Cybercriminals target African countries with ransomware

Threat research for November 2016 reveals both Locky and Cryptowall attacks increased by 10% globally over the past month

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa, 21 December 2016,- (AMA)- Check Point has revealed that five African nations were among the top 10 most-attacked countries in November as cybercriminals made increasing use of ransomware attacks using the Locky and Cryptowall viruses.

Botswana was the most-attacked country in Check Point’s list of 117 at-risk nations, followed by Malawi in second place, Namibia in fourth, Uganda in ninth and the Democratic Republic of Congo in tenth place. South Africa moved up to 31 on the list from 58th position in October, while Kenya dropped to 24th (from 22nd in October) and Nigeria climbed slightly to 108th position, from 116th the previous month.

In its monthly Global Threat Index, a ranking of the most prevalent malware families attacking organisations’ networks, Check Point noted a 10% increase in the number of attacks using Locky and Cryptowall and found both the number of active malware families and number of attacks remained close to an all-time high as the number of attacks on business networks continued to be relentless.

Locky spreads mainly via spam emails containing a downloader disguised as a Word or Zip file attachment, which then downloads and installs the malware that encrypts the user files. Locky was the no.1 malware family in the largest amount of countries (34 countries compared to Conficker, which was the top malware in 28 countries).

The pattern highlights the growing threat posed to corporate networks by ransomware and suggests that many organisations are simply paying ransoms to secure the return of their files, making it an attractive – and lucrative – attack vector for cybercriminals.

Once again Conficker retained its position as the world’s most prevalent malware, responsible for 15% of recognised attacks. Second-placed Locky, which only started its distribution in February of this year, was responsible for 6% of all attacks, and third-placed Sality was responsible for 5% of known attacks. Overall, the top ten malware families were responsible for 45% of all known attacks.

Here are the most common malware families per country:

Kenya

1. Sality – Virus that allows remote operations and downloads of additional malware to infected systems by its operator. Its main goal is to persist in a system and provide means for remote control and installing further malware.

2. Virut – Botnet used in DDoS attacks, spam distribution, data theft and fraud. The malware is spread through infected devices such as USB sticks as well as compromised websites and files.

3. Mazben – Spam botnet targeting Windows platforms that allows a remote attacker to use the system as a proxy for sending spam messages.

Nigeria

1. Dorkbot – Backdoor bot agent that allows an attacker to access the compromised system and use it to send spam, send confidential information and conduct DDoS attacks.

2. Virut

3. Sality

South Africa

1. Virut

2. Sality

3. Conficker – Worm that allows remote operations and malware to be download. Infected machines are controlled by a botnet, which contacts its Command & Control server to receive instructions.

The Ramnit banking Trojan saw the largest increase in attacks globally in November, entering Check Point’s top 10 ranking for the first time as the sixth most common malware. It more than doubled its amount of infections since last October, and was mainly seen in Turkey, Brazil, India, Indonesia and the U.S. Ramnit is used to steal banking credentials, FTP passwords, session cookies and personal data.

For the eighth consecutive month, HummingBad remains the most common malware used to attack mobile devices globally.

Mobile malware families continued to pose a significant threat to businesses. The three most common mobile families were:

1. HummingBad – Android malware that establishes a persistent rootkit on the device, installs fraudulent applications and enables additional malicious activity such as installing a key-logger, stealing credentials and bypassing encrypted email containers used by enterprises.

2. Triada – Modular Backdoor for Android which grants super-user privileges to downloaded malware, as helps it to get embedded into system processes. Triada has also been seen spoofing URLs loaded in the browser.

3. Ztorg – Trojan that uses root privileges to download and install applications on the mobile phone without the user’s knowledge.

Rick Rogers, Area Manager for East and West Africa at Check Point Software Technologies, explained, “Ransomware attacks are still growing in volume for a simple reason – they work and generate significant revenues for the attackers. Organisations are struggling to effectively counteract the threat posed by this insidious attack form; many simply don’t have the right defences in place, and may not have educated staff on how to recognise the signs of a potential ransomware attack in incoming emails. This, of course, only makes it even more attractive to criminals.

“Organisations must use advanced threat prevention measures on networks, endpoints and mobile devices to stop malware at the pre-infection stage, such as Check Point’s SandBlast™ Zero-Day Protection, Threat Extraction, and Mobile Threat Prevention solutions, to ensure that they are adequately secured against the latest threats,” added Rogers.

Check Point’s threat index is based on threat intelligence drawn from its ThreatCloud World Cyber Threat Map, which tracks how and where cyberattacks are taking place worldwide in real time. The Threat Map is powered by Check Point’s ThreatCloudTM intelligence, the largest collaborative network to fight cybercrime, which delivers threat data and attack trends from a global network of threat sensors. The ThreatCloud database holds over 250 million addresses analysed for bot discovery, over 11 million malware signatures and over 5.5 million infected websites, and identifies millions of malware types daily.

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Mareeg senior news editor since 2001 and he can be reached at news@mareeg.com