Hacker Photo: The Street Journal

CyberEspionage: NCC alerts Nigerians to hackers’ targeting telcos, ISPs, others

*The Nigerian Communications Commission outlines practical measures against cyberthreats, and states ngCERT recommends that aside from constant network monitoring, telecoms companies, ISPs, and others require multiple layers of security to stave off potential attacks

Gbenga Kayode | ConsumerConnect

In line with the Commission’s commitment to keeping all stakeholders in the country’s telecoms sector informed, educated and protected, the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), again, has notified the general public of the existence of another hacking group called Lyceum, orchestrating cyberespionage in the African telecoms space.

The NCC noted that the Iranian hacking group (also known as Hexane, Siamesekitten, or Spirlin) has been reported to be targeting telecoms, Internet Service Providers (ISPs) and Ministries of Foreign Affairs (MFAs) in Africa with upgraded malware in recent politically-motivated attacks oriented in cyberespionage.

Dr. Ikechukwu Adinde, Director of Public Affairs of NCC, in a statement issued Monday, November 15, 2021, in Abuja, FCT, disclosed the information about this cyberattack is contained in the latest advisory issued by the Nigerian Computer Emergency Response Team (ngCERT).

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The ngCERT rated the probability and damage level of the new malware as high, said the Commission

The telecoms regulatory agency stated the advisory said the hacking group is known to be focused on infiltrating the networks of telecoms companies and ISPs.

The statement said: “Between July and October, 2021, Lyceum was implicated in attacks against ISPs and telecoms organisations in Israel, Morocco, Tunisia, and Saudi Arabia.

“The Advanced Persistent Threat (APT) group has been linked to campaigns that hit Middle Eastern oil and gas companies in the past.”

According to NCC, the Iranian hacking group appears to have expanded its focus to the technology sector.

Besides, the APT is responsible for a campaign against an unnamed African government’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Commission further noted.

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“By the attackers’ mode of operation, Lyceum’s initial onslaught vectors include credential stuffing and brute-force attacks.

“So, once a victim’s system is compromised, the attackers conduct surveillance on specific targets.

“In that mode, Lyceum will attempt to deploy two different kinds of malware: Shark and Milan (known together as James).

“Both malware are backdoors. Shark, a 32-bit executable written in C# and .NET, generates a configuration file for domain name system (DNS) tunneling or Hypertext Transfer Protocol (HTTP) C2 communications; whereas Milan – a 32-bit Remote Access Trojan (RAT) retrieves data,” NCC said.

According to the advisory, both are able to communicate with the group’s command-and-control (C2) servers.

The APT maintains a C2 server network that connects to the group’s backdoors, consisting of over 20 domains, including six that were previously not associated with the threat actors.

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Referencing reports, the Commission also noted that individual accounts at companies of interest are usually targeted, and then, once these accounts are breached, “they are used as a springboard to launch spear-phishing attacks against high-profile executives in an organisation.”

The statement further said the report suggested that not only do these attackers seek out data on subscribers and connected third-party companies, but once compromised, threat actors or their sponsors can also use these industries to survey individuals of interest.

As measures to guard against this kind of threats, therefore, the NCC restates the ngCERT reports that multiple layers of security, besides constant network monitoring, are required by telecoms companies and ISPs so as to stave off potential attacks.

Specifically, telecom consumers and the general public are advised to:

  1. Ensure the consistent use of firewalls (software, hardware and cloud firewalls).
  2. Enable a Web Application Firewall to help detect and prevent attacks coming from web applications by inspecting HTTP traffic.
  3. Install Up-to-date antivirus programmes to help detect and prevent a wide range of malware, trojans, and viruses, which APT hackers will use to exploit your system.
  4. Implement the use of Intrusion Prevention Systems that monitors your network.
  5. Create a secure sandboxing environment that allows you to open and run untrusted programs or codes without risking harm to your operating system.
  6. Ensure the use of virtual private network (VPN) to prevent an easy opportunity for APT hackers to gain initial access to your company’s network.
  7. Enable spam and malware protection for your email applications, and educate your employees on how to identify potentially malicious emails.

The Commission advises stakeholders to contact ngCERT for further technical assistance on incident@cert.gov.ng.

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The NCC, as the operator of the telecoms sector’s Cyberthreat Response Centre (CSIRT), reiterates its commitment active surveillance and monitoring of cyber activities in the sector, as the Commission pledges to always keep stakeholders in Nigeria’s telecommunications sector updated on potential threats within the cyberspace.

“This is to ensure that the networks that deliver essential services are safe, and that telecoms consumers are protected from being victims of cyberattacks,” the statement said.

On 81m cyberthreats recorded in Nigeria, 2 other African countries in Q2 2021

ConsumerConnect had reported that over 81million attacks were recorded in Kenya, Nigeria and South Africa in the first six months on 2021, as cyberattacks are fast becoming a siginifcant danger to organisations and consumers in the connected world.

RELATED Cybersecurity: Over 81m Attacks Recorded In Kenya, Nigeria, S’Africa Q2 2021 -Report

Specifically, the increase in cyberthreats in the first half of this year in Kenya amounted to 32.8 million, according to Kaspersky.

Compared to similarly prominently targeted countries on the African continent, the recorded number was at par with South Africa, accounting for 31.5 million, and near double the number recorded in Nigeria at 16.7 million, TheFintechTimes said.

In aggregate, the report noted that 81 million combined attacks were recorded in these three African countries, which is indicative of how significant the danger has become to organisations and consumers in the connected world in recent times.

In his comment on the emerging cyberthreats, Amin Hasbini, Head of Research Centre, Global Research and Analysis Team, Middle East, Turkey and Africa at Kaspersky, said: “Threats can be categorised as criminal (80% of attacks), targeted (19.9%), and advanced (0.01%).

“The advanced grouping is significantly more sophisticated and features increased investment from attack groups.

“Unfortunately, both criminal and targeted threat vectors learn from the advanced category to enhance their own attack techniques.”

Kaspersky’s Head of Research Centre also disclosed that the current trends indicated that attackers around the world are embracing more sophisticated methods to compromise systems and data.

They are looking at non-Microsoft environments, infecting firmware, and even embarking on ‘big game hunting’ exercises focused on high-profile targets with lots of money, Hasbini said.

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