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Cybercriminals go corporate

The IT security product firm Symantec has released its Internet Security Threat Report (ISTR), Volume 21. The firm points to an organisational shift by cybercriminals: namely, they are adopting corporate best practices and establishing professional businesses, to increase the efficiency of their attacks against enterprises and consumers. According to the report, this new class of professional cybercriminal spans the ecosystem of attackers, extending the reach of enterprise and consumer threats and fuelling the growth of online crime.

Kevin Haley, director, Symantec Security Response, said: “Advanced criminal attack groups now echo the skill sets of nation-state attackers. They have extensive resources and a highly-skilled technical staff that operate with such efficiency that they maintain normal business hours and even take the weekends and holidays off. We are even seeing low-level criminal attackers create call centre operations to increase the impact of their scams.”

Such professional attack groups are the first to use zero-day vulnerabilities, for their own advantage or selling them to lower-level criminals on the open market where they are quickly commoditised. In 2015, the number of zero-day vulnerabilities discovered more than doubled to a record-breaking 54, a 125 per cent increase from the year before, reaffirming the critical role they play in lucrative targeted attacks. Meanwhile, malware increased; with 430 million new malware variants discovered in 2015. The sheer volume of malware proves that cybercriminals are using their vast resources in attempt to overwhelm defences and enter corporate networks, according to the report.

Data breaches continue. In fact, large businesses that are targeted for attack will on average be targeted three more times within the year. Last year saw the largest data breach ever publicly reported 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 per cent. A conservative estimate by Symantec of those unreported breaches pushes the real number of records lost to more than half a billion.

Haley said: “The increasing number of companies choosing to hold back critical details after a breach is a disturbing trend. Transparency is critical to security. By hiding the full impact of an attack, it becomes more difficult to assess the risk and improve your security posture to prevent future attacks.”

Ransomware also continued to evolve in 2015, with the more damaging style of crypto-ransomware attacks growing by 35 per cent. 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 the UK suffering up to 2215 attacks a day, the third highest in the world. With attackers increasingly seeking any network-connected device that could be held hostage for profit, indicating that the enterprise is the next target, Symantec warns.

As people live more online, attackers are increasingly focused on using the intersection of the physical and digital world to their advantage. In 2015, Symantec saw a resurgence of many tried-and-true scams. Cybercriminals revisited fake technical support scams, which saw a 200 per cent increase last year, with the UK the second most targeted nation globally, suffering 7,672,112 attacks in 2015. The difference now is that scammers send fake warning messages to devices like smartphones, driving users to attacker-run call centres, to dupe them into buying useless services.

Symantec recommends the following best practices for businesses:

Don’t get caught flat-footed: Use advanced threat and adversary intelligence solutions to help you find indicators of compromise and respond faster to incidents.

Employ a strong security posture: multi-layered endpoint security, network security, encryption, strong authentication and reputation-based technologies. Partner with a managed security service provider to extend your IT team.

Prepare for the worst: Incident management ensures your security framework is optimised, measureable and repeatable, and that lessons learned improve your security posture. Consider adding a retainer with a third-party to help manage crises.

Provide education and training: Establish simulation-based training for all employees as well guidelines and procedures for protecting sensitive data on personal and corporate devices. Regularly assess internal investigation teams—and run practice drills—to ensure you have the skills to combat cyber threats.


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