Shhh… Email Spams Dip First Time in Twelve Years

Check out the VentureBeat article below:

Symantec: Spam falls below 50% of all email for the first time since 2003

July 17, 2015 8:20 AM
Emil Protalinski

Good news for all of us who still have to use email: spam rates are dropping! In fact, junk messages now account for just 49.7 percent of all emails.

The latest figure comes from security firm Symantec’s June 2015 Intelligence Report, which notes this is the first time in over a decade that the rate has fallen below 50 percent. The last time the company recorded a similar spam rate was back in September 2003, or almost 12 years ago.

More specifically, Symantec saw 704 billion email messages sent in June, of which 353 billion were classified as spam. At one of the peaks of the spam epidemic, in June 2009, 5.7 trillion of the 6.3 trillion messages sent were spam, according to past data from Symantec.

Symantec

The report uses Symantec clients to extrapolate the figure, so the actual rate could be a bit higher or lower. That said, the spam rate appears to be dropping: Symantec’s spam number was 52.1 percent in April and 51.5 percent in May.

The decline of spam is usually attributed to legal prosecution against botnets (including by major tech companies like Microsoft), faster reaction times by network providers, improved blocking, and better filtering. The main goal is to make the business less lucrative: If you can slash profit margins for a spammer, you can slash spam itself.

This is great news for not just email users but companies that are dedicated to fighting spam. Their business isn’t going away anytime soon, but they are making progress.

Other findings in the report, which talks about not just spam but security overall, include:

– 57.6 million new malware variants were created in June, up from 44.5 million pieces of malware created in May and 29.2 million in April.

– Ransomware attack has increased for the second month in a row and crypto-ransomware has reached its highest levels since December 2014.

You can read Symantec’s full 19-page report here.

Shhh… Shutting Down Network of 12,000 Computers Used by Cyber-criminals

No arrest yet but the good news is that the US and Europe have, via the FBI and Europol’s European Cybercrime Center, dismantled on Wednesday a network of as many as 12,000 computers that cyber-criminals used to elude security firms and law enforcement agencies for some years. Check out the video clip and Bloomberg article below.

Meanwhile, recall yesterday’s blog on data breach and the 22 countries where stolen data were most frequently accessed.


Police Shut Europe Computer Network Enabling Theft, Extortion

by Cornelius RahnChris Strohm

European and U.S. police shut down a computer network on Wednesday used by cybercriminals to facilitate the theft of banking passwords and extortion which had eluded security companies and law enforcement for years.

Agents of the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation and the European Cybercrime Center seized servers across Europe that had been responsible for spreading malware on thousands of mainly U.S.-based victim computers, said Raj Samani, chief technology officer for Intel Corp.’s security unit in the region, which helped prepare the takedown.

Governments are responding to increasing frequency and impact of online attacks by setting up dedicated cybercrime units and working with security-software companies to weed out threats before more damage is done. The network functioned as a portal offered by criminals to others seeking to spread their own malware, according to Paul Gillen, head of operations at Europol’s European Cybercrime Centre.

“If that carried on in earnest, it had great potential from a criminal perspective,” Gillen said. “People set up infrastructure like that and rent it out to others, saying ‘here are a lot of infected computers so you can upload all your banking malware or other things on them.’”

FBI and Europol said there had been no arrests yet as it was too early to say who the perpetrators were, or what damage the malware had caused. Police will now sift through the data gained from the seized machines before notifying victims and determining the culprits, according to Gillen.

The malicious code, labeled W32/Worm-AAEH, was first detected in 2009 but was difficult to weed out because it changed its shape as many as six times a day, Intel’s Samani said. The worm had evolved capabilities such as shutting down connections with servers from antivirus companies and disabling tools that could terminate it, he said.

Even after the control servers are no longer available to the criminals to morph existing pieces of malware, users must still clean up their machines. Computer owners can stop the software’s core function by setting rules that prevent new software from running automatically and shutting certain ports, Intel said.

Shhh… The USB-C Makes those new MacBooks More Vulnerable

You may want to think twice about the new MacBook.

Apple may have ideas about its newly introduced USB-C but widely reported vulnerabilities of USB devices amplify big troubles ahead, as the following article explains.

