Why Financial Institutions are being hit hard by Cyber Criminals 0 715

  • Kenyan bank accounts are at risk. Kenya lost about $175million last year to cyber crime.
  • The Serianu 2016 Kenya Cyber security Report, which highlighted that about 44% of financial institutions run on a cyber security budget of $1-1,000 annually.
  • With the increased terrorist activities within Kenya, the Internet presents national enemies such as the Al-Shabaab and other extremist groups with a unique and ubiquitous opportunities.
  • There is no existing comprehensive data protection regulation in the jurisdiction of Kenya.
Why Financial Institutions are being hit hard by cybercriminals

Kenya has been widely celebrated as one of the foremost innovators around the question of financial inclusion. With the acclaim of being the leading nation in the adoption and use of mobile banking platforms such as M-PESA and Equitel, numerous fintech start-ups are opening office in the Silicon Savannah.

In Kenya, the effect of innovation by fintech companies has been brilliantly positive. Per a 2016 Finaccess Household Survey endorsed by the Central Bank of Kenya and the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics, the number of Kenyans formally included by the financial system has grown by 50% in the last ten years.

More than 75.3% of Kenyans are formally banked

Over three-quarters (75.3%) of Kenyans are now formally included, up from 66.8% in 2013. Financial exclusion, which is now down to 17.4%, has more than halved since 2006.

Cyber crime on the rise:

There is no simple way to say this. Kenyan bank accounts are at risk.

The latter statement has been evidenced by the statistics present in the recent Cyber security Report published by Serianu, which asserts that Kenya lost about $175million last year.

Moreover, the Report managed to establish that cyber criminals are deliberately targeting the Kenyan digital economy with the intention of wreaking havoc and making away with millions.

Essentially, in terms of cyber resilience, the Kenyan digital economy can be likened to a slow, plump gazelle stumbling through the “cyber-savannah” in the full view of agile, informed and hungry cyber-predators who have begun to sink their teeth into their sumptuous prize.

Cybersecurity is a budgetary concern

With more than 75.3% of Kenyan citizens formally included in financial services, one would logically expect a correspondent increase in cyber security investments in the financial services sector.

Notably, the Serianu 2016 Kenya Cyber security Report, which highlighted that about 44% of financial institutions run on a cyber security budget of $1-1,000 annually, whilst about 33% of financial institutions in Kenya have $0 spend on all matters cyber security.

44% of financial institutions run on a cyber security budget of $1-1,000 annually Click to Tweet

Effective infrastructural cybersecurity measures come at a budgetary cost which must be respected by C-Suite executives. The threat landscape is constantly evolving as hackers collectively invest in their own expertise and tools to hack siloed

Financial organisations should staff more cyber security specialists

Notably, 63% of financial organisations in Kenya have an in-house cybersecurity department. However, only 29% of the employees within in-house cybersecurity departments in financial organisations are security certificate holders.

Financial organisations such as banks and fintech companies should ensure that their customers’ data is under the watch of certified cyber security professionals who can:

  • Promptly update their security infrastructure to match threat trends,
  • Clearly communicate the organisation’s cyber security needs to Board Executives,
  • Collaborate with digital product creators to ensure that their consumers enjoy safer technology,
  • Train other employees in online hygiene as a safety net against social engineering,
  • Swiftly respond to hacking incidences to mitigate losses and collect forensic data for litigation support.

Certified security specialists are a key asset for any financial organisation, as they not only guarantee their organisations’ business continuity by perpetuating trust and reliability of financial products, but also as business enablers who can assist in ensuring that there is security by design in the creation of new financial products.

Immature Data Protection Regulation:

There is no existing comprehensive data protection regulation in the jurisdiction of Kenya. This is in vast contrast to other thriving digital economies such as South Africa, states within the European Union and Canada.

One of the impactful consequences of poor data protection is the immensely secretive way through the occurrence of breaches is treated.

Financial institutions are not necessitated by any law to proactively inform the public regarding any substantial data breaches that have occurred to the detriment of their consumers.

