Olivier Le Moal - stock.adobe.co

Malware volumes decline, but risks are higher

More insidious and targeted strains of malware are going after high-quality targets, rather than a large volume of targets

Malware and ransomware infection volumes appear to be on the decline, according to research released by SonicWall, but this should not lull anybody into a false sense of security, as attacks are becoming more targeted and insidious.

According to SonicWall CEO Bill Conner, attackers are focusing on a smaller number of high-value targets where they can spread laterally through an enterprise, as opposed to sheer quantity of infections, a view that mirrors the findings of other cyber security researchers.

“This shift in tactics has also seen a corresponding rise in the ransom demands, as attackers attempt to make more money from fewer, but higher-value targets,” said Conner.

“What the data shows is that cyber criminals are becoming more nuanced, more targeted and savvier in their attacks. Businesses need to align to create stricter security rules within their organisations to reduce the threats that our researchers are identifying.

“We recommend that companies deploy a unified and layered security approach that provides real-time protection across wired, wireless, mobile and cloud networks.”

SonicWall’s data was drawn from its Capture Labs threat intel unit, which said 7.2 billion malware attacks were launched between 1 January and 30 September this year, alongside 151.9 million ransomware attacks – declines of 15% and 5%, respectively.

Even though there is a clear downward trend, the number of attacks remains extremely high and more nefarious than ever before, as evidenced by the clear upward trend in targeted geographic attacks going after enterprises in countries such as Germany and the UK, where malware and ransomware infections have almost trebled during what SonicWall referred to as a “frenzied summer”.

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SonicWall’s researchers also found phishing attacks were also trending downwards, with volumes decreasing by about 32% during the first three quarters of 2019. In a similar way – and probably because the two are very closely linked – phishing attacks were also aimed at clearly defined targets, such as C-suite executives, HR personnel and IT department leads.

SonicWall said it had also been analysing new and growing attack vectors, including side-channel attacks, an exploit where attackers scrape information about what a specific device actually does when it is performing cryptographic operations and uses that to reverse engineer its cryptography system, and new advanced evasion techniques, where network attacks combine more than one existing evasion method to create a new technique to target multiple network layers at once.

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