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PAYING THE PRICE FOR SUCCESS: CYBERCRIME AND THE MIDDLE EAST

Created: 04 Dec 2013
Amer Sethi's picture
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As we wrote in our previous blog The Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region is basking in the joys of booming economic growth.

These are exciting times however, that said, such success also has its downsides. While e-commerce is on a rapid upward trajectory – particularly in the banking and travel sectors – it has made many MENA businesses highly attractive to the cybercriminals, who are out to cash in on any vulnerabilities they can exploit.

Just how open to the cybercriminals the region is can best be exemplified by the targeting of its oil and gas sector. Last year, it was the victim of a hacker attack known as Shamoon (aka W32.Disttrack), which is capable of wiping files and rendering several computers on a network unusable. Saudi Arabia's national oil company Saudi Aramco itself came under fire, with 30,000 of its computers knocked out, resulting in its own network being taken offline. Only a few days later, in Qatar, computer systems at energy firm RasGas, one of the world's largest producers of liquid petroleum gas, were also taken offline by a similar attack.

What exactly can Shamoon do, once it gets inside an organisation? A great deal of damage, is the answer. Using bespoke malware written to run on both 64bit and 32bit systems, it is able to:

  • Disseminate malware over the network
  • Pass data to the attackers
  • Erase disks of infected machines.

But the level and scale of attacks go way beyond that. In some cases, they are designed to cause maximum disruption for political reasons. In other cases, it’s all about inflicting brand damage or manipulating the market. But mostly these assaults are driven by financial motives. And they are only increasing. As the MENA region’s economy prospers, the cybercriminals are out to do the same.

One favoured method of trapping the unsuspecting is by means of what is known as a ‘Watering hole’ web attack. Just as a lion will lurk unseen waiting for its prey when it comes out into the open to drink, believing it is safe, so, too, do the hackers seek out those with their guard down (Indeed one particularly successful (for the perpetrator that is) waterhole attack infected 500 organisations in a single day). Moreover, the intended victims that the attackers seek out are particular individuals or groups (organisation, industry or region, such as MENA) and then: Identifying which websites are used most often

  • Exploiting a website vulnerability and infecting one or more of these sites with malware
  • Ensuring as a result that some member of the targeted group will also get infected.

Once that process is complete, the trap is sprung and the defenceless victim ensnared. Google, Apple, Twitter and Facebook have all been victims of such attacks after employees visited a site popular with iOS app developers.

For those intent on enjoying a share of MENA’s burgeoning prosperity, while avoiding the damage inflicted by the cybercriminals, it is vital that anyone who engages with your business remains safe and secure, particularly when conducting on line transactions. And the way to make certain of this is by using SSL and a trust mark such as the Norton Secured Seal

In fact, SSL certificates should be the starting point for any ecommerce site or anyone else that asks customers to submit personal information. Equally, for companies that don't ask for personal information from visitors, SSL is still an absolute must, as it acts as a powerful protective barrier on line, keeping the cybercriminals at arm’s length. So, if you are operating in the region or looking to do so, you need to put a series of ‘Best Practice’ measures in place, such as:

Advanced Reputation Security: Detect and block new and unknown threats based on global reputation and ranking

Layered Endpoint Protection: use more than just AV – use full functionality of endpoint protection including heuristics, reputation-based, behaviour-based and other technologies; restrict removable devices and turn off auto-run to prevent malware infection

Layered Network Protection: Monitor globally for network intrusions, propagation attempts and other suspicious traffic patterns, including using reputation-based technologies; network protection is more than just blacklisting

Security Awareness Training: ensure employees become the first line of defence against socially engineered attacks, such as phishing, spear phishing, and other types of attacks.

Website Security Solutions from Symantec: SSL certificates with added website malware scans and web vulnerability assessment to ensure your site cannot be compromised by hackers.

Most of all, you need to create and enforce security policies, so that all confidential information is encrypted – and monitor globally for network intrusions, propagation attempts and other suspicious traffic patterns, including using reputation-based technologies.

On which note, according to a survey carried out recently by the independent web research organisation Baymard Institute, in conjunction with Google, the Norton Secured Seal is by far the most trusted – nearly 13% ahead of its nearest rival (http://baymard.com/blog/site-seal-trust). It was shown to be the seal that gave customers the strongest sense of trust when purchasing online, making it the de facto choice.

For any business intent on capturing and keeping customers in the MENA region by establishing the highest levels of trust and trustworthiness, such reassurance will play a major role in the days ahead, as the internet spreads its reach even farther and e-commerce gathers ever greater momentum.

To learn more please visit go.symantec.com/ssl