These are quick first looks and trend and threats

Written by the security and AV professionals from team K7, meant for the general audience
These are usually articles that go into internals of a virus or deal with security issues
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Archive for the ‘Internet’ Category

Virus Alert!

Thursday, April 6th, 2017

We at K7 Threat Control Lab recently encountered an incident reiterating the power of social engineering to trick smartphone users to install bad stuff.

The picture above is self-explanatory. It is clearly a fake message, but it is more convincing since it displays the device make and the current WiFi SSID of the victim, and even uses Google colours and identifiers.

This scareware message attempts to coerce the user to “download the latest Antivirus App”. It is likely from the message “0 minutes and 00 seconds” that upon clicking on the link “REMOVE VIRUS NOW”  user will be redirected to download some dangerous app either from a third party market or even from Google Play Store. The download was never attempted but the app may well have been a deceptor which would claim to have discovered all manner of issues with the device, the fixing of which would require payment.

This fake message may well be generated from the Mi4i device itself (place of manufacture also plays a role in the device’s integrity) or from the WiFi router to which the device was connected at the time.

These kinds of specially crafted user-specific messages exploit the user’s fear factor to force them to download the app recommended in the message, thus compromising their devices themselves.

To avoid any such unwanted circumstances we recommend the smartphone users to:

  • Carefully analyse the messages or alerts which they receive before taking any action. Ignore irrelevant messages
  • Not install apps recommended by strangers
  • Use a top-rated mobile security product such as K7 Mobile Security to block any infection
  • Regularly update the mobile OS and security application installed to be free from mobile malware

K7 Threat Control Lab

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Linux and Connected? Don’t Panic!

Friday, August 19th, 2016

This week’s hot news within network security circles is likely to be about the most recent update to the TCP specification which allegedly allows communication channels to be hijacked by a remote attacker. This latest TCP specification has been implemented on Linux systems, but is yet to be on Windows, apparently.

This is essentially an information disclosure flaw. The latest TCP specification may leak information about established, active connections through a side channel. The researchers who discovered the flaw claim it could allow a hacker to insert malicious or unwanted data packets into a data packet series between any two arbitrary machines whose IPs are known. Interestingly this Man-in-the-Middle type scenario would not require the attacker to insert himself/herself on the same communication channel as the connected target machines.

How serious is this flaw to a typical end user, though? To attack an end user, a hacker would need to identify a spoofed IP address to pretend to come from a specific source with which the user has already established a connection, and the user’s own target IP address. Hence, the probability that any specific user gets targeted at random is less, the reason being that there is a huge user base of dynamically-allocated IPs. Exploitation of the flaw could be more likely to succeed in IPv4 cases, but with the introduction of IPv6 the probability that an individual user’s IP would be found at random is small, both in the case of mobile devices and desktop computers.

Given the nature of an attempted attack perhaps this flaw will be more worrisome to web servers, etc., which are required to be ON all the time, and more likely to have predictable IPs.

As for the malware injection claim, it seems less likely that a malware payload by itself would be sent within a data packet. Rather, it could be a malicious URL that redirects the user to download the malware.

Installing a reputed and updated security product like K7 Total Security should block any malicious URLs being accessed or malicious files from being downloaded onto a victim’s computer.

Image courtesy:

Samir Mody, K7 Threat Control Lab
V.Dhanalakshmi, K7 Threat Control Lab

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The Pen is Deadlier than … You Might Think

Thursday, May 19th, 2016

This blog intends to educate the general public about the security risks pertaining to pen drives (aka USB sticks/drives, thumb/removable drives), data storage devices that can store text, images, music, videos, etc., and ways of mitigating the risks.

These devices come in handy when the user wants to transfer data between computers. They’re small in size but can hold large amounts of data. However, the utility and ubiquity of pen drives introduce significant security risks.

Pen drives pose a major security challenge to IT administrators. Some surveys indicate that 70% of businesses have reported loss of data through USB. Being small, pen drives can easily be misplaced or stolen and, if data is not backed up, it can mean loss of hours of hard work.  An even bigger challenge is to prevent infection through already infected USB drives.

