Worldwide Study Finds Limited Advances Against Evolving Threats

Security vendor SonicWall has issued its SonicWall Cyber Threat Report based on its experiences in 2018.

Security vendor SonicWall has issued its SonicWall Cyber Threat Report based on its experiences in 2018. It's based on "real-world data" gathered by the SonicWall Capture Threat Network, according to the company. There are more than 1 million security sensors in nearly 215 countries and territories involved in the network.

They have found some limited advances in security among the problem areas for 2018. For example, global ransomware volume was up across the board in almost every geographic region but two: the UK and India. That shows that both areas have begun to harden sites against this threat.

The US (90.3 million) and Canada (24.2 million) were victimized the most by ransomware in 2018, followed only by Germany (9.9 million), which suffered a 206% year-over-year increase Also, cryptojacking was found to decline nearly as fast is it had appeared. Volume peaked in September, but has seemingly been on a steady decline since then.

The geographic breakdown of cryptojacking attempts was relatively balanced. Asia (36%), South America (24%) and North America (18%) saw the most cryptojacking volume during the eight-month span. Another 14% of cryptojacking attacks were against unknown or private IP addresses.

Another brighter spot is that the use of transport layer security (TLS) and secure sockets layer (SSL) protocols to encrypt and protect data in transit grew. There is steady and positive growth in the use of HTTPS. In 2018, SonicWall found that 69.7% of all web sessions used TLS or SSL encryption, which is a 2.6% bump over 2017.

But problems were also evident, some even simultaneous with advances. The growth in encrypted traffic coincides with more attacks being cloaked by TLS/SSL encryption. SonicWall found more than 2.8 million cyber attacks were encrypted in 2018.

Office and PDF documents were an attack vector that showed elevated levels year-to-year. SonicWall found that in the last half of 2017, PDFs and Office files were used in 13% of new attack variants. In the last half of 2018, that average jumped to 34% and continues to climb.

There were functional changes in how malware did its criminal business as well.

Ports 80 and 443 are the standard ports for web traffic, and the ports that most firewalls will focus upon. In response, cyber criminals are targeting non-standard ports to help them sneak their attacks into a system.

SonicWall observed high volumes of non-standard port traffic used by malware. SonicWall saw an increase in both http and https traffic through ports other than 80 and 443, as well as ftp traffic on ports other than 20, 21 and 22. Based on a sampling of more than 700 million malware attacks, SonicWall found that an average of 19.2% of all malware attacks came across non-standard ports in 2018, an 8.7% year-over-year increase.

Put another way, in January 2017 they found 6% of malware was coming across non-standard ports. By December 2018, that average had jumped to 23%.

The report shows how threats evolve over time. Adversaries modify their approaches to counter existing security and increase their success rate. The enemy for security will always be complacency. Just because something has been effective in the past, there is no guarantee it will be so in the future.

— Larry Loeb has written for many of the last century's major "dead tree" computer magazines, having been, among other things, a consulting editor for BYTE magazine and senior editor for the launch of WebWeek.