Easy access to sophisticated hacking tools and a wide availability of data fueled a surge in fourth-quarter cyberattacks over the previous year, according to a recently released report from ThreatMetrix.
During the fourth quarter, 251 million cyberattacks were detected and halted by ThreatMetrix, representing a 113% increase over the previous year.
"This is the largest quarter increase in recent years," Vanita Pandey, ThreatMetrix's vice president of product marketing and strategy, told Security Now.
It's driven by an increase in identity testing becoming a main pre-cursor to attempted automated bot attacks, which continued to grow in the fourth quarter and matched the entire attack volume of 840 million in all of 2016.
"Users were not affected as the bot attacks, which are primarily account validation attacks and are a precursor to the actual attacks, were detected and stopped," Pandey said. "The growth is because of the recent breaches and the easy access to data that the fraudsters continuously try to validate to be able to monetize."
The long-running Andromeda botnet that generated a million malware attacks per month reached a turning point in December, after a coalition of law enforcement companies including the FBI arrested a suspect in the case. (See Andromeda Botnet Dismantled by International Law Enforcement Coalition.)
Other botnets, such as Sockbot that infected apps in Google Play, was also detected and terminated in the fourth quarter, a Kaspersky Lab blog post notes.
The quarter was also market with a growth in cyberattacks outpacing the growth in transactions during the three-month period that ended December 31, the report found.
Mobile transactions ring up threats
Mobile devices, verses desktops, accounted for 52% of the 7.6 billion fourth quarter transactions, the report found. And when it comes to creating new financial accounts online, mobile devices represented a 58% slice.
Cybercriminals keep an eye on new accounts as they are created, because it marks the most vulnerable stage of the process, ThreatMetrix states in its report. Currently, one in ten users' online accounts are attacked as they are created, the study finds. That's up 382% in the fourth quarter, compared to the same time in 2015, according to the report.
"The strong growth in attacks targeting ecommerce retailers has been significant, as well as the heightened level of attacks on new account applications across segments," Pandey said.
Consider this data point. Consumers log into their ecommerce account 6.9x via their mobile device, whereas they do it 1.4x by a desktop computer, report found.
Russia, Vietnam join top attack originators list
Russia for the first time moved into the list of the top five countries where cyberattacks originate, according to ThreatMetrix's report.
"The increased attack volumes from Russia and Vietnam are the reason they made it to the top five. Russia has long been the hub of cybercrime activities, providing tools and assets to wannabe criminals," Pandey said. "This is the first time we saw them emerge as a top five attack originator."
On the flip side, Russia, Latvia and Singapore appear on the list of countries targeted by cybercriminals, joining the US, UK, France and Ireland for this distinction.
"It is important to note that being one of the top attack destination for the top originator doesn't make a country the overall top destination," Pandey says.
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— Dawn Kawamoto is an award-winning technology and business journalist, whose work has appeared in CNET's News.com, Dark Reading, TheStreet.com, AOL's DailyFinance, and The Motley Fool.