Top 7 Predictions for 2013 (if the Internet As We Know It Still Exists)

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.

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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.

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Mikko Hypponen

Mikko Hypponen’s Malware Hall of Fame

Mikko Hypponen is one of the world’s most prominent cyber security experts. Described as a “virus hunter” in a Vanity Fair profile called “The Code Warrior”, Hypponen has spent nearly 25 years with F-Secure protecting people from computer viruses, worms, trojans, and other types of malware. In 2011, Hypponen travelled to Pakistan to meet the men behind the first known PC virus – Brain.A. [youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lnedOWfPKT0&w=560&h=315] The Brain virus was released in January of 1986, making January 2016 the 30th anniversary of this milestone in malware history. I thought it would be interesting to reach out to Mikko and ask him about other families of malware that standout as being noteworthy. So here’s Mikko’s list of some of the most infamous malware families (including viruses, worms, trojans, etc) that’ve pestered, frustrated, and even extorted computer users over the past few decades. 1990 Form – Form was a common computer virus identified in 1990, and for several years, was arguably the most prominent computer virus in the world. Spread through 3.5” floppy disks, it infected millions of computers throughout the world, and is possibly one of the most widespread viruses in history. 1992 Michelangelo – Michelangelo earns a place on the list for being the first truly global virus scare. It was named after the famous artist because the virus remained dormant until March 6 (the artist’s birthday), when it would awaken and overwrite sections of infected hard disks, thereby making the information inaccessible and the computer unusable. The virus was never particularly prominent compared to some of its contemporaries, but its destructive nature and subtlety helped spread Michelangelo Madness throughout the globe. 1995 Concept – Concept was the very first macro virus – a type of virus that infects applications such as Microsoft Word. It was a very prominent security concern in the mid-nineties, and even though it was successful in propagating itself organically during this time, it hasn’t been seen in over a decade. As the first macro virus, it was notable in that it spread by hiding itself as a Word doc and then infecting computers as those documents were shared. By using Word, it could use both Windows PCs and Macs to spread infections, as the software could run on both platforms. 1999 Melissa – Melissa, supposedly named after an exotic dancer, was a computer virus that sent infected Word documents to contacts in victims’ Outlook address book. While the virus was not designed to be particularly destructive, its rapid proliferation through the Internet wreaked considerable havoc on corporate servers and infrastructure. Some accounts claim that it infected twenty percent of computers globally, and the man eventually convicted of releasing the virus into the wild admitted to causing eighty million dollars in financial losses. 2000 Loveletter – Loveletter, also widely known as ILOVEYOU, was a prominent email worm that was able to spread itself throughout the globe in a matter of hours by promising victims a little bit of love. Disguising itself as a chain, love-themed email to recipients helped it quickly spread from its Filipino origin through Asia, Europe and North America. To this date, it is one of the largest malware outbreaks of all time, and responsible for an estimated 5.5 billion dollars of damage. 2001 Code Red – Code Red was the first fully-automated network worm for Windows. As in users would not have to interact with a machine in order to spread the infection. Code Red’s most infamous day was July 19th, 2001, when it successfully infected 300,000 servers. The worm was programmed to spread itself on certain days, and then execute distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks on others, and was used against several different targets (including The White House). 2003 Slammer, Lovsan, and Sobig – Ok, so there’s three here and not just one. But they all occurred very close together, and unfortunately, all three were worms responsible for massive, global malware outbreaks. Slammer targeted servers so it’s presence wasn’t readily apparent to end users (save some lagging when they were attempting to access an infected server). Lovesan, however was able to infect end users running Windows ME or Windows XP, and use the infected machines in DDoS attacks. Sobig spread itself through email and network drives, and contained a trojan in order to cause more headaches for infected users. However, it appears that the trojan feature did not function as expected. These three worms infected millions of machines, and made headlines all over the world. 2004 Sasser – A computer worm that can be considered as the last large “hobbyist” outbreak. This is significant as it signaled the end of an era when most malware was written by people who were simply curious to see what the malware could do. Nowadays, malware has a more specific, insidious purpose, such as stealing information or making money. 2006 Warezov – A two-year email worm campaign perpetuated by professional criminals, Warezov gained notoriety for downloading new versions of itself from remote servers – sometimes as frequently as every 30 minutes, according to a 2006 interview with Mikko. 2007 Storm Worm (also called Small.dam) – Storm Worm was a trojan that was spread as an attachment to spam emails. But more importantly, it was a combination of complex and advanced virus techniques that criminals were able to use to make money by using infected machines as part of a botnet. 2013 Cryptolocker – A notorious ransomware family, Cryptolocker was spread through malicious email attachments, as well as the infamous Gameover Zeus botnet. Infected victims would find their hard drives suddenly encrypted, essentially locking them out of their devices and data until they paid a ransom to the perpetrators. While the FBI, in cooperation with other law enforcement agencies and security companies (including F-Secure), were able to disrupt the operation, the perpetrators were able to use Cryptolocker to extort about 3 million dollars from victims before being stopped. Other notable mentions include the 2005 Sony rootkit (for being distributed on Sony BMG CD-ROMs on their behalf), the still prominent Downadup worm from 2008 (for infecting millions, including armed forces of several countries and police departments), and the well-known Stuxnet virus from 2010 (for both its sophistication and its apparent state-sponsorship). If you want to know more about the history of computer viruses, you can check out Computer Invaders: The 25 Most Infamous PC Viruses of All Time!

