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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.”

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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Expert Speak

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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Cyber Security

Understanding and Preventing the Log4j Exploit and Botnets

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Written by Amr Alashaal, Regional Vice President – Middle East at A10 Networks

Of all the security issues that have appeared over the last few years, none has had the impact of the Log4j exploit. Also called the Log4Shell, it was reported to the developers, the Apache Software Foundation, on 24 November, 2021, by the Chinese tech giant Alibaba and it took two weeks to develop and release a fix.

The existence of the Log4j exploit was first publicly published in a tweet by Chen Zhaojun, a cyber security researcher with the Alibaba Cloud Security team on December 9, 2021 and formally announced by the U.S. Institute of Standards (NIST) under identifier CVE-2021-44832 on December 10, 2021 with a follow-up reanalysis, CVE-2021-45046, published on December 14, 2021. The Apache Software Foundation gave the exploit the highest Common Vulnerability Scoring System severity rating of 10.

The exploit allowed cyber threat actors to mount remote code execution (RCE) attacks on the widely used Apache Log4j Java logging library. An RCE exploit allows an attacker to run whatever code they please on a remote device. In the case of the Log4Shell vulnerability, which was particularly easy to exploit, successful execution allows the attacker to obtain full access to the computer.

What is Log4j?
Log4j is a subsystem for recording events such as error and status reports, an important component of modern applications. Developed by the Apache Software Foundation, Log4j is a free, open-source software package (also referred to as “FOSS”) written in Java. First released on January 8, 2001, the package became a foundational component of an extremely large number of projects due to its lightweight and easy to use characteristics.

How Does the Log4j Vulnerability Work?
The Log4j vulnerability is due to the use of the Java Naming and Directory Interface (JNDI), which allows additional Java objects from remote naming services during runtime execution. Apache Log4j2 2.0-beta9 through 2.15.0 (excluding security releases 2.12.2, 2.12.3, and 2.3.1) were all vulnerable to Log4Shell. The first completely fixed Logj4 release was version 2.17.0, published on December 17, 2021.

To mount an attack, cyber threat actors send web servers specially crafted HTTP/HTTPS requests to log an event that includes a JNDI request in the header that might get logged as, for example, a user-agent string:

If the attacker is lucky, the server passes the user-agent string to Log4j to be logged. Log4j interprets the string and, finding a JNDI request, queries the specified LDAP server. This is where the problem lies in vulnerable versions of Log4j because of inadequate verification and “cleaning” of the request. The LDAP server, which is controlled by the attacker, responds with directory data that contains the malicious Java object. The data is received by the server and executed and the system gets compromised.

How Bad is the Log4j Exploit?
Some of the most notable services affected by the vulnerability included Cloudflare, iCloud, Minecraft: Java Edition, Steam, Tencent QQ, and Twitter. Cloudflare’s CEO, Matthew Prince, tweeted on December 11, “Earliest evidence we’ve found so far of #Log4J exploit is 2021-12-01 04:36:50 UTC. That suggests it was in the wild at least 9 days before publicly disclosed. However, don’t see evidence of mass exploitation until after public disclosure.”

Of course, after public disclosure, cyber threat actors swung into action. An article posted on the Google Security blog updated nine days after the Log4Shell vulnerability was announced, wrote that “The ecosystem impact numbers for just log4j-core [the Apache Log4j Implementation], as of 19th December are over 17,000 packages affected, which is roughly 4 % of the ecosystem. 25% of affected packages have fixed versions available.” As the Google article pointed out, that was the proverbial “tip of the iceberg” because those packages were used by other packages resulting in over 35,000 Java packages being vulnerable.

The Google blog post also pointed out that “For greater than 80% of the packages, the vulnerability is more than one level deep, with a majority affected five levels down (and some as many as nine levels down). These packages will require fixes throughout all parts of the tree, starting from the deepest dependencies first.”

The reason Log4j became such a big deal was due to the enormous number and popularity of products that used the library; hundreds of millions of devices were, and many still are, affected as a consequence. A contemporaneous article in The Guardian described the vulnerability as “a major threat to organizations around the world” and noted that it “may be the worst computer vulnerability discovered in years.” Those assertions proved to be correct.

In mid-December 2021 Glen Pendley, deputy chief technology officer at Tenable, commented, “[the Log4Shell vulnerability] … is in a league above every other vulnerability we’ve seen in the last few decades. It gives flaws like Heartbleed and Shellshock, a run for their money because of just how pervasive and devastating it is. Everything across heavy industrial equipment, network servers, down to printers, and even your kid’s Raspberry Pi is potentially affected by this flaw. Some affected systems may be on-premises, others may be hosted in the cloud, but no matter where they are, the flaw is likely to have an impact. Cybercriminals are already rubbing their hands with glee as early signs of ransomware activity have started to emerge. The worst part is, we aren’t even in the thick of it yet. Don’t be surprised when some major disruptions occur over the next few weeks and months, pointing at Log4j as the root cause.”

The bottom line is that the Log4Shell vulnerability is a systemic problem due to its appearance in tens of thousands of libraries used by thousands of programs. The resulting complexity makes fixing enterprise-class applications very difficult. A list of applications affected by Log4j can be found on GitHub.

Who’s Using the Log4j Exploit and How?
Once the Log4j vulnerability was publicly announced, multiple cyber threat actors immediately began to use it. For example, starting on December 15, 2021, an Iranian state-sponsored hacking group named Charming Kitten or APT35 launched multiple attacks against Israeli government and business sites trying to exploit the Log4j vulnerability.
While attacks using the Log4Shell vulnerability can be effective for state actors focused on specific politically targeted websites, the really dangerous use of the exploit is when botnets perform large scale scanning for vulnerable sites to create crypto mining and DDoS platforms. Given that there are still millions of unpatched sites using out of date Log4j code, it’s fertile ground for hackers.

As early as December 2021, security researchers identified Mirai botnets adopting the Log4j vulnerability to suborn IoT devices including IP cameras, smart TVs, network switches, and routers. Since then two botnets, Elknot (also known as the BillGates trojan) and the Gafgyt (AKA BASHLITE), have also been detected using the Log4j exploit.

A relatively new malware named B1txor20 by researchers at Qihoo 360’s Network Security Research Lab also exploits the Log4j vulnerability. The malware, which deploys backdoors, SOCKS5 proxy, malware downloading, data theft, arbitrary command execution, and rootkit installing functionality was first identified in March of 2022 and attacks Linux ARM, X64 CPU architecture devices. Using the Log4j exploit, the malware infects new hosts and uses DNS tunneling to receive instructions and exfiltrate data to and from the botnet’s command and control servers. Fortunately, B1txor20 has non-functional features and is buggy but, of course, the cyber threat actors behind the malware are expected to fix and improve the software.

How to Prevent Log4j Exploits
There are four ways that enterprise cyber security teams can prevent Log4j exploits in vulnerable systems:

  1. Upgrade or disable Log4j libraries. As noted earlier, fixing enterprise-scale applications while minimizing service downtime can be an engineering nightmare.
  2. Deploy a web application firewall (WAF) to filter out unauthorized sources and content such as JNDI requests from unknown IP addresses.
  3. Disable JNDI lookups.
  4. Disable the loading of remote Java objects.
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