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2019 Could Be The ‘Worst Year In Record’ As The Number Of Reported Data Leaks Reached ‘New Level’

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The number of data breaches reaches new levels in 2019 Q1.

As technology becomes the first and the last frontier of the 21st century, many individuals and organizations exploit the advent of the internet to wreak havoc on people at different levels. As the internet becomes more accessible to most people in the world, a research study has revealed that 2019 may be the “worst year in the record” for the number of reported and disclosed data breaches and leaks all around the world.

The report was published by Risk Based Security (RBS), a technology firm focused on cybersecurity, in their Q1 2019 Data Breach QuickView Report. The said report is an investigation of the different minor and major data breaches that were reported from January to March of 2019.

It was revealed by the Risk-Based Security on May 7th that there were 1,904 publicly disclosed data breaches in the first three months. Aggregately, the breaches were able to expose more than 1.9 billion records which include but are not limited to names, passwords, email addresses, credit card information, phone numbers, and IP addresses.

RBS is a tech company that provides information and analysis on disclosed and publicly available data breaches, vendor risk ratings and vulnerability. The organization conducts a quarterly review of all the publicly disclosed data compromises and aggregates them to gain insight into the state of the world’s cybersecurity.

According to the press release by the tech firm, there is “no other first quarter [that] has seen this level of activity.” The massive increase in the number of publicly available and reported cases of data compromise compels the firm to infer that 2019 could be another “worst year on record.”

Executive Vice President (EVP) and head of Cyber Risk Analytics (CRA) at the Risk-Based Security Inga Goddijn said in a comment of the report that “the number of data leaks – both in the form of open, unsecured services and credentials leaks – reached new levels this quarter.

“Researchers are increasingly going public when they discover sizable, unprotected databases containing sensitive information and unfortunately, they aren’t terribly difficult to find when you know where to look.”

According to the said report, 67.6% or three quarters of the records that were compromised and leaked in the first quarter of 2019 between January and March were due to “exposure of sensitive data on the internet.”

One notable element of the study is the data breach event timeline. According to the researchers from Risk-Based Security, they have analyzed the gap between the time a breached organization discovers that they have been compromised and the time that they publicly disclosed the event to warn their users, employees, and other relevant parties, and they have found out that while the gap has already shrunk from 2014 through quarter one of 2018 but stalled for the remainder of the year. This means that the time it takes for an organization to publicly disclose a data compromise event from their discovery did not improve since the first quarter of 2018.

The time that it takes for a company to disclose a data breach is essential in fighting against cybersecurity risks and hackers as the tech firm suggested in their press release. According to them, they wanted to fight out if there is a correlation between the discovery method of the breach and the time to disclose.

“The theory being, organizations that are better able to detect a breach, will also be better positioned to respond swiftly,” wrote Risk Based Security.

While the researchers did not expect to find a correlation in the results, they surprisingly were able to correlate the discovery method of the breach to the time to disclose. According to the results, organizations that discover the breach from external sources (law enforcement, independent white hat hackers, etc.) are more likely to respond quicker than those that internally found the data compromising event. Quantitatively, external discovery will prompt the organization to disclose the breach 31% faster than internal discovery.

“Clearly our hypothesis, that organization finding their own breaches will report them faster, was dead wrong this quarter,” Goddijn added.

The organization said that they would be basing their future results on the interesting data they uncovered in the first quarter of 2019. It is interesting to know whether the overwhelming information is an outlier or that it is really a “typical outcome.”

A Consumer Tech and Cybersecurity journalist who does content marketing while daydreaming about having unlimited coffee for life and getting a pet llama.

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Cybersecurity

Indictment Against Hackers Involved In Anthem Data Breach Unsealed

Two men are indicted for allegedly part of a group of hackers from China linked in the Anthem Insurance data breach in 2015. Click To Tweet

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Twor men are indicted for allegedly part of a group of hackers from China linked in the Anthem Insurance data breach in 2015.
The indicted individuals are allegedly part of a group of hackers from China linked in the Anthem Insurance data breach in 2015. Photo: Tim Reckmann | a59.de | Flickr | CC BY 2.0

Two men were indicted in the U.S. in connection with the data breach at the health insurance company, Anthem, that siphoned more than 78.8 million customer and employee records between 2014 and 2015.

