale.

“CrowdStrike leads the way in stopping the most sophisticated attacks with our industry-leading Indicators of Attack capability, which revolutionized how security teams prevent threats based on adversary behaviour, not easily changed indicators,” said Amol Kulkarni, chief product and engineering officer at CrowdStrike. “Now, we are changing the game again with the addition of AI-powered Indicators of Attack, which enable organizations to harness the power of the CrowdStrike Security Cloud to examine adversary behaviour at machine speed and scale to stop breaches in the most effective way possible.”

The Falcon platform’s new capabilities include:

Industry’s first AI-powered IoAs
Organizations today are under pressure to defend expanding attack surfaces against emerging threats and adversary tradecraft. With the Falcon platform, organizations can:

  • Detect new classes of attacks, faster than ever: Find emerging attack techniques with new IoAs created by continuously learning AI models trained on real-world adversary behaviour and the world’s richest threat intelligence.
  • Drive automated prevention with high-fidelity detections: Shutdown attacks based on a chain of behaviours, irrespective of the specific malware or tools used, with cloud-native AI models constantly delivered to the Falcon agent with newly-found IoAs.
  • Activate IoAs at cloud scale, trained on human-led expertise: Synthesize insights with AI-powered IoAs from CrowdStrike’s world-renowned threat hunting team to minimize false positives, maximize analyst productivity and deploy threat hunting at scale.

Of note, AI-powered IoAs have identified over 20 never-before-seen adversary patterns, which have been validated by experts and enforced on the Falcon platform for automated detection and prevention.

New innovations for fileless attack prevention at scale
According to the 2022 CrowdStrike Global Threat Report, 62% of all attacks are malware-free. These fileless attacks can be carried out entirely in memory, creating a blindspot for threat actors to exploit. With the Falcon platform, organizations can:

  • Prevent the most advanced fileless attacks: Stop advanced persistent threats (APT) and prevalent tools, like Cobalt Strike, with advanced memory scanning techniques that augment best-of-breed AI/ML and IoA detections with lightning-fast scanning of all memory at an unprecedented scale.
  • Leave bloated memory scanning behind: Shed the heavy resource constraints of legacy approaches that made memory scanning a non-starter with high-performance memory scanning techniques, optimized for Intel CPU/GPUs.
  • Initiate memory scans on behaviour, not a fixed schedule: Automate scans with behaviour-based triggers to find and stop fileless attack patterns in real-time, not after a potential breach.

Enhanced visibility for stealthy cloud intrusions
As Linux environments, data and applications have moved to the cloud, adversaries have also moved to the cloud to open backdoors, steal sensitive data and conceal their movement. With the Falcon platform, organizations can:

  • Hunt stealthy rootkits and reduce dwell time: Identify malicious activity early in the kill chain with deep Linux kernel visibility to fuel threat hunting and investigation of hidden, emerging Linux attacks.
  • Bolster managed cloud threat hunting: Disrupt the most sophisticated threats in cloud environments with new kernel telemetry events for Falcon OverWatch experts, building on CrowdStrike’s recently announced Fallon OverWatch Cloud Threat Hunting service.

“Using CrowdStrike sets Cundall apart as one of the more advanced organizations in an industry that typically lags behind other sectors in IT and cybersecurity adoption,” said Lou Lwin, CIO at Cundall. “Today, attacks are becoming more sophisticated and if they are machine-based attacks, there is no way an operator can keep up. The threat landscape is ever-changing. So, you need machine-based defences and a partner that understands security is not ‘one and done.’ It is evolving all the time.”

According to Forrester, “No security tool can detect every attack. Cybersecurity pits adversaries against defenders. Defensive technologies rely on rules, heuristics, and outliers to find evil. Those technologies lack one essential component that threat hunting introduces: the creativity of the practitioners defending enterprise environments.”

These capabilities are generally available for Falcon Prevent (NGAV) and Falcon Insight (EDR) customers.

