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September 2018 Cyber Threat Data: Ransomware Threats Double Monthly, Encrypted Threats Still Growing

We’re into October and based on this year’s reports so far, the threat landscape is continuing to evolve and change as the global cyber arms race grows.

Phishing attacks continue to trend downwards, with September data showing the volume of attacks down 92 percent compared to the same time last year. The reasons for this decline are not 100 percent clear, but may be partly attributed to increased awareness as people are becoming more adept at identifying phony websites and sharing information about common scams.

While phishing is still a threat, particularly as the holiday season approaches, it appears that cyber criminals are continuing to favor attacks involving malware, ransomware, TLS/SSL encrypted attacks and intrusion attempts. SonicWall Capture Advanced Threat Protection sandbox, with Real-Time Deep Memory Inspection (RTDMITM), has discovered 27,680 new attack variants this year, further evidence that cyber criminals are pursuing more sophisticated and coordinated methods of attack.

Globally, the SonicWall Capture Threat Network, which includes more than 1 million sensors across the world, recorded the following 2018 year-to-date attack data through September 2018:

  • 8.5 billion malware attacks (54 percent increase from 2017)
  • 2.9 trillion intrusion attempts (49 percent increase)
  • 262.4 million ransomware attacks (108 percent increase)
  • 1.9 million encrypted threats (56 percent increase)

In September 2018 alone, the average SonicWall customer faced:

  • 1,662 malware attacks (24 percent decrease from July 2017)
  • 791,015 intrusion attempts (19 percent increase)
  • 56 ransomware attacks (99 percent increase)
  • 70.9 encrypted threats (61 percent decrease)
  • 10 phishing attacks each day (92 percent decrease)

 SonicWall Capture Security Center

SonicWall cyber threat intelligence is available in the SonicWall Security Center, which provides a graphical view of the worldwide attacks over the last 24 hours, countries being attacked and geographic attack origins. This view illustrates the pace and speed of the cyber arms race.

The resource provides actionable cyber threat intelligence to help organizations identify the types of attacks they need to be concerned about so they can design and test their security posture ensure their networks, data, applications and customers are properly protected.

Get the Mid-Year Update

Dive into the latest cybersecurity trends and threat intelligence from SonicWall Capture Labs. The mid-year update to the 2018 SonicWall Cyber Threat Report explores how quickly the cyber threat landscape has evolved in just a few months.

SonicWall CEO: ‘It’s Time to Arm Up’ Against Malware, Encrypted Attacks

You can’t fight what you can’t see.

Cliché as it may sound, cybercriminals are using organizations’ lack of network visibility as a cornerstone for their attack strategies. Savvy threat actors are encrypting their malware payloads to cloak attacks and defeat standard security controls.

At RSA Conference 2018 in San Francisco, SonicWall president and CEO Bill Conner spoke with TechRepublic about the rapidly changing cyber arms race and the need to properly detect and inspect encrypted traffic, which made up 68 percent of all web traffic in 2017 — a 24 percent year-over-year increase from 2016.

“In Q1, you see a dramatic increase in malware and ransomware. We’re also seeing a dramatic increase in SSL encryption, and encryption being used to carry malware,” Conner told TechRepublic.

As Conner discussed, the 2018 Cyber Threat Report illustrated these challenges. But the threat landscape changes rapidly. In the first quarter of 2018 alone, the average SonicWall customer faced:

  • 7,739 malware attacks (151 percent increase over Q1 2017)
  • 173 ransomware attacks (226 percent increase over Q1 2017)
  • 335 encrypted threats (403 percent increase over Q1 2017)

By investing in updated solutions, and enabling SSL/TLS inspection capabilities, organizations can have the best of both security and performance. Many next-generation firewalls — like the SonicWall NSa series, for example — include DPI-SSL capabilities. However, these critical controls aren’t always activated or implemented properly, so it’s important to confer with your cyber security vendor or managed security services provider (MSSP) that you have the ability to decrypt and inspect SSL and TLS traffic.

Guidance on stopping encrypted cyber attacks

Encrypted threats will defeat even the most robust firewall if it’s not properly using deep packet inspection of SSL and TLS, often known as DPI-SSL.

If you choose not to inspect encrypted traffic — or if your firewall is limited in its ability to do so — you are truly missing a critical value of your firewall.

It is possible for organizations to enjoy the security benefits of SSL/TLS encryption without providing a hidden tunnel for attackers.

For practical guidance on implementing SSL and TLS decryption and inspection abilities, review “Encrypted Cyber Attacks: Real Data Unveils Hidden Danger within SSL, TLS Traffic” or watch the on-demand webcast, “Technical Deep Dive on how to Defeat Encrypted Threats with SonicWall DPI-SSL Technology.”

