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Supply Chain Attacks Increase 78%

The kinds of threats an organization encounters are changing as the defenses that are brought to bear upon them change.

Larry Loeb

February 21, 2019

3 Min Read

Symantec has released their new Internet Security Threat Report (ISTR)for 2019, and attacks are in bloom.

One attack described should come as no surprise to anyone that has been following security news. Incidents of formjacking -- the use of malicious JavaScript code to steal credit card details and other information from payment forms on the checkout web pages of eCommerce sites -- trended upwards in 2018.

But it is the cause of this increase that is most interesting to security teams. They think it is due to the growth of supply chain attacks. Magecart (a primary threat actor in this space) in many cases is targeting third-party services in order to get its code onto targeted websites. Symantec noted an increase of 78% in the number of supply chain attacks.

This is what happened in the well-known Ticketmaster affair. Magecart compromised a third-party chatbot, which then loaded malicious code into the web browsers of visitors to Ticketmaster's website and then trying to obtain their payment data.

The report also notes some subtleties about supply chain attacks. They say that, "Developers continued to be exploited as a source of supply chain attacks, either through attackers stealing credentials for version control tools, or by attackers compromising third-party libraries that are integrated into larger software projects."

The rise in formjacking may be may also be due to the drop in the value of cryptocurrencies during the year. Cybercriminals may now be opting for formjacking since the payout can be larger.

A different trend found by Symantec was a decrease in ransomware activity during 2018. The overall number of ransomware infections on endpoints dropped by 20%, the first decrease seen since 2013. The drop in cryptocurrency values may be involved here as well.

However, enterprise ransomware infections were up by 12% in 2018. There may be a change in focus by threat actors to sites where they think a bigger payout awaits them.

The "living off the land" philosophy for attacks was evident in 2018. Using what tools they expected to be present on the target system, malicious PowerShell usage showed a surge. It went up 1,000% compared to the previous year.

In a divergence from previous years, small organizations were more likely to be attacked by email threats than were large organizations. Spam rates increased to 55%. Fewer URLs were used in malicious emails (7.8%) as attackers focused on malicious attachments.

Zero-day exploit usage by targeted attack groups continued to decline in 2018. Only 23% of attack groups were known to use zero days, down from 27% in 2017.

Internet of Things (IoT) based attacks remained relatively constant compared to 2017. Routers (75% of attacks) and connected cameras(15% of attacks) were the most infected devices.

The report confirms trends that have existed all through 2018. The kinds of threats an organization encounters are changing as the defenses that are brought to bear upon them change.

— 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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About the Author(s)

Larry Loeb

Blogger, Informationweek

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. He has written a book on the Secure Electronic Transaction Internet protocol. His latest book has the commercially obligatory title of Hack Proofing XML. He's been online since uucp "bang" addressing (where the world existed relative to !decvax), serving as editor of the Macintosh Exchange on BIX and the VARBusiness Exchange. His first Mac had 128 KB of memory, which was a big step up from his first 1130, which had 4 KB, as did his first 1401. You can e-mail him at [email protected].

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