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Cyber criminals targeting more profitable ransomware attack victims, Europol report reveals

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ransomware attack victims

A new report from Europol has revealed that cyber criminals are increasingly seeking out more profitable targets while using new forms of technology.

The law enforcement agency’s latest Internet Organised Crime Threat Assessment (IOCTA) found that ransomware remains the top cyber threat, even though the number attacks recorded over the past year has declined as hackers focus on more profitable victims.

Ransomware is likely to remain the top cyber crime threat over the next 12 months, Europol said.

According to the report, phishing and vulnerable remote desktop protocols are the primary malware infection vectors, while data remains a key target, commodity and enabler for cyber criminals.

The study notes that while new forms of technology provide fresh opportunities for hackers to seek out additional revenue streams, cyber criminals continue to routinely take advantage of known vulnerabilities in existing systems that have remained unpatched for extended periods of time.

Away from ransomware, Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks were also one of the most prominent threat forms reported to Europol last year, with many banks identifying DDoS attacks as a significant ongoing problem.

Elsewhere, Europol said the sheer volume of child sexual exploitation material being distributed online is in danger of overwhelming law enforcement agencies, noting that the use of deepfake AI-technology is becoming an emerging problem for investigators focussed on the online circulation of indecent images of minors.

Commenting on the report, European Commissioner for Migration, Home Affairs and Citizenship, Dimitris Avramopoulos said: “Cybercriminals are becoming bolder than ever and so should we in our common European response.

“I am glad to see that Europe’s efforts to tackle large-scale cyber-attacks across borders are bringing results.

“But I am distraught by the fact that child sexual abuse material continues to thrive online.”

Europol said continuous efforts are required to “further synergise the network and information security sector and the cyber law enforcement authorities to improve the overall cyber resilience and cyber security”.

Launched on the same day as the report, Interpol yesterday announced a new campaign designed to raise awareness of so-called CEO fraud.

Also known as BEC fraud, CEO fraud involves hackers targeting a company’s low-level employees or middle managers while pretending to be a senior executive.

After gaining a victim’s trust, CEO fraud hackers attempt to convince them to transfer large sums of company money to a bogus bank.

Craig Jones, Interpol’s Director of Cyber Crime, commented: “With more than $1 billion lost to BEC fraud last year alone, this relatively unknown crime is fast becoming a global phenomenon.”

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Bungling British cyber hacker jailed for nine months after making £5 in attack on UK National Lottery

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British cyber hacker jailed for nine months

A hapless hacker from Britain has been jailed for nine months after being paid the princely sum of £5 ($6.50) for providing fellow cyber criminals with a tool to attack the UK’s National Lottery website.

Londoner Anwar Batson, 29, was handed the prison term at Southwark Crown Court after admitting four offences under the Computer Misuse Act 1990 and one fraud charge.

Batson used a widely available hacking tool dubbed Sentry MBA to create a file that allowed other hackers to launch an attack on the National Lottery website back in November 2016, which at the time held nine million separate account profiles.

In July 2018, Daniel Thompson, 27, and Idris Kayode Akinwunmi, 21, were jailed for eight months and four months respectively at Birmingham Crown Court after they were convicted of using the tool to bombard the website with thousands of attempts to log in to customer accounts.

Batson, who used the name “Rosegold” online, provided the username and password of one lottery player to Akinwunmi, who stole £13 from the account before sending Batson £5.

Batson denied all knowledge of the scam when he was arrested back in May 2017, telling investigators from the UK’s National Crime Agency (NCA) that he was the victim of trolling and that his devices had been hacked.

Detectives were able to disprove Batson’s claims after discovering conversations on devices seized from him that related to the hacking, buying and selling of username and password lists, configuration files and personal details.

Investigators were also able locate a conversation with Akinwunmi in which Barton discussed the theft of the £13 from the compromised National Lottery account.

In an interview given to police after his arrest, Akinwunmi said: “I was just being silly and naïve really… It was just a naïve act to make a little bit of cash.”

Jailing Barton for nine months, Judge Jeffrey Pegden said the gravity of his offending did not result from the amount of money he obtained by deception, but from the fact he had targeted “a large honourable organisation”.

Speaking after sentencing, NCA Senior Investigating Officer Andrew Shorrock said: “Even the most basic forms of cyber crime can have a substantial impact on victims.

“No one should think cyber crime is victimless or that they can get away with it.

“The NCA will pursue and identify offenders and any conviction can be devastating to their futures.”

