Fortinet announced the findings of its latest quarterly Global Threat Landscape Report. The research reveals that cybercriminals are constantly evolving the sophistication of their attacks—from continuing to exploit the vast insecurity of IoT devices, to morphing open source malware tools into new threats.
“The age of Cy-Phy”—the convergence of cybersecurity things and physical spaces—is here. Although the appeal of this convergence to our digital economy is almost sci-fi in terms of imagination, unfortunately the cybersecurity risks are very real. Cybercriminals are closely watching and developing exploits that target this emerging digital convergence. Fundamental elements of cybersecurity, including visibility, automation, and agile segmentation, are more critical than ever to enable us to thrive in our Cy-Phy digital future, and to protect us against the malicious activities of our cyber adversaries,” stated Michael Joseph, Director System Engineering, SAARC, Fortinet.
Exploit Index All-time High: According to the Fortinet Threat Landscape Index, cybercriminals remained hard at work even during a holiday season. After a dramatic start, the Exploit Index settled in the latter half of the quarter. While cyber adversary activity overall subsided slightly, the number of exploits per firm grew 10%, while unique exploits detected increased 5%. At the same time, botnets become more complex and harder to detect. Time for infection of botnets increased by 15%, growing to an average of nearly 12 infection days per firm. As cybercriminals employ automation and machine learning to propagate attacks, security organizations need to do the same to combat these advanced methods.
Monitor the Monitoring Devices: The convergence of physical things and cybersecurity is creating an expanded attack surface, one that cybercriminals are increasingly targeting. Half of the top 12 global exploits targeted IoT devices, and four of the top 12 were related to IP-enabled cameras. Access to these devices could enable cybercriminals to snoop on private interactions, enact malicious onsite activities, or gain an entry point into cyber systems to launch DDoS or ransomware attacks. It is important to be aware of hidden attacks even in devices we use to monitor or provide security.
Tools Open to Anyone: Open source malware tools are very beneficial to the cybersecurity community, enabling teams to test defenses, researchers to analyze exploits, and instructors to use real-life examples. These openware tools are generally available from sharing sites such as GitHub, and as these are available to anyone, adversaries can also access them for nefarious activities. They are evolving and weaponizing these malware tools into new threats, with ransomware comprising a significant number of them. An example where openware source code has been weaponized is the Mirai IoT botnet. An explosion of variants and activity continues to be catalogued since its release in 2016. For cybercriminals innovation continues to be the land of opportunity.
The Proliferation of Steganography: Developments in steganography are bringing new life into an old attack type. While steganography is typically not used in high-frequency threats, the botnet Vawtrak made the list of “bursty” botnets. This demonstrates increased persistence for this attack type. In addition, during the quarter, malware samples were found to use steganography to conceal malicious payloads in memes passed along on social media. During the attack process after attempting to contact a C2 host, the malware looks for images in an associated Twitter feed, downloads those images, and looks for hidden commands within the images to propagate activity. This undercover approach demonstrates that adversaries continue to experiment in how they advance their malware while evading detection.
Adware Infiltration: Adware is not just a nuisance, it has become a pervasive threat. Globally, adware sits at the top of the list of malware infections for most regions—exceeding one-quarter of all infection types for North America and Oceania, and almost one-quarter for Europe. With adware now found to be in published apps and posted on authorized app stores, this attack type can pose a serious threat especially to unsuspecting mobile device users.
Keeping an Eye on Operational Technology: With the ongoing convergence of Information Technology (IT) and Operations Technology (OT), a year in review shows the relative change in prevalence and frequency in attacks targeting industrial control systems (ICS). Unfortunately, most attacks gained ground on both scales of volume and prevalence. A cyberattack that successfully targets an OT system, could result in devastating physical consequences to such things as critical infrastructure and services, the environment, and even human life.