January 29, 2016
BY 
Scam

Yes, it’s OK to play with scammers

This TED talk is so hilarious that I just have to share it with you. Watch it! British comedian James Veitch is engaging in the noble art of scam baiting, or scamming the scammers. The same as this site is dedicated to, or when I almost sold my boat to Mexico. I guess most or all of you already know how to spot an advance payment scam, aka. Nigerian scam. But James has some more to offer here. He’s making two important points, in addition to the excellent entertainment value. People often warns about engaging in any kind of conversation with these scammers. They are after all criminals and it’s safest to steer clear of them. I disagree, just like James. The people behind this kind of scams is not exactly the violent drug mafia. As a matter of fact, anyone who can use e-mail and Google Translate can set up a scam like this. And they are located in some poor remote country, typically in Africa. So it’s extremely unlikely that any of them would start hunting down people who play with them. That would disrupt their everyday business and cut profits, cost money and introduce the risk to get caught. But I do discourage people from engaging in scam baiting under their real identity. Set up a new mail account under a false name and never reveal any real contact info to them. You can reply from a different address than where you got the original spam. They are pumping out millions of spam messages and will not even notice the changed address. This adds an additional layer of security. And more important, it keeps your real inbox free of spam. Use their own tactic. Create a false identity with name, address, profession and country of residence. Stick to that story and make sure not a single bit of it is true. Read more about how to scam bait at 419eater.com. The other point is that scam baiting is a good deed. It keeps the scammers busy and ties up their resources. Resources that otherwise would have been used to scam a real victim and cause real damage. A single scam baiter can’t of course save the world, but they would probably shut down if all of us spent an hour a week scam baiting. And it can be fun so why not? A good scam baiter can be a real pain in the a** for the scammers. Be prepared to get some threats and evil language when they realize what is going on. Consider that as a trophy, a proof that you did it right. Don’t feel bad for them. They did after all contact you with the sole purpose to scam you for money.   Safe scam baiting, Micke   Image: Screenshot from ted.com  

January 28, 2016
BY 
Sean Sullivan

Sean Sullivan says look out for extortion, ad blocking in 2016

This is part of a series of posts about what security experts think will happen in 2016. F-Secure Security Advisor Sean Sullivan spends a lot of his time thinking about how people expose themselves to online risks. Whenever you download an app, click on a link, or open an email, there’s potential security problems that most people never even think about. But not Sean. It’s part of his job to understand how these things actually work, and what people should be doing to keep their devices and data safe from online threats. Here’s a quick look at what security issues Sean thinks people and companies will have to contend with in the upcoming year. “2016 will be remembered as the year of extortion.” Sean’s already predicted that the future of online threats will revolve around extortion. That is, criminals will be investing in scams that see people and businesses paying a “fee” to avoid being victimized by online threats. Ransomware is a well-known example of this trend. It’s malware that locks (either through encryption or other means) people’s devices unless a “ransom” is paid to the perpetrators. “Criminals will continue to figure out ways to extort people and businesses,” said Sean. “The returns we’ve seen extortionists getting on ransomware demonstrates just how profitable the malware sector can be for criminals. Increasing use of social networking tools like Linkedin are also giving online criminals a way to collect data and research potential blackmail targets, and given developments like these, I’m expecting criminal enterprises involving extortion to evolve throughout 2016.” Sean has pointed out in the past that crypto-ransomware, and many other types of online threats, are actually very sophisticated criminal enterprises. They often have a level of service that rivals what legitimate companies offer their customers, making them very profitable for criminals. In fact, the FBI advises ransomware victims to simply pay to have their computers unlocked (but F-Secure Labs has created some useful guidelines that people can follow to remove some police-themed ransomware variants). “We’ll still be talking about ad blocking at this time next year.” Ad blocking became an explosive topic after Apple built content blocking capabilities into iOS 9 earlier in the year. While it seems like a good idea for consumers, ad blocking caused waves after a report pointed out that publishers stand to lose billions due to ad blocking technologies. Publishers that use native advertising, or apps (like Apple News) to push content to their audience, will be largely unaffected. But publications relying on web browsers have become vocal critics of the practice, even though security experts (and even tech journalists) suggest that ad blocking may be in the best interests of consumers. “Ad blocking is going to continue to be an issue because there’s been no real progress on solving the problems that ad blocking is supposed to address,” says Sean. “The problematic connection between online advertising and tracking is still there, so there’s going to be demand for ad blockers until this changes. Plus, malvertising is still a huge security concern that ad blocking can help with, so using these apps is a good way for consumers to minimize online risks and have a better online experience, especially on mobile devices.” “Use of end-to-end encryption will increase in 2016.” Governments have been toying with the idea of asking tech companies to work around encryption to support national security interests. However, many companies and security experts are opposed to this, as encryption allows information to stay safe from criminals and other agents looking to collect information to use for less than altruistic purposes (for example, extortion, discrimination, targeted advertising). End-to-end encryption is one approach to securing digital communications that allows information to be encrypted by the sender and then decrypted by the receiver, which prevents anyone in between those two points (such as the company providing the service or app) from accessing the personal data contained in the messages. Whatsapp and Apple’s Facetime are popular examples of messaging apps that use end-to-end encryption. According to Sean, use of these kinds of apps will increase in 2016, despite pressure for companies to offer weaker encryption to end users. “The security benefits of end-to-end encryption are indisputable, and all the arguments to the contrary are really weak. But the real driver for this will be business, because it’s the best way for companies to provide secure services to users. It’s cheaper and more secure, so it’s a better option for both app developers and users.”

December 18, 2015
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