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Apple now scanning iCloud uploads for evidence of child abuse images, executive tells CES audience

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Apple now scanning iCloud uploads for evidence of child abuse images

An Apple executive has revealed that the iPhone maker is scanning content uploaded to its iCloud platform to make sure it does not contain child sexual exploitation images.

Speaking during a presentation at the CES event in Las Vegas, Apple Senior Director of Global Privacy Jane Horvath told delegates that images backed up to the service are now automatically scanned to help “screen for child sexual abuse material”.

In a discussion during which she defended Apple’s use of encryption to protect private information stored by users of its devices, Horvath argued against the need to create “back doors” for access to such data, suggesting that technology to scan for evidence of chid sexual exploitation content is a far more effective way to fight crime.

While Horvath did not go into detail about the technology Apple uses to scan for evidence of indecent images of children, the UK’s Daily Telegraph reports that the company recently updated its privacy policy with information about the automated scanning of images uploaded to iCloud.

“We have developed robust protections at all levels of our software platform and throughout our supply chain,” the policy reads.

“As part of this commitment, Apple uses image matching technology to help find and report child exploitation.

“Much like spam filters in email, our systems use electronic signatures to find suspected child exploitation.

“We validate each match with individual review. Accounts with child exploitation content violate our terms and conditions of service, and any accounts we find with this material will be disabled.”

Separately, the UK’s Internet Watch Foundation (IWF) said earlier this week that the surface web is being flooded with indecent images of children.

The charity, which works to remove child abuse images from the internet, said it dealt with a record number of cases in 2019 as illegal content increased by more than a quarter.

According to the IWF, its analysts processed 260,400 reports last year, which represented a 14% increase from the 229,328 cases it dealt with in 2018.

Almost 133,000 of these proved to involve images and/or videos of children being sexually abused, which was up from 105,047 the previous year.

Commenting on the figures for 2019, IWF CEO Susie Hargreaves said: “What’s really shocking is that it’s all available on the open internet, or ‘clear web’.

“That’s the everyday internet that we all use to do our shopping, search for information, and obtain our news.”

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Interpol identifies major international cryptojacking campaign during crackdown in Southeast Asia

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Interpol identifies major international cryptojacking campaign

Interpol has teamed up with law enforcement agencies in Southeast Asia to crack down on cryptojacking; an emerging form of cyber crime that involves offenders hijacking victims’ computer power to mine cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin.

Cryptojackers exploit unsuspecting computer users’ processing power and bandwidth to mine virtual currency having infiltrated their systems using purpose-built malware.

The criminals behind cryptojacking conspiracies seek to exploit the blockchain systems that reward computers that validate cryptocurrency transfers with newly created virtual coins.

While hugely profitable, the mining of new virtual cryptocurrency coins on an industrial scale is highly resource intensive both in terms of computing power and energy, prompting cyber criminals to surreptitiously tap systems owned by third parties.

As well as seeking to stamp out the activity in Southeast Asia, Interpol’s Operation Goldfish Alpha also sought to raise awareness of what is a relatively unknown crime in the region, and  teach local law enforcement agencies how to identify it and mitigate against the threat it poses.

Using intelligence obtained from police and partners in the cyber security industry, Interpol and its partners identified a global cryptojacking campaign facilitated by the exploitation of a vulnerability in MikroTik routers during the operation.

Commenting on the success of the operation, Interpol cyber crime boss Craig Jones said: “When faced with emerging cybercrimes like cryptojacking, the importance of strong partnerships between police and the cybersecurity industry cannot be overstated.

“By combining the expertise and data on cyberthreats held by the private sector with the investigative capabilities of law enforcement, we can best protect our communities from all forms of cybercrime.”

At the beginning of December, two Romanian men were jailed for a total of 38 years by a court in Ohio for running a botnet that stole credit card information and installed crypto mining software on victims’ computers.

Prosecutors said Bogdan Nicolescu and Radu Miclaus, both 37, were part of a cyber crime syndicate referred to as the “Bayrob Group”.

The network is thought to have begun operations in 2007 with the development of malware distributed through phishing emails purporting to be from companies such as Western Union and antivirus firm Norton.

Once downloaded onto a victim’s systems, the malware would harvest banking information and harness processing power for the mining of cryptocurrencies.

Speaking after Nicolescu and Miclaus were jailed, FBI Special Agent in Charge Eric Smith commented: “These sentences handed down today reflect the dynamic landscape in which international criminals utilise sophisticated cyber methods to take advantage of and defraud, unsuspecting victims anywhere in the world.”

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