Attackers continued to stick to a well-known playbook for the second quarter of 2019, focusing on attacking websites using SQL injection attacks and stealing passwords and credentials via malware and phishing attacks, according to the latest quarterly threat report from security firm WatchGuard.
While the company saw a slight decline in many threat metrics — with antivirus detections declining 6% between quarters and more sophisticated threats declining 2% — each of the top 10 network attacks on WatchGuard's list increased in volume, with the frequency of the top attack, SQL injection, jumping by a factor of 12. Overall, the two types of SQL injection attacks included on the list counted for more than a third of all network attacks detected by the firm's devices.
Only two of the other top 10 attacks — exploits focused on vulnerabilities in Adobe Flash and Shockwave — were not Web-based threats, the report found.
"The top network attacks have remained Web-based attacks for many, many quarters — either a direct vulnerability in Web server software; a Web-client attack, where it is a drive-by download that affects the client; or a Web-application attack on a vulnerability in either a framework that you installed or in your custom code," says Corey Nachreiner, chief technology officer at WatchGuard.
In addition to focusing on attacking Web applications, attackers aimed to harvest credentials from compromised machines and users. The top threat, Mimikatz, is an open source tool originally created in 2014 as a project to learn coding but whose purpose is to harvest several different types of credentials, including plain-text password, hashes, kerberos tickets, and PIN codes.
In addition, a phishing attack that aims to harvest users' credentials also made the top 10 threat list. "The trend of authentication being a target, while not a new one this quarter, remains big," Nachreiner says.
WatchGuard's report is not the first to note the all-out assault that online attackers are waging on user and administrator credentials. Earlier this year, security firms Trend Micro and Rapid7 noted that phishing attacks and credential-stuffing attacks had both taken off. In April, Akamai also reported that it had detected some 30 billion attempts to login to services using the wrong credentials.
"It is a constant problem," said Martin McKeay, a security researcher and editorial director at Akamai, at the time.
Three of WatchGuard's top 10 malware detections by volume were also the most widespread, affecting a large share of WatchGuard customers rather than just inundating a few customers with a deluge of attacks, Nachreiner says.
"When we started do this, there was not much overlap between the lists," he says. "The fact that three of the most widespread piece of malware were also on the top 10 list is interesting — and when something is both widespread and high-volume, that should give you some pause. The trend of authentication being a target, while not a new one this quarter, remains big."
The top of the detection list is Mimikatz, which does not show up on the widespread list.
"The credential-theft tool Mimikatz has remained a top threat for the last two years, mirroring the threat landscape trend of attacks most commonly leveraging stolen credentials," the report states. "These days, it isn't enough to simply use a strong and unique password. Attackers have too many ways to steal that password right out from under you, whether it be from tools like Mimikatz or through clever phishing attacks."
Mimikatz is not the only penetration tool used by online attackers. Two modules for the Kali Linux distribution for penetration testers made the top 10 list as well.
WatchGuard advises workers to use two-factor authentication to reduce the impact of stolen credentials. In addition, the security firm recommends that companies train their workers to spot phishing attacks and deploy breach detection technology.
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