Enterprise cyberattacks mean big bucks for cybercriminals, who targeted businesses with a wave of Trojans and ransomware attacks throughout 2018 into the first quarter of this year.
Trojan detections on business endpoints in the first quarter of 2019 increased more than 200% from the fourth quarter of 2018, and almost 650% from the first quarter of 2018, researchers found in the Malwarebytes Q1 Cybercrime Tactics and Techniques report. The Emotet Trojan has made a "total shift" away from consumers as operators focus on business targets, researchers say, with the exception of a few outlier spikes.
"The biggest takeaway from this report is the continued increase in business detections we see and business-focused attacks we see," says Adam Kujawa, director of Malwarebytes Labs. Emotet isn't the only Trojan targeting organizations, researchers found. The spike in Trojan malware can also be attributed to families like TrickBot and other info-stealing malware.
Emotet, first detected in 2014, has proven to be a widespread and pricey global threat. Malwarebytes calls it the most common malware, as well as the most invasive and expensive to remove. And it's growing: The number of Emotet detections spiked from 800,000 to 4 million year-over-year.
Trend Micro researchers have found Emotet is evolving with new capabilities. Recent samples use a different post-infection traffic compared with earlier versions, and the Trojan is now attempting to use infected connected devices as proxy command-and-control servers to redirect back to the real Emotet command-and-control (C2) servers. While the changes may seem small, experts warn these complexities in C2 traffic indicate Emotet's authors are working harder to evade detection.
Business threat detections have been increasing overall. While there was only a 7% increase between the fourth quarter of 2018 and the first quarter of 2019, Malwarebytes found detections overall were up 235% year-over-year. The spike is likely because persistent families like Emotet are focusing on businesses.
Ransomware is also back to business, with a 195% increase in enterprise detections between the fourth quarter of 2018 and the first quarter of 2019 and a 500% increase from the first quarter of 2018. Malwarebytes primarily attributes the increase to the Troldesh ransomware attack against US organizations early in the first quarter.
"At the end of the day, it's all about money," says Kujawa of the enterprise focus. "It's always going to be about money." Cybercriminals are capturing data they can sell for money, and info stealing is predicted to increase as data regulation policies such as GDPR are put into place.
Consumers Have Different Concerns
"[There's] a decline in efforts on the consumer side, which coincide with the increase in efforts on the business side," Kujawa explains. But cybercriminals aren't ignoring consumers entirely — they're just using different techniques.
For example, consumer detections of ransomware have continued to fall by 10% quarter-over-quarter and by 33% year-over-year. Researchers did detect activity by families like GandCrab, which mostly hit consumers last quarter as it switched to ransomware-as-a-service. Cryptomining against consumers "is essentially extinct" as CoinHive halted operations in March.
Consumers should be more worried about the security of their Macs and mobile devices. Across the board, Mac malware was up 60% between the fourth quarter of 2018 and quarter of 2019; adware was especially pervasive, with an increase of more than 200% from the last quarter. Mobile adware was also up, particularly in the form of malware preinstalled on devices. That said, researchers found, adware detections were down overall in the first quarter compared with the same quarter last year.
The increase in business-focused cyberattacks is making consumers wary. In a 4,000-person study conducted in the first quarter, Malwarebytes found users have deep concerns about the abuse, misuse, and theft of personally identifiable information (PII) — especially from social media companies, which are distrusted among 95% of respondents. Nearly 60% of people avoid sharing contact information, credit card numbers, banking details, and health data.
What's Coming Next
Kujawa anticipates the rest of 2019 will bring more innovation in the ransomware space as cybercriminals find new ways to target organizations. He's also concerned about the potential for Trojans to increase, with attackers inspired by the success of Emotet and Trickbot.
"I'm terrified that Emotet and TrickBot are going to inspire copycats — that we're going to get a lot more malware that does a lot of the same things," he says. There's the possibility future forms of malware will adopt Emotet's techniques for spreading and reaching out to other systems. "It's a very dangerous, very sophisticated piece of malware," he says of Emotet.
Researchers anticipate ransomware development and resurgence against businesses will continue, and by the end of this year we may see "an intense campaign" targeting organizations with the goal to generate as much money as possible. They predict consumer ransomware will continue to decline as cybercriminals save their weapons for more valuable targets.
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