Ransomware Attacks Increase, With U.S. the Primary Target

Ransomware attacks constituted the greatest cybercrime danger in 2016 as the volume and value of attacks rose sharply, according to a new report from internet security firm Symantec.

“Attackers have honed and perfected the ransomware business model, using strong encryption, anonymous Bitcoin payments, and vast spam campaigns to create dangerous and wide-ranging malware,” according to “Internet Security Threat Report (ISTR), April 2017.”

The average ransom amount involved in such attacks jumped 266% to $1,077 during 2016 from just $294 in 2015. Symantec also found that frequency increased, with detection of ransomware up 36% to 463,000 from 340,000 in 2015; or 1,271 per day in 2016 compared to 933 per day in 2015.

The United States saw the largest share of these attacks by far at 34%, followed by Japan (9%) and Italy (7%). “The statistics indicate that attackers are largely concentrating their efforts on developed, stable economies,” Symantec said. Further, research from Norton Cyber Security Insight team said that 34% of those attacked will pay the ransom, but that figure jumps to 64% for U.S. victims, “providing some indication as to why the country is so heavily targeted,” the Symantec report said.

Another indicator of rising ransomware activity is the tripling of new families of ransomware to 101 in 2016 from just 30 in both 2105 and 2014. While the number of new variants (distinct variants of existing ransomware families) declined 29% to 241,000 from 342,000 in 2015, this “suggests that more attackers are opting to start with a clean slate by creating a new family of ransomware rather than tweaking existing families by creating new variants,” the report said.

The proportion of ransomware infections on consumer computers rose only marginally to 69% from 67% in 2015 as the rate of infections for enterprise and other organizations dropped accordingly to 31% from 33% in 2015. Consumer infections totaled between 59% and 79% for every month except December, when they fell to 51%.

Beyond the top threat of ransomware, the report discusses exposures including “New frontiers: Internet of Things, mobile, & cloud threats,” and has a section that lists multiple challenges from malware, spam and phishing via email. Email, for example, was a major avenue of attack in 2016, “used by everyone from state- sponsored cyber espionage groups to mass-mailing ransomware gangs,” it said, adding that one in 131 sent during 2016 were malicious, the highest incidence in five years.

Symantec also discusses a few of the largest cybercrimes of the year, including the theft of $81 million from the central bank of Bangladesh and alleged tampering with the U.S. electoral process. “Cyber attackers revealed new levels of ambition in 2016, a year marked by extraordinary attacks, including multi-million dollar virtual bank heists, overt attempts to disrupt the US electoral process by state-sponsored groups, and some of the biggest distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks on record,” according to the report.

Despite the apparent rising threat level portrayed in the report, the cyber insurance landscape remains untamed, Risk Management Magazine reported in April. Potential customers would be wise to educate themselves prior to approaching the market.

Financial Services IT Overconfident in Breach Detection Skills

Despite the doubling of data breaches in the banking, credit and financial sectors between 2014 and 2015, most IT professionals in financial services are overconfident in their abilities to detect and remediate data breaches. According to a new study by endpoint detection, security and compliance company Tripwire, 60% of these professionals either did not know or had only a general idea of how long it would take to isolate or remove an unauthorized device from the organization’s networks, but 87% said they could do so within minutes or hours.

When it comes to detecting suspicious and risky activity, confidence routinely exceeded capability. While 92% believe vulnerability scanning systems would generate an alert within minutes or hours if an unauthorized device was discovered on their network, for example, 77% said they automatically discover 80% or less of the devices on their networks. Three out of 10 do not detect all attempts to gain unauthorized access to files or network-accessible file shares. When it comes to patching vulnerabilities, 40% said that less than 80% of patches are successfully fixed in a typical cycle.

The confidence but lack of comprehension may reflect that many of the protections in place are motivated by compliance more than security, Tripwire asserts.

“Compliance and security are not the same thing,” said Tim Erlin, director of IT security and risk strategy for Tripwire. “While many of these best practices are mandated by compliance standards, they are often implemented in a ‘check-the-box’ fashion. Addressing compliance alone may keep the auditor at bay, but it can also leave gaps that can allow criminals to gain a foothold in an organization.”

Check out more of the study’s findings below:

financial services cyber risk management

Phishing: Understanding Your Cyber Adversaries

Nearly two years ago, an infamous incident occurred where stolen pictures of celebrities flooded the internet. Originally, it was thought that this was due to an iCloud vulnerability that allowed a brute force attack. But it now turns out it was because of a simple social engineering phishing hack.

Phishing usually involves sending mass emails that masquerade as legitimate communications, coming from a trustworthy source like a big bank or credit card company. The phisher seeks to trick the recipient into clicking on a link or opening an attachment that downloads malware onto the victim’s computer. The malware can then be used for criminal activity including theft of sensitive data or money. While phishers may send thousands of emails, all they need are a few or even one individual to fall for their trick to get into the IT system. It’s easy to forget that security threats aren’t always the work of sophisticated technology geniuses with malevolent intent. As in the case of the celebrity photos, the method was relatively simple. However, it still caused reputational damage.

Cyber attacks don’t appear out of nowhere. At the beginning and right through development and attack, humans are involved. Recently, we profiled half a dozen types of attackers. We call them the “Unusual Suspects.” An attack might start with the Professional working in the digital shadows seeking to make the most money possible from the damage they cause. Then you’ve got the Mules and Getaways who are on the front line, and will be the first to get caught when the law comes knocking. There are also Activists and Nation State Actors who are looking to change the world or steal information on behalf of their country’s government. And then there’s the Insider leaking sensitive information accidentally or on purpose with malicious intent.

bae - the usual suspects

These are all just some of personas BAE Systems recently identified as key threats to businesses and without them, cybercrime can’t exist.