The Autoplay feature in Windows is the key route to automatically infect PCs as soon as the infected pen drives are plugged-in. This autoplay feature causes removable media such as pen drives, CDs, etc. to open automatically when they are inserted into a computer.

Hackers and autorun worms use the autoplay feature to run malicious executables from removable drives. USB as an infection vector is not new; many older but infamous families of malware, notably Conficker, Sality and Gamarue use USB as part of their infection vector.

It is to be noted that many computers still have Windows XP, for which Microsoft withdrew support in April 2014, installed. Windows XP is popular among PC users especially in India, and has the autoplay feature enabled by default. Thus they are at greater risk of an autorun infection on their system than users who have updated their computer’s OS to recent versions of the Windows Operating System such as Windows 7. It is interesting to mention that most of these autorun worms originated in Asia.

Pen drives also provide an opportunity for malware to spread to stand-alone computers that are not connected to any network. The person carrying the infected pen drive, knowingly or unknowingly, bridges the air gap between the stand-alone computer and the network. It is of high probability that a pen drive used on one infected system (provided the infection on the system is capable of spreading itself) gets itself infected, thus spreading the infection to healthy computers when simply inserted into them.

Hence we advise users to practice one or more of the following recommendations to overcome the risks associated with using pen drives:

  1. Scan the pen drives for malware after sharing with your friends or family as a precaution against infections. Even if you have an up-to-date, reputable Anti-Virus Security product installed on your computer, your friends and family might not on theirs.
  2. Avoid using pen drives on public computers, e.g. at Internet cafes.
  3. If you have not already done so, install a world-class, up-to-date antivirus product like K7 Total Security.
  4. Use the autoscan feature, if any, in your Anti-Virus product to automatically scan all USB drives as they are connected to the system. Also schedule frequent, automatic scans on your PC to keep it infection-free.
  5. To prevent loss or theft of data, you may block USB devices from being used on your system. K7 Total Security has features to block pen drives and restrict read-write access to USB drives.
  6. Vaccinate your pen drive to ensure that it does not get infected by an Autorun worm even if it is used on an infected machine.

Images courtesy of:

Rathna Kamakshi
Manager – K7 Support

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Public Website: Protected or under Private control

Thursday, May 5th, 2016

Yet another reminder of the importance of implementing robust website security, the flash news today alleged that “IRCTC website has been hacked, a major public website! And apparently, thousands of users’  data including PAN card details etc.,  could be in danger of being stolen.

Public websites that are used nation-wide and meant to store huge user data should ensure the highest levels of data security. It should be noted that since such publicly-available websites provide a treasure trove of data to hackers, they are high-value targets of compromise. They could also be a target for pranksters and hacktivists seeking publicity.

Hackers usually hack a website by exploiting one or more of the weak links in the website design. Real-time data stolen from these kinds of websites earn them a lot of monetary benefits, as the stolen data can be sold for huge amounts of money either to legitimate, typically marketing, companies or another hacker group.

Any down-time for such important public portals for even a short amount of time to fix the issue might entail a hefty economic hit, and inconvenience thousands of users. However, security of these public websites demands regular vulnerability assessments and penetration tests to identify weaknesses, and software updates for the hosting platform on which it runs and for third-party installed security software.

Prevention is better than Cure.

Senior Threat Researcher, K7TCL

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There is an I,o,T in Monetize

Friday, April 15th, 2016

Following part I of the blog series that describes the security problems in IoT, here is the second part of the series that explains technically how the information stolen from IoT users can be monetized.


The IoT security challenges described in part I give rise to unprecedented risks. Mischievous parties could remotely trigger havoc inside an IoT user’s physical environment: Burning down houses by hacking microwave ovens, or remotely turning off home security systems, or for the sake of fun, just causing devices to work in an irregular manner. These are just a few examples of IoT hacking which can be used by cyber criminals. The possibilities are endless, almost left to one’s imagination.

The associated risks would also extend to the internet used by the  common man. On a daily basis, websites already violate  user privacy by tracking a user’s activity: what you search for, what links you click on, what websites you visit; this valuable data can be sold off to commercial companies. These companies, in turn, use analytics to build user profiles to serve targeted ads to their audience. However, with the data generated by IoT products, these profiles would contain not only cyber-activity logs but also physical activity data for the user. A person using a pacemaker could now be targeted by insurance companies with specific schemes, even though he/she wouldn’t like others to know about their medical condition.

