More signs that cybercriminals and nation-state hackers now operate as stealthily as possible to accomplish their missions: so far in 2019, malware and phishing are down and encrypted attacks are up.
Specifically, malware attacks decreased by 20% with 4.78 billion of them, phishing attacks, by 18% with 8.3 million, and encrypted attacks jumped 76% at 2.4 million, according to new data to be released today by SonicWall, which gathered attack data from its security sensors sitting in more than 200 countries. Ransomware, meanwhile, is still hot thanks to the broad availability of ransomware-as-a-service offerings, rising 15% worldwide, and up a whopping 195% in the UK.
"There are only so many bad guys coding, so they are recoding and repackaging" now, says Bill Conner, CEO of SonicWall. "Malware might be down, but it's getting more malicious and nefarious in terms of the type of malware and how it's coming in."
Much of the malware decline has to do with the popularity of so-called fileless attacks and attackers using legitimate Windows and security tools to drill down deeper into their victim's network. Some regions had very different stats, the study found: the US experienced the most dramatic drop in malware attacks - 17% - while Switzerland was hit with a 72% jump in malware attacks.
They're also abusing encrypted channels such as HTTPS and SSL-based VPN channels to camouflage their traffic and malicious code. SonicWall has seen some 1,100 encrypted attack attempts per day per customer, Conner says. Many organizations mistakenly assume encrypted traffic is legit traffic, he notes.
The attackers are able to place malware in a file and "come through that Web channel and via that VPN," he explains. "They either go to the HTTPS site or right to the end user's desktop."
Encryption abuse long has been a worry for organizations unsure how to efficiently monitor encrypted traffic. Gartner previously estimated that half of cyberattacks using malware in 2019 would employ some type of encryption, and 70% will do so by 2020. Meanwhile, many security tools cannot detect malware hidden in SSL.
SonicWall's sensors spotted 13.5 million attack attempts on Internet of Things devices the first of half of this year, a nearly 55% increase, and cryptojacking attacks jumped by 9% after a temporary lull, according to the report. Cryptojacking isn't going anywhere now that the price of bitcoin and Monero digital currencies is on the rise, Conner notes.
The drop in phishing attacks is really more about these campaigns becoming more targeted and sophisticated. "Now they're going after the C suite, finance, and HR people," he says.
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