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Malvertising campaign targets Apple users with malicious code hidden in images

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Apple users continue to be some of the favorite targets of malvertising campaigns, according to a report published this week by cyber-security firm Confiant.

The report describes a new malvertising group called VeryMal that’s been going after Apple users, with the latest campaigns employing steganography techniques to hide malicious code inside ad images to avoid detection.

Also: Phones to expect at MWC and beyond: Galaxy S10, Honor View 11, Nokia 9, and more

The Confiant report comes after the company discovered a different malvertising group last year, named ScamClub, which also exclusively targeted Apple users.

But while ScamClub was a much bigger operation, hijacking as many as 300 million web sessions for US-based iOS users, the VeryMal group is a much smaller in size, being blamed for only five million hijacks.

However, the difference, according to researchers, is that this newer group is way sneakier, employing steganography to hide the code responsible for redirecting users from legitimate sites to malicious ones.

According to Confiant’s recent report, this is how the most recent VeryMal malvertising effort unfolded:

  1. Ad slot on a legitimate website loads an image
  2. The image contains code hidden inside some of its pixel data values
  3. The ad slot also loads additional JavaScript code
  4. The JS code checks to see if Apple fonts are supported.
  5. If it’s an Apple device, this JavaScript code reads the image file to extract the hidden code from inside it.
  6. The external JavaScript code executes the code extracted from the image.
  7. This extracted code is a JavaScript command that forces the browser to navigate to a new URL.
  8. The user is bounced around through different subsequent URLs until he lands on a page showing popups urging him to install software updates –usually for Adobe Flash Player.

Image: Confiant

Confiant says it’s been tracking this group and its campaigns –which usually run in short bursts for a few days– since August last year. Collectively, the VeryMal group appears to have hijacked over 5 million web sessions from legitimate sites, however, it is unknown how many of the users installed the malware-laced apps.

According to Malwarebytes, the tainted software updates contained a version of Shlayer, a Mac malware strain that is used as an intermediary before its operators installed various adware strains on infected devices.

More details about the Shlayer malware are available in the Confiant report, but also in an Intego report from February 2018.

Confiant says that the VeryMal group didn’t always use steganography to hide its malvertising operation, this being a recent addition to the campaigns set in motion this month.

While the January campaign targeted Mac users, Confiant said that in the past VeryMal operators also went after iOS users in previous campaigns.


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Similarly to the ScamClub group, VeryMal also targeted US users exclusively in some of its campaigns.

According to a GeoEdge report published last November, malicious code hidden inside ad images caused financial losses to ad networks estimated at around $1.13 billion in 2018 alone.

Steganography is becoming a very common technique that malware groups use these days to hide malicious code inside images. A report published by EdgeSpot yesterday also detailed how another group hid the exploit code for an Adobe Reader vulnerability inside images, to avoid security scanners for detecting it.

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Security

Work from Home Security

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Spin Master is a leading global children’s entertainment company that invents toys and games, produces dozens of television and studio series that are distributed in 160 countries, and creates a variety of digital games played by more than 30 million children. What was once a small private company founded by childhood friends is now a public global supply chain with over 1,500 employees and 28 offices around the world.

Like most organizations in 2020, Spin Master had to adapt quickly to the new normal of remote work, shifting most of its production from cubicles in regional and head offices to hundreds of employees working from home and other remote locations.

This dramatic shift created potential security risks, as most employees were no longer behind the firewall on the corporate network. Without the implementation of hardened endpoint security, the door would be open for bad actors to infiltrate the organization, acquire intellectual property, and ransom customer information. Additionally, the potential downtime caused by a security breach could harm the global supply chain. With that in mind, Spin Master created a self-imposed 30-day deadline to extend its network protection capabilities to the edge.