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Preparing a Secure Cloud Environment in the Digital New Norm



Written by Daniel Jiang, General Manager of the Middle East and Africa, Alibaba Cloud Intelligence

As hybrid or remote working is being adopted by many companies globally and becoming the ‘new norm’ for millions of workers, cyberattacks meanwhile continue unabated. Building a secure and reliable IT environment has therefore become an increasingly important priority for many businesses who are exploring opportunities in the global digital economy. While moving to the cloud and using cloud-based security features is a good way to challenge cyber risks, it’s important to delve deeper into how best to construct a secure and reliable cloud environment that can fend off even the most determined attacker.

In today’s digital environment, discussions about cyber security’s best practices have never been more important. The UAE in particular established the Cybersecurity Council to develop a cybersecurity strategy and build a secure cyber infrastructure by creating related regulations. Following this move, the nation ranked 5th place on the International Telecommunications Union’s Global Cybersecurity Index 2020, jumping 33 places and it continues to prioritize cyber security and awareness. Creating a secure cloud environment – from building the architecture to adopting cutting-edge security technologies and putting in place important security management practices – will inspire more thorough conversations on this subject.

A resilient and robust security architecture is essential for creating a cloud environment capable of assuring an organisation about the availability, confidentiality and integrity of its systems and data. From the bottom up, the architecture should include security modules of different layers, so that companies can build trustworthy data security solutions on the cloud layer by layer – from the infrastructure security, data security, and application security to business security layers.

In addition to the security modules of all of the layers, there are a variety of automated data protection tools that enable companies to perform data encryption, visualisation, leakage prevention, operation log management and access control in a secure computing environment. Enterprises can also leverage cloud-based IT governance solutions for custom designs of cloud security systems to meet compliance requirements from network security and data security to operation auditing and configuration auditing. This ensures full-lifecycle data security on the cloud, with controllable and compliant data security solutions in place.

Another consideration is to build a multi-tenant environment, abiding by the principle of least privilege and adopting consistent management and control standards to protect user data from unauthorised access. In addition, establishing strict rules for data ownership and operations on data, such as data access, retention and deletion, is also pivotal in creating a safe environment.

Moreover, enterprises can embrace the zero-trust security architecture and build a zero-trust practice by design to protect the most sensitive systems. The architecture requires everything (including users, devices and nodes) requesting access to internal systems to be authenticated and authorised using identity access protocols. As such, the zero-trust security architecture cuts down on automatic trust, or trust without continuous verification, addressing modern challenges in securing remote working environments, hybrid cloud settings and increasingly aggressive cyber threats.

Cutting-edge security technologies such as comprehensive data encryption, confidential computing and many more emerging tech solutions, can be leveraged to ensure we stay on top of the trends in cybersecurity. Comprehensive data encryption provides advanced data encryption capabilities on transmission links (such as data-in-motion), compute nodes (such as data-in-use), and storage nodes (such as data-at-rest). Key Management Service and Data Encryption Service help users securely manage their keys and use a variety of encryption algorithms to perform encryption operations.

Another emerging technology to safeguard the cloud environment is confidential computing. Confidential computing is dedicated to securing data in use while it is being processed, protecting users’ most sensitive workloads. Confidential computing based on trusted execution environments (TEEs), ensures data security, integrity and confidentiality while simplifying the development and delivery of trusted or confidential applications at lower costs.

It is equally important to adopt proper security management practices and mechanisms to maximise the security protection of one’s critical system and important data. One essential mechanism to protect the cloud environment is to develop a comprehensive disaster recovery system, which enables businesses to configure emergency plans for data centres based on factors such as power, temperature and disasters, and establish redundant systems for basic services such as cloud computing, network and storage. It helps companies to deploy their business across regions and zones and build disaster recovery systems that support multiple recovery models.

Setting the effective reviewing and response mechanism for your cloud security issues is imperative. First, having vulnerability scanning and testing in place is important to assess the security status of systems; second, it is vital to use cloud-native monitoring tools to detect any anomalous behaviour or insider threats; furthermore, establishing proper procedures and responsibility models to quickly and accurately assess where vulnerabilities exist and their severity, will help ensure that quick remedy actions can be taken when security problems emerge.

