As Enterprises Get Smart, Hackers Get Smarter: Study

by CXOtoday News Desk    Feb 09, 2017

cyber threat

While most other reports over the last 12-14 months highlighted on the rising incidences of cyber crime, a recent report by SonicWall seem to be taking a more balanced approach. It said that cyber threats take a dip in the last year, as unlike in years past, the volume of unique malware samples collected fall to 60 million compared with 64 million in 2015, a 6.25 percent decrease. In that case, one may ask the question, is there much to worry? And the answer to this research would be: ‘A lot’. That’s because, SonicWall researchers suggest, 2016 could be considered a highly successful year from the perspective of both security professionals and cyber criminals, as both are trying to outsmart one another.

The findings of Annual Threat Report, which highlights the most notable advancements made by security professionals and cyber criminals in the last one year said that cyber criminals garnered quick payoffs from ransomware, fueled partly by the rise in ransomware-as-a-service (RaaS).

“It would be inaccurate to say the threat landscape either diminished or expanded in 2016 — rather, it appears to have evolved and shifted,” said Bill Conner, president and CEO, SonicWall. “Cybersecurity is not a battle of attrition, it’s an arms race, and both sides are proving exceptionally capable and innovative.”

The study further noted that point-of-sale malware attacks declined by 93 percent from 2014 to 2016. High-profile retail breaches in 2014 led to companies adopting more proactive security measures. Since then, the industry has seen the implementation of chip-based POS systems, usage of the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI-DDS) checklist and other ongoing security measures.

At the same time, Secure Sockets Layer/Transport Layer Security (SSL/TLS) encrypted traffic grew by 38 percent, partly in response to growing cloud application adoption.The trend toward SSL/TLS encryption has been on the rise for several years. As web traffic grew throughout 2016, so did SSL/TLS encryption, from 5.3 trillion web connections in 2015 to 7.3 trillion in 2016 according to the SonicWall GRID Threat Network.

According to the study, dominant exploit kits Angler, Nuclear and Neutrino disappeared in mid-2016. As 2016 began, the malware market was dominated by a handful of exploit kits, particularly Angler, Nuclear and Neutrino. Following the arrest of more than 50 Russian hackers for leveraging the Lurk Trojan to commit bank fraud, the Angler exploit kit suddenly stop appearing, leading many to believe Angler’s creators were among those arrested. For a while following Angler’s disappearance, Nuclear and Neutrino saw a surge in usage, before quickly fading out as well.

On an interesting note, Ransomware usage grew by 167x year-over-year and was the payload of choice for malicious email campaigns and exploit kits. An increase from 3.8 million ransomware attacks in 2015 to an astounding 638 million in 2016 is witnessed.

The rise of RaaS made ransomware significantly easier to obtain and deploy. The unprecedented growth of the malware was likely driven as well by easier access in the underground market, the low cost of conducting a ransomware attack, the ease of distributing it and the low risk of being caught or punished.