MacBookAir-USB-c2

The NSA Is Going to Love These USB-C Charging Cables

Mario Aguilar
3/17/15 12:35pm

Thanks to Apple’s new MacBook and Google’s new Chromebook Pixel, USB-C has arrived. A single flavor of cable for all your charging and connectivity needs? Hell yes. But that convenience doesn’t come without a cost; our computers will be more vulnerable than ever to malware attacks, from hackers and surveillance agencies alike.

The trouble with USB-C stems from the fact that the USB standard isn’t very secure. Last year, researchers wrote a piece of malware called BadUSB which attaches to your computer using USB devices like phone chargers or thumb drives. Once connected, the malware basically takes over a computer imperceptibly. The scariest part is that the malware is written directly to the USB controller chip’s firmware, which means that it’s virtually undetectable and so far, unfixable.

Before USB-C, there was a way to keep yourself somewhat safe. As long as you kept tabs on your cables, and never stuck random USB sticks into your computer, you could theoretically keep it clean. But as The Verge points out, the BadUSB vulnerability still hasn’t been fixed in USB-C, and now the insecure port is the slot where you connect your power supply. Heck, it’s shaping up to be the slot where you connect everything. You have no choice but to use it every day. Think about how often you’ve borrowed a stranger’s power cable to get charged up. Asking for a charge from a stranger is like having unprotected sex with someone you picked up at the club.

What the Verge fails to mention however, is that it’s potentially much worse than that. If everyone is using the same power charger, it’s not just renegade hackers posing as creative professionals in coffee shops that you need to worry about. With USB-C, the surveillance establishment suddenly has a huge incentive to figure out how to sneak a compromised cable into your power hole.

It might seem alarmist and paranoid to suggest that the NSA would try to sneak a backdoor into charging cables through manufacturers, except that the agency has been busted trying exactly this kind of scheme. Last year, it was revealed that the NSA paid security firm RSA $10 million to leave a backdoor in their encryption unpatched. There’s no telling if or when or how the NSA might try to accomplish something similar with USB-C cables, but it stands to reason they would try.

We live in a world where we plug in with abandon, and USB-C’s flexibility is designed to make plugging in easier than ever. Imagine never needing to guess whether or not your aunt’s house will have a charger for your phone. USB-C could become so common that this isn’t even a question. Of course she has one! With that ubiquity and convenience comes a risk that the tech could become exploited—not just by criminals, but also by the government’s data siphoning machine.

How to Cope With File-Encrypting Ransomware Risks (After US Offer $3mn Award for GameOver Zeus creator Evgeniy Bogachev)?

It could be game over for Russian hacker Evgeniy Bogachev as the US State Department and FBI have issued a “Wanted” poster with a US$3 million reward for information leading to his arrest, the highest price the US authorities had ever placed on a head in a cyber case.

Wanted-Evgeniy Bogachev2

Bogachev, apparently still in Russia, was charged by the US for running a computer attack called GameOver Zeus that has allegedly amassed in excess of US$100 million from online bank accounts of businesses and consumers in the US and around the world.

However, despite the taking down of the GameOver botnet and the demise of CryptoLocker, it’s not all over as new variants of file-encrypting ransomware still exist. The following screen is what you don’t want to see on your computer monitor.

CryptoDefense

Check out this nice article about how to protect yourself from ransomware with the Sophos Virus Removal Tool.

I have an easier, effective and unorthodox solution, which I have mentioned in public lectures and previous columns.: changing your cyber lifestyle by having “naked” computers, i.e. not storing a single file in the computer hard disks, apart from the operating system and software program files.

In essence, I store all my files on an external encrypted hard disk and use either the 1 laptop or 2 laptops approach – with the former you alternate between online and offline depending on when you connect the external disk to the laptop and with the latter, you attach the external disk to a laptop that is offline (you can go one step further with the Snowden approach by using an “air gapped” computer, as he has recommended to Glenn Greenwald) and work online only with the other computer. The latter would come handy when on the road (even with the extra weight) as there are always risks with public (which one should always avoid) and hotel internet connections, spying walls, etc.