The Justice Department recently unsealed an indictment against two people who prosecutors say are part of a sophisticated hacking network group, based in China that was behind not only in Anthem data breach, but also the attacks against three other US businesses.

While the Justice Department did not name the said Chinese hacking group victimized the three other businesses who they said, they said that these companies were “data-rich.” One was a technology business, one was in necessary materials, and the third was in communications. They said that all of these three companies store a substantial amount – and some confidential – of data on their servers and data networks.

The suspects are 32-year-old Wang Fujie with the Western name of “Dennis” and another one that until now remained unnamed. The Justice Department could not find the real name of the unnamed man but said that he goes by various online nicknames such as “Daniel Jack,” “Kim Young” and “Zhou Zhihong.”

The charges are one count of conspiracy to commit fraud and related activity in relation to computers and identity theft, one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud, and two counts of intentional damage to a protected computer.

According to the indictment documents, the hacker group where Dennis and the unnamed man belongs have carried out attacks using “sophisticated techniques” including spearphishing and malware from February 2014 and up until around January 2015.

They allegedly sent tailored spearphishing emails with links to malware and sent them to employees at the target companies. Once the targeted employee opened the email, the system would get affected by the malware that would later plant a backdoor Trojan that gives the hackers remote access via their command and control servers.

Wang is also accused of having set up the servers, hosted in California and Arizona that were used in the Anthem attacks.

The cyber attack suffered by the insurance company has had them cough up large amounts of money as settlement, making it the most significant data breach settlement ever. In 2017, the company agreed to pay $115 million to settle a class action suit over the breach.

The Anthem attack is also the most massive health insurance data breach, and the amount of data lost to the hackers dwarfed the biggest data breaches in the following years with 11 million breached at Premera and 10 million from Excellus.

The DOJ through a press release and Assistant Attorney General Brian Benczkowski called the hacking event as “unprecedented.”

“The allegations in the indictment unsealed today to outline the activities of a brazen China-based computer hacking group that committed one of the worst data breaches in history. These defendants allegedly attacked U.S. businesses operating in four distinct industry sectors and violated the privacy of over 78 million people by stealing their PII. The Department of Justice and our law enforcement partners are committed to protecting PII, and will aggressively prosecute perpetrators of hacking schemes like this, wherever they occur.”

Meanwhile, another set of indictments were released by the Justice Department against European hackers over the hacking of different private and public institutions in the United States. Ten individuals were charged with conspiracy to commit computer fraud, conspiracy to commit wire and bank fraud and conspiracy to commit money laundering.

The ten people who were charged were allegedly involved in the malicious software attacks that infected tens of thousands of computers and caused more than $100 million in financial losses, the US and European authorities announced Thursday.

According to the officials who filed the charges, the malware, which enabled cybercriminals and hackers from Eastern Europe infiltrate computer systems remotely and siphon funds from victim’s bank accounts, targeted companies and institutions across all sectors of American life.

The victims of the malware attacks included a Washington law firm, a church in Texas, a furniture business in California and a casino in Mississippi.

The investigation started following the dismantling of a network of computer servers, known as Avalanche, which hosted more than two dozen different types of malware. The Justice Department had successfully taken their operation apart in 2016.

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Cybersecurity

Winnti For Linux: Researchers Found Linux Variant Of Malware Used By Chinese Hackers In 2015

A Linux version of Winnti malware was discovered by tech researchers from Chronicle. The malware was used in 2015 by Chinese hackers. Click To Tweet

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A Linux version of Winnti malware was discovered by tech researchers from Chronicle. The malware was used in 2015 by Chinese hackers.
The discovered Linux malware bears significant similarities with its Windows counterpart. Photo: Christiaan Colen | Flickr | CC BY-SA 2.0

Linux systems are cybersecurity kings, but on a historic first, tech researchers have found a variant of a widespread malware, a favorite of Chinese hackers, have been discovered in a Linux system.