Ransomware, Variants, Snipers & Kung Fu

The 2018 SonicWall Cyber Threat Report reported a 71.2 percent decline in the number of ransomware attacks, but a 101.2 percent increase the number of ransomware variants. Let me ask you, is this good news or bad?

If this was a military battle, would you celebrate the news the enemy reduced the number of machine guns by nearly three quarters but doubled the number of snipers? Perhaps, but now you’d have to keep your head lower and stay out of sight.

2016 saw a flood of “spray-and-pray” ransomware attacks as hackers were taking advantage of soft defenses and low levels of employee awareness. In fact, in 2016 SonicWall blocked nearly 640 million ransomware attacks; that was over 1,200 ransoms not seen (or paid) each minute.

Because of this intense pressure, organizations around the globe bolstered their defenses and education efforts. Simply put, we got tired of getting beat up for our lunch money and took Kung-Fu lessons.

Attackers retool ransomware strategies

In 2017, attackers retooled with new exploits. From that, WannaCry, NotPetya and Bad Rabbit were born. Each were designed to be malware cocktails that infected a system and then move on to the rest of the network through shared drives. But these are just three of the 2,855 variants SonicWall created defenses for in 2017 alone.

With these new malware cocktails in the wild, threat actors targeted specific roles within companies through social engineering. Instead of annoying thousands of people with a small ransom with a shrinking chance they will pay, many switched to hard-hitting attacks with larger demands.

Unique Ransomware Signatures

One such instance was the city of Atlanta, where the SamSam ransomware variant affected five out of 13 city departments and shut down systems for 10 days. Fortunately, the $51,000 ransom went unpaid but the damages to systems, lost files and productivity far outweigh the demand.

How to stop ransomware attacks, avoid ransom payouts

So, what can we do in this period of the threat landscape? Employee awareness for social engineering attacks (e.g., phishing attempts) still needs to drastically improve. Strong password hygiene also needs to be in place to block attacks like SamSam that work off of guessed passwords.

From there, we need ransomware protection technology in place that stops attacks. Here are two core technologies have may not have thought of recently:

  1. Implement a network sandbox that can identify and stop unknown attacks.

    A network sandbox is an isolated environment on the firewall that runs files to monitor their behavior. SonicWall Capture Advanced Threat Protection (ATP) is a multi-engine sandbox service that holds suspicious files at the gateway until a verdict can be achieved.

    Capture ATP also features Real-Time Deep Memory InspectionTM (RTDMI). RTDMI is a memory-based malware analysis engine that catches more malware, and faster, than behavior-based sandboxing methods. It also delivers a lower false-positive rate to improve security and the end-user experience. Learn about its ability to find and block malicious PDFs and Office documents.

  2. Use advanced endpoint client security

    For years, companies deployed traditional anti-virus (AV) on their computers, which was fine when the total number of signatures they had to write and update numbered in the hundreds of thousands. Last year, SonicWall discovered 58 million new forms of malware that take time to signature and push to defense points like firewalls.

    Even if these are pushed within 24 hours, it leaves a gap that new and advanced malware can walk right through. I recommend using a next-generation anti-virus (NGAV) solution that can monitor the behavior of a system to look for malicious activities, such as the unauthorized encryption of your files. For example, SonicWall Capture Client delivers advanced malware protection and additional security synergies for SonicWall firewall users.

On top of these two new forms of technology, please follow best practices when securing and managing your networks, such as network segmentation.

Download the 2018 SonicWall Cyber Threat Report

The cyber arms race is a challenge we face together. And it’s the core reason we’re committed to passing our findings, intelligence, analysis and research to the global public via the SonicWall 2018 Cyber Threat Report.

READ THE FULL REPORT

Sneak Peek: 2018 SonicWall Cyber Threat Report

The cyber security industry relies on perpetual cadence of collaboration, research, analysis and review.

For SonicWall, that comes via our in-depth cyber threat report. This year, we’re excited to announce that we will publish the 2018 SonicWall Cyber Threat Report on Tuesday, March 6.

This premier cyber security industry report puts you a step ahead of cyber criminals in the global cyber war, empowering you with proprietary security data, global knowledge and latest trends, gathered and analyzed by our leading-edge SonicWall Capture Labs Threat Network.

Reimagined and refreshed, the 2018 SonicWall Cyber Threat Report is more comprehensive, informative and actionable than ever before with:

  • A comprehensive comparison of security industry advances versus cybercriminal advances year-over-year, to help you know where you stand
  • Proprietary empirical data that you will get nowhere else, to help you confidently understand key threat trends
  • Detailed predictions on trending threats and security solutions, to help you plan and budget resources
  • Expert best practices and valuable resources, to help successfully guide you forward

Here is a sneak preview

The modern cyber war — against governments, businesses and users alike — is comprised of a series of attacks, counterattacks and respective defensive countermeasures. Many are simple and effective. Others are targeted and complex. Yet they are all highly dynamic and require persistence, commitment and resources to mitigate.