This contrasts with the impending General Dara Protection Regulation in Europe, the Protection of Personal Information Act of South Africa and the Digital Privacy Act (whose adoption introduced mandatory notification via an amendment in the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act) who urge that any data breach that may result in a risk to the rights and freedoms of individuals should be reported to the relevant supervisory authority.

If unaddressed such breaches can have significant detrimental effect on individuals, i.e, discrimination, damage to reputation, financial loss, loss of confidentiality or any other significant economic or social disadvantage.

Under the Constitution of Kenya 2010, Kenyans’ consumer rights as well as the right to privacy has been asserted as a fundamental right that should be protected by the full legislative might of the Government.

Innovative legislators should get to work to protect the economy of the Republic of Kenya.

Conclusion

Large banks, microfinance institutions even cutting-edge fintech firms have been taking hooks to the jaw thrown by hungry cyber criminals who can see the vulnerabilities present within Kenya’s financial ecosystem.

The reputational harm to the financial sector has been immense as confidence in new, innovative financial products continues to decline sharply.

The finance market runs on the foundational principal of user trust. If financial institutions in Kenya do not champion the cyber security agenda, share threat intelligence to develop a fresh, synergised approach to cybercriminals, those heavy blows to their infrastructure will continue to wreak havoc to their stellar brands.

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Approximately US $150,000 worth of Ethereum-based cryptocurrency stolen 0 559

Online cryptocurrency website MyEtherWallet.com has confirmed that some visitors could have been temporarily redirected to a phishing site designed to steal users’ credentials and – ultimately – empty their cryptocurrency wallets.

According to reports, whoever was behind the attack may have successfully stolen approximately US $152,000 worth of Ethereum-based cryptocurrency.

However,  MyEtherWallet may not have been at fault, as the website explained in its statement:

“This is not due to a lack of security on the [MyEtherWallet] platform. It is due to hackers finding vulnerabilities in public facing DNS servers.”

British security researcher Kevin Beaumont confirms in a blog post that some of MyEtherWallet’s traffic had been redirected to a server based in Russia after traffic intended for Amazon’s DNS resolvers was pointed to a server hosted in Chicago by Equinix.

For the scheme to succeed, someone pulled off a hijack of a crucial component of the internet known as Border Gateway Protocol (BGP), to reroute traffic intended for Amazon’s Route 53 DNS service to the server in Chicago. As a consequence, for some users, entering myetherwallet.com into their browser did not take them to the genuine site but instead to a server at an IP address chosen by the hackers.

The only obvious clue that a typical user might have spotted was that when they visited the fake MyEtherWallet site they would have seen an error message telling them that the site was using an untrustworthy SSL certificate.

It seems that the attackers made a mistake in not obtaining a valid SSL certificate.

Despite the error with their SSL certificate, the hackers haven’t done badly for themselves – both in this attack and in the past. Fascinatingly, the bogus MyEtherWallet website set up by the criminals was moving stolen cryptocurrency into a wallet which already contained some US $27 million worth of assets. Inevitably that raises questions of its own – have the hackers already made a substantial fortune through other attacks, or might their activities be supported by a nation state?

In a statement Equinix confirmed that a customer’s equipment at its Chicago data center was used in the hackers’ hijacking of Amazon’s Route 53 DNS service:

“The server used in this incident was not an Equinix server but rather customer equipment deployed at one of our Chicago IBX data centers… We generally do not have visibility or control over what our customers – or customers of our customers – do with their equipment.”

Amazon however, do not find the blame to lie on themselves, communicating the following statement:

“Neither AWS nor Amazon Route 53 were hacked or compromised. An upstream Internet Service Provider (ISP) was compromised by a malicious actor who then used that provider to announce a subset of Route 53 IP addresses to other networks with whom this ISP was peered. These peered networks, unaware of this issue, accepted these announcements and incorrectly directed a small percentage of traffic for a single customer’s domain to the malicious copy of that domain.”

