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.

Threat Intelligence

11:00 AM
Robert Lemos
Robert Lemos

Attackers Continue to Focus on Users, Well-Worn Techniques

From WannaCry and phishing to credential stuffing and cryptomining, attackers relied on many oldie-but-goodie attacks in 2018, according to a pair of new security threat reports.

Traditional attacks, such as phishing and credential stuffing, continue to dominate the threat landscape for most industries, while well-known malware, such as WannaCry, remain a threat for behind-the-curve companies, according to two annual cyberthreat reports released today.

In 2018, security firm Trend Micro detected 20.6 million phishing URLs, an increase of 82% over 2017, according to the firm's "2018 Annual Security Roundup." And in its Q4 2018 "Quarterly Threat" report, security firm Rapid7 found that suspicious attempts to log in were the most common attack detected by companies.

The data underscores that attackers are still focused on taking advantage of users and user accounts, says Jon Clay, director of global threat communications for security firm Trend Micro.

"We are seeing the threat actors are still targeting employees and targeting consumers with phishing attacks," he says. "We are seeing a little more targeting in their approach, in terms of victims." 

The data from the reports presents a multifaceted view of the threat landscape that most companies face, but those threats depend a great deal on the level of maturity of a company's security program and its industry.

For example, the utilities sector most often saw phishing attacks and attempts to compromise systems via Trojan horse programs, while most other industries typically had to deal with suspicious log-in attempts. Technology can help users make better decisions about events that could could compromise their systems.

"Most of these attacks are, if not user-driven, user-assisted," says Tod Beardsley, director of research for Rapid7. Education and training are necessary, but not sufficient, he says. "I don't think we want users to have to be forensic scientist to do their jobs," he adds.

Here are some of the trends seen by Trend Micro and Rapid7 in 2018 and what they mean for 2019.

Old Attacks Still Work
Some of the most popular attacks — representing the most attack traffic detected by security firms — are older attacks. According to Rapid7, traffic containing attacks targeting the vulnerability exploited by EternalBlue and default passwords on telnet services were the most-detected attacks in 2018.

The EternalBlue exploit is most famously used by WannaCry, a self-propagating ransomware worm, that began spreading in 2017, but continues to attempt to infect other systems today. 

"WannaCry is one of the top malware we are seeing every month detected through our sensors, mainly because it is a worm, and it tries to spread itself all the time," Trend Micro's Clay says.

Self-propagating malicious programs tend to stick around the Internet, infecting older, unpatched systems and continuing their automated spread. Conficker, for example, started spreading a decade ago, and infected systems continue to attempt to spread the program. Trend Micro detects 20,000 to 40,000 communications from those systems every month, Clay says.

Cryptomining and the Android Debug Bridge
In 2018, attackers often tried to monetize insecure systems by compromising them and installing cryptomining software to turn processing power into potential digital currency. 

One key campaign targeted any Android device with an exposed service, known as the Android Debug Bridge. The attackers kicked off the operation last February, targeting Internet TV boxes (IPTV).

"It exploded in July because there was one specific mining campaign that was using it," Rapid7's Beardsley says. "Eventually it was blocked, in part, because IPTV was the focus of some lawsuits for piracy and not because of security."

By December, Internet service providers started blocking the port, which hobbled the attack. 

"Be mindful of new threat vectors," Rapid7 stated in its report. "This was the first of many examples of attackers showing their skill, creativity, and flexibility when it comes to discovering and exploiting new areas of attack."

Attackers Still Use the Front Door
By far, however, the most common types of attacks are bad actors logging into a service using stolen or commonly used credentials — "suspicious authentication" dominated the attack detections for most industries in 2018, according to Rapid7's report. And with more than 1.5 billion working credentials in the hands of attackers, according to Rapid7 estimates, there is a lot of opportunity for attackers to just walk in the front door.

Making the situation more dire, most companies still do not require two-factor authentication (2FA) to harden their systems against credential stuffing and password guessing. As a result, such attacks still deliver acceptable risk-reward trade-offs for attackers, Rapid7's Beardsley says.

"The status quo today is that most people have an OK password with no 2FA," he says. "If I [as an attacker] can be very focused in my attacks, I can reach success rates that are really high with credential-based attacks — around 25%."

The most popular default password combinations vary by service: Admin/admin is popular for Web servers, while root/123456 is popular for telnet services, according to Rapid7.

Companies should focus on consistent and frequent training of employees, adopt 2FA, and focus on the threats that are most common for their industries, the company stated in its report.