Unfortunately, organizations large and small are caught in the middle of a global cyber arms race with vastly different resources at their disposal. And while growing budgets do make a positive impact on the effectiveness against known exploits, the threat landscape evolves at such a rate that yesterday’s investment in technology could already be insufficient to deal with tomorrow’s cyber threats.

No one has immunity.

Headline breaches

2017 was another record year for data breaches. The 2018 SonicWall Cyber Threat Report breaks these down by the numbers.

Ransomware

With WannaCry, Petya and Bad Rabbit all becoming headline news, ransomware was a hot topic for the second year in a row. The 2018 SonicWall Cyber Threat Report reveals a key indicator of how attack strategies are shifting.

Memory attacks

While the Meltdown and Spectre vulnerabilities were first publicly known in early 2018, the processor vulnerabilities were actually exposed last year. In fact, Intel notified Chinese technology companies of the vulnerability before alerting the U.S. government.

Threat actors and cybercriminals are already leveraging memory as an attack vector. Since these memory-based attacks are using proprietary encryption methods that can’t be decrypted, organizations must quickly detect, capture and track these attacks once they’re exposed in memory — usually in under 100 nanoseconds. Chip-based attacks will be at the forefront of the cyber arms race for some time to come.

IoT

The Internet of Things (IoT) also had a big year. The 2018 SonicWall Cyber Threat Report examines last year’s trends to predict what will be in the crosshairs next.

Business risk

Data breaches and cyber attacks are no longer back-of-mind concerns. The 2018 SonicWall Cyber Threat Report explains why they are the No. 1 risk to business, brand, operations and financials.

The battle within encrypted traffic

For the first time ever, the 2018 SonicWall Cyber Threat Report will provide key empirical data on the volume of attacks leveraging SSL/TLS encryption.

Want the report first?

The cyber arms race is a challenge we face together. And it’s the core reason we’re committed to passing our findings, intelligence, analysis and research to the global public via the SonicWall 2018 Cyber Threat Report.

About the SonicWall Capture Labs Threat Network

Data for the 2018 SonicWall Annual Threat Report was gathered by the SonicWall Capture Labs Threat Network, which sources information from global devices and resources including:

  • More than 1 million security sensors in more than 150 countries and territories
  • Cross‐vector, threat‐related information shared among SonicWall security systems, including firewalls, email security, endpoint security, honeypots, content-filtering systems and the SonicWall Capture Advanced Threat Protection multi‐engine sandbox
  • SonicWall internal malware analysis automation framework
  • Malware and IP reputation data from tens of thousands of firewalls and email security devices around the globe
  • Shared threat intelligence from more than 50 industry collaboration groups and research organizations
  • Intelligence from freelance security researchers

The full 2018 SonicWall Cyber Threat Report will feature detailed threat findings, best practices, predictions and more, to help you stay a step ahead in the global cyber war.

SonicWall Annual Threat Report Reveals the State of the Cybersecurity Arms Race

In the war against cyber crime, no one gets to avoid battle. That’s why it’s crucial that each of us is proactive in understanding the innovation and advancements being made on both sides of the cybersecurity arms race. To that end, today we introduced the 2017 SonicWall Annual Threat Report, offering clients, businesses, cybersecurity peers and industry media and analysts a detailed overview of the state of the cybersecurity landscape.

To map out the cybersecurity battlefield, we studied data gathered by the SonicWall Global Response Intelligence Defense (GRID) Threat Network throughout the year. Our findings supported what we already knew to be true – that 2016 was a highly innovative and successful year for both security teams and cyber criminals.

Security Industry Advances

Security teams claimed a solid share of victories in 2016. For the first time in years, our SonicWall GRID Threat Network detected a decline in the volume of unique malware samples and the number of malware attack attempts.  Unique samples collected in 2016 fell to 60 million compared with 64 million in 2015, whereas total attack attempts dropped to 7.87 billion from 8.19 billion in 2015. This is a strong indication that many security industry initiatives are helping protect companies from malicious breaches.  Below are some of the other areas where progress is clearly being made.

