Symantec’s Internet Security Threat Report (ISTR), Volume 21, reveals an organisational shift by cybercriminals: They are establishing professional businesses and adopting corporate best practices in order to increase the efficiency of their attacks against enterprises and consumers.
This new class of professional cybercriminal spans the ecosystem of attackers, extends the reach of enterprise and consumer threats, and fuels the growth of online crime.
“Advanced criminal attack groups now mirror the skill sets of nation-state attackers. They have well resourced and highly-skilled technical staff that operate during normal business hours – they even take weekends and holidays off,” said Kevin Haley, director, Symantec Security Response. “We are even seeing low-level criminal attackers create call center operations to increase the impact of their scams.”
Advanced professional attack groups are first to leverage zero-day vulnerabilities, using them for their own advantage or selling them to lower-level criminals on the open market. Once they are available in the open market they are quickly commoditised.
In 2015, the number of zero-day vulnerabilities discovered more than doubled to a record-breaking 54, a 125 percent increase from the year before, reaffirming the critical role they play in lucrative targeted attacks. Meanwhile, malware increased at a staggering rate with 430 million new malware variants discovered in 2015. The sheer volume of malware proves that professional cybercriminals are leveraging vast resources in an attempt to overwhelm defenses and enter corporate networks.
Data breaches continue to impact the enterprise. In fact, large businesses that are targeted for attack will on average be targeted three more times within the year. Additionally, we saw the largest data breach ever publicly reported last year with 191 million records compromised in a single incident. There were also a record-setting total of nine reported mega-breaches. While 429 million identities were exposed, the number of companies that chose not to report the number of records lost jumped by 85 percent. A conservative estimate by Symantec of unreported breaches pushes the number of records lost to more than half a billion.
“The increasing number of companies choosing to hold back critical details after a breach is a disturbing trend,” said Haley. “Transparency is critical to security. By hiding the full impact of an attack, it becomes difficult to assess the risk and improve security to prevent future attacks.”
Ransomware continued to evolve in 2015, with the more damaging style of crypto-ransomware attacks growing by 35 percent. This more aggressive crypto-ransomware attack encrypts all of a victim’s digital content and holds it hostage until a ransom is paid. This year, ransomware spread beyond PCs to smartphones, Mac and Linux systems, with attackers increasingly seeking any network-connected device to hold hostage for profit, indicating that the enterprise is the next target.
“The Symantec Internet Security Threat Report indicates New Zealand as an increasingly popular target for cybercriminals. As a ransomware target New Zealand ranked fourth in Asia Pacific and 21st globally with the average of 108 ransomware attacks per day. The country was also ranked 21st globally for social media scams,” said Mark Shaw, Symantec Technology Strategist – Information Security, Pacific.
In 2015, Symantec saw a resurgence of many tried-and-true scams. Cybercriminals revisited fake technical support scams, which saw a 200 percent increase last year. The difference now is that scammers send fake warning messages to devices like smartphones, driving users to attacker-run call centers in order to dupe them into buying useless services. As people conduct more of their lives online, attackers are increasingly focused on using the intersection of the physical and digital world to their advantage.