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Document-based malware increase ‘alarming’

960 640 Stuart O'Brien

Researchers have uncovered what they’re calling an ‘alarming’ rise in the use of document-based malware.

A recent email analysis conducted by Barracuda Networks revealed that 48% of all malicious files detected in the last 12 months were some kind of document. 

More than 300,000 unique malicious documents were identified.

Since the beginning of 2019, however, these types of document-based attacks have been increasing in frequency – dramatically. In the first quarter of the year, 59% of all malicious files detected were documents, compared to 41% the prior year.

The team at Barracuda has taken a closer look at document-based malware attacks and solutions to help detect and block them.

Cybercriminals use email to deliver a document containing malicious software, also known as malware. Typically, either the malware is hidden directly in the document itself or an embedded script downloads it from an external website. Common types of malware include viruses, trojans, spyware, worms and ransomware.  

The Modern Framework for Malware Attacks

After decades of relying on signature-based methods, which could only be effective at stopping a malware strain once a signature was derived from it, Barracuda says security companies now think about malware detection by asking “What makes something malicious?” rather than “How do I detect things I know are malicious?”.

The focus is on attempting to detect indicators that a file might do harm before it is labeled as being harmful.

A common model used to better understand attacks is the Cyber Kill Chain, a seven-phase model of the steps most attackers take to breach a system:

·       Reconnaissance –target selection and research

·       Weaponisation –crafting the attack on the target, often using malware and/or exploits

·       Delivery –launching the attack

·       Exploitation –using exploits delivered in the attack package

·       Installation –creating persistence within the target’s system

·       Command and control –using the persistence from outside the network

·       Actions on objective –achieving the objective that was the purpose of the attack, often exfiltration of data

Barracuda says most malware is sent as spam to widely-circulated email lists, that are sold, traded, aggregated and revised as they move through the dark web. Combo lists like those used in the ongoing sextortion scams are a good example of this sort of list aggregation and usage in action.

Now that the attacker has a list of potential victims, the malware campaign (the delivery phase of the kill chain) can commence, using social engineering to get users to open an attached malicious document. Microsoft and Adobe file types are the most commonly used in document-based malware attacks, including Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Acrobat and pdf files.

Once the document is opened, either the malware is automatically installed or a heavily obfuscated macro/script is used to download and install it from an external source. Occasionally, a link or other clickable item is used, but that approach is much more common in phishing attacks than malware attacks. The executable being downloaded and run when the malicious document is opened represents an installation phase in the kill chain.

Archive files and script files are the other two most common attachment-based distribution methods for malware. Attackers often play tricks with file extensions to try to confuse users and get them to open malicious documents. 

Barracuda says modern malware attacks are complex and layered; the solutions designed to detect and block them are, too.

Detecting and Blocking Malware Attacks

Blacklists  —With IP space becoming increasingly limited, spammers are increasingly using their own infrastructure. Often, the same IPs are used long enough for software to detect and blacklist them. Even with hacked sites and botnets, it’s possible to temporarily block attacks by IP once a large enough volume of spam has been detected. 

Spam Filters / Phishing-Detection Systems —While many malicious emails appear convincing, spam filters, phishing-detection systems and related security software can pick up subtle clues and help block potentially-threatening messages and attachments from reaching email inboxes.

Malware Detection — For emails with malicious documents attached, both static and dynamic analysis can pick up on indicators that the document is trying to download and run an executable, which no document should ever be doing. The URL for the executable can often be flagged using heuristics or threat intelligence systems. Obfuscation detected by static analysis can also indicate whether a document may be suspicious.

Advanced Firewall — If a user opens a malicious attachment or clicks a link to a drive-by download, an advanced network firewall capable of malware analysis provides a chance to stop the attack by flagging the executable as it tries to pass through.

Ransomware and phishing top concerns for IT professionals

960 640 Stuart O'Brien
Ransomware (24%) and phishing attacks (21%) are the top two concerns among IT leaders in 2018, according to new research.
Barracuda surveyed more than 1,500 IT and security professionals in North America, EMEA, and APAC about their IT security priorities, how these have shifted over the 15 years and what is expected to change within another 15 years.
Other key finding include:
  • In 2003, viruses (26%) and spam and worms (18%) were noted as the top two threats
  • In 2003 only 3% identified cloud security as a top priority. This number has gone up to 14% in 2018
  • 43% identified AI and machine learning as the development that will have the biggest impact on cyber security in the next 15 years
  • 41% also believe the weaponisation of AI will be the most prevalent attack tactic in the next 15 years

Overall, Barracuda says study indicates that while the top security priorities have remained consistent over the past 15 years, the types of threats organisations are protecting against has shifted significantly.