On the Dark Internet, a major chunk of content is based upon selling stolen credit card information and user credentials. The Dark Internet provides services for DDoS attacks and hacking accounts/websites for a fee. With the increasing adoption of IoT, we might see the rise of a new kind of data on these sites. Data stolen from IoT products would provide an entirely new set of data to be used for malicious purposes. There could be malware and viruses written specifically for IoT products which may go on to cause physical damage to life and property. Consider a botnet, capable of infecting a pacemaker device. It requires only a single command to cause irregularities in the pacemaker’s functionality thereby giving malicious parties the nefarious power to carry out mass murder.

We, as a security concern, believe that industry  can definitely reduce the risks associated in using IoT devices by tackling the afore-mentioned known security problems in the IoT ecosystem at different stages such as  manufacturing and custom-designed security quality assurance testing to ensure the maximum security of the IoT devices at the software level, up until the device reaches the user.

Image credits:

Priyal Viroja, Vulnerability Researcher, K7TCL

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Problems (In)Securing IoT Ecosystem

Thursday, April 7th, 2016

Here is the first part of a two-part blog that covers the security problems in the Internet of Things (IoT) in more technical terms than our previous series .

Imagine that you are on your way back home in a self-driven car, browsing the internet on your mobile. As you come within a 2-mile radius of your house, the air-conditioner switches itself on at the temperature of your choice. You enter your garage, the doors opening automatically, and walk into your room. The lighting dynamically adjusts according to the weather outside, and the lasagna that was in the oven is now all warmed up.

Twenty years ago, if somebody told me such a tale, I’d have laughed and said “you watch too much science fiction”. But today, this scenario is within the scope of modern reality. The IoT revolution is finally here, and it is supposedly bringing joy and comfort to people. But there’s a downside to IoT: it is increasingly becoming an attractive target for cybercriminals. The increase in the sheer number and variety of connected devices has opened up possibilities for coming up with new and more diverse attack techniques.

Security flaws in IoT products have been brought to light by hackers and security researchers. Some of the hacks which made security news were: Smart home, Surveillance cameras, Jeep car (accessed remotely and its engine killed remotely). In addition an airplane’s cockpit controls were accessed via the in-flight entertainment system. As if these weren’t enough, even pacemakers and insulin pumps were demonstrated as being hackable.

If one were to take a closer look into these hacks, a bunch of recurrent fundamental security problems with the IoT ecosystem come forth. Let’s take a look at some of those problems.

Communication Channels

IoT devices mostly communicate wirelessly using protocols like LTE Advanced, Cellular 4G/LTE, 3G GPS/GPRS, 2G/GSM/EDGE, CDMA, EVDO, WIMAX, Weightless, Wifi, Bluetooth, UWB, Z-Wave, Zigbee, 6L0wpan, NFC and RFID. There are known security flaws associated with these protocols, and yet they continue to be widely used. This leaves us with two non-trivial choices:

  1. Fix the issues with these protocols
  2. Come up with better and more secure protocols

Both of the above choices are non-trivial to execute.

Authentication and Authorization

Credentials/tokens are essential in the traditional authentication and authorization approach. However, IoT has added new modes: biometrics, sensors, NFC, RFID, and sometimes, surprise surprise: no authentication at all! All these years industry has been struggling with securely storing credentials in one way or another. But now we have a whole new array of authentication and authorization approaches to take care of.

End-to-End Encryption

Mobile apps, messaging apps in particular, first encrypt the user’s data on the device using state-of-the-art industry-standard encryption algorithms. Then anti-snooping, end-to-end encryption techniques are deployed. However, the same approach can’t be taken with IoT devices as the modes of communication are fundamentally different. Here, the communication is not one-to-one but, one-to-many or many-to-many. Data travels through many communication channels and nodes. Also, the security protocols used by devices might vary.

