Will the next year bring a seismic shift in who controls the Internet? Another Mac malware outbreak? Your smart TV being highjacked for a DDoS attack? Whatever 2013 may bring, it’s sure to be an interesting year. Here’s F-Secure Labs’ take on what could be in store for the next year.
1. The end of the Internet as we know it?
“Depending on the outcome of an important conference taking place now in Dubai, a lot of things could happen in 2013,” says Sean Sullivan, Security Advisor at F-Secure Labs.That event, the World Conference on International Telecommunications, could have a major impact on the Internet as we know it. “The Internet could break up into a series of smaller Internets,” Sullivansays. “Or it may start to be funded differently, with big content providers like Facebook and Google/YouTube having to pay taxes for the content they deliver.”
The WCIT event is a meeting convened by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) to finalize changes to the International Telecommunications Regulations treaty. In attendance are regulators representing governments from around the world, not all of whom are interested in Internet freedom. There is concern that some regimes would want to shift control of the Internet “from the geeks, and give it to governments,” as Sullivan puts it. New measures are also being proposed in the name of Internet security that privacy advocates suggest would mean the end of anonymity on the Internet.
2. Leaks will reveal more government-sponsored espionage tools
“It’s clear from past leaks about Stuxnet, Flame, and Gauss that the cyber arms race is well underway,” says Mikko Hypponen, Chief Research Officer at F-Secure Labs. While we may not always be aware of nation-states’ covert cyber operations, we can expect that governments are more and more involved in such activity. In 2013, we’ll most likely see more leaks that definitively demonstrate this, and from countries who haven’t previously been seen as a source of attacks. As the arms race heats up, the odds of leaks increase.
3. Commoditization of mobile malware will increase
The Android operating system has solidified in a way that previous mobile operating systems haven’t, extending from phones to tablets to TVs to specialized versions of tablets. The more ubitiquous it becomes, “the easier to build malware on top of it and the more opportunities for criminals to innovate businesswise,” Sullivan says. Mobile malware will become more commoditized, with cybercriminals building toolkits that can be purchased and used by other criminals without real hacking skills. In other words, malware as a service, for Android.
4. Another malware outbreak will hit the Mac world
2011 saw scareware called Mac Defender, and in 2012 Flashback took advantage of flaws in Java. The Labs predict 2013 will bring another Mac malware outbreak that will have some success within the Mac community.
“The author of the Flashback Trojan is still at large and is rumored to be working on something else,” Sullivan says. “And while there have been smart security changes to the Mac OS, there’s a segment of the Mac-using population who are basically oblivious to the threats facing Macs, making them vulnerable to a new malware outbreak.”
5. Smart TVs will become a hacker target
Smart TVs are plugged into the Internet, they’ve got processing power, and since they typically aren’t equipped with security, they’re wide open to attacks. Adding to their vulnerability is that unlike home computers, many smart TVs are directly connected to the Internet without the buffer of a router, which deflects unsolicited traffic. Also, consumers often don’t change the factory default username and password that have been set for web administration, giving easy access to hackers.
“It’s very easy for hackers to scan for smart TVs on the Internet,” says Sullivan. “When found, they only need to use the default username and password, and they’re in.” 2012 already witnessed LightAidra, a breed of malware that infected set top boxes. 2013 could see smart TVs being used for such purposes as click fraud, Bitcoin mining, and DDoS attacks.
6. Mobile spy software will go mainstream
2013 may see a rise in popularity of tracking software, and not just for parental control purposes. There has already been growth in child safety apps that monitor kids’ activities, for example, their Facebook behavior. “Of course this kind of software can also be used to spy on anyone, not just kids,” Sullivan says. “The more smartphones there are, the more people will be seeking out software like this – to find out what their ex is up to, for example.”
