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How Scammers Subscribe Mobile Users to Unwanted Paid Services

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With an ever growing number of smartphone users, the development of mobile applications has become a booming industry. Today there are millions of apps, helping users with almost every c of their everyday life – from entertainment to banking and billing. With this in mind, cybercriminals are working hard to develop their own apps and benefit from unsuspecting users.

Kaspersky researchers have observed fraudsters actively spreading Trojans, which secretly subscribe users to paid services, disguised as various different mobile apps, including popular games, healthcare apps and photo editors. Most of these Trojans request access to the user’s notifications and messages, so that the fraudsters can then intercept messages containing confirmation codes.

Users aren’t knowingly subscribing to these services but are, rather, falling victim to carelessness. For instance, a user fails to read the fine print and, before they know it, they’re paying for a horoscope app. These victims often don’t realize these subscriptions exist until their mobile phone account runs dry earlier than expected.

According to Kaspersky researchers, the most widely spread Trojans that sign users up to unwanted subscriptions are:

Jocker
Trojans from the Trojan.AndroidOS.Jocker family can intercept codes sent in text messages and bypass anti-fraud solutions. They’re usually spread on Google Play, where scammers download a legitimate app from the store, add malicious code to it and then re-upload it under a different name. In most cases, these trojanized apps fulfill their purpose and the user never suspects that they’re a source of threat.

So far in 2022, Jocker has most frequently attacked users in Saudi Arabia (21.20%), Poland, (8.98%) and Germany (6.01%).

MobOk
MobOk is considered the most active of the subscription Trojans with more than 70% of mobile users encountering these threats. MobOk Trojan is particularly notable for an additional capability that, in addition to reading the codes from messages, enables it to bypass CAPTCHA. MobOK does this by automatically sending the image to a service designed to decipher the code shown .

Since the beginning of the year, MobOk Trojan has most frequently attacked users in Russia (31.01%), India (11.17%) and Indonesia (11.02%).

Vesub
Vesub Trojan is spread through unofficial sources and imitates popular games and apps, such as GameBeyond, Tubemate, Minecraft, GTA5 and Vidmate. This malware opens an invisible window, requests a subscription and then enters the code it intercepts from the victim’s received text messages. After that the user is subscribed to a service without their knowledge or consent.

Most of these apps lack any legitimate functionality. They subscribe users as soon as they are launched while victims just see a loading window. However, there are some examples, such as a fake GameBeyond app, where the detected malware is actually accompanied by a random set of functional games.

Two out of five users who encountered Vesub were in Egypt (40.27%). This Trojan family has also been active in Thailand (25.88%) and Malaysia (15.85%).

GriftHorse.l
Unlike the Trojans mentioned above, this one does not subscribe victims to a third-party service – instead it uses its own. Users end up subscribing to one of these services by simply not reading the user agreement carefully. For example, there are apps that have recently spread intensively on Google Play, offering to tailor personal weight-loss plans for a token fee. Such apps contain small print mentioning a subscription fee with automatic billing. This means money will be deducted from the user’s bank account on a regular basis without needing any further confirmation from the user.

“Apps can help us stay connected, fit, entertained and generally make our lives easier. There are multiple mobile apps appearing every day, for every taste and purpose – unfortunately, cybercriminals are using this to their advantage. Some of the apps are designed to steal money by subscribing users to unwanted services. These threats are preventable, which is why it’s important to be aware of the signs that give away Trojanized apps. Even if you trust an app, you should avoid granting it too many permissions. Only allow access to notifications for apps that need it to perform their intended purposes, for example, to transfer notifications to wearable devices. Apps for something like themed wallpapers or photo editing don’t need access to your notifications,” explains Igor Golovin, security expert at Kaspersky.

Here’s what you need to do, to stay protected:

  • Keeping your guard up when installing apps from Google Play. Read the reviews, research the developer, terms of use and payment details. For messaging, choose a well-known app with positive reviews.
  • Checking the permissions of the apps you’re using and thinking carefully before granting additional permissions.
  • Using a reliable security solution to help detect malicious apps and adware before they achieve their goals.
  • Updating your operating system and any important apps as and when updates become available. Many safety issues can be solved by installing the updated versions of software.

Cyber Security

New Hacktivism Model Trends Worldwide

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Check Point Research (CPR) outlines a new model of hacktivism now trending worldwide. Five characteristics mark today’s form of hacktivism, according to researchers: political ideology, leadership hierarchy, formal recruiting, advanced tools, and public relations. CPR gives the hacktivist group Killnet an example of the latest model, detailing its attacks by country and attack timeline. CPR warns that hacktivism that originates in conflict-related geographies has the potential to scale worldwide.

