The rise of the hand-delivered, targeted cyberattacks as criminals stalk victims to bank millions
Sophos has launched its 2019 Threat Report providing insights into emerging and evolving cyber security trends. The report, produced by Sophos Labs researchers, explores changes in the threat landscape over the past 12 months, uncovering trends and how they are expected to impact cyber security in 2019.
“The threat landscape is undoubtedly evolving; less skilled cyber criminals are being forced out of business, the fittest among them step up their game to survive and we’ll eventually be left with fewer, but smarter and stronger, adversaries. These new cyber criminals are effectively a cross-breed of the once esoteric, targeted attacker, and the pedestrian purveyor of off-the-shelf malware, using manual hacking techniques, not for espionage or sabotage, but to maintain their dishonorable income streams.” – Joe Levy, CTO, Sophos, as referenced in the Sophos Labs 2019 Threat Report
The SophosLabs 2019 Threat Report focuses on these key cyber criminal behaviours and attacks:
- Capitalist cyber criminals are turning to targeted ransomware attacks that are premeditated and reaping millions of dollars in ransom – 2018 saw the advancement of hand-delivered, targeted ransomware attacks that are earning cyber criminals millions of dollars. These attacks are different than ‘spray and pray’ style attacks that are automatically distributed through millions of emails. Targeted ransomware is more damaging than if delivered from a bot, as human attackers can find and stake out victims, think laterally, trouble shoot to overcome roadblocks, and wipe out back-ups so the ransom must be paid. This “interactive attack style,” where adversaries manually maneuver through a network step-by-step,is now increasing in popularity. Sophos experts believe the financial success of SamSam, BitPaymer and Dharma to inspire copycat attacks and expect more happen in 2019.
- Cyber criminals are using readily available Windows systems administration tools -This year’s report uncovers a shift in threat execution, as more mainstream attackers now employ Advanced Persistent Threat (APT)techniques to use readily available IT tools as their route to advance through a system and complete their mission – whether it’s to steal sensitive information off the server or drop ransomware:
- Turning admin tools into cyber attack tools
In an ironic twist, or Cyber Catch-22, cyber criminals are utilising essential or built-in Windows IT admin tools, including Powershell files and Windows Scripting executables, to deploy malware attacks on users.
- Cyber criminals are playing Digital Dominos
By chaining together a sequence of different script types that execute an attack at the end of the event series, hackers can instigate a chain reaction before IT managers detect a threat is operational on the network, and once they break in it’s difficult to stop the payload from executing.
- Cyber criminals have adopted newer Office exploits to lure in victims
- Office exploits have long been an attack vector, but recently cyber criminal shave cut loose old Office document exploits in favour of newer ones.
- Eternal Blue becomes a key tool for crypto jacking attacks
- Patching updates appeared for this Windows threat more than a year ago, yet the Eternal Blue exploit is still a favourite of cyber criminals; the coupling of Eternal Blue to cryptomining software turned the activity from a nuisance hobby into a potentially lucrative criminal career. Lateral distribution on the corporate networks allowed the crypto jacker to quickly infect multiple machines, increasing payouts to the hacker and heavy costs to the user.
The continued threat of mobile and IoT malware –Malware’s impact extends beyond the organization’s infrastructure as we see the threat from mobile malware grow apace. With illegal Android apps on the increase, 2018 has seen an increased focus in malware being pushed to phones, tablets and other IoT devices. As homes and businesses adopt more internet-connected devices, criminals have been devising new ways to hijack those devices to use as nodes in huge botnet attacks. In 2018, VPN Filter demonstrated the destructive power of weaponized malware that affects embedded systems and networked devices that have no obvious user interface. Elsewhere,Mirai Aidra, Wifatch, and Gafgyt delivered a range of automated attacks that hijacked networked devices to use as nodes in botnets to engage in distributed denial-of-service attacks, mine crypto currency and infiltrate networks.