The discovery was made by researchers from the Chronicle, Alphabet’s cybersecurity department. The researchers revealed that they found a Linux variant of the Winnti malware that works as a backdoor on infected hosts, granting attackers access to compromised systems. It was the malware used by Chinese hackers in the high-profile cybercrime against a Vietnamese game company in 2015.

Chronicle researchers said that they discovered the malware following the news that Bayer, one of the biggest pharma company in the world, had been hit by Chinese hackers, and the Winnti malware was discovered on its servers.

After the team scanned Bayer’s system using its VirusTotal platform, they found what appeared to be a Linux variant of the Winnti, dating back to 2015 when it was first used by Chinese hackers to attack a Vietnamese gaming company.

According to the Chronicle, the malware that they have discovered comes in two parts: a rootkit to disguise the malware in the infected host and the actual backdoor Trojan. Further analysis the discovered Linux variant of the Winnti malware bears a lot of similarities to the malware’s Windows version. Other connections with the Windows version also included the similar way in which the Linux variant handled outbound communications with its command-and-control (C&C) server — which was a mixture of multiple protocols (ICMP, HTTP, and custom TCP and UDP protocols).

“As with other versions of Winnti, the core component of the malware doesn’t natively provide the operators with distinct functionality. This component is primarily designed to handle communications and the deployment of modules directly from the command-and-control servers. During our analysis, we were unable to recover any active plugins. However, prior reporting suggests that the operators commonly deploy plugins for remote command execution, file exfiltration, and socks5 proxying on the infected host. We expect similar functionality to be leveraged via additional modules for Linux,” said the researchers in their comprehensive report.

Lastly, the Linux version, just like the Window’s version, also has the ability for Chinese hackers to initiate communication with the infected host without going through the C&C servers – distinct characteristics in Windows Winnti.

“This secondary communication channel may be used by operators when access to the hard-coded control servers is disrupted,” Chronicle researchers said in a report published last week.

While infecting Linux systems is something already done especially by American and Russian hackers, it is also extremely rare, as pointed out by the Chronicle.

“Clusters of Winnti-related activity have become a complex topic in threat intelligence circles, with activity vaguely attributed to different codenamed threat actors. The threat actors utilizing this toolset have repeatedly demonstrated their expertise in compromising Windows-based environments. An expansion into Linux tooling indicates iteration outside of their traditional comfort zone. This may indicate the OS requirements of their intended targets, but it may also be an attempt to take advantage of a security telemetry blindspot in many enterprises, as is with Penquin Turla and APT28’s Linux XAgent variant,” added Chronicle.

Meanwhile, malware have become one of the most common tools to attack computer systems, even those of public institutions. A few days ago, ten Europeans were indicted for the malware attacks that have victimized several businesses and government agencies in the U.S.

The ten people who were charged were allegedly involved in the malicious software attacks that infected tens of thousands of computers and caused more than $100 million in financial losses, the US and European authorities announced Thursday last week.

The victims of the malware attacks included a Washington law firm, a church in Texas, a furniture business in California and a casino in Mississippi.

The charged individuals are now facing conspiracy to commit computer fraud, conspiracy to commit wire and bank fraud and conspiracy to commit money laundering.

The investigation started following the dismantling of a network of computer servers, known as Avalanche, which hosted more than two dozen different types of malware. The Justice Department had successfully taken their operation apart in 2016.

Officials reveal that the malware in the current court case has infected more than 41,000 computers by disguising as legitimate messages or invoice and was sent as spam emails. Once the email was opened, hackers will be able to record all keystrokes in the infected computer, sweeping data like baking information and wire money away from the victim’s account.

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Cybersecurity

10 European Cybercriminals Charged For Malware Attacks In The US

European and US Officials collaborated to pin down ten individuals in connection with the ransomware attacks in the US. The charges include facing conspiracy to commit computer fraud, conspiracy to commit wire and bank fraud and conspiracy… Click To Tweet

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European and US Officials collaborated to pin down ten individuals in connection with the ransomware attacks in the US.
European and US Officials collaborated to pin down ten individuals in connection with the ransomware attacks in the US. Photo: Christian Cohen | Flickr | CC BY-SA 2.0

The tech world has agreed that ransomware and malware are becoming one of the most prolific cyber attacks in recent (more…)

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