7. Free tablets will be offered to prime content customers
Tablets and e-readers are all the rage, and more and more often in closed ecosystems such as the iPad with iTunes or the Kindle with Amazon. As the Kindle price keeps dropping, the Labs predict that 2013 may bring a free e-reader or tablet for prime customers of companies who charge for content, like Amazon or Barnes & Noble. “Closed ecosystems are more secure, but you have to trust the provider to protect your privacy,” says Sullivan.
For ongoing analysis from the F-Secure Labs, follow News from the Lab.
This year’s Mobile World Congress (MWC) is coming up next week. The annual Barcelona-based tech expo features the latest news in mobile technologies. One of the biggest issues of the past year has enticed our own digital freedom fighter Mikko Hypponen to participate in the event. Hypponen, a well-known advocate of digital freedom, has been defending the Internet and its users from digital threats for almost 25 years. He’s appearing at this year’s MWC on Monday, March 2 for a conference session called “Ensuring User-Centred Privacy in a Connected World”. The panel will discuss and debate different ways to ensure privacy doesn’t become a thing of the past. While Hypponen sees today’s technologies as having immeasurable benefits for us all, he’s become an outspoken critic of what he sees as what’s “going wrong in the online world”. He’s spoken prominently about a range of these issues in the past year, and been interviewed on topics as diverse as new malware and cybersecurity threats, mass surveillance and digital privacy, and the potential abuses of emerging technologies (such as the Internet of Things). The session will feature Hypponen and five other panelists. But, since the event is open to public discussion on Twitter under the #MWC15PRIV hashtag, you can contribute to the conversation. Here’s three talking points to help you get started: Security in a mobile world A recent story broken by The Intercept describes how the American and British governments hacked Gemalto, the largest SIM card manufacturer in the world. In doing so, they obtained the encryption keys that secure mobile phone calls across the globe. You can read a recent blog post about it here if you’re interested in more information about how this event might shape the discussion. Keeping safe online It recently came to light that an adware program called “Superfish” contains a security flaw that allows hackers to impersonate shopping, banking, or other websites. These “man-in-the-middle” attacks can be quite serious and trick people into sharing personal data with criminals. The incident highlights the importance of making sure people can trust their devices. And the fact that Superfish comes pre-installed on notebooks from the world’s largest PC manufacturer makes it worth discussing sooner rather than later. Privacy and the Internet of Things Samsung recently warned people to be aware when discussing personal information in front of their Smart TVs. You can get the details from this blog post, but basically the Smart TVs voice activation technology can apparently listen to what people are saying and even share the information with third parties. As more devices become “smart”, will we have to become smarter about what we say and do around them? The session is scheduled to run from 16:00 – 17:30 (CET), so don’t miss this chance to join the fight for digital freedom at the MWC. [Image by Hubert Burda Media | Flickr]
Ordinary people here in Finland have been confronted with yet another cybersecurity acronym lately, DoS. And this does not mean that retro-minded people are converting back to the pre-Windows operating system MS-DOS that we used in the eighties. Today DoS stands for Denial of Service. This case started on New Year’s Eve when customers of the OP-Pohjola bank experienced problems withdrawing cash from ATMs and accessing the on-line bank. The problems have now continued with varying severity for almost a week. What happens behind the scene is that someone is controlling a large number of computers. All these computers are instructed to bombard the target system with network traffic. This creates an overload situation that prevents ordinary customers from accessing the system. It’s like a massive cyber traffic jam. The involved computers are probably ordinary home computes infected with malware. Modern malware is versatile and can be used for varying purposes, like stealing your credit card number or participating in DoS-attacks like this. But what does this mean for me, the ordinary computer user? First, you are not at risk even if a system you use is the victim of a DoS-attack. The attack cannot harm your computer even if you try to access the system during the attack. Your data in the target system is usually safe too. The attack prevents people from accessing the system but the attackers don’t get access to data in the system. So inability to use the system is really the only harm for you. Well, that’s almost true. What if your computer is infected and participates in the attack? That would use your computer resources and slow down your Internet connection, not to speak about all the other dangers of having malware on your system. Keeping the device clean is a combination of common sense when surfing and opening attachments, and having a decent protection program installed. So you can participate in fighting DoS-attacks by caring for your own cyber security. But why? Who’s behind attacks like this and what’s the motive? Kids having fun and criminals extorting companies for money are probably the most common motives right now. Sometimes DoS-victims also accuse their competitors for the attack. But cases like this does always raise interesting questions about how vulnerable our cyber society is. There has been a lot of talk about cyber war. Cyber espionage is already reality, but cyber war is still sci-fi. This kind of DoS-attack does however give us a glimpse of what future cyber war might look like. We haven’t really seen any nations trying to knock out another county’s networks. But when it happens, it will probably look like this in greater scale. Computer-based services will be unavailable and even radio, TV, electricity and other critical services could be affected. So a short attack on a single bank is more like an annoyance for the customers. But a prolonged attack would already create sever problems, both for the target company and its customers. Not to talk about nation-wide attacks. Cyber war might be sci-fi today, but it is a future threat that need to be taken seriously. Safe surfing, Micke Image by Andreas Kaltenbrunner.