Wising up to phishing attacks

In the IT space, one of the most common ways cyber criminals target employees of a company is through phishing. In the aforementioned celebrity photos case, court documents said Ryan Collins, 36, of Pennsylvania, hacked more than 100 people. According to reports in the press he used email names like ‘e-mail.protection318@icloud.com’ and asked for password details.

With these credentials, the hacker was able to go through email accounts looking for photos and videos, managing to get into around 50 iCloud accounts and 72 Gmail accounts mostly belonging to celebrities. It’s quite easy to imagine the damage hackers could cause if they got hold of corporate emails – think of the damage the 2014 Sony hack inflicted.

You can’t patch a human

Employees will always be a weak spot, and clever social engineering is leading to more examples of how this weakness can be exploited. The effects can be devastating. For example: a company that collects credit card data from its customers is at risk of a major data breach from a single employee clicking on an email leading to a website laced with malware. The financial and/or reputational damage and the related fines or compensation claims that result could be significant.

At its core, combating social engineering is a human problem that requires human solutions. In certain cases victims may violate policies, but it may often be the case that the rules or training were not clear enough for the employee to know they were doing something that could have serious consequences. And because humans are behind social engineering attacks, they are capable of evolving, matching the way the business world is using technology.

To mitigate against social engineering attacks, there needs to be security awareness and culture from top to bottom. This might mean ongoing training for employees to understand the threats, as well as the right policies and procedures in place. This helps employees understand the risk from social engineering and what role they have in preventing it. Remember, this all has to be done in tandem with putting the right technology in place.

Defeating the Unusual Suspects

Defending against cyber threats is all well and good, but what about catching these Unusual Suspects? This is difficult, because they use sophisticated tactics to escape detection–they are located all over the world, and use secure software to escape detection and remain anonymous, often routing communications through multiple countries to avoid being caught.

Fortunately this is a case where human fallibility is a good thing–criminals will make mistakes and leave digital finger prints that sophisticated analytics and forensic analysis can pick up. Finally don’t underestimate the power of human ingenuity–thanks to the efforts of security professionals, we’re finally getting to a point where the investigation of online crime is being slowly demystified and defenses put in place to mitigate the threat.

Boards Are Failing at Cyber, New Report Finds

SAN FRANCISCO—Information security executives are telling boards what they want to hear, not what they need to hear, and boards are frequently not asking the right questions or understanding the responses, according to a report released today by Bay Dynamics at the RSA Conference.

“The report reveals that both the board and security professionals are not doing their jobs when it comes to security reporting,” said Feris Rifai, co-founder and CEO at Bay Dynamics. “The board isn’t holding IT and security executives accountable for providing accurate, traceable and actionable information and security executives are failing to report information that is accurate, traceable and actionable. Both parties must do better if they want to make the right decisions that minimize their cyberrisk”.

While the majority surveyed say they know what to present to the board, only two in five IT and security executives feel that the information they provide to the board is actionable, and even fewer believe they are getting the help they need from the board to address cyber security threats. This may be in part because of the ongoing struggle to fully understand and measure cyberrisk exposure and the costs of failure. Just over half of boards expressed a strong preference for qualitative information, while 38% have a preference for quantitative data. To truly make appropriate decisions, however, the board must focus more on quantitative information in context, meaning qualitative information must be wrapped around quantitative information, the report explained.

Regardless of what information they provide, only a third of IT and security executives believe the board understands the information they are given about cyber threats. In turn, only 39% think they are getting the support they need from the board to address threats. Some other major issues these executives identified in their reporting included:

cyberrisk information reported to board

While 36% of boards want recommendations for additional spending and 34% want recommendations to reduce cybersecurity spending, boards are getting little data about the specifics of information security investments. The most common type of information reported about cybersecurity issues is known vulnerabilities within the organizational systems, followed by recommendations about cybersecurity program improvements and specific details on data loss incidents, Bay reported, while information about the cost of cybersecurity programs and details about expenditures on specific projects or controls are not as commonly reported.

cyberrisk information reported to board

Reporting is also relatively infrequent for such a rapidly evolving high-risk exposure, with most executives only presenting to the board quarterly, and 18% even less frequently.

reporting frequency

Looking forward, Bay Dynamics had the following suggestions for how both boards and IT and security executives can improve:

Issues the board must address:

  • The board is not doing its job when it comes to effectively managing cyberrisk.
  • Boards of directors must hold IT and security executives accountable for providing accurate, actionable information about their cyberrisk to help the board make effective decisions about their cybersecurity programs. Boards cannot make decisions about what they consider acceptable risk if they don’t have actionable information.
  • Boards must demand actionable information from IT and security executives about their cyberrisk since the board is responsible for the company’s risk appetite. Strengthening their cyberrisk program begins with the board.

Issues IT and security executives must address:

  • IT and security executives must communicate to their boards more effectively and more completely using quantitative and qualitative information. They should communicate the value of data at risk using numbers that explain what it is and how to take action to protect it.
  • Given that board members in many organizations are typically less technical than the IT and security executives reporting to them, the latter must contextualize the information in order to make it both understandable and actionable.