"Your humans are both your organization’s greatest assets and, unfortunately, the prime attack vector for attackers," Rapid7 stated. "Heed the knowledge gained and reinforced about attackers relying on humans to focus on enabling your workforce to be co-defenders of your enterprise."

Related Links



Join Dark Reading LIVE for two cybersecurity summits at Interop 2019. Learn from the industry's most knowledgeable IT security experts. Check out the Interop agenda here.

Veteran technology journalist of more than 20 years. Former research engineer. Written for more than two dozen publications, including CNET News.com, Dark Reading, MIT's Technology Review, Popular Science, and Wired News. Five awards for journalism, including Best Deadline ... View Full Bio

Comment  | 
Print  | 
More Insights
Newest First  |  Oldest First  |  Threaded View
User Rank: Ninja
2/26/2019 | 4:00:25 PM
Focus on users
What a novel concept!   They are the weakest link in the front line - and need enormous amounts of education that is basic and reality based.  I have a simple email rule that works - If you don't need it, don't read it, delete it.  That alone would save the world a ton of pain.  But still they reply and click and open stuff they should not.  Curiosity killed the cat or they just want to see what it may do.  That is an odd thing but I saw it at work ages ago with the Anna Kournikovia virius pic.  They want to see how bad it is.  HAH!!!   So the user is always the easiest place to gain entry.  Always will be.  One user, just one, brought down the State of North Carlolina last year.  So ... fact of life. 
Exploits Released for As-Yet Unpatched Critical Citrix Flaw
Jai Vijayan, Contributing Writer,  1/13/2020
Microsoft to Officially End Support for Windows 7, Server 2008
Kelly Sheridan, Staff Editor, Dark Reading,  1/13/2020
Active Directory Needs an Update: Here's Why
Raz Rafaeli, CEO and Co-Founder at Secret Double Octopus,  1/16/2020
Register for Dark Reading Newsletters
White Papers
Cartoon Contest
Write a Caption, Win a Starbucks Card! Click Here
Latest Comment: This comment is waiting for review by our moderators.
Current Issue
The Year in Security: 2019
This Tech Digest provides a wrap up and overview of the year's top cybersecurity news stories. It was a year of new twists on old threats, with fears of another WannaCry-type worm and of a possible botnet army of Wi-Fi routers. But 2019 also underscored the risk of firmware and trusted security tools harboring dangerous holes that cybercriminals and nation-state hackers could readily abuse. Read more.
Flash Poll
[Just Released] How Enterprises are Attacking the Cybersecurity Problem
[Just Released] How Enterprises are Attacking the Cybersecurity Problem
Organizations have invested in a sweeping array of security technologies to address challenges associated with the growing number of cybersecurity attacks. However, the complexity involved in managing these technologies is emerging as a major problem. Read this report to find out what your peers biggest security challenges are and the technologies they are using to address them.
Twitter Feed
Dark Reading - Bug Report
Bug Report
Enterprise Vulnerabilities
From DHS/US-CERT's National Vulnerability Database
PUBLISHED: 2020-01-17
Directory traversal vulnerability in the agentLogUploader servlet in ZOHO ManageEngine Desktop Central (DC) and Desktop Central Managed Service Providers (MSP) edition before 9 build 90055 allows remote attackers to write to and execute arbitrary files as SYSTEM via a .. (dot dot) in the filename pa...
PUBLISHED: 2020-01-17
Spring Framework, versions 5.2.x prior to 5.2.3 are vulnerable to CSRF attacks through CORS preflight requests that target Spring MVC (spring-webmvc module) or Spring WebFlux (spring-webflux module) endpoints. Only non-authenticated endpoints are vulnerable because preflight requests should not incl...
PUBLISHED: 2020-01-17
Eclipse Memory Analyzer version 1.9.1 and earlier is subject to a deserialization vulnerability if an index file of a parsed heap dump is replaced by a malicious version and the heap dump is reopened in Memory Analyzer. The user must chose to reopen an already parsed heap dump with an untrusted inde...
PUBLISHED: 2020-01-17
It was found that the Red Hat Enterprise Linux 8 kpatch update did not include the complete fix for CVE-2018-12207. A flaw was found in the way Intel CPUs handle inconsistency between, virtual to physical memory address translations in CPU's local cache and system software's Paging structure entries...
PUBLISHED: 2020-01-17
** REJECT ** DO NOT USE THIS CANDIDATE NUMBER. ConsultIDs: CVE-2008-1382. Reason: This candidate is a reservation duplicate of CVE-2008-1382. Notes: All CVE users should reference CVE-2008-1382 instead of this candidate. All references and descriptions in this candidate have been removed to prevent ...