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Cybercriminals Boost Professionalism As Zero-Day Flaw Discoveries Spiral Out Of Control

Duncan MacRae is former editor and now a contributor to TechWeekEurope. He previously edited Computer Business Review's print/digital magazines and CBR Online, as well as Arabian Computer News in the UAE.

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The rate of zero day vulnerability discoveries doubles in 2015 from 2014, as advanced attackers exploit, stockpile and resell High-Value Vulnerabilities

Cybercriminals are adopting corporate best practices and establishing professional businesses to boost the efficiency of their attacks against enterprises and consumers.

This new class of professional cybercriminal spans the entire ecosystem of attackers, extending the reach of enterprise and consumer threats and fueling the growth of online crime.

Extensive resources

Kevin Haley, director, Symantec Security Response, said: “Advanced criminal attack groups now echo the skill sets of nation-state attackers. 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 center operations to increase the impact of their scams.”

Advanced professional attack groups are 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 proves that professional cybercriminals are leveraging their vast resources in attempt to overwhelm defenses and enter corporate networks.

Data breaches continue 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. 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 pushes the real number of records lost to more than half a billion.

Haley said: “The increasing number of companies choosing to hold back critical details after a breach is a disturbing trend.

“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.”

Ransomware also continued to evolve in 2015, with the more damaging style of crypto-ransomware attacks growing by 35 percent. This more aggressive crypto-ransomware attack encrypts all of a victim’s digital content and holds it hostage until a ransom is paid. 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.

As people conduct more of their lives online, attackers are increasingly focused on using the intersection of the physical and digital world to their advantage. In 2015, Symantec 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 now is that scammers send fake warning messages to devices like smartphones, driving users to attacker-run call centers in order to dupe them into buying useless services.

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