Even as businesses capitalize on the latest security intelligence and protections to stay ahead in the evolving cybersecurity landscape, Asia Pacific continues to be an attractive region for cybercriminals. Microsoft today unveiled the Asia Pacific findings from the 24th edition of its Security Intelligence Report (SIR), an annual study aimed to improve cyber resilience in the region.
The SIRv24 comprises of core insights and key trends derived by sifting through data between January to December 2018 from multiple, diverse sources, including 6.5 trillion threat signals that go through the Microsoft cloud every day. The Asia Pacific insights were derived from analyzing data from 15 markets, including Australia, China, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, New Zealand, Philippines, Singapore, South Korea, Sri Lanka, Taiwan, Thailand and Vietnam. The report includes an overview on the lessons learned from the field and recommended best practices.
“Undoubtedly, cybersecurity is one of the most pressing issues for organizations today. As cyberattacks continue to increase in frequency and sophistication, understanding prevalent cyberthreats and how to limit their impact has become an imperative,” said Eric Lam, Director, Cybersecurity Solutions Group, Microsoft Asia. “The SIRv24 aims to keep pace with the ever evolving cyberthreat landscape by highlighting the techniques and tradecraft of cybercriminals and offering insights to improve cyber resilience and overall cybersecurity health of an organization.”
Cryptocurrency Mining Malware Becomes Increasingly Prevalent in Asia Pacific
With the rise in value of cryptocurrency, such as Bitcoin, cybercriminals seeking illicit profits have turned to malware that lets them use victims’ computers to mine cryptocurrency coins. This approach allows them to leverage the processing power of hundreds of thousands of computers. Even when a minor infection is discovered, the anonymous nature of cryptocurrency complicates efforts to track down the responsible parties.
The SIRv24 found that between January to December 2018, the cryptocurrency mining malware encounter rate in Asia Pacific was nearly 1.2 times (17 percent) higher than the global average, and India, Sri Lanka and Indonesia recorded the highest encounter rate in the region. The report also found that the encounter rate increased or decreased with the rise or fall in the value of cryptocurrency.
Many factors have contributed to the increased popularity of mining as a payload for malware. Unlike ransomware, cryptocurrency mining does not require user input: it works in the background, while the user is performing other tasks or is away from the computer, and may not be noticed at all unless it degrades the computer’s performance sufficiently. As a result, users are less likely to take any action to remove the threat, and it might continue mining for the benefit of the attacker for an extended period of time.
Another driver of the trend is the availability of “off the shelf” products for covert mining of many cryptocurrencies. The barrier to entry is low because of the wide availability of coin mining software, which cybercriminals repackage as malware to deliver to unsuspecting users’ computers. The weaponized miners are then distributed to victims using many of the same techniques that attackers use to deliver other threats, such as social engineering, exploits, and drive-by downloads.
Ransomware Still a Threat in Asia Pacific Despite a Decline in the Number of Attacks
According to the SIR v24, ransomware encounters have decreased by 73 percent worldwide. However, despite the decline, ransomware is still a viable threat in Asia Pacific as the region’s encounter rate was 40 percent more than the global average. Indonesia, Vietnam and India have the highest ransomware encounter rate in Asia Pacific.
One of the key reasons contributing to the fall of ransomware attacks is the organizations and individuals becoming more aware of and dealing more intelligently with ransomware threats, including exerting greater caution and backing up important files so they can be restored if encrypted by ransomware. While organizations and consumers are encountering ransomware at lower volumes compared to the previous year, it does not mean the severity of attacks has declined. It is still capable of making real-world impact by affecting corporate networks and crippling critical services such as hospitals, transportation, and traffic systems.
Cybercriminals Continue to Deliver Malicious Code through Drive-by Download Pages
Although drive-by download encounters globally has decreased by 22 percent, Asia Pacific region experienced approximately 22 percent more drive-by download attacks than the rest of the world. The highest concentration of drive-by download pages were in Taiwan, Malaysia and Indonesia.
A drive-by download is an unintentional download of malicious code to an unsuspecting user’s computer when they visit a web site. The malicious code could be used to exploit vulnerabilities in web browsers, browser add-ons, applications, and the operating system. Users can be infected with malware simply by visiting a website, even without attempting to download anything. More advanced drive-by download campaigns can also install ransomware or even cryptocurrency mining software on a victim machine.
Developing Markets in Asia Pacific Among the Most Vulnerable to Malware
Malware poses risks to organizations and individuals in the form of impaired usability, data loss, intellectual property theft, monetary loss, emotional distress, and can even put human life at risk. While the global malware encounter rate has decreased by 34 percent, the malware encounter in Asia Pacific was 37 percent more than the global average. Indonesia, Philippines and Vietnam had the highest malware encounter rates in the region, highlighting the correlation of infection rates with human development factors and technology readiness within a society.
