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Point-of-Sale Malware Declined 93% Since 2014

SonicWall study highlights alarming growth in ransomware incidents.

Science dictates that for every action there's a reaction.

That's one of the main points of a new SonicWall study, which reports a 93% decline in point-of-sale (PoS) malware creation since 2014, but counters that news with a reality-check that ransomware grew by a rate of 167 times year-over-year.

The study, conducted by the SonicWall Global Response Intelligent Defense (GRID) Threat Network, found that ransomware was the payload of choice for malicious email campaigns and exploit kits. Ransomware attack attempts went from 4 million in 2015 to a staggering 638 million last year.

"It's pretty clear that the move to chip-and-PIN credit cards decreased PoS malware over the past couple of years," says Dmitriy Ayrapetov, executive director of product development at SonicWall. "This is a dramatic drop compared to 2014, which was the high point of PoS malware, the time that top retailers like Target, Home Depot, and Staples were hit with massive data breaches."

Ayrapetov adds that cybercriminals go where the money is, and during the last year, ransomware has become a very profitable business.

"With ransomware, attackers can hit both small and large businesses," Ayrapetov says. "And it's a lot less risky, since the attackers get paid in bitcoins and don't have to use a credit card. Also, the emergence of ransomware-as-a-service has reduced the barrier to entry, [so] anybody can purchase ransomware-as-a-service now."

The SonicWall study also found that SSL/TLS traffic grew by 38% last year, partly due to the growth in cloud application adoption. But yet again, the increase in SSL/TLS traffic has created another flaw: an uninspected backdoor into the network that cybercriminals can potentially exploit.

"Companies now need to look inside the network and inspect and protect encrypted traffic," says Mike Spanbauer, vice president of security, test & advisory at NSS Networks, which had an early briefing on the SonicWall report. "It's really not terribly difficult to make money spreading ransomware. You can now get service agreements. It’s really scary how accomplished a business model they have."

Other findings of the SonicWall study:

On the plus side: Dominant exploit kits, Angler, Nuclear, and Nutrino disappeared in mid-2016; unique malware samples fell to 60 million in 2016 compared with 64 million in 2015, a 6.25% decrease, while total attack attempts dropped to 7.87 billion in 2016, down from 8.19 billion in 2015.

On the minus side: IoT devices were compromised on a massive scale, leading to numerous DDoS attacks, most notably, the attack on DNS provider Dyn last fall; Android devices saw increased security protections, but remained vulnerable to overlay attacks.

The SonicWare GRID Threat Network is based on more than 1 million sensors placed in more than 200 countries and territories. The GRID Threat Network monitors traffic 24x7x365, developing its analysis on more than 100,000 malware samples collected daily. 

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