Cyberattackers are often thought to be tech experts. Cyberattackers understand security vulnerabilities and loopholes that most people don't understand. However, the reality of a cyberattacker is that most are not that specialized — they bypass security solutions through small adjustments to already well-known attacks. By simply leveraging an already established attack sample that is available on the Web, hackers can and do consistently and efficiently modify attacks in order to stay one step ahead of their targets' security solutions. In fact, some malware strains have been designed to automatically modify themselves to avoid signature-based security offerings.
Even sandboxing security solutions — which involve opening suspect files in a controlled environment — are not deterring the ever-increasing rate of email attacks. Because sandboxing solutions have become popular among security practitioners, hackers have also developed sandbox-evasion techniques. Some of these techniques are quite straightforward, such as using the sleep mode to avoid scan detection. And some techniques involve more advanced tools such as sandbox presence detection, where malware runs "clean" code when a sandbox is detected.
In addition, most sandboxes run on machines with low processor counts, RAM, etc. This helps malware detect the difference between an actual computer and a sandbox. A lack of USB ports, small hard drives, no personal files, and no mail client can indicate a sandbox. Once the malware identifies the sandbox, specific techniques are then designed to evade detection. As a dynamic solution, sandboxes offer a way of effectively scanning a file to detect malware.
The bottom line is that as a general rule, today's security solutions rely on past attack experiences to identify present-day threats and ultimately often come up short when it comes to heading off the next hacker attack. Here are a couple of examples of how attackers make minor adjustments in order to take advantage of their targets.
GandCrab is a Trojan horse that encrypts files on a targeted computer and follows up with a demand for payment to decrypt them. GandCrab's creators used phishing emails to transmit ransomware and infect systems. These attackers have continued to evolve and adapt to avoid detection, bypass security solutions, and get its victims into mistakenly install ransomware onto their systems.
Between the end of January and September 2018, GandCrab has been updated five times. This agile approach has allowed its creators to stay one step ahead of security solutions and profit on the unsuspecting.
Recently, a new version of Emotet malware surfaced following a short period of inactivity. This marked the introduction of yet another iteration in a series of modifications that started back in 2014.
Emotet first emerged as an info-stealing Trojan aimed at financial credentials and proprietary data. Able to learn from experience, it has continually improved and increased in effectiveness and popularity. This most recent variant has developed a new capability allowing it to avoid detection by most security filters. In addition, Emotet is becoming stronger, more destructive, and costly to organizations and individual users.
Attackers are able to modify their techniques so quickly that it is impossible for organizations to be able to pinpoint what they are going to do next. They shouldn't try, either. What they should do is acknowledge that they need to stay vigilant and that these malicious actors, their viruses, and their profiteering are constantly fought against. Organizations must adapt and evolve themselves, by taking a proactive approach, embracing and implementing security solutions that are attack-agnostic.
With this strategy, organizations can detect and block viruses, no matter what kind of virus or malware is embedded in them, even if it changes or strengthens over time. This kind of approach provides more comprehensive data security than currently available.
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