FireEye Advanced Threat Report: The Inadequacy of Defenses

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Pierluigi Paganini

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(Translated from the original Italian)

The security firm FireEye has released an interesting report named “Advanced Threat Report” related to the first half of 2012 that provides an overview of the current threat landscape, evolving advanced malware and advanced persistent threat (APT) tactics, and the level of infiltration seen in organizations’ networks today.

The report presents an alarming scenario, the organizations are assisting to an impressive increase in advanced malware that is bypassing their traditional security defenses.  These days we are reading a lot of news on agents that are able to elude common defense mechanisms, a problem that is afflicting all sector, from defense to energy.

Organizations are faced with a dramatic explosion in the diffusion of advanced malware in terms of volume and also the effectiveness in bypassing traditional signature-based security mechanisms.

Statistics proposed by the security firm declares that on average, organizations are experiencing a staggering 643 Web-based malicious events each week, incidents that have resulted in the impairment of targeted systems.

This figures includes file-based threats such as malicious executables or files that contain exploit s targeting vulnerabilities in applications that are delivered over the web and through email. The figures do not include callback activities, very common on the web.

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The graph shows the abnormal increase registered in the first half 2012 that is greater than the number of infections per week of the entire last year.

The report shows that the patterns of attacks vary substantially by industry, in particular the sector of healthcare and Energy/Utilities increased respectively by 100% and 60% . These incidents were identified by the FireEye MPS appliances deployed globally within the networks of company customers and partners The report doesn’t provide statistics on the government sector because government agencies don’t send information back to FireEye.

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The report highlights the intensified threats coming from email-based attacks, confirming that the email is the primary channel through which the attacks are initiated, both via links and attachments. Unfortunately, the proposed results show the great distress of companies face in countering APT attacks used by cybercriminals through spear phishing emails.

Between 1Q 2012 and 2Q 2012, it was observed there was an increase of 56% in the amount of email-based attacks that successfully penetrated organizations’ traditional security mechanisms, that is a worrying scenario.

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Cyber criminals to avoid security mechanisms through increased use of dynamic tactic, to conduct spear phishing attacks, which have been used in an increasing number of malicious domains for a limited period of time.

The report also introduces the threat of “Throw-away” domains used in 10 or fewer spear phishing emails, and for this reason they are difficult to identify, making ineffective the use of URL blacklists and reputation analysis.

The use of throw-away domains to bypass the signature and reputation-based mechanisms implemented by organizations has dramatically increased.

In the second half of 2011 and the first half of 2012, the number of spear phishing emails using a particular domain over 1,000 times remained stable, but in same period we see that spear phishing attacks using a particular domain between 10 and 99 times dramatically increased.

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The report concludes with the high dynamism of email-based attacks, the first criminal methodic used to penetrate target’s network. During the past twelve months, the diversity of attachments that led to infections has increased dramatically, demonstrating that cybercriminals “are changing their malware more quickly, employing a longer list of file names, and reproducing malware and morphing it in an automated fashion,”  making difficult the creation of signature-based defenses.

The report presents a scary scenario that shows how vulnerable most companies are to attacks as criminals are sharpening their weapons and using increasingly sophisticated techniques.

The report also demonstrates that in many cases the defenses adopted by companies are not able to stop the incoming cyber threats, and the forecasts for the future are not good, as infections will continue to grow and businesses must be prepared to repel new waves of complicated attacks.

Cross-posted from Security Affairs

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