‘Cryptojacking’ now top preferred toolkit of attackers

Cyber criminals are rapidly adding cryptojacking to their arsenal and creating a highly profitable new revenue stream, as the ransomware market becomes overpriced and overcrowded, according to the latest Symantec’s Internet Security Threat Report (ISTR) released recently.

David Rajoo, director for systems engineering for Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines at Symantec, presents the results of the latest Internet Security Threat Report (ISTR)

“Cryptojacking is a rising threat to cyber and personal security,” said David Rajoo, director for systems engineering for Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines at Symantec.

“The massive profit incentive puts people, devices and organizations at risk of unauthorized coin miners siphoning resources from their systems, further motivating criminals to infiltrate everything from home PCs to giant data centers.”

During the past year, an astronomical rise in cryptocurrency values triggered a cryptojacking gold rush with cyber criminals attempting to cash in on a volatile market.

Detections of coinminers on endpoint computers increased by 8,500 percent in 2017. Philippines ranks 11th in the Asia-Pacific Japan (APJ) region, 35th globally in terms of crypto-mining activities.

With a low barrier of entry – only requiring a couple lines of code to operate – cyber criminals are harnessing stolen processing power and cloud CPU usage from consumers and enterprises to mine cryptocurrency.

Coinminers can slow devices, overheat batteries, and in some cases, render devices unusable. For enterprise organizations, coinminers can put corporate networks at risk of shutdown and inflate cloud CPU usage, adding cost.

“Now you could be fighting for resources on your phone, computer or IoT device as attacks use them for profit,” said Rajoo. “People need to expand their defenses or they will pay for the price for someone else using their device.”

IoT devices continue to be ripe targets for exploitation. Symantec found a 600 percent increase in overall IoT attacks in 2017, which means that cyber criminals could exploit the connected nature of these devices to mine en masse.

Macs are not immune either with Symantec detecting an 80 percent increase in coin mining attacks against Mac OS. By leveraging browser-based attacks, criminals do not need to download malware to a victim’s Mac or PC to carry out cyber attacks.

The number of targeted attack groups is on the rise with Symantec now tracking 140 organized groups. Last year, 71 percent of all targeted attacks started with spear phishing – the oldest trick in the book – to infect their victims.

As targeted attack groups continue to leverage tried and true tactics to infiltrate organizations, the use of zero-day threats is falling out of favor. Only 27 percent of targeted attack groups have been known to use zero-day vulnerabilities at any point in the past.

Symantec identified a 200-percent increase in attackers injecting malware implants into the software supply chain in 2017. That’s equivalent to one attack every month as compared to four attacks the previous year, according to Symantec.

Hijacking software updates provides attackers with an entry point for compromising well-guarded networks. The Petya outbreak was the most notable example of a supply chain attack, it noted.

After using Ukrainian accounting software as the point of entry, Petya used a variety of methods to spread laterally across corporate networks to deploy their malicious payload.

Threats in the mobile space continue to grow year-over-year, including the number of new mobile malware variants which increased by 54 percent.

Symantec blocked an average of 24,000 malicious mobile applications each day last year. As older operating systems continue to be in use, this problem is exacerbated. For example, with the Android operating system, only 20 percent of devices are running the newest version and only 2.3 percent are on the latest minor release.

Mobile users also face privacy risks from grayware apps that aren’t completely malicious but can be troublesome. Symantec found that 63 percent of grayware apps leak the device’s phone number. With grayware increasing by 20 percent in 2017, this isn’t a problem that’s going away.

In 2016, the profitability of ransomware led to a crowded market. In 2017, the market made a correction, lowering the average ransom cost to $522 and signaling that ransomware has become a commodity.

Many cyber criminals may have shifted their focus to coin mining as an alternative to cashing in while cryptocurrency values are high. Additionally, while the number of ransomware families decreased, the number of ransomware variants increased by 46 percent, indicating that criminal groups are innovating less but are still very productive.

In 2017, Philippines ranks 20th in terms of ransomware threats globally, as compared to 25th in 2016.

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