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Relentless Attackers Try Over 100,000 Times Before They Breach a System

New report from startup tCell shows XSS attempts a noisy reminder of the overwhelming scale of automated attack techniques.

One of the big reasons why security teams struggle to keep up with threats is because the bad guys are relentless with their attack attempts. The security community has long warned enterprises of the scope of cybercriminal efforts to seek out vulnerable targets of opportunity through automated attack tools. But sometimes it is hard to take in the scale of it all without a number to back it up. New research out this week from security start-up tCell did just that. 

In a recent study, the firm showed that attackers seeking to breach organizations through cross-site scripting attacks made over 100,000 failed attempts for every successful breach.

The highlight comes from an investigation into attack patterns against 33 actual web applications in production at a dozen firms across a 30-day period. The findings showed that the bad guys rattled the proverbial doorknob with 494,000 XSS attempts at the server, but just four of them actually landed on the browser and needed a full-blown response.

"If you had asked me when we started out on this what was the ratio I might have guessed 1000-1 and thought I might have been exaggerating. But to see that it’s actually half a million attack attempts generating just four actual reaches is really interesting," says Michael Feiertag, CEO of tCell. "These apps are under constant attack and you just can’t wake up in the middle of the night whenever that happens. You have to have tools in place to manage those threats, but also those that know when to hit the panic button."

Alert fatigue is a common problem in the security world today. According to a recent study conducted by Enterprise Management Associates (EMA), 79% of security teams are overwhelmed by security alerts. Meanwhile, 64% of alert tickets are ignored every day by security teams.

"(Security) analysts waste over half of their day looking for problems that are either insignificant or not really problems at all," writes David Monahan, senior analyst for EMA. "They fall behind more each day, which is why dwell time for breaches is over six months."

Meanwhile, attackers are breaking into critical accounts with impunity. According to tCell's analysis, in just a 30-day period, five out of 12 organization suffered an account takeover. Among those five, most suffered more than one takeover and one firm suffered 44 account takeovers in that time. In most cases the attacks resulted in compromised user accounts. Many of them came at the hands of credential-stuffing attacks using user ID and password combinations purloined from major breaches elsewhere.

This kind of attack is the lowest-hanging fruit for cybercriminals today. According to the 10th annual Verizon Data Breach Investigation Report, 81% of successful breaches today can be attributed to stolen or weak passwords. Credential stuffing works because even though the average Internet user has something along the lines of 130 accounts according to one estimate by Dashlane, most of them typically use seven or fewer passwords to protect them, according to a study by the firm Gigya.

 

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Ericka Chickowski specializes in coverage of information technology and business innovation. She has focused on information security for the better part of a decade and regularly writes about the security industry as a contributor to Dark Reading.  View Full Bio

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