Looking ahead, respondents believe that the cloud will be a higher priority 15 years in the future and that AI will be both a threat and an important tool.

A full 25 percent of respondents said email was their top security priority in 2003, and 23 percent said the same about their current priorities.

Network security came in a close second for both 2003 and 2018 priorities, with 24 percent and 22 percent respectively.

31 percent of respondents chose AI as the new technology that they will rely on to help improve security, and 43 percent identified the increasing use of artificial intelligence and machine learning as the development that will have the biggest impact on cyber security in the next 15 years.

On the other hand, 41 percent believe the weaponisation of AI will be the most prevalent attack tactic in the next 15 years.

“Artificial intelligence is technology that is top of mind for many of the IT professionals we spoke with — both as an opportunity to improve security and as a threat,” said Asaf Cidon, VP email security at Barracuda. “It’s an interesting contrast. We share our customers’ concern about the weaponization of AI. Imagine how social engineering attacks will evolve when attackers are able to synthesize the voice, image, or video of an impersonated target.”

Don’t click if you receive any of these emails…

960 640 Stuart O'Brien

Hackers are getting smarter and now know how to leverage psychological triggers to get the attention of victims, according to a new report.

KnowBe4, a provider of security awareness training an simulated phishing platform has published its Top 10 Global Phishing Email Subject Lines for Q2 2018. The messages in the report, which were compiled from analysing KnowBe4 user data, are based on simulated phishing tests users received or real-world emails sent to users who then reported them to their IT departments.

Ironically, the top three messages for Q2 2018 show that hackers are playing into users’ commitment to security, all tricking users with clever subject lines that deal with passwords or security alerts.

Hackers continue to take advantage of the human psyche. A recent report from Webroot validates this notion with IT decision makers believing their organisations are most vulnerable to phishing attacks – more so than new forms of malware. Some 56 per cent of IT decision makers in the US believe their businesses will be most susceptible to phishing attacks, while 44 per cent of IT decision makers in the UK are most concerned with ransomware attacks. By playing into a person’s psyche to either feel wanted or alarmed, hackers continue to use email as a successful entry point for an attack.

“Hackers are smart and know how to leverage multiple psychological triggers to get the attention of an innocent victim,” said Perry Carpenter, chief evangelist and strategy officer at KnowBe4. “In today’s world, it’s imperative that businesses continually educate their employees about the tactics that hackers are using so they can be savvy and not take an email at face value. Hackers will continue to become more sophisticated with the tactics they use and advance their utilisation of social engineering in order to get what they want.”

The Top 10 Most-Clicked General Email Subject Lines Globally for Q2 2018 include:

  1. Password Check Required Immediately
  2. Security Alert
  3. Change of Password Required Immediately
  4. A Delivery Attempt was made
  5. Urgent press release to all employees
  6. De-activation of [[email]] in Process
  7. Revised Vacation & Sick Time Policy
  8. UPS Label Delivery, 1ZBE312TNY00015011
  9. Staff Review 2017
  10. Company Policies-Updates to our Fraternisation Policy

INDUSTRY SPOTLIGHT: EveryCloud – Email Security

960 640 Stuart O'Brien

EveryCloud partners with Gartner and Forrester cloud security leaders to access, compare and improve your cloud security capabilities.

We assist you to build combined solutions from products that suit your needs and goals and assist with GDPR data protection compliancy. From Cloud Access Security (CASB), Identity Access Management (IAM) and Email & Web Security, our solutions offer you the full protection and control to keep your business safe.

Solution Focus:

We assist business’ to secure their mailbox and not just their email server! Providing up to the minute intelligence and protection from mature and emerging threats.

GUEST BLOG: The anatomy of a phishing email

960 640 Stuart O'Brien

By Varonis

Phishing scams are one of the most common ways hackers gain access to sensitive or confidential information.

In fact, according to the Verizon’s 2018 Data Breach Investigations Report, phishing is involved in 70 percent of breaches that feature a social engineering component.

What is Phishing?

At the most basic level, a phishing scam involves sending fraudulent emails that appear to be from a reputable company, with the goal of deceiving recipients into either clicking on a malicious link or downloading an infected attachment, usually to steal financial or confidential information.

If your employees don’t know the signs of a phishing email, your company is at risk. According to Verizon, the average time it took for the first victim of a large-scale phishing campaign to click on a malicious email was 16 minutes; however, it took twice as long — 33 minutes — for a user to report the phishing campaign to IT.

Given that 49 percent of malware is installed via email, these 17 minutes could spell disaster for your company…

Click here to continue reading.