Some advice from award winning security blogger, researcher and speaker, Graham Cluley – avoid putting your cryptocurrency wallet online, keep them off your smartphone or computer and perhaps instead invest in a hardware wallet.

Beware: ad slingers thinly disguised as security apps 0 607

Fake Security App

According to AV-Comparatives, an independent testing organization, there are significant differences in the level of protection provided by mobile security solutions. However, even the least secure of them are still far better than questionable apps that impersonate security applications in order to display ads to users. Thirty-five such applications have recently been discovered in the Google Play official Android app store.

These apps have Google Play statistics showing a minimum of over six million installs, cumulatively. However, not all those were necessarily real installations, it is possilbe that many were bot downloads posting fake reviews to improve the ratings for the app.

All 35 apps have been flagged by ESET and eventually removed from the store.

In addition to annoying their victims with ads, disguising these apps as security software has some serious negative side effects, too. In mimicking basic security functions – in fact, they all act as very primitive security checkers relying on a few trivial hardcoded rules – they often detect legitimate apps as malicious. And last but not least, they create a false sense of security in the victims, which might expose them to real risks from malicious apps that are not detected as such.

ESET’s analysis has shown that among these 35 apps, only a handful stand out for their specific features: one app is not completely free as it offers a paid upgrade; one app has implemented a primitive, easily bypassed, app-locker manager; another app flags other apps from this group as dangerous by default; and finally, one misuses ESET’s branding.

 

Security-mimicking functionality
In order to stay under the radar, all the shady ad-displaying apps mimic actual mobile security solutions. However, their ‘detection mechanisms’ are incomplete and very primitive, which makes them easy to bypass and prone to false positives.

Our research into these questionable apps has shown that their ‘detection mechanisms’ can be divided into four categories. These mechanisms are identical or almost identical across the whole set of apps.

1) Package name whitelist & blacklist
These whitelists features popular apps such as Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, Skype and others. The ‘blacklists’ contains far too few items to be considered security functionality at all.

2) Permissions blacklist
All apps (including legitimate ones) are flagged if they require some of the listed permissions that are considered dangerous, such as send and receive SMS, access location data, access the camera, etc.

3) Source whitelist
All apps but those from the official Android store, Google Play, are flagged – even if they are completely benign.

4) Activities blacklist
All apps that contain any of the blacklisted activities: that is, parts of applications. This mainly concerns some ad-displaying activities.

Flagged are all apps that contain any of the blacklisted activities, i.e., packages of application that are used in an application. These packages can handle additional functionalities (mainly some ad-displaying activities).

While there is nothing wrong with the idea of activity blacklisting, the implementation in these questionable apps is rather sloppy. For example, Google Ads is included in the blacklist despite the fact that it is a legitimate service. On top of being legitimate, this service is implemented in all of the shady apps we analyzed.

Additional security “functionality”
Some of the questionable security apps are capable of protecting a user’s apps with a password or a pattern locker. The idea behind this seemingly useful feature is to provide the user with another layer of security in selected apps.

However, due to insecure implementation, this feature also fails to provide true security to the user.

The problem is that relevant information is not stored safely on the device – instead of using encryption, which is common baseline practice in cybersecurity, these apps store the names of locked apps and the passwords to unlock them as plaintext.

This means that the data can be accessed after the device is rooted.

Besides compromising the unencrypted data by rooting the phone, there is another way to bypass the app lock. An attacker with physical access to the device can change the app-locking password without knowing the old one!

Conclusion
Having a security solution installed in an Android phone is definitely a good thing. However, not all apps featuring “security” or “antivirus” in their name do what the name promises. Before installing a security solution, think twice: is it really a tool you can safely rely on?

The 35 pseudo-security apps described in this article are not, say, ransomware or other hardcore malware. The only harm they do is displaying annoying ads, making false-positive detections and giving the victim a false sense of security. However, those millions of unwary users who downloaded them could easily have ended up downloading true malware in some similar disguise.

Instead of shady apps with flashy names and icons and outlandish, unsubstantiated promises, seek a reputable security solution. And which one to choose? An independent test by a well-respected testing organization might help.