A new Mercedes. Nice. Or maybe an Audi R8? That would be cool. But hold it! Don’t sell your old car yet! Liking and sharing that giveaway campaign on Facebook will NOT give you a new car. Those prizes doesn’t even exist. They are just hoaxes. Internet and Facebook is full of crap, junk, rubbish, nonsense and gibberish. Nobody knows how many chain letters there are spreading some kind of unbelievable story. False celebrity news, bogus first-aid advice, phony charity campaigns and this kind of giveaways. We tend to think about these chain letters as hoaxes, pretty harmless jokes that doesn’t hurt us. But that’s not the full story. A hoax can be harmful, like the outright dangerous first aid advice that some people keep spreading. But a car giveaway is probably a harmless and safe prank, even if it’s false? No, not really. These chain letters are actually not traditional hoaxes, they are like-farming scams. There’s no free lunch, you don’t pay for Facebook with money but with your private data. The like-farming scams work in the same currency. You will not lose any money even if you like the page and share it. Instead you will participate in building a page with a lot of supporters, which is valuable and can be sold later. Needless to say, you will not get any of that money. Here’s how it works. Any business has a problem when starting on Facebook. An empty page without likes isn’t trustworthy. So the scammers set up a page containing anything that can go viral. A promise to get a luxury car works well. They just have to tell everyone to like the page and to share it as much as possible, to keep the chain reaction going and get even more likes. The scammers wait until there’s enough likes before they clean out the content, rename it and start looking for a buyer. The price is in “$ per k”, meaning dollars per 1000 likes. A page with 100 000 likes could sell for over $1000. So sharing the page can make quite a lot of money for the scammers if you have a lot of gullible friends, who in turn have a lot of gullible friends, and so on … The downside for you is that the likes stick even if the page is redesigned for some totally different purpose. Your face will be an evangelist for the page’s new owners and show up next to their brand. And you have no idea about what you will be promoting. I have friends who are anti-fur activists. You can probably imagine what one of them would feel when discovering that she likes a fur-coat designer! And finally some concrete advice. Review your list of old likes regularly. Remove everything except those things you truly like and want to support. When you encounter a giveaway post like this, check the involved brand’s main page in Facebook by searching for the brand name. You will in most cases notice that the giveaway is a totally different page that just is named similarly. That’s a strong scam indicator. Use common sense. From the above you get an idea about what likes in Facebook are worth. Does it make sense to give away luxury cars for this? Don’t participate in scams like this. It might feel tempting, but remember that your chance to win is exactly zero. Spread knowledge every time you see a scam of this kind. Comment with a link to this post or the appropriate description on Hoax-Slayer or Snopes. Those sites are by the way fun and educating reading. I recommend spending some time there getting familiar with other types of hoaxes too. Read at least these two articles: Facebook car giveaway on Snopes and Facebook like-farming scams on Hoax-Slayer . Safe surfing, Micke