Kaspersky Lab Raises Alarm Over new wave of Attacks Targeting Financial and Online Services in Africa

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Kaspersky Lab, a global cyber security company which has been operating in the market for 21 years, has raised the alarm concerning a new wave of attacks targeting financial and online services in Africa.

During the firm’s annual Cyber Security Weekend that took place in Cape Town, South Africa, Kaspersky Lab experts discussed the wide spread growth of mobile payments across the globe and the many cyber risks that surround such technology.

This is especially true in regard to a recent SIM swap fraud wave, which has become very common in Africa and the wider region. In South Africa this type of fraud more than double in the last year, according recent reports.

“A SIM swap fraud happens when someone convinces your carrier to switch your phone number over to a SIM card that a criminal possesses. In some cases, there are carrier’s employees working together with criminals. By diverting your incoming SMS messages, scammers can easily complete the text-based two-factor authentication checks that protect your most sensitive accounts in financial services, social networks, webmail services and instant messenger,” Kaspersky explains.

Many African countries are suited to mobile payment methods. In fact, research notes that at the end of 2017, there were 135 live mobile money services across the Sub-Saharan African region, with 122 million active accounts.

While payment methods through mobiles offer a convenience that is hard to debate, Kaspersky Lab research shows that mobile payments and the banking system are suffering a wave of attack – mostly powered by SIM swap fraud – and people are losing their money as a result.

This type of attack is used to not only steal credentials and capture one-time passwords (OTPs) sent via an SMS, but also to cause financial damage to victims, resetting the accounts on financial services, allowing to the fraudsters access to currency accounts not only in banks but also in fintechs and credit unions.

Fraudsters are also using it as way to steal money using WhatsApp, loading the messages in a new phone, contacting the victim’s contacts asking for money, simulating an emergency situation.

“Despite financial inclusion services prospering, the flip side to this is that it opens up a world of opportunities to cybercriminals and fraudsters who are using the convenience a mobile phone offers to exploit and poke holes in a two-factor authentication processes,” said Fabio Assolini, Senior Security Researcher of Kaspersky Lab.

“Frauds using SIM swap are becoming common in Africa and Middle East, affecting countries like South Africa, Turkey and UAE. Countries like Mozambique have experienced this firsthand. The implemented solution, by banks and mobile operators in Mozambique, as a result, is something I believe we must learn from and encourage other regions to investigate and apply, among other aspects, to mobile payment methods of the future – as a way to ensure that mobile phones do not become an enemy in our pockets,” he continued.

The total money lost in the attacks varies by country: there are extreme cases, such as one in the United Arab Emirates, where one victim lost $1 million, while in South Africa one victim reported losing $20,000.

“On average fraudsters can steal $2,500 to $3,000 per victim, while the cost to perform the SIM swap starts with $10 to $40,” concluded Assolini.

In order to protect the growing mobile digital life and payment methods, Kaspersky Lab recommends that Voice and SMS methods be avoided as authentication methods for payments – instead, OTPs in mobile apps like Google Authenticator or the use of physical tokens should be used.

The cyber security firm has also encouraged the use of Biometrics (like fingerprint scanning); as well as an automated ‘Your number will be deactivated’ message – to be shared upon SIM swap request.

Finally, Kaspersky has called for users to activate two factor authentication (2FA) on WhatsApp.

“In an attempt to minimize WhatsApp hijacking, activating Two-factor authentication using a six-digit PIN on your device is critical. This supports the user in having an additional layer of security on the device,” said the firm.


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