Decline of POS Malware Variants

Cybersecurity teams leveraged new technology and procedural improvements to gain important ground throughout the year. If you were one of the unlucky victims of the point-of-sale (POS) system attack crisis that shook the retail industry in 2014, you’ll be happy to learn that POS malware has waned enormously as a result of heightened security measures. The SonicWall GRID Threat Network saw the number of new POS malware variants decrease by 88 percent since 2015 and 93 percent since 2014. The primary difference between today’s security procedures and those that were common in 2014 is the addition of chip-and-PIN and chip-and-signature technology particularly in the United States, which undoubtedly played a big role in the positive shift.

Growth of SSL/TLS-Encrypted Traffic

The SonicWall GRID Threat Network observed that 62 percent of web traffic was Secure Sockets Layer/Transport Layer Security (SSL/TLS) encrypted in 2016, making consumers and businesses safer in terms of data privacy and integrity while on the web. This is a trend we expect to continue in 2017, based on Google’s announcement that it has a long-term plan to begin marking HTTP traffic in its Chrome browser as “not secure.” NSS Labs estimates that 75 percent of web interactions will be HTTPS by 2019.

Decline of Dominant Exploit Kits

We also saw the disappearance of major exploit kits Angler, Nuclear and Neutrino after cybersecurity investigations exposed the likely authors, leading to a series of arrests by local and international law enforcement agencies. The SonicWall GRID Threat Network observed some smaller exploit kits trying to rise to fill the void. By the third quarter of 2016, runner-up Rig had evolved into three versions employing a variety of obfuscation techniques. The blow that dominant exploit kit families experienced earlier in 2016 is a significant win for the security industry.

Cyber Criminal Advances

As with any arms race, advances made by the good guys are often offset by advances made by the bad guys. This is why it’s critical for companies to not become complacent and remain alert to new threats and learn how to counterattack. Below are some of the areas where cyber criminals showed their ability to innovate and exploit new ways to launch attacks.

Explosive Growth in Ransomware

Perhaps the area where cyber criminals advanced the most was in the deployment of ransomware. According the SonicWall GRID Threat Network, ransomware attacks grew 167 times since 2015, from 3.8 million in 2015 to 638 million in 2016. The reason for this increase was likely a perfect storm of factors, including the rise of ransomware-as-a-service (RaaS) and mainstream access to Bitcoin. Another reason might simply be that as cybersecurity teams made it difficult for cyber criminals to make money in other ways, they had to look for a new paycheck.

Exploited Vulnerabilities in SSL/TLS Encryption

While the growth of SSL/TLS encryption is overall a positive trend, we can’t forget that it also offers criminals a prime way to sneak malware through company firewalls, a vulnerability that was exploited 72 percent more often in 2016 than in 2015, according to NSS Labs. The reason this security measure can become an attack vector is that most companies still do not have the right infrastructure in place to perform deep packet inspection (DPI) in order to detect malware hidden inside of SSL/TLS-encrypted web sessions. Companies must protect their networks against this hidden threat by upgrading to next-generation firewalls (NGFWs) that can inspect SSL/TLS traffic without creating performance issues.

IoT Became a New Threat Network

Many people who enjoy using Reddit, Netflix, Twitter or Spotify experienced another of our top threat trends firsthand. In October 2016, cyber criminals turned a massive number of compromised IoT devices into a botnet called Mirai that they then leveraged to mount multiple record-setting distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks. The SonicWall GRID Threat Network found that at the height of the Mirai botnet usage in November 2016, the United States was by far the most targeted, with 70 percent of DDoS attacks aimed at the region, followed by Brazil (14 percent) and India (10 percent). The root cause leading to the Mirai attacks was unquestionably the lax security standards rampant in IoT device manufacturing today. Specifically, these devices do not prompt their owners to change their passwords, which makes them uncommonly vulnerable.

Combatting the New Cyber Threats

It’s worth noting that the technology already exists today to solve many of the new challenges cyber criminals threw at victims in 2016.  SSL/TLS traffic can be inspected for encrypted malware by NGFWs with high-performance SSL/TLS DPI capabilities.  For any type of new advanced threat like ransomware, it’s important to understand that traditional sandboxing solutions will only detect potential threats, but not prevent them. In order to prevent potential breaches, any network sandbox should block traffic until it reaches a verdict before it passes potential malware through to its intended target.  SonicWall’s family of NGFWs with SSL/DPI inspection coupled with the SonicWall Capture multi-engine cloud sandbox service is one approach to provide real-time breach prevention for new threats that emerge in the cybersecurity arms race.

If you’re reading this blog, you’re already taking an important first step toward prevention, as knowledge has always been one of the greatest weapons in the cybersecurity arms race. Take that knowledge and share it by training every team member in your organization on security best practices for email and online usage. Implement the technology you need to protect your network. And most importantly, stay up-to-date on the latest threats and cybersecurity innovations shaping the landscape. If you know where your enemy has been, you have a much better shot of guessing where he’s going.