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Sophos 2020 Cybersecurity Trends

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The cybersecurity threat landscape has seen several big shifts throughout 2019, as evidenced in the SophosLabs 2020 Threat Report. Understanding these trends is important for defenders to anticipate what lies ahead and how to best prepare. Below, Sophos explores some of the major changes in the threat landscape that emerged over the last year, which will continue to impact cybersecurity in 2020, encompassing everything from ransomware and automated, active attacks to machine learning, mobile and cloud security risks.

Ransomware attackers will up the ante – Mark Loman, director of engineering for next-generation tech at Sophos

“It is a lot easier to change a malware’s appearance than to change its purpose or behavior, which is why modern ransomware relies on obfuscation to be successful. However, in 2020, ransomware will raise the stakes by changing or adding traits to confuse some anti-ransomware protection.

From abusing a user’s account to bypass controls and elevate user account privileges to prioritizing the document size and drives they target first, ransomware attackers are tweaking their methods to give themselves an edge. Among the most notable advancements is an increase in ransomware attackers raising the stakes with automated, active attacks that blend human ingenuity with automation tools to cause maximum impact. And by encrypting only a relatively small part of each file or booting the operating system to a diagnostic mode (Safe Mode) where anti-ransomware protection is often unavailable, attackers will continue to evade most defenses.

Ransomware will continue to be a major player in the threat landscape as long as victims remain easily identifiable. The low-hanging fruit of exposed services, unpatched systems and compromised credentials will provide an ample bounty to both skilled and unskilled attackers. It is vital to have robust security controls, monitoring and response in place covering all endpoints, networks and systems, and to install software updates whenever they are issued.”

Little missteps will lead to big breaches in the cloud – Andy Miller, senior director of global public cloud, Sophos

“Flexibility is the name of the game in cloud computing. With very little effort, it’s possible to toggle on or off resources as needed. This makes it easy for businesses to scale up computing power to suit the needs of their clients or customers. But when it comes to securing the cloud, all that flexibility and ease can come back to bite you later.

In 2020, small missteps in the cloud will end up exposing large businesses. The greatest vulnerability for cloud computing is simple misconfigurations. As cloud systems become more complex and more flexible, operator error continues to increase risk. Combined with a general lack of visibility, this makes cloud computing environments a ready-made target for cyber-attackers.

Cloud platforms themselves are so complex, and change so frequently, it’s often difficult to understand the ramifications or consequences of misconfiguring a specific setting. Further, the inability to closely monitor exactly what an organization’s machines are doing is hugely problematic. Criminals know this and have been attacking cloud computing platforms for precisely these reasons.

Protecting data stored in the cloud requires a very different toolset, because the threat model is quite different from those of workstations or servers. It’s critical that organizations re-evaluate their cloud strategies with security top of mind.”

Cybercriminals will try to corrupt machine learning detection models – Joe Levy, CTO, Sophos

“Machine learning has become an essential part of most modern organizations’ cybersecurity strategy, and cybercriminals are now aware that these tools are being used to thwart their attacks. In response, criminals will set their sights on trying to evade or undermine machine learning security systems.

As the cat-and-mouse game between attackers and defenders continues, we can expect both offensive and defensive machine learning tools of increasing sophistication and effectiveness to develop rapidly. Over the next year, we expect to see more incidents where cybercriminals attempt to trick machine learning detection and classification models, and even leverage machine learning to generate highly convincing fake content for social engineering attacks.

Over the coming years, the rate at which the cybersecurity industry experiments with and adopts new techniques from the scientific machine learning community will continue to increase, allowing systems to make semi- or even fully-autonomous decisions in defending information systems and their users. We are on the verge of exciting examples of this, such as the application of novel techniques like reinforcement learning to the problem. These new defense techniques will be crucial, as it’s likely that cybercriminals will begin executing “wetware” attacks by combining automated content generation and manual human effort to personalize attacks against targets, and evade the current generation of defenses.

In addition to leveraging prevention and protection to stop attacks before they happen, businesses are advised to take a layered approach to security. By combining human threat hunters with the leading threat intelligence and technologies like deep learning, organizations can detect and contain even the most sophisticated attacks faster, minimizing their impacts and costs.”

5G will introduce never before seen security threats – Dan Schiappa, chief product officer, Sophos

“5G will be the most fundamental game-changing technology to impact the cybersecurity landscape – maybe ever. 5G promises to connect almost all aspects of life through the network with game-changing speed and lower latency, but it will also introduce significant security risks with new potential entry points that will expose organizations to new types of attack.

While 5G holds tremendous promise, overhauling our essential networks will open a Pandora’s box due to the introduction of radio frequencies that to date have not been accessible, not to mention the minimized visibility that will result from them. This will require us to put an even greater focus on the security of our connections, devices and applications.

5G devices come with built-in radios that don’t require communication with the corporate network anymore. This makes it incredibly difficult to identify threats and compromised devices.

It’s never been more critical for cybersecurity products to work together as a system. Organizations will need a layered approach to security where products connect and share actionable intelligence. A synchronized security approach builds bridges allowing products to work together stronger than they would on their own.”

MSPs will become security advisors – Scott Barlow, vice president of global MSP, Sophos

“In today’s crowded market, it’s more important than ever for MSPs to double down on becoming educated security advisors. Next year, MSPs need to ensure that they are staying up to date on the rapidly evolving threat landscape and available next generation security solutions in order to arm their customers with the industry’s best solutions for staying secure.

The cyberthreat landscape is moving quickly and end users need help and guidance to ensure they’re being protected from today’s sophisticated attacks. It’s critical that MSPs are educated in order to provide the right resources for their customers – which in turn supports upselling and cross selling– to really take advantage of this opportunity.

Internally, MSPs also need to take steps to secure their own environments because MSPs are becoming rich targets for cybercriminals. Sophos recommends that MSPs leverage two-factor authentication and ensure they’re locking down their network with layered security to protect themselves from unwanted threats.”

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Airtel Payments Bank Rolls Out ‘Airtel Safe Pay’

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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.”  

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ESET Rolls Out Latest Version of Its Windows Security Products

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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.”

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Critical Vulnerability Discovered in Instagram App by Researchers

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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.

Modus operandi

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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