Minor faults in end-to-end encryption may lead to exposure of credentials, tokens, and other sensitive informations. Imagine that you have a router using a state-of-the-art encryption algorithm. This router then communicates with a thermometer, which stores the network password in plaintext. Now, to break into the network, all one would need to do is target the thermometer, thereby bypassing the entire robust network security framework.

Insecure Web/App Interface

Web/App interfaces are infamous for being targets of choice for hackers. This can be attributed to the bugs/defects present in the underlying frameworks that these interfaces run on. A vulnerable interface could provide a hacker with access to the server or to the cloud itself. The common problems associated with this are:

  1. A lack of robust password recovery mechanisms
  2. No protection against cross-site scripting (XSS), code/SQL injections, etc.,

Hardware Failures

Preoccupied with creating a sleek and minimalistic design, some manufacturers tend to neglect hardware bugs. These bugs, in turn, can allow attackers to reboot the device(s) and their corresponding hotspots. It is not possible to deliver hardware patches over the air.

Unprotected Client Devices

IoT users’ use of desktops, laptops, tablets, mobiles, etc to operate IoT devices, in turn, opens a remote door to devices. All these devices have a long and notorious history of severe vulnerabilities. Consider a scenario of a company building a smart bulb with all these fancy remote control features. They have a highly compatible, secured mobile app, web interface and embedded hardware. But what if customers have a weak wireless setup, outdated mobile operating system, vulnerable desktop applications? On whom are we going to pin the blame for a breach??!

Image credits:

… to part II: risks from stolen user’s information

Priyal Viroja, Vulnerability Researcher, K7TCL

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(Frau)Duly Digi-Signed

Thursday, March 24th, 2016

This is the seventh part of our series on cyber security, and the second part on Digital Signing. This blog post aims to inform readers about the misuse and exploitation of digital signatures.

The previous installment on Digital Signing discussed the security role of digital signatures in today’s era of internet communication and computerisation. Though designed for authentication and tamper-proofing of digital content, digital signatures and certificates are also exploited and misused to a fair extent.

Consider the case of Stuxnet (2010) wherein the device drivers of the rootkit component were digitally signed, and were actually loaded without any notification on infected systems. These drivers were signed by certificates which were actually stolen, and which were ultimately revoked by the CA which issued them.

The signed malware trend has been on the rise since then. To give some insight on the scale of the issue, let us consider a scenario in our own K7TCL. We pulled out data that represents the total number of malware signatures released over certain discrete chunks of time.

Graph 1: Ratio between signed malware and unsigned malware

The above graph depicts that on average at least one-tenth of automated detections released are for files carrying a valid digital signature. The signing certificates could either have been stolen or legitimately acquired for mala fide purposes. Unwanted Programs/Applications/Adware are examples of those that use “legitimately acquired” certificates. It is widely acknowledged that the Potentially Unwanted Programs (PUP)/Potentially Unwanted Applications (PUA) have been posing a serious problem in the AV community for some time.

To understand this better we further refined our stats data and found that it is PUP/PUAs that dominate the number of digitally-signed-file detections at more than 90%.

Graph 2: Ratio between signed PUP/PUAs and signed malware

These PUP/PUAs can more easily circumvent the security policies of recent versions of Windows that restrict unsigned executables from loading into memory. Thus digital signatures, though they make it possible to keep tabs on what gets executed, they can also lend themselves to nagging PUP/PUAs. There has been a huge increase in signed PUP/PUAs over the past couple of years, indicating a potential dilemma faced by CAs. This is apart from the very serious issues that are caused by malware authors signing their creations with paid-up, as well as stolen, digital certificates. Thus the automatic trust factor associated with digital signatures is being eroded on a daily basis.

The CAs also feel the heat since they are required to revoke or blacklist certificates that have been misused. CAs update what is called a Certificate Revocation List (CRL), wherein revoked certificates are published on a regular basis, but the CRL method had its own shortcomings. Hence Online Certificate Status Protocol (OCSP) was deployed, such that it overcame the difficulties that the CRL scheme had with respect to PKI standards.

Nevertheless, Digital Signing, plays a major role in securing digital content, despite the above-described shortcomings.