Key Findings:

  • Think Long Term: The initial goal of establishing a stop-gap work-from-home (WFH) and work-from-anywhere (WFA) strategy has since morphed into a permanent strategy, requiring long-term solutions.
  • Gather Skills: The real urgency posed by the global pandemic made forging partnerships with providers that could fill all the required skill sets a top priority.
  • Build Momentum: The compressed timeline left no room for delay or error. The Board of Directors threw its support behind the implementation team and gave it broad budget authority to ensure rapid action, while providing active guidance to align strategy with action.
  • Deliver Value: The team established two key requirements that the selected partner must deliver: implementation support and establishing an ongoing managed security operations center (SOC).
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Key Criteria for Evaluating Privileged Access Management

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Privileged Access Management (PAM) enables administrative access to critical IT systems while minimizing the chances of security compromises through monitoring, policy enforcement, and credential management.

A key operating principle of all PAM systems is the separation of user credentials for individual staff members from the system administration credentials they are permitted to use. PAM solutions store and manage all of the privileged credentials, providing system access without requiring users to remember, or even know, the privileged password. Of course, all staff have their own unique user ID and password that they use to complete everyday tasks such as accessing email and writing documents. Users who are permitted to handle system administration tasks that require privileged credentials log into the PAM solution, which provides and controls such access according to predefined security policies. These policies control who is allowed to use which privileged credentials when, where, and for what tasks. An organization’s policy may also require logging and recording of the actions undertaken with the privileged credentials.

Once implemented, PAM will improve your security posture in several ways. The first is by segregating day-to-day duties from duties that require elevated access, reducing the risk of accidental privileged actions. Secondly, automated password management reduces the possibility that credentials will be shared while also lowering the risk if credentials are accidentally exposed. Finally, extensive logging and activity recording in PAM solutions aids audits of critical system access for both preventative and forensic security.

How to Read this Report

This GigaOm report is one of a series of documents that helps IT organizations assess competing solutions in the context of well-defined features and criteria. For a fuller understanding consider reviewing the following reports:

Key Criteria report: A detailed market sector analysis that assesses the impact that key product features and criteria have on top-line solution characteristics—such as scalability, performance, and TCO—that drive purchase decisions.

GigaOm Radar report: A forward-looking analysis that plots the relative value and progression of vendor solutions along multiple axes based on strategy and execution. The Radar report includes a breakdown of each vendor’s offering in the sector.

Vendor Profile: An in-depth vendor analysis that builds on the framework developed in the Key Criteria and Radar reports to assess a company’s engagement within a technology sector. This analysis includes forward-looking guidance around both strategy and product.

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Adventist Risk Management Data Protection Infrastructure

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Companies always want to enhance their ability to quickly address pressing business needs. Toward that end, they look for new ways to make their IT infrastructures more efficient—and more cost effective. Today, those pressing needs often center around data protection and regulatory compliance, which was certainly the case for Adventist Risk Management. What they wanted was an end-to-end, best-in-class solution to meet their needs. After trying several others, they found the perfect combination with HYCU and Nutanix, which provided:

  • Ease of deployment
  • Outstanding ROI
  • Overall TCO improvement

Nutanix Cloud Platform provides a software-defined hyperconverged infrastructure, while HYCU offers purpose-built backup and recovery for Nutanix. Compared to the previous traditional infrastructure and data protection solutions in use at Adventist Risk Management, Nutanix and HYCU simplified processes, speeding day-to-day operations up to 75%. Now, migration and update activities typically scheduled for weekends can be performed during working hours and help to increase IT staff and management quality of life. HYCU further increased savings by providing faster and more frequent points of recovery as well as better DR Recovery Point Objective (RPO) and Recovery Time Objective (RTO) by increasing the ability to do daily backups from one to four per day.

Furthermore, the recent adoption of Nutanix Objects, which provides secure and performant S3 storage capabilities, enhanced the infrastructure by:

    • Improving overall performance for backups
    • Adding security against potential ransomware attacks
    • Replacing components difficult to manage and support

In the end, Nutanix and HYCU enabled their customer to save money, improve the existing environment, and, above all, meet regulatory compliance requirements without any struggle.

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