  • Before, hacktivism was mostly focused on a few individuals carrying small-scale DDoS and defacement attacks
  • Now, hacktivism is better organized, structured, and sophisticated
  • CPR believes the new model of hacktivism began in conflict areas in the Middle East and Eastern Europe and proliferated to other areas during 2022

Check Point Research outlines a new model of hacktivism now trending worldwide. The hacktivism of the new model is better organized, structured and sophisticated, compared to the past. Hacktivist groups no longer consist of a few random individuals who carry out small DDoS or defacement attacks on low-tier websites. These are coordinated organizations with distinct characteristics previously unseen.

Key Characteristics:

  • Consistent political ideology (manifestos and/or sets of rules)
  • Hierarchy of leadership (Smaller groups relay attack orders to “commanders)
  • Formal recruitment process (Based on minimum requirements)
  • Tools that the groups provide to their members (Advanced tools for notoriety)
  • Robust public relations functions (Presences on major websites)

Why now?
CPR suspects the shift in the hacktivism model began roughly two years ago, with several hacktivist groups like Hackers of Savior, Black Shadow, and Moses Staff that focused exclusively on attacking Israel. CPR believes the Russian-Ukrainian war has proliferated the new model of hacktivism significantly. For example, The IT Army of Ukraine was publicly mobilized by the Ukrainian government to attack Russia. The new hacktivism also saw groups that supported the Russian geopolitical narrative, with groups like Killnet, Xaknet, From Russia with Love (FRwL), NoName057(16), and more.


Case Study: Killnet, from East to West
In April of this year, the group completely shifted its focus to support Russian geopolitical interests all over the world. The group claimed to have executed more than 550 attacks, between late February and September. Only 45 of them were against Ukraine, less than 10% of the total number of attacks.

  1. March: the group executed a DDoS attack on Bradley International Airport in Connecticut (US)
  2. April: websites belonging to the Romanian Government, such as the Ministry of Defense, Border Police, National Railway Transport Company and a commercial bank, were rendered unreachable for several hours.
  3. May: massive DDOS attacks were executed against two major EU countries, Germany and Italy
  4. June: Two very significant waves of attacks were executed against Lithuania and Norway in response to severe geopolitical developments between those countries and Russia
  5. July: Killnet focused their efforts on Poland and caused several government websites to be unavailable.
  6. August: Cyber-attacks were deployed on Latvia, Estonia and USA institutions
  7. September: the group targeted Asia for the first time and focused its efforts on Japan, due to Japan’s support for Ukraine

Sergey Shykevich, Threat Intelligence Group Manager at Check Point Software, said, “Hacktivism now has a whole new meaning. Before, the term meant a few random folks launching small DDoS attacks. Hacktivism is no longer just about social groups with fluid agendas. Now, hacktivism is better organized, structured and more sophisticated. I believe everything changed within the past year, especially with the start of the Ukraine-Russia war.”

“There are some key characteristics that mark the new model of hacktivism, including a consistent political ideology, a clear hierarchy of leadership, formal recruiting processes, sophisticated tool set, and robust PR capabilities. Though the change began in specific conflict-related geographical regions, it has now spread west and even further. Major corporations and governments in Europe and the US are being heavily targeted by this emerging type of hacktivism. All this allows the new hacktivism groups to be mobilized to governmental narratives and achieve strategic and broad-based goals with higher success levels – and much wider public impact – than ever before,” he said.

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The All-Seeing Eye: Why Data Privacy is More Important Than Ever

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In this day and age, you’d be hard-pressed to find someone who can confidently say their data is completely secure. The sad truth is, very little of our personal data is safe from prying eyes, and this is something more and more people are becoming aware of.

For instance, you’ve probably had an experience where you looked something up on the internet and then got assaulted by targeted advertisements for the very thing you were looking up. How does this work, though?

The answer is cookies. These crumbs of data that are stored on your device are what enable websites to track your activity.

Initially, websites weren’t even required to inform you when installing cookies on your device. The landmark General Data Protection Regulation, passed by the EU and implemented in May 2018, made it mandatory for websites to be transparent about their data collection and purpose, resulting in those notifications you get asking you to accept or reject cookies when you go to a website.

Cookies, however, are just a drop in the ocean when talking about data privacy. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 1948, describes the right to privacy as a basic human right, but the truth is most big tech corporations simply don’t care. Their argument is that we’ve already consented to their data policies. But, let’s be honest here—no one really reads through license agreements, do they?

They’re extremely drawn out and use complicated legal and technical jargon, and this plays into the hands of these corporations. They also argue that no one is being compelled to use their software and that we can always use an alternative if we’re unhappy with their policies, but that’s a moot point. No one should be expected to forfeit their privacy to use a product.

