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3/19/2019
10:50 AM
Larry Loeb
Larry Loeb
Larry Loeb
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Cyber Attacks Grow by 55% in 2018 & Data Theft Dominates – Report

The findings from Positive Technologies aren't that, erm, positive.

The nature of cyberspace attacks continually evolves. The enterprise, to keep itself secure, needs to update its assumptions on what attacks are most likely to occur as information becomes available. Positive Technologies (PT), based in Framingham, Ma., just issued a report named "Cybersecurity Threatscape 2018" to share what trends it has seen developing during 2018.

For example, PT found that the number of targeted attacks grew throughout the year, rising 62% in Q4 and 55% over the entire year. Attackers mostly used spyware and remote administration malware to collect sensitive information or gain a foothold on systems during these targeted attacks.

It should be noted PT considers that one attack can refer to an entire malicious campaign (not just an individual incident). For them, a campaign may include multiple similar incidents -- like multiple infections by a particular piece of ransomware -- and all of them will be counted by PT as one massive attack. This kind of approach lends itself to an easier comprehension of overall trends instead of getting bogged down in counting specific incidents with similar goals.

Indeed, in 2018, the number of unique incidents grew by 27% compared to the previous year. Attacks are growing at an alarming rate. In most cases, attackers hit corporate infrastructure (49%) and websites (26%).

PT also found that the number of attacks that were primarily aimed at data theft kept increasing. Attackers focused on personal data (30%), credentials (24%), and payment card information (14%).

The increased focus on data theft may help to explain why healthcare institutions in the US and Europe got such attention from attackers in 2018. They underwent more attacks than even banks and finance did. Hospitals were also more likely to pay hackers when hit with ransomware, since patient lives were at stake.

Cryptocurrency miners were seen to decrease from a rate of 23% in Q1 to 9% in Q4. The decline in the prices of the cryptocurrency may have played a role in this.

However, malware as an item was part of 56% of the attacks that were seen. The increase in the number and variants of these kinds of malicious programs that are available to cybercriminals may have encouraged their use.

Attacks grew more sophisticated, involving multistage techniques. The cybercriminals turned to what is described as "supply chain" attacks to fool enterprises into trusting them. Other kinds of methods were used, such as impersonating software developers, to gain enough credibility to carry out the criminal's goals.

It must be realized that the lines between cybercrime and other sorts of crime are blurring in practice. The fruits of cybercrime may be theft of data, but that data can then be used to gain funds. A cyber attack may be just the first step in a convoluted scheme where the stolen data is used to effect some sort of fraud. But this report shows how attacks remain fixated on enterprises and their data. That seems likely to continue in 2019.

— Larry Loeb has written for many of the last century's major "dead tree" computer magazines, having been, among other things, a consulting editor for BYTE magazine and senior editor for the launch of WebWeek.

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