Poor cybersecurity hygiene and low user security awareness can lead to risky IT behaviors, including using unpatched software and visiting potentially dangerous websites such as file-sharing sites, which expose devices to malware. Using pirated software can also be a source of infection.
The report also found that the Asia Pacific markets with the lowest malware encounter rates are Japan, Australia and New Zealand. These locations tend to have mature cybersecurity infrastructures and well-established programs for protecting critical infrastructure and communicating with their citizens about basic cybersecurity best practices.
“To strengthen individuals’ trust in technology and prevent cyberattacks from derailing companies’ digital transformation initiatives, cybersecurity professionals need to devise a holistic strategy that includes prevention and detection and response. Measures such as preventive controls as well as the adoption of cloud and artificial intelligence to augment security operations will play a vital role in building organizational resilience and facilitating meaningful risk reduction within their organization,” Lam concluded.
To learn more about the latest cyberthreat trends as well as the best practices that organizations can adopt, you can download the full report here https://www.microsoft.com/sir.
Airtel Payments Bank Rolls Out ‘Airtel Safe Pay’
To protect Airtel customers from the growing incidents of online payment frauds, Airtel Payments Bank launched ‘Airtel Safe Pay’ – India’s safest mode for making digital payments.
With ‘Airtel Safe Pay’, Airtel customers making UPI or Netbanking based payments through Airtel Payments Bank, no longer have to worry about money leaving their accounts without their explicit consent.
An India-First innovation, ‘Airtel Safe Pay’ leverages Airtel’s ‘telco exclusive’ strength of network intelligence to provide an additional layer of payment validation compared to the industry norm of two-factor authentication. This offers the highest level of protection from potential frauds such as phishing, stolen credentials or passwords, and even phone cloning that catches customers unaware.
Anubrata Biswas, MD & CEO, Airtel Payments Bank says, “As digital payments become the norm, especially in the post-pandemic world, we also have to solve for the challenge of frauds that are growing rapidly. We are happy to leverage Airtel’s core telco strengths to bring to market this unique capability that ensures that our customers have full control over their transactions. This sets a new benchmark in the Indian digital payments space by making security paramount.”
Using ‘Airtel Safe Pay’, Airtel Payments Bank customers can make secure digital payments across millions of merchants, online retailers and utilities, and even send money. Customers can open an Airtel Payments Bank account within few minutes with just a video call from the Airtel Thanks app and enjoy a range of benefits while they make fully secure digital payments.
Says Adarsh Nair, Chief Product Officer, Bharti Airtel: “Airtel Safe Pay is yet another innovation where our secure network and world-class digital platforms combine to solve a unique market problem. At Airtel, we are taking the lead in offering the most secure digital payments platforms to our users and making sure that the customer is always in control without a worry about rogue transactions.”
ESET Rolls Out Latest Version of Its Windows Security Products
ESET has launched new versions of its Windows security products for consumers. The new versions upgrade the protection in ESET Internet Security, ESET NOD32 Antivirus and ESET Smart Security Premium.
The wide range of security improvements cover malware detection, online banking, password security and smart home support – in line with ESET’s goal to create a safer digital world for everyone to enjoy. With the ever-increasing volume of reported cyberattacks, it is vital that users are secured in their online activities. These product updates address key issues, including online payments and banking-related threats, identity theft and leaking of personal information, stolen passwords and connected device security.
ESET is continuously improving its solutions to ensure that users are equipped with the very latest technologies in cybersecurity while keeping a low system footprint. The updates bring fine-tuning of the Host-Based Intrusion Prevention System and Advanced Machine Learning modules, along with a significant reduction in the size of the Machine Learning module.
Other key updates include the new Windows Management Instrumentation (WMI) and System Registry scanners capable of detecting malware that uses the WMI or the registry maliciously. The Connected Home module is also improved with better connected device detection and security issue troubleshooting.
Financial security is a top priority, and the upgraded Banking & Payment Protection features a special secured browser mode through which users can safely pay online. The new feature allows users to run any supported browser in secured mode by default. With secured mode on, the communication of the keyboard and mouse with the browser is encrypted to guard against keylogging. In addition, Banking & Payment Protection now also notifies users when Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP) is turned on to alert them about the danger of malware abusing RDP.
Finally, ESET Password Manager has been completely rebuilt with new functionalities such as remote logout from websites and remote clearing of browser history, and is available via both browser extensions and native mobile apps.
Commenting on the updates, Matej Krištofík, product manager at ESET, said, “As cyberthreats continue to evolve in sophistication and frequency, it is vital that consumers and their devices are protected on every level. Technology is at the center of our lives, from online banking to connected homes, so it is more important than ever that our personal technology is safe and secure. We are proud to offer our latest Windows security product updates to consumers, reflecting our dedication to consistently improve and innovate in order to provide a safe digital experience for all.”