The data collected about an individual’s browsing habits can also be used to create a profile for advertising purposes, but this leads to yet another issue—not a single company, including today’s big tech companies, can say its data is completely safe. Data breaches still happen and compromise the personal data of millions, yet most companies simply view these breaches as ordinary setbacks.

The good news is more people are talking about data privacy, and some have even deleted their social media accounts. Whether this will impact how big tech views and handles our personal data, however, remains to be seen.

We at ManageEngine take data privacy very seriously and have done so before it became fashionable, politically correct, or legally binding to take such a position. We ask for only the least amount of information necessary, gathering only what we believe is essential for doing business or for the specific transaction at hand. In fact, we completely disable non-essential and intrusive third-party cookies from all our websites and products. You can even disable all cookies completely to prevent your browser from sending us any information.

To learn more about our privacy policy, click here.

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It’s Surprisingly Common for Criminals to Impersonate Your Brand and Customers Often Pay the Price

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Written by Werno Gevers, Regional Director of Mimecast Middle East

Cybersecurity experts are urging companies in the Middle East to take bold steps to protect against online brand impersonation attacks that could trick customers and employees into sharing sensitive personal information – or even passwords and banking logins. Werno Gevers, cybersecurity expert at Mimecast, says cybercriminals are increasingly hijacking trusted brands to launch cyberattacks from lookalike web and email domains to increase their chances at successfully duping their victims – and many companies are not keeping pace.

“A lack of technology and appropriate security policies can leave the door open to criminals using trusted brands to trick customers, partners, suppliers and the brand’s employees,” says Gevers. “Deploying online brand protection tools can help companies identify and take down malicious websites impersonating their web and email domains before customers fall victim. This should be supported by a robust regime of frequent and ongoing cyber awareness training to equip every employee with the knowledge to spot and avoid risky behaviour.”

In a survey conducted by Mimecast in 2021, 75% of consumers in the Saudi Arabia and 78% of consumers in the UAE said they’d stop spending money with their favourite brand if they fell victim to a phishing attack involving that brand. Compared to a global average of 57%, this places the region’s consumers among the most unforgiving of all markets surveyed. More than 80% of consumers in the region also believe it is the brand’s responsibility to protect itself from email impersonation, with a similar percentage saying it is the brand’s responsibility to protect itself from fake versions of its website.

Despite the risks, Mimecast’s latest State of Email Security 2022 report found that as much as 42% of organisations in Saudi Arabia and 38% in UAE were only somewhat prepared – or not prepared at all – to deal with attacks that spoof their email domains. This potentially leaves the door open to threat actors subverting trusted brands to trick consumers or employees into divulging information that could later be used in sophisticated social engineering attacks, or even to breach organisational defences.

Gevers says employees that receive suspicious email communication on their work email address should report it to their security teams immediately. “Security teams can use this information to contain the threat and protect the rest of the organisation. Security teams have tools and technologies that can protect people outside the organisation too, which can help keep threats from spreading to the company’s customers and partners. It is essential that dangerous communication is reported to security teams, as it helps improve the organisation’s security and resilience against attack.”

According to Gevers, there are some tell-tale signs that the person you’re speaking to may be a scammer, including:

  1. Receiving unsolicited communication from someone or some company that you aren’t expecting
  2. Messages that contain unbelievable offers, spelling errors or a sense of urgency
  3. Mails sent from webmail accounts, for example mimecast@gmail.com
  4. Mails containing redirects to login pages that have suspiciously long URLs
  5. Being asked for PIN numbers or login details

“If you see one or more of the above signs, stop immediately and verify the request by contacting the organisation who is purportedly reaching out to you. Don’t rely on the number provided in the communication: if the email claims it’s from your bank, for example, rather phone the bank on their main number and check the validity of the communication. Don’t ever share your login details, don’t make payments with cryptocurrencies, and don’t click on links unless you know they can be trusted.”

Despite a company or consumer’s best efforts, there is still a possibility that cybercriminals could successfully trick someone into sharing personal information that the criminal may use later to commit further fraud or breach organisational defences. If this is the case, Gevers advises that the victim take immediate steps to limit the potential damage.

“Firstly, change all your social media, email, and banking passwords. If an email communication was sent to you by a scammer, report it to your security team so they are aware of it. No one likes to fall victim to cybercrime but it’s nothing to be embarrassed about. Being honest and swift can potentially prevent other people from falling victim too.”

He adds that any such cases should be reported to the relevant authorities so that law enforcement may investigate and, hopefully, find and prosecute the perpetrators. “Countries across the Middle East have acknowledged the dangers cybercrime poses to their citizens, businesses, and critical infrastructure, and are taking steps to strengthen law enforcement capabilities to combat the scourge of cybercrime.”

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