In today’s hyper-connected world, it is no longer a question of if you will be attacked—but when. Symantec’s Internet Security Threat Report (ISTR), Volume 20, exposes a tactical shift by cyberattackers: they are infiltrating networks and evading detection by hijacking the infrastructure of major corporations and using it against them.
“Attackers don’t need to break down the door to a company’s network when the keys are readily available,” said Kevin Haley, director, Symantec Security Response. “We’re seeing attackers trick companies into infecting themselves by Trojanizing software updates to common programs and patiently waiting for their targets to download them—giving attackers unfettered access to the corporate network.”
In a record-setting year for zero-day vulnerabilities, Symantec research reveals that it took software companies an average of 59 days to create and roll out patches—up from only four days in 2013. Attackers took advantage of the delay and, in the case of Heartbleed, leapt to exploit the vulnerability within four hours. There were 24 total zero-day vulnerabilities discovered in 2014, leaving an open playing field for attackers to exploit known security gaps before they were patched.
Meanwhile, advanced attackers continued to breach networks with highly-targeted spear-phishing attacks, which increased a total of eight percent in 2014. What makes last year particularly interesting is the precision of these attacks, which used 20 percent fewer emails to successfully reach their targets and incorporated more drive-by malware downloads and other web-based exploits.
Additionally, Symantec observed attackers taking advantage of companies’ management tools and procedures to move stolen IP around the corporate network before exfiltration. It also saw attackers building custom attack software inside the network of their victims to further disguise their activities.
Email remains a significant attack vector for cybercriminals, but they continue to experiment with new attack methods across mobile devices and social networks to reach more people, with less effort.
“Cybercriminals are inherently lazy; they prefer automated tools and the help of unwitting consumers to do their dirty work,” added Kevin Haley, director, Symantec Security Response. “Last year, 70 percent of social media scams were shared manually, as attackers took advantage of people’s willingness to trust content shared by their friends.”
While social media scams can provide cybercriminals with quick cash, some rely on more lucrative and aggressive attack methods like ransomware, which rose 113 percent last year. Notably, there were 45 times more victims of crypto-ransomware attacks than in 2013. Instead of pretending to be law enforcement seeking a fine for stolen content, as we’ve seen with traditional ransomware, the more vicious crypto-ransomware attack style holds a victim’s files, photos and other digital content hostage without masking the attacker’s intention.