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Cyber criminals ‘more ambitious’ in 2016: Symantec

Jennifer O'Brien | June 13, 2017
From political attacks to email scams and cloud threats, cyber criminals caused ‘unprecedented levels of disruption’.


Email 'weapon of choice'

Email became the weapon of choice in 2016 with business email compromise (BEC) scamming more than 43 billion people in 2016, the report found.

"BEC scams, which rely on little more than carefully composed spear-phishing emails - scammed more than three billion dollars (USD) from businesses over the last three years, targeting over 400 businesses every day," the report said.

The report also revealed how attackers weaponise commonly used software. In 2016, Symantec saw cyber criminals use PowerShell, a common scripting language installed on PCs, and Microsoft Office files as weapons.

"While system administrators may use these common IT tools for daily management tasks, cyber criminals increasingly used this combination for their campaigns as it leaves a lighter footprint and offers the ability to hide in plain sight. Due to the widespread use of PowerShell by attackers, 95 percent of PowerShell files seen by Symantec in the wild were malicious," the report noted.

The use of email as an infection point also rose, becoming a weapon of choice for cyber criminals and a dangerous threat to users. Symantec found one in 131 emails contained a malicious link or attachment - the highest rate in five years.

Symantec predicts attackers will migrate to other messaging platforms, as well as social media.

The report also found ransomware continued to escalate as a global problem and a lucrative business for criminals. Symantec identified 100 new malware families released into the wild, more than triple the amount seen previously, and a 36 per cent increase in ransomware attacks worldwide. Australia was third highest country in APJ at risk of ransomware, and 11th in the world.


Cracks in the cloud

The report warned the next frontier for cybercrime is now upon us as cloud security continues to be a challenge for CIOs.

"CIOs have lost track of how many cloud apps are used inside their organisations. When asked, most assume their organisations use up to 40 cloud apps when in reality the number nears 1,000. This disparity can lead to a lack of policies and procedures for how employees access cloud services, which in turn makes cloud apps riskier," the report said.

"These cracks found in the cloud are taking shape. Symantec predicts that unless CIOs get a firmer grip on the cloud apps used inside their organisations, they will see a shift in how threats enter their environment."

A growing reliance on cloud services has left organisations open to attacks. For example, tens of thousands of MongoDB (cloud) databases were hijacked and held for ransom in 2016 after users left outdated databases open on the internet without authentication turned on, the report said. 


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