Dark Reading is part of the Informa Tech Division of Informa PLC

This site is operated by a business or businesses owned by Informa PLC and all copyright resides with them.Informa PLC's registered office is 5 Howick Place, London SW1P 1WG. Registered in England and Wales. Number 8860726.

Risk

2/11/2020
12:10 PM
Connect Directly
Twitter
LinkedIn
RSS
E-Mail
50%
50%

Cybercriminals Swap Phishing for Credential Abuse, Vuln Exploits

Infection vectors were evenly divided among phishing, vulnerability exploitation, and unauthorized credential use in 2019.

Phishing attacks are growing less popular as cybercriminals learn they don't need to manipulate targets to gain access to their accounts. Instead they are breaking in with stolen credentials and known vulnerabilities, both of which are more difficult for enterprise victims to detect.

This trend is one of many highlighted in IBM's "X-Force Threat Intelligence Index 2020," which aims to provide an overview of the threat landscape to security pros often caught in the weeds of day-to-day alerts. The report emphasizes today's popular attack vectors, the evolution of malware, commonly exploited flaws, and intensified activity against operational technology.

Phishing made up 31% of attacks in 2019, a notable drop from about half of attacks the year prior, according to the report. Exploits of known vulnerabilities came in second, spiking from 8% in 2018 to 30% in 2019. In third place were incidents using stolen credentials, a technique close behind at 29% of attacks.

"From a response perspective, those are generally harder for organizations to detect," says Wendi Whitemore, vice president of IBM X-Force Threat Intelligence, of the latter two tactics.

They're also not hard for attackers to pull off. Ideally, every business will have patched every system, Whitemore continues, but "the reality is, most organizations are struggling." More than 150,000 vulnerabilities have been disclosed to date, IBM reports. Flaws in Microsoft Office and Windows Server Message Block were still seeing "alarming rates" of exploitation in 2019.

Attackers are especially fond of remote code execution flaw CVE-2017-0199 and CVE-2017-11882, which was a favorite delivery mechanism in the second and third quarters of 2019. Both are patched and account for nearly 90% of flaws attackers tried to exploit via spam campaigns.

Those who choose to break in using stolen credentials will find no shortage of them. More than 8.5 billion records were exposed in 2019, at least triple the amount compromised in 2018. Much of this was due to misconfigurations, which increased nearly tenfold in the same time frame and made up 86% of records compromised in 2019. Last year brought a decrease in the overall number of misconfigurations, indicating each one exposed more data.

"There's so much data that attackers can leverage," Whitmore says, and it's easy and cheap for them to get it. Credentials are often stolen from third-party websites or taken in a phishing attack against a target business. They help attackers blend in with legitimate traffic and make them harder to find.

Ransomware Ramps Up as Malware Shifts
About half of the attacks IBM observed in the first half of 2019 were related to ransomware, compared with 10% in the second half of 2019. The fourth quarter of 2019 brought a 67% increase in ransomware incidents compared with the fourth quarter the previous year. Researchers attribute the surge to the increase in attackers and campaigns targeting a variety of organizations in 2019; in particular, municipal and healthcare providers were caught unprepared.

Attackers often use downloaders like Emotet or Trickbot to deploy ransomware on a target system. From there they use multiple stages to infect victims, a technique that gives them better control over the system so as to evade detection and controls and convince victims to pay.

Data from Intezer, which worked with IBM X-Force on the report, indicates attackers are invested in developing new code to expand their capabilities. In 2019, there was a strong focus on evolving codebases of banking Trojans and ransomware while building cryptominer strains.

Banking Trojans had the highest level of new code (45%) in 2019, followed by ransomware (36%). Researchers believe these malware families will target enterprise users in 2020. "[This activity] means attackers are dedicating time to rebuilding code, rebuilding infrastructure, because these are attacks are so effective," Whitmore explains.

Most of these code changes are not significant, she adds. Attackers are primarily trying to evade detection, so they'll do a "cheap quick fix" so code slips past security tools. Still, their investment in changing code likely means we'll see these attacks taking place for a long time. 