Shhh… Pre-installed Superfish Malware Leaves Lenovo Computers Vulnerable to Man-in-the-Middle Attacks

I’m a self-confessed hardcore fan of the good old IBM Thinkpad laptops but I’ve shied away from the black box ever since the Lenovo acquisition in 2005. And this (see video clips below) is one of those reasons. My tilt these days is towards those laptops with no parts made in China

Shhh… Hotel Cyber Blues

Business travels carry a huge price tag in security risks. Hence a common (but unspoken) practice amongst sleuths is particularly noteworthy: Avoid the biggest hotels in the biggest cities.

This is relevant because a Kaspersky Lab report (below) released earlier this week found a sophisticated industrial espionage campaign aimed at business executives using in-house wireless connections in luxury hotels across Asia, with thousands of victims since 2009 who otherwise believed they were using private and secure networks.

However, the risk with using hotel internet (both LAN and wireless) connections is nothing new.

The FBI has warned 2 years ago about malware being spread across hotel wi-fi systems.

And in the scandal involving former CIA director David Petraeus and his mistress Paula Broadwell (picture below) back in 2012, the way the FBI managed to trace emails sent by Broadwell from her hotel rooms also underscored the problems associated with using supposedly secure hotel internet connections – despite her attempt to shield her identity by using anonymous email accounts, the FBI were able to find out where the emails were sent from (ie. which cities, which wi-fi locations and which hotels) which eventually led to her name.

DavidPetraeus&PaulaBroadwell-2

Previously on Shhh-cretly, several columns also highlighted the perilous voyage business travelers faced, especially in Asia and the risks go well beyond hotel internet connections. Some fellow sleuths are well aware of how some government would send their agents to break into hotel rooms when the house guests were out for the day. For example, a Shhh-cretly post 2 years ago revealed how the FBI had video footage, covertly taken in a hotel room somewhere in China, showing how Chinese agents broke in and swept through the belongings and laptop of an American businessman.

It also helps to know that the locks found on between 4 and 5 million hotel room doors worldwide can easily be opened by a simple hacking device.

And one is still not necessarily safe inside a hotel room, even if the door is locked and blocked. Spy gadgets may have been planted inside the room to snoop on the unwary house guests. And some rooms even have “spying walls“.

With these knowledge, some sleuths have gone to great lengths to protect themselves – such as planting a covert camera in the room, weighing a data-less laptop, with and without the battery, and the power plug before and after leaving the hotel room as well as hiding a SD card (which store all your data transferred from your laptop prior to a business trip, thus the data-less laptop) under the tongue, etc.

According to the Kaspersky report, “a key mystery remains how attackers appear to know the precise travel itinerary of each victim”.

Well, recall the Snowden revelations have also revealed that the British intelligence agency GCHQ had a secretive “Royal Concierge” program that broke into the global hotel booking system of some 350 luxury hotels for about 3 years, specifically to trace and wiretap the suites of traveling diplomats.

Now, has the world reached a state of paranoia?

Execs in Asian luxury hotels fall prey to cyber-espionage -study

By Eric Auchard
FRANKFURT Mon Nov 10, 2014 5:04am EST

Nov 10 (Reuters) – Security researchers have uncovered a sophisticated industrial espionage campaign that targets business executives in luxury hotels across Asia once they sign on to computers using in-room wireless connections they consider private and secure.

The attacks, which go well beyond typical cybercriminal operations, have claimed thousands of victims dating back to 2009 and continue to do so, Kaspersky Lab, the world’s largest private security firm, shows in a report published on Monday.

Executives from the auto, outsourced manufacturing, cosmetic and chemical industries have been hit, the security firm said. Others targeted include military services and contractors.

In 2012, the FBI issued a general warning to U.S. government officials, businessmen and academics, advising them to use caution when updating computer software via hotel Internet connections when travelling abroad (1.usa.gov/1xAP4YI).

Kaspersky’s report goes further in detailing the scale, methods and precise targeting of these attacks on top business travelers. (bit.ly/1xcU0Gs)

The movements of executives appear to be tracked as they travel, allowing attackers to pounce once a victim logs on to a hotel Wi-Fi network. Hackers cover their tracks by deleting these tools off hotel networks afterward.

“These attackers are going after a very specific set of individuals who should be very aware of the value of their information and be taking strong measures to protect it,” said Kurt Baumgartner, principal security researcher for Kaspersky, the world’s largest privately held cybersecurity firm.