K7 Threat Control Lab

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IoT: What the Future Holds

Thursday, March 17th, 2016

Here is part six of the the blog series on the Internet of Things following on from IoT: How are We Going to Protect Ourselves? that concludes the blog series with a brief idea on how we, as a security company, foresee the future of IoT security.

The problems that an IoT consumer user might face is applicable to enterprises as well, on a large scale. The risks could be even higher in the case of enterprises because the devices in industry, e.g. in a nuclear power facility or water plant, cameras in data centres, medical devices in hospitals, etc., could very well also be part of IoT.

Data from millions of credit cards stolen…, hackers stealing passwords from billions of customers…, cyber-criminals stealing intellectual property from world famous XYZ company… these are the subjects of breaking security news over the last couple of years.

In the future it would be awful to hear news like  “Hackers stole billions of IoT data records”, “Cyber-criminals got access to trillion IoT devices”,  “Almost all the household appliances from XYZ country stopped working after a reported attack from ABC group”, etc. As a security company, we would consider such scenarios as possibilities but we would hate to see them manifest themselves.

The next generation of spam messages are not going to be based on assumption but will be purely and precisely based on the user’s IoT device usage and data, as it is now happening with web search items.

There could be a possibility of a new era of cyber war and cyber terrorism, but at the same time, we would like to welcome you all to the new world of cyber security protection!

Remember, the objective of this blog series was not to make users paranoid about IoT or to spread panic. Rather, it was to create and spread awareness on being secure in a more challenging world of IoT! So, by following simple, but important, protection steps, we should be able to protect ourselves better from IoT security dangers.

Here at K7 we have been protecting our customers and their information systems for more than two decades, and we intend to protect even their IoT devices, at home and elsewhere! We would like to witness the ‘Internet of Things’ turning into the ‘Internet of Secure Things’.

Image credits:

Senthil Velan
Manager,Vulnerability Research

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Duly Digi-Signed

Thursday, March 3rd, 2016

Continuing our series on cyber security, following the fifth part on Social Networking, this blog post aims to initiate the readers on the what, where and how of Digital Signatures in information security.

A digital signature is a method of authenticating both the source and the content of any form of electronic data/message. When validated the recipient of the signed electronic data/message can be confident of the integrity of the content, i.e. it hasn’t been altered in any form during transit, and that the sender is the person or entity that signed the content.


Digital signatures are based on asymmetric cryptography; a complex mathematical scheme involving a set of public, i.e. freely distributable, and private (aka ‘secret’) encryption keys is employed to create a secure channel for transmission of data across any network. If deployed correctly the receiver can believe that the data/message is perfectly authentic, and the sender cannot claim that it was fraudulent/forged unless the sender admits that their private key has been stolen and misused.

A basic example of usage of a digital signature would be an e-receipt for an online transaction, such as for an online insurance premium payment for which the insurance company could issue a digitally signed receipt from a specific person in that organisation. This receipt would normally require a signature by hand if done as a physical paper transaction. This method of digital authentication will become more and more prevalent as organisations move away from paper documentation.

Digital signatures are also used in digital certificates that are issued to entities that seek them. A digital certificate is like an identity card issued to an entity by a “Certification Authority” (CA), e.g. VeriSign. The certificate contains information about the entity that has been vetted by the CA, the entity’s public key, the CA’s name and the CA’s digital signature.

Since CAs are meant to carefully vet entities before issuing them certificates for a price, typically from INR 50,000 (USD 800) to INR 100,000 (USD 1500) for a period ranging from 1 year to 3 years for an EV (Extended Validity) Cert, digitally signed files are accorded an enhanced trustworthiness. Windows identifies likely safe or harmless files based on the validity of digital signatures on files that are executed on the OS using pre-populated trusted certificates in its certificate repository. Windows employs UAC (User Access Control) mechanisms to prevent malicious files from executing automatically. Files that have digital signatures from Microsoft can suppress UAC while other signers need to be authorized for execution on ‘first run’.

