Gulf countries came under hackers’ spotlight in 2018, with more than 130 000 payment cards compromised

by chebbi abir

Bahrain, 08.04.2019 – Group-IB, an international company that specializes in preventing cyberattacks, and NGN International, a global system integrator, analyzed cybersecurity landscape in Gulf countries in 2018.

Group-IB Threat Intelligence team identified compromised credentials of 7 306 users from the Gulf countries in 2018 and detected the total of 138 978 compromised cards issued by the Gulf countries’ banks.

Number of compromised cards ramps up in GCC

In 2018, Gulf countries including Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) came under the spotlight of cybercriminals increasingly often. Group-IB Threat Intelligence experts detected a total of 138 978 compromised cards issued by the Gulf countries’ banks. This data comes not only from the analysis of underground forums and phishing websites, but also from the analysis of cybercriminals’ infrastructure (including but not limited to C&Cs) and malware disassembling.

“The stolen payment cards data is often put up for sale on underground forums or used in further fraudulent activities. Group-IB Threat Intelligence team continuously analyses compromised cards data all over the world. According to Group-IB’s annual Hi-Tech Crime Trends 2018 report, on average, from June 2017 to August 2018, the details of 1.8 million payment cards were uploaded to card shops monthly,” – comments Alexander Kalinin, head of Group-IB’s Computer Emergency Response Team (CERT-GIB).

gulf countries
Map of Middle-Eastern Countries.

CEO of NGN International, Yaqoob AlAwadhi stated that, from 2017 to 2018, cybercrimes aimed at financial thefts increased significantly with cyber-criminals largely exploiting software vulnerabilities through phishing mailings and hacked legal resources.

“The attacks lately have evolved a lot as attackers are beginning to use artificial intelligence and machine learning to bypass the defense, attempting what is known as ‘low-and-slow’ attacks,” explained Mr. AlAwadhi. “What is important is that successful struggle with such cyber-attacks is possible. It is extremely important to react to them in time and correctly, as well as to build a competent comprehensive protection system in advance,” he added.

With the advent of IoT technologies, big data and machine learning, attack tools become more advanced and encompass several information systems and resources. “Attacks on state information systems and resources, and resources of individual enterprises and industries, can lead to negative consequences for the economy of the country, while affecting the health and lives of people,” he stressed.

“Hence, the task of preventing information security incidents for critical information infrastructures should be addressed at the legislative level. NGN International offers customers a comprehensive approach to protecting information infrastructure: from protecting important critical information infrastructure objects to round-the-clock monitoring of security incidents based on Group-IB solutions,” stated Mr. AlAwadhi.

Compromised credentials

Group-IB Threat Intelligence team also identified leaked credentials of 7,306 users from the Gulf countries in 2018, among which the company experts discovered 1 227 compromised credentials from government resources in GCC. Upon identification of this information, CERT-GIB reached out to region’s government CERTs to inform about the threat.

“It is important to highlight that credentials were not leaked from government systems, which are most likely safe and secure, but from the individuals who used them for personal purposes. However, with the credentials from government websites, hackers can not only obtain classified information, but also infiltrate government networks and maintain presence while remaining unnoticed for long periods,” – says Alexander Kalinin. 

According to Group-IB experts, cybercriminals might have used special spyware to steal user credentials — formgrabbers, keyloggers, such as Pony Formgrabber and AZORult. According to Group-IB data, the two Trojans mentioned above were amongst the most popular for credentials stealing in 2018 in GCC.

Regularly updated Group-IB Threat Intelligence system allows to get actionable information about data leaks, compromised accounts, information about malware, infected IPs, and existing vulnerabilities across the world. Group-IB collects and analyses large amounts of unique and proprietary information to deliver tailored, trusted and actionable intelligence to predict risks, while preventing and mitigating any targeted attacks.

About Group-IB

Group-IB is a leading provider of solutions aimed at detection and prevention of cyberattacks, online fraud, and IP protection.

About NGN International

NGN International is a full-fledged systems integrator and IT consultancy established in 2015 in Bahrain as a part of NGN, a global system integrator operating in MENA since 2005.


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