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Symantec study echoes CyberSecurity Malaysia's national ransomware warning

AvantiKumar | April 20, 2016
Symantec's Peter Sparkes said the new global Internet Security Threat Report Vol. 21 (ISTR 21) findings note that cybercriminals are adopting corporate best practices in their attacks.

Peter Sparkes, Senior Director, Cyber Security Services, Asia Pacific and Japan, Symantec 

Photo - Peter Sparkes, Senior Director, Cyber Security Services, Asia Pacific and Japan, Symantec.


Findings from security solutions provider Symantec's latest Internet Security Threat Report Vol. 21 (ISTR 21) have added further weight to national agency CyberSecurity Malaysia's recent national ransomware warning.

Presenting the global report findings in Kuala Lumpur recently,  Peter Sparkes, Symantec's senior  director, Cyber Security Services, Asia Pacific and Japan, said the  "risk is real in Malaysia" with 5,069 ransomware attacks recorded in 2015, which is 14 ransomware attacks per day. Malaysia is ranked 47th globally, and 12th regionally, in terms of ransomware attacks.

Sparkes said that as more Malaysians come online for the first time, Malaysia was now ranked sixth in the Asia Pacific and Japan (APJ) region and 33rd globally in terms of social media scams with 26,783 such scams recorded in 2015.

 On the enterprise front, the services industry made up 72.4 percent of spear phishing attacks, making it the most vulnerable industry in Malaysia, he said.
 In addition, spam has significantly increased year on year, moving Malaysia in global ranking from 44th to 23rd position in the global ranking for 2015, said Sparkes.

Speaking of the report's ransomware findings, he said ransomware has continued to evolve in 2015, with the more damaging style of crypto-ransomware attacks growing by 35 percent.

This more aggressive crypto-ransomware attack will encrypt all of a victim's digital content and hold it hostage until a ransom is paid, said Sparkes. This year, ransomware spread beyond PCs to smartphones, Mac and Linux systems, with attackers increasingly seeking any network-connected device that could be held hostage for profit, indicating that the enterprise is the next target.

Cybercriminals adopt corporate best practices

The report also noted a significant organisational shift by cybercriminals. He said they were adopting corporate best practices and establishing professional businesses in order to increase the efficiency of their attacks against enterprises and consumers.

This new class of professional cybercriminal spanned the entire ecosystem of attackers, extending the reach of enterprise and consumer threats and fuelling the growth of online crime, said the report's executive summary.

"Advanced criminal attack groups now echo the skill sets of nation-state attackers," said Sparkes. "They have extensive resources and a highly-skilled technical staff that operate with such efficiency that they maintain normal business hours and even take the weekends and holidays off."

 "We are even seeing low-level criminal attackers create call centre operations to increase the impact of their scams," he said, adding that the advanced professional attack groups were the first to leverage zero-day vulnerabilities, using them for their own advantage or selling them to lower-level criminals on the open market where they are quickly commoditised.

In 2015, the number of zero-day vulnerabilities discovered more than doubled to a record-breaking 54, a 125 percent increase from the year before, reaffirming the critical role they play in lucrative targeted attacks.

Meanwhile, malware increased at a staggering rate with 430 million new malware variants discovered in 2015. The sheer volume of malware proved that professional cybercriminals are leveraging their vast resources in attempt to overwhelm defences and enter corporate networks.

 Data breaches and transparency in enterprise

Sparkes said data breaches have continued to impact the enterprise. Large businesses that are targeted for attack will on average be targeted three more times within the year.

"Additionally, we saw the largest data breach ever publicly reported last year with 191 million records compromised in a single incident," he said. "There were also a record-setting total of nine reported mega-breaches. While 429 million identities were exposed, the number of companies that chose not to report the number of records lost jumped by 85 percent."

A conservative estimate by Symantec of those unreported breaches may increase the real number of records lost to more than half a billion.

"The increasing number of companies choosing to hold back critical details after a breach is a disturbing trend," added Sparkes. "Transparency is critical to security. By hiding the full impact of an attack, it becomes more difficult to assess the risk and improve your security posture to prevent future attacks."

Looking ahead, the report saw a resurgence of many tried-and-true scams. Cybercriminals revisited fake technical support scams, which saw a 200 percent increase last year. The difference was that scammers send fake warning messages to devices like smartphones, driving users to attacker-run call centres in order to dupe them into buying useless services.

Symantec's advice to businesses include:
- Don't get caught flat-footed: Use advanced threat and adversary intelligence solutions to help you find indicators of compromise and respond faster to incidents.
- Employ a strong security posture: Implement multi-layered endpoint security, network security, encryption, strong authentication and reputation-based technologies. Partner with a managed security service provider to extend your IT team.
- Prepare for the worst: Incident management ensures your security framework is optimized, measureable and repeatable, and that lessons learned improve your security posture. Consider adding a retainer with a third-party expert to help manage crises.
- Provide ongoing education and training: Establish simulation-based training for all employees as well guidelines and procedures for protecting sensitive data on personal and corporate devices. Regularly assess internal investigation teams-and run practice drills-to ensure you have the skills necessary to effectively combat cyber threats.

The Internet Security Threat Report is based on data from Symantec's Global Intelligence Network, which Symantec analysts use to identify, analyse and provide commentary on emerging trends in attacks, malicious code activity, phishing, and spam.


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