Critical Vulnerability Discovered in Instagram App by Researchers
Instagram is one of the most popular social media platforms globally, with over 100+ million photos uploaded every day, and nearly 1 billion monthly active users. Individuals and companies share photos and messages about their lives and products to their followers globally. So imagine what could happen if a hacker was able to completely take over Instagram accounts, and access all the messages and photos in those accounts, post new photos or delete or manipulate existing photos. What could that do to a person’s or company’s reputation?
Earlier this year, Check Point researchers found a critical vulnerability in the Instagram app that would have given an attacker the ability to take over a victim’s Instagram account, and turn their phone into a spying tool, simply by sending them a malicious image file. When the image is saved and opened in the Instagram app, the exploit would give the hacker full access to the victim’s Instagram messages and images, allowing them to post or delete images at will, as well as giving access to the phone’s contacts, camera and location data.
Here’s how we found the vulnerability, and worked with Facebook and Instagram to close it to keep users safe.
What are the apps on your phone permitted to do?
Wherever we go, our mobile phones usually go with us, to keep us in touch with families, loved ones and our work, too. Of course, this is also why mobiles are an attractive target for hackers. Not only can they steal data and credentials from our phones, but they can also use them for spying on us: tracking our location, listening to conversations, and accessing our data and messages.
Fortunately, all modern mobile operating systems include several layers of protection against this type of malicious activity. These protections usually rely on the basic concept of ‘application isolation’ – even if someone was able to hack a specific application, they would still be confined to that application alone, along with its strict permissions, and would not be able to extend their hacking attempt any further.
The key term here is “strict permissions” – for example, a map application should be able to access your location, but should not have access to your microphone; a dating app should be able to access your camera and nothing else, and so on.
But what happens when we`re talking about an application that has extensive permissions on your device? If the application is hacked, the hacker will have easy access to your GPS data, camera, microphone, contacts, and more.
Fortunately, there isn’t a huge list of apps that have such extensive permissions on users’ devices. One example is Instagram. Given its popularity and wide-ranging permissions, we decided to review the security of Instagram’s mobile app for both Android and iOS operating systems.
What did we find?
Our research revealed a critical vulnerability that might allow the attackers what is technically referred to as – remote code execution (RCE). This vulnerability can allow an attacker to perform any action they wish in the Instagram app (yes, even if it is not actually a part of the application logic or features). Since the Instagram app has very extensive permissions, this may allow an attacker to instantly turn the targeted phone into a perfect spying tool – putting the privacy of millions of users at serious risk.
So how does such a popular application include vulnerabilities, when huge amounts of time and resources are invested in developing it?
The answer is that most modern app developers do not actually write the entire application on their own: if they did so it would take years to write an application. Instead, they use 3rd party libraries to handle common (and often complicated) tasks such as image processing, sound processing, network connectivity, and so on. This frees the developers to handle only the coding tasks, which represent the apps core business logic. However, this relies on those 3rd party libraries being completely trustworthy and secure.
Our modus operandi for this research was to examine the 3rd party libraries used by Instagram, And the vulnerability we found was in the way that Instagram used Mozjpeg- an open source project used by Instagram as its JPEG format image decoder for images uploaded to the service.
A bad image: hacking and taking over the user’s mobile Instagram account
In the attack scenario we describe in our research, an attacker can simply send an image to their target victim via email, WhatsApp or another media exchange platform. The target user saves the image on their handset, and when they open the Instagram app, the exploitation takes place, allowing the attacker full access to any resource in the phone that is pre-allowed by Instagram.
These resources include contacts, device storage, location services and the device camera. In effect, the attacker gets full control over the app and can create actions on behalf of the user, including reading all of their personal messages in their Instagram account and deleting or posting photos at will. This turns the device into a tool for spying on targeted users without their knowledge, as well as enabling malicious manipulation of their Instagram profile. In either case, the attack could lead to a massive invasion of users’ privacy and could affect reputations – or lead to security risks that are even more serious.
At a basic level, this exploit can be used to crash a user’s Instagram app, effectively denying them access to the app until they delete it from their device and re-install it, causing inconvenience and possible loss of data.
Responsible disclosure & Protection
We have responsibly disclosed our findings to Facebook and the Instagram team. Facebook’s advisory was very responsive and helpful, they have described this vulnerability as an “Integer Overflow leading to Heap Buffer Overflow” and issued a patch to remediate the issue on the newer versions of the Instagram application on all platforms.
The patch for this vulnerability has already been available for 6 months prior to this publication, giving time to the majority of users to update their Instagram applications, thus mitigating the risk of this vulnerability being exploited. We strongly encourage all Instagram users to ensure they are using the latest Instagram app version and to update if any new version is available.
Check Point’s SandBlast Mobile (SBM) provides full visibility into mobile risks, with advanced threat prevention capabilities. With the market’s highest threat catch rate, users of SBM stay protected from malware, phishing, man-in-the-middle attacks, OS exploits, and more. Intuitive to use, users only hear from SandBlast Mobile if they are under attack.
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