Unsuspecting executives who submit their room number and surname while logging on to their hotel room’s wireless network are tricked into downloading an update to legitimate software such as Adobe Flash, Google Toolbar or Microsoft Messenger, Kaspersky said. Because attacks happen at sign-on, encrypted communications set up later offer no defence against attack.

The same elite spying crew has used advanced keystroke-logging software and encryption-breaking at multiple hotel chains across Asia, it said.

Kaspersky declined to name the executives involved or the luxury destinations targeted but said it had informed the hotels as well as law enforcement officials in affected locations.

Ninety percent of the victims came from five countries — Japan, Taiwan, China, Russia and South Korea. Business travelers to Asia from Germany, Hong Kong, Ireland and the United States have also been duped, Baumgartner said.

The Kaspersky report said a key mystery remains how attackers appear to know the precise travel itinerary of each victim, which points to a larger compromise of hotel business networks that researchers say they are continuing to probe. (Reporting By Eric Auchard; Editing by Clara Ferreira Marques)

Shhh… FTC New Appointee Ashkan Soltani Irks NSA Top Guns

The US Federal Trade Commission announced last week the appointment of Ashkan Soltani as the FTC’s chief technologist starting November, where he would advise on technology and policy issues for the same agency where he had previously served as a technical expert and staff technologist.

But what made his appointment stands out was other aspects of his resume. Soltani is a renowned and outspoken security researcher and has served as a technical expert for several state attorney general. Most notably, he was recently involved in investigative journalism, as a media consultant at the Washington Post helping Barton Gellman and other reporters on the technical and security aspects of the Snowden documents – and sharing their 2014 Pulitzer Prize for Public Service – plus other spells at The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times.

His latest appointment has upset NSA top guns, drawing criticisms from former NSA director Michael Hayden (and CIA director from 2006 to 2009):

I’m not trying to demonize this fella, but he’s been working through criminally exposed documents and making decisions about making those documents public.

and former NSA general counsel Stewart Baker:

I don’t think anyone who justified or exploited Snowden’s breach of confidentiality obligations should be trusted to serve in government.

In the same report on these reactions, there’s an interesting reader’s comment:

Applesauce-Oath

Hayden and Baker seem to think they took a different oath: to protect the American people from “terrorists” at all costs. And maybe to profit from investing in surveillance companies“? See my earlier posts on Keith Alexander’s business ventures during and after his NSA tenure.

More US Cyber-Spying?

Defense Secretary Hagel Faces a Tough Time Explaining This to China

US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel announced at the National Security Agency headquarters last Friday that the Pentagon would triple its cyber security staff – to 6,000 – over the next few years to defend against computer-based attacks.

That’s great. I wonder how Hagel is going to face the music when he visits China later this week where he expects to be grilled on the latest NSA revelations and aggressive US cyber spying. Just last month, it was revealed that the NSA has for years assessed the networks of Chinese telecommunications company Huawei, which the US House of Representatives has long advocated that US companies should avoid on the grounds of national security.

Find out more from my latest column here and there.

Spy Game: Kids for Tricks

The First World’s Version of Child Soldiers?

It is estimated that 250,000 children are fighting in wars all over the world, recruited by force or lured by the false promise of an escape from poverty. They are living a life no child should ever lead.

But across the planet, another crop of children, living in affluence in Cupertino, California, or Knightsbridge in London, or Berlin are being recruited as child soldiers. They won’t bear arms. They won’t nudge from their posts – usually in their parents’ back bedrooms.

On Halloween, while their peers are wearing goblin costumes and going from door to door, their families might regard them as hiding in their bedrooms and staying away from trouble.

But so you thought. They may be in much bigger trouble than you could ever imagine – they could be on a Wanted List from intelligence agencies – for hire. But in their teen years, are they capable of making the moral decisions to take up spying, any more than a 12 year old peering over the sights of a Kalashnikov in Sierra Leone?

Read the full article here.

How to Beat the CIA and Protect Your Data

A little secret and long overdue column – as I have promised some weeks ago.

How about leading a cyber lifestyle without the risks of compromising your computer, privacy and precious confidential data… ie. your life?!

There’s an easy solution and you do not have to be a computer expert. But the CIA, MI6, etc, wouldn’t want you to know the trick… because you can beat those spies and hackers by going online and leaving no trace.

Read the full article here.