Websites also use digital certificates for authentication, typically an SSL (Secure Socket Layer) certificate. There are various processes for certifying a website. It can be certified on the domain level based on the registration information or the respective organisation can be certified, which would follow a more manual process of scrutiny to check the authenticity of the organization, etc. An EV Cert however requires a higher level of scrutiny and background checks. If a website handles sensitive, personally identifiable information it should be a secure site with appropriately verified digital certificates.

As seen in the image above a digital certificate is not issued for eternity but only for a stipulated period of time. This is done to ensure that an organisation once legitimate remains legitimate to retain certificate renew rights. A CA could either choose to not issue a certificate to the organisation after the stipulated period is complete or, if the organisation has gone rogue, the CA could revoke the certificate during the validity period. A time limit on the validity of a certificate also reduces the potential damage which could be done if a certificate has been silently leaked, i.e. stolen, and is being used to sign malware.

Microsoft now employs a strict policy on what is allowed to be loaded into Windows kernel memory. Windows 10 strictly loads driver files if and only if they are signed by an EV certificate. An EV cert requires legal and human validation of the purchaser, and is a cert which fulfills the EV vetting criteria of the CA. This move should hopefully disrupt the kernel rootkit infection vector on Windows 10 machines.

Though digital signatures play a big part in securing digital content they too have their fair share of cases of abuse and misuse. A follow up to this blog post that discusses more about how digital signatures are misused can be expected in the near future … stay tuned.

…to part 7: (Frau)Duly Digi-Signed

Images courtesy of:

K7 Threat Control Lab

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IoT: How are We Going to Protect Ourselves?

Thursday, February 25th, 2016

Here is the fifth part of the blog series on the Internet of Things following its fourth part on “IoT: What the Bad Guys Could Do with Your Hacked Devices”. This part explains the difficulties in protecting an IoT device and a few security steps to safeguard against the risk at the user’s end.

Unfortunately many things are as yet unclear, and therefore not streamlined, when it comes to IoT security. That is, currently there are no proven security standards available for IoT, unlike other sectors such as health, finance, information technology, etc. which have dedicated security standards.

As a world-class security company, our mission is not only to protect people but also to create awareness about cyber security hazards associated with using state-of-the-art technology.

Interestingly, in a report from the U.S. Federal Trade Commission, the security principles a manufacturer should follow while making an IoT device are well-documented. The important ones are:

  • Security by design
  • Data minimization
  • Notice and choice for unexpected uses

We would like to provide some additional detail. We recommend the following steps to vendors who manufacture IoT devices:

  1. Ensure that the appliance firmware is safe and secure by design, and by implementing known security standards, i.e. vulnerability-free.
  2. Ensure that the application developed to communicate with the appliance is safe and secure by design and by implementation.
  3. Always follow data security standards while storing and transmitting the information – this applies to the information stored on the appliance, stored in the application, and information transmitted from appliance to application and vice versa. Storing the data in an encrypted format would be preferable.
  4. Incorporate third-party security auditors to assess the appliance and the IoT application.
  5. If any security vulnerability in the appliance or application is disclosed, immediately notify the users about it and publish an update or patch as soon as possible.

As an IoT consumer, by following these simple steps, you can be better protected from the possible dangers:

  1. In your purchasing decision, instead of going by feature, always go by necessity. If you do not need to control your appliance remotely, then think twice before opting for a remotely-controlled IoT device. What is the use of controlling your refrigerator remotely if you use this feature only seldom? At least disable the IoT feature if not required.
  2. Ask the vendor about the security features that are available in the appliance, and the nature of the information stored or transmitted by the appliance, and the mode for the same.
  3. Ask the vendor about the security features of the application that controls the appliance, and the nature of information stored or transmitted by the application, and the mode for the same.
  4. Make sure that the mobile device that controls the appliance is secure and running with required security applications.
  5. Always use strong passwords for authentication on both the appliance and the application.
  6. Never share appliance passwords, application passwords and the mobile device that controls these appliances, with anyone.
  7. Update the application (firmware)/appliance/mobile device whenever there is an update available for the corresponding item. The automatic update feature is recommended, if available.
  8. Install and update the security suite software on the mobile device that hosts the IoT applications.

…to part 6: what-the-future-holds

Image credit:

Senthil Velan
Manager,Vulnerability Research

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