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Wednesday, 08 February 2017 16:31

Proofpoint 2016 malware report – bigger, faster and more to come


In Q4, 2016 the largest email phishing campaign was 6.7 times the largest in Q3 and fraudulent social media accounts increased by 100%. These are just two findings from Proofpoint’s 2016 year in review.

The report covers intelligence gathered from billions of emails, social media posts, and malware samples. Its conclusion, if a little understated, is, “We continue to see sophisticated threats across three primary vectors: email, social media, and mobile.”

The key takeaways can best be described as bigger, faster and more. They include:

  • Q4’s largest malicious email campaign was 6.7 times larger than Q3’s biggest. Both campaigns used zipped JavaScript attachments distributing Locky, representing the rapid increases in Locky campaign volumes, especially those using compressed files and attached scripts instead of macro-laden documents.
  • Hundreds of thousands of mobile devices were potentially exposed to malvertising, ad redirection, and potential attack vectors via DNSChanger EK. This didn’t rely on device vulnerabilities but rather SOHO router exploits that then exposed all connected devices via DNS redirection.
  • About 4500 mobile apps associated with the summer Olympics and sponsor brands were risky or malicious. Threats in both the mobile and social spaces frequently track major events and popular phenomena; risky apps that potentially leak data are commonplace on both major mobile platforms.
  • Fraudulent accounts across social channels increased by 100% from the third to fourth quarter of 2016. These accounts may be used for phishing, social spam, malware distribution, and more.
  • Social media phishing attacks increased 500% from the beginning of 2016 to end of 2016. This includes angler phishing that intercepts customer support channels on social media.

Cyber criminals follow the money – attacks that yield the most return for the least effort, Proofpoint claims.

Still, phishing has cut through due to the human element and by increasing numbers, it increases return. Locky ransomware was the main payload (70%) delivered increasingly by malicious JavaScript attachments.

So too did business email compromise (BEC) attacks evolve as attackers found new ways to impersonate executives and trick victims into sending money or sensitive data. Proofpoint recorded a 62% reply to a spoofing email rate and a 37.1% to a display name that did not match the real email name.

But the market for exploit kits — easy-to-use tools for exploiting Windows desktop and server system vulnerabilities — fell below Q1 levels.

Exploit kits targeting mobile devices and Internet-of-things (IoT) devices such as home Internet routers emerged, reflecting the growing availability of exploitable vulnerabilities.

Mobile had a “rapid evolution” in Q4, mainly in serving malvertising and gaining information. There is some evidence that an infected device can also infect a vulnerable home router resulting in desktop browser redirection, malvertising, and popups. The main danger is from fake apps and side-loading unauthorised apps.

Social media also saw rapid spikes in malicious activity around major events and popular trends. Negative, damaging, and malicious content increased dramatically on social channels. This activity included “angler phishing,” a term used to describe attacks that involve fake customer-support accounts that trick people seeking help into handing over their login credentials and other information. These threats all demonstrate strong ROI for attackers.

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Ray Shaw

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Ray Shaw  has a passion for IT ever since building his first computer in 1980. He is a qualified journalist, hosted a consumer IT based radio program on ABC radio for 10 years, has developed world leading software for the events industry and is smart enough to no longer own a retail computer store!

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