Targeting Operational Tech  
IBM X-Force data shows a 2,000% increase in incidents targeting operational technology (OT) since 2018, which could indicate a greater interest in attacking industrial control systems (ICSs) in 2020. Most of these incidents leveraged a combination of known flaws in SCADA and ICS hardware, in addition to password-spraying attacks using brute-force login against ICS targets.

Researchers report the overlap between OT and IT infrastructure; for example, programmable logic controllers (PLCs) and ICSs posed a risk to firms relying on these infrastructures in 2019. This kind of hybrid infrastructure enables attacks on IT to also target OT devices that control physical assets, they explain. This can significantly increase the cost of recovery from an attack.

"There are more systems than awareness of those systems," says Whitmote of OT environments. "There are more of them out there now … and that's an area we have a lot of concern for." She anticipates we'll see a broader attack surface as criminals take advantage.

Related Content:

Check out The Edge, Dark Reading's new section for features, threat data, and in-depth perspectives. Today's top story: "From 1s & 0s to Wobbly Lines: The Radio Frequency (RF) Security Starter Guide"

Kelly Sheridan is the Staff Editor at Dark Reading, where she focuses on cybersecurity news and analysis. She is a business technology journalist who previously reported for InformationWeek, where she covered Microsoft, and Insurance & Technology, where she covered financial ... View Full Bio
 

Recommended Reading:

Comment  | 
Print  | 
More Insights
Comments
Newest First  |  Oldest First  |  Threaded View
COVID-19: Latest Security News & Commentary
Dark Reading Staff 10/23/2020
7 Tips for Choosing Security Metrics That Matter
Ericka Chickowski, Contributing Writer,  10/19/2020
Russian Military Officers Unmasked, Indicted for High-Profile Cyberattack Campaigns
Kelly Jackson Higgins, Executive Editor at Dark Reading,  10/19/2020
Register for Dark Reading Newsletters
White Papers
Video
Cartoon
Current Issue
Special Report: Computing's New Normal
This special report examines how IT security organizations have adapted to the "new normal" of computing and what the long-term effects will be. Read it and get a unique set of perspectives on issues ranging from new threats & vulnerabilities as a result of remote working to how enterprise security strategy will be affected long term.
Flash Poll
How IT Security Organizations are Attacking the Cybersecurity Problem
How IT Security Organizations are Attacking the Cybersecurity Problem
The COVID-19 pandemic turned the world -- and enterprise computing -- on end. Here's a look at how cybersecurity teams are retrenching their defense strategies, rebuilding their teams, and selecting new technologies to stop the oncoming rise of online attacks.
Twitter Feed
Dark Reading - Bug Report
Bug Report
Enterprise Vulnerabilities
From DHS/US-CERT's National Vulnerability Database
CVE-2020-24847
PUBLISHED: 2020-10-23
A Cross-Site Request Forgery (CSRF) vulnerability is identified in FruityWifi through 2.4. Due to a lack of CSRF protection in page_config_adv.php, an unauthenticated attacker can lure the victim to visit his website by social engineering or another attack vector. Due to this issue, an unauthenticat...
CVE-2020-24848
PUBLISHED: 2020-10-23
FruityWifi through 2.4 has an unsafe Sudo configuration [(ALL : ALL) NOPASSWD: ALL]. This allows an attacker to perform a system-level (root) local privilege escalation, allowing an attacker to gain complete persistent access to the local system.
CVE-2020-5990
PUBLISHED: 2020-10-23
NVIDIA GeForce Experience, all versions prior to 3.20.5.70, contains a vulnerability in the ShadowPlay component which may lead to local privilege escalation, code execution, denial of service or information disclosure.
CVE-2020-25483
PUBLISHED: 2020-10-23
An arbitrary command execution vulnerability exists in the fopen() function of file writes of UCMS v1.4.8, where an attacker can gain access to the server.
CVE-2020-5977
PUBLISHED: 2020-10-23
NVIDIA GeForce Experience, all versions prior to 3.20.5.70, contains a vulnerability in NVIDIA Web Helper NodeJS Web Server in which an uncontrolled search path is used to load a node module, which may lead to code execution, denial of service, escalation of privileges, and information disclosure.