Cyber security in the news

05 March 2015

by Triin Sober Manager

Malware (adware, ransomware, trojans, spyware), phishing scams - there are lots of different ways cyber criminals will attempt to access your device and the personal information held on it. The majority of people hold personal and financial information on their devices, leaving themselves vulnerable to being hacked.

Malware (short for malicious software) in its various forms is specifically designed to gain access or damage a computer without the knowledge of the owner and phishing scams have moved from the real world to the online one in the attempt to get you to divulge private information to the scammers. These threats are well known and most of us will think twice before opening an unknown email or link.

Even so, the last weeks in February were particularly interesting in the world of Cyber Security with no less than four security issues striking within the space of a few days. In addition, only a few short weeks ago, our own PwC UK firewall came under attack from emails from fictional service providers, inviting people to click on the attachment. So what are these new threats that we should all be aware of? (Lenovo users beware!).

1. Equation Group

Equation Group is an advanced team of hackers, which according to Kaspersky Lab has been operating for almost two decades in countries all over the world. The terrifying part here (in addition to its rumored state-sponsored nature) is its sophisticated malware. Equation Group uses malware that actually infects the firmware of your hard drive, making it impossible to remove either by installing a new operating system or fully formatting your drive. The only option is to destroy the physical drive itself.

2. FreeBSD’s random number generator

It also emerged last week that CURRENT, the Random Number Generator (RNG) of the operating system FreeBSD (derived from BSD, the version of UNIX developed at Berkeley) has been spitting out some not so random numbers as far back as the last four months.

Should we care? Well, odds are that this will not impact you personally; however RNG is used in the creation of encryption keys, meaning any keys created in FreeBSD over that period will be potentially unsafe and have to be regenerated.

3. Superfish

In February 2015, it came to light that for more than six months, Lenovo PCs were shipped with a piece of adware called Superfish installed on them. Superfish is a tool for visual searches and plugs product recommendations into search results and web pages. By itself it’s more of a nuisance than a threat but it has emerged that the way the programme operates (a certificate installed in Windows) creates a serious vulnerability in the system, leaving it open to malicious attacks. The first proposed class action law suit against Lenovo has already been filed.

4. Big Brother

A new revelation by whistleblower Edward Snowden claims that a joint UK and US government team hacked into the computer network of the world’s biggest maker of smartphone SIM cards to steal the encryption keys, making any mobile devices with a Gemalto SIM vulnerable to monitoring (a claim denied by Gemalto). This information dates from 2010, meaning government agents could have been listening in on mobile communications without warrants for years.

None of the usual methods and tips for avoiding malware would have helped with these incredibly sophisticated attacks but there’s no need to swear off technology altogether! Luckily for us, the majority of threats encountered in the digital world are much more basic and avoidable. We can carry on surfing the net, happy in the knowledge of our (relative) safety.

If you would like to discuss these issues, or the impact of emerging technology or data and analytics on your industry, then contact our Data & Analytics team.

by Triin Sober Manager