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Cyber Report: German hacker, ransomware, North Korea and cyber security

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German hacker targeted government officials and public figures

A 20-year-old German student has been detained for hacking the social media accounts of hundreds of German politicians, journalists and celebrities. Apparently acting alone, the hacker used relatively rudimentary techniques to access his targets’ Facebook and Twitter accounts. He then leaked personal details of their online correspondences, browsing history and credit card information.

German authorities maintain that government computer networks were not breached. Officials noticed the first sign of attack at the start of December 2018, although the Federal Office for Information Security (BSI) only notified the Federal Crime Office last Friday. The BSI has released a statement to defend its handling of the incident.

Ransomware disrupts US newspapers

Just before the new year, a ransomware attack hit several news outlets in the United States, including the Los Angeles Times, the Wall Street Journaland other publications in the Tribune Publishing Co. group. The virus targeted the group’s back-office systems that control production and publishing, which resulted in delays to normal distribution services of the affected newspapers.

Investigations conducted by the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) suggest that attackers used the ‘Ryuk’ ransomware (named after a fictitious Japanese demon that can kill people remotely). Several reports suggest that the attacks originated outside of the US, but security researchers are more sceptical about attributing the malware to North Korea.

Data hack on North Korean defectors

In late December 2018, unidentified hackers stole data on nearly 1,000 North Korean defectors living in South Korea by accessing a computer at a state-run resettlement centre. The information included names, addresses and dates of birth. Although Seoul has yet to name a culprit, the North Korean government has been known to steal information on defectors in the past.

Developments and defeats for biometric authentication

As mobile device companies clamour to develop increasingly secure authentication technology, white hat hackers have been intensifying efforts to demonstrate bypass methods. After early demonstrations of how to bypass Apple’s fingerprint, or touch, ID system, researchers have used models of 3D-printed heads to get pass facial-recognition locks, and even a wax models of fake hands to bypass ‘vein authentication’.

China-based researcher Wish Wu initially claimed to be able to bypass Apple’s latest biometric authentication technology. However, after he was unable to reproduce his results on iPhone XS, XS Max and XR, Wu pulledhis talk from the Black Hat Asia hacking conference in Singapore.

Marriott provides update on 2018 breach

Continued investigation into the Starwood data breach revealed that in contrast to earlier estimates, fewer than 383 million guest records were compromised (down from an initial estimate of around 500m). However, the company revealed that hackers accessed as many as 5.25m unencrypted passport numbers and 20.3m encrypted ones. The Starwood online reservation database has been discontinued.

Vietnamese cyber security law enters force

With the new year, Vietnam’s controversial cyber security regulation came into effect. The Law on Cyber Security places more regulatory powers in the hands of authorities, and criminalises certain forms of speech that ‘incite’, ‘disrupt’ or ‘cause embarrassment’ for the state.

Although Vietnam’s Ministry of Public Security maintains that such measures are consistent with existing norms and necessary for optimal national security, the law has been described by critics as Draconian. Amnesty International cautioned that under this law ‘there is no safe place left in Viet Nam for people to speak freely’.

The law also places new obligations for the storing and sharing of user data on technology companies. A Vietnamese singer-song writer protested the new law by brandishing posters of Mark Zuckerberg, Sheryl Sandberg and Eric Schmidt, claiming that it was not only the new law, but also the complicit system that warrants critique.

Hackers exploit flaw in Twitter mobile app

A security firm hijacked high-profile Twitter accounts to demonstrate flaws in the social media company’s mobile application. The firm’s researchers figured out how Twitter used text messaging to tweet, tracked down celebrities’ phone numbers, and then spoofed SMS commands from those numbers to gain control over major functions of a user’s account, such as tweeting, retweeting and liking.

New cyber security recommendations for US health industry

The US Department of Health and Human Services has released a report on how to manage cyber threats to the health industry. The report contains ‘voluntary, consensus-based, and industry-led guidelines’, and includes advice on best practices to reduce risk, support adoption and implementation, and ensure applicability for every healthcare provider.

The document explores best practices for defending against and managing phishing and ransomware attacks, threats targeting connected devices, theft, and data loss. It also identifies ten methods for improving cyber security, including endpoint protection and network management.

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