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Attacks/Breaches

IoT, APIs, and Criminal Bots Pose Evolving Dangers

A pair of reports reach similar conclusions about some of the threats growing in cyberspace and the industries likely to be most affected.

A pair of research reports released today paint a picture of a cyberthreat landscape that is continuing to evolve in ways both expected and not. The reports, released by Netscout and Akamai, each look at the overall threat landscape from its own perspective and offer a slightly different view of what cybersecurity professionals face. Together, they reach similar conclusions about some of the threats growing in cyberspace and some of the industries likely to be most affected.

The "Netscout Threat Intelligence Report" focuses on large organizations, such as nation-state actors, and the the impact they're having on both statecraft and industries important to various nations. According to Richard Hummel, manager, Netscout Threat Intelligence, the number of groups working on behalf of national security organizations has skyrocketed.

"A couple of years ago, I would tell you that there were probably 35 to 40 different groups, and that's predominantly China, Iran, Russia — some of the really big names," he says. "But now with Netscout we're actively tracking at least 35 of these groups ourselves, and we know of at least 170 more different groups around the globe where you have these nation states adding cyberattack capabilities to their statecraft."

Those groups are growing in sophistication and broadening their target groups, as well. The report says academia, government, finance, and telecommunications are the targeted industries.

Another large and growing group of threat actors are criminal organizations that now have activities reaching around the globe. "The criminal organizations and the nation-state groups really have a lot of similarities," Hummel says. "They both have large-scale operations. They both have access to a lot of really skilled operators. They're able to throw money at their problems to fix it."

Those efforts are resulting in attacks that are both more frequent and larger in scale than those of last year or the year before.

In the distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attack space alone, attacks were up 26%, according to the report. "Attacks in the 100–200 Gbps, 200–300 Gbps, and 300–400 Gbps [range] exploded, up 169 percent, 2,500 percent, and 3,600 percent, respectively," the report states.

Those attacks were aimed against strategic targets, with a "significant increase" in DDoS attacks on wireless telecommunications, satellite telecommunications, data processing, data hosting, television, libraries, and archive sites.

Akamai's "2019 State of the Internet" report points out that a growing number of these attacks are generated by networks populated by All-in-One bots, or AIOs. These bots can be rented to commercial clients for spamming inboxes or message clients, launching DDoS attacks, or credential stuffing. According to the Akamai report, the retail apparel market experienced 3.7 billion credential stuffing attempts in the eight months of 2018 used as the basis for the report.

Those attacks aren't coming from international actors, though the weapons used span the globe. "A lot of it's coming from Russia, a lot is coming from Canada, but it's largely Americans buying these botnets and running them against the sites," says Martin McKeay, security researcher and editorial director at Akamai.

The American criminals know their targets: McKeay says that 1.636 billion credential-stuffing attacks were launched against a single retail organization.

Both reports point out Internet of Things (IoT) devices as particularly vulnerable when it comes to recruitment into these criminal botnets. Netscout's report points out that IoT devices are especially vulnerable to brute-force attacks, since so many either have hard-coded user names and passwords or interfaces so primitive that they encourage owners to use simple credentials.

In Akamai's case, it uses data from its own network to show that API traffic, from IoT devices that range from smartwatches to televisions, now accounts for 83% of the traffic it sees versus 17% from browsers. While McKeay is quick to point out that not every network will see the traffic mix handled by Akamai, he does believe these broad analyses are applicable to the Internet as a whole and have significant implications for security.

Both Hummel and McKeay say the most important takeaways from their respective reports is the importance of cybersecurity professionals being aware of changing patterns so they can begin to deal with the implications. There's no indication, in either report, of the Internet becoming noticeably safer before the next version.

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Curtis Franklin Jr. is Senior Editor at Dark Reading. In this role he focuses on product and technology coverage for the publication. In addition he works on audio and video programming for Dark Reading and contributes to activities at Interop ITX, Black Hat, INsecurity, and ... View Full Bio

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