Nation-state cyberespionage attackers are buying already-infected machines from cybercriminals as a more streamlined way to infiltrate a targeted organization, according to FireEye.
Ashar Aziz, CEO and CTO of FireEye, says his firm has spotted such conspiracy between traditional cybercriminals who infect machines for profit, and so-called advanced persistent threat (APT)-type attackers who infiltrate targeted organizations to steal intellectual property or other intelligence.
"[The] crimeware infection got promoted to an APT infection," Aziz says. "We are seeing collusion between the criminal element and the nation-state. Rather than launch a targeted attack ... they choose to come back to an existing infection" to get inside more easily and faster, he says.
"The malware itself ... can be on sale and acquired by a more sophisticated enemy to perform a much deeper infiltration on the back of an initial crime infection," Aziz says. "Why not simply buy access to an already-compromised system and save those expensive zero-days?"
Once the APT-type attacker purchases an infected machine, all he has to do is send it more malware: "They are able to download more malware and binaries. Now you have a platform for distributing more malware," he says.
FireEye researchers first spotted this trend when they saw a specific APT class of malware associated with Ghostnet on a machine also carrying a primary infection of more mainstream crimeware malware. "We saw it downloading a Trojan we know is affiliated with the command-and-control servers of Ghostnet," Aziz says.
"This is the warning: You'd better take all infections seriously," he says.
While the industry is currently classifying threat actors in three main categories -- crimeware, hactivists, and APTs -- there's sometimes a blurred line between them, he says.
Meanwhile, malware is slipping past most network security infrastructures, according to a new report from FireEye.
Malware and targeted attacks are bypassing firewalls, intrusion prevention systems, antivirus, and Web and email gateways, with 99 percent of enterprises having had malware get inside their networks each week -- even after spending some $20 billion per year on security, and 80 percent with more than 100 malware attacks hitting per week, the report says.
"[The malware got past] a few dozen next-generation firewalls, too, because under the hood it's still signature-based. They have the same infiltration rate as previous-generation firewalls," Aziz says.
Nearly 95 percent of malicious programs and domains change within a 24-hour period in order to evade detection by signature-based technology, with 90 percent of them altered within a few hours, according to FireEye. And the top 50 malware families are responsible for 80 percent of malware infections.
A full copy of the FireEye Advanced Threat Report For 1H 2011 is available here (PDF).
Have a comment on this story? Please click "Add Your Comment" below. If you'd like to contact Dark Reading's editors directly, send us a message.
Kelly Jackson Higgins is the Executive Editor of Dark Reading. She is an award-winning veteran technology and business journalist with more than two decades of experience in reporting and editing for various publications, including Network Computing, Secure Enterprise ... View Full Bio