IoT-powered attacks gaining ground, targeting mostly financial sites

Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks continue to grow exponentially at an alarming rate, terrorizing websites and severely endangering digital business operations worldwide, according to a report cited by local cloud provider IPC.

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The global study conducted by IPC’s DDoS Mitigation partner Nexusguard revealed that 2016 was a challenging year for data security as IoT (Internet of Things) devices became the favorite conduit for attacks used by cybercriminals, which brought an alarming number of new threats.

In the fourth quarter of the year alone, there was a 152% increase of attacks in December from the previous month.

Real-time data on attacks towards enterprises and service-provider networks worldwide were collected by Nexusguard throughout Q4 2016 via botnet scanning, Honeypots, ISPs, and traffic moving between attackers and their targets.

The data collected showed that hackers used hundreds of thousands of Internet-connected devices that had previously been infected with a malicious code – known as a “botnet” – to force a DDoS attack.

These devices are powerful enough to generate attacks such as speeding up password guessing to break into online accounts, mine bitcoins, click fraud, and many more which can lead to significant damage.

“Because IoT and smart devices are becoming prevalent at work and at home, the playing field for hackers is now definitely bigger,” said Niño Valmonte, director for marketing and digital innovation of IPC.

“A computer is just one of the many entry points into a network. Webcams, CCTV, smart TVs, and even printers — anything that has a connection to the Internet is vulnerable.”

Nexusguard also reported that botnet attacks were being steadily upgraded to the point that not only did it enable 200GB-sized attacks, attack frequency also increased by more than 152 percent. One such attack lasted for 19 hours and 30 minutes.

The rise in the number and size of attacks last year is said to have been boosted by the massive Mirai botnet attack. Since the release of its source code in August, the number of IoT botnets grew from 213,000 to 493,000 in October.

Combined attacks consisting of DDoS and hacking activities were predominantly aimed at financial institutions. Nexusguard revealed in their study that Web Application Firewall (WAF) alerts in the financial sector jumped by 184% from November to December of 2016.

“This significant jump in attack frequency in December 2016 can be attributed to the holiday season,” said Reggie Yam, chief innovation strategy officer of Nexusguard.

“Because online transactions dramatically increase during Christmas, it is expected that hackers will likewise be more active during the season. We recommend financial institutions to employ a Web Application Firewall security measure to face these attacks not only during the holidays, but year-round.”

A WAF could be a cloud-based server plugin, or filter that designs a set of rules to an HTTP conversation, thereby limiting requests. By customizing the rules to the website application, many attacks can be identified and blocked.

“Websites are vital tools for financial institutions such as banks to supply information and fulfill their customer’s needs,” said Valmonte.

“When a website is defaced or taken down by a DDoS attack, there is a risk of compromising company or client data. The company’s reputation is likewise at stake. While there is no surefire way to prevent these attacks, one can establish defenses by employing a sound cybersecurity strategy.”

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