In the future, developing the security architecture, technologies, management and response mechanism will no longer be perceived as a cost-centre burden for companies, but rather, as critical capabilities to safeguard the performance and security of daily business operations. Crafting a comprehensive cloud security plan, adopting the best industrial practices, and choosing a professional cloud service provider with strong security credentials to work with, should be an imperative subjects in a CXO’s agenda.

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Cyber Security

Hive, LockBit and BlackCat Ransomware Gangs Consecutively Attack the Same Network: Sophos



Sophos, a global leader in next-generation cybersecurity, today announced in the Sophos X-Ops Active Adversary whitepaper, “Multiple Attackers: A Clear and Present Danger,” that Hive, LockBit and BlackCat, three prominent ransomware gangs, consecutively attacked the same network. The first two attacks took place within two hours, and the third attack took place two weeks later. Each ransomware gang left its own ransom demand, and some of the files were triple encrypted.

“It’s bad enough to get one ransomware note, let alone three,” said John Shier, senior security advisor at Sophos. “Multiple attackers create a whole new level of complexity for recovery, particularly when network files are triple encrypted. Cybersecurity that includes prevention, detection and response are critical for organizations of any size and type—no business is immune.”

The whitepaper further outlines additional cases of overlapping cyberattacks, including cryptominers, remote access trojans (RATs) and bots. In the past, when multiple attackers targeted the same system, the attacks usually occurred across many months or multiple years. The attacks described in Sophos’ whitepaper took place within days or weeks of each other—and, in one case, simultaneously—often with the different attackers accessing a target’s network through the same vulnerable entry point.

Typically, criminal groups compete for resources, making it more difficult for multiple attackers to operate simultaneously. Cryptominers normally kill their competitors on the same system, and today’s RATs often highlight bot killing as a feature on criminal forums. However, in the attack involving the three ransomware groups, for example, BlackCat—the last ransomware group on the system—not only deleted traces of its own activity but also deleted the activity of LockBit and Hive. In another case, a system was infected by LockBit ransomware. Then, about three months later, members of the Karakurt Team, a group with reported ties to Conti, were able to leverage the backdoor LockBit created to steal data and hold it for ransom.

“On the whole, ransomware groups don’t appear openly antagonistic towards one another. In fact, LockBit explicitly doesn’t forbid affiliates from working with competitors, as indicated in Sophos’ whitepaper,” said Shier. “We don’t have evidence of collaboration, but it’s possible this is due to attackers recognizing that there are a finite number of ‘resources’ in an increasingly competitive market. Or, perhaps they believe the more pressure placed on a target—i.e. multiple attacks—the more likely the victims are to pay. Perhaps they’re having discussions at a high level, agreeing to mutually beneficial agreements, for example, where one group encrypts the data and the other exfiltrates. At some point, these groups will have to decide how they feel about cooperation—whether to further embrace it or become more competitive—but, for now, the playing field is open for multiple attacks by different groups.”

Most of the initial infections for the attacks highlighted in the whitepaper occurred through either an unpatched vulnerability, with some of the most notable being Log4Shell, ProxyLogon, and ProxyShell, or poorly configured unsecured Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP) servers. In most cases involving multiple attackers, the victims failed to remediate the initial attack effectively, leaving the door open for future cybercriminal activity. In those instances, the same RDP misconfigurations, as well as applications like RDWeb or AnyDesk, became an easily exploitable pathway for follow-up attacks. In fact, exposed RDP and VPN servers are some of the most popular listings sold on the dark web.

“As noted in the latest Active Adversary Playbook, in 2021 Sophos began seeing organizations falling victim to multiple attacks simultaneously and indicated that this may be a growing trend,” said Shier. “While the rise in multiple attackers is still based on anecdotal evidence, the availability of exploitable systems gives cybercriminals ample opportunity to continue heading in this direction.”

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