5 out of 6 large companies in Malaysia targeted in 2014: Symantec

  • Cybercriminals changing tactics to deceive companies and digitally extort consumers
  • Malaysia ranked fifth in Asia Pacific region for number of social media scams
5 out of 6 large companies in Malaysia targeted in 2014: Symantec

FIVE out of every six large companies in Malaysia with more than 2,500 employees were targeted with spear-phishing attacks in 2014, according to Symantec Corp.
Small businesses also saw an uptake, with attacks increasing from 10% in 2013 to 28% last year, the company said in a statement, citing its Internet Security Threat Report (ISTR), Volume 20.
In today’s hyper-connected world, it is no longer a question of if you will be attacked, but when, the company added.
Symantec said its ISTR Vol 20 exposes a tactical shift by cyberattackers: They are infiltrating networks and evading detection by hijacking the infrastructure of major corporations and using it against them.
“We are seeing a dramatic shift in the mode of attacks,” said Nigel Tan, country director (pic above), Malaysia & Thailand, Symantec.
“Attackers have stepped up their game by tricking companies into infecting themselves through trojanised software updates, hiding their malware inside software updates of programs used by target organisations.
“This enables cybercriminals to gain full access to corporate networks without the need to even make any forced entry,” he said. “Almost no company, whether large of small, is immune from targeted attacks.”
Zero-day vulnerability
In a record-setting year for zero-day vulnerabilities, Symantec research reveals that it took software companies an average of 59 days to create and roll out patches – up from only four days in 2013.
Attackers took advantage of the delay and, in the case of Heartbleed, leapt to exploit the vulnerability within four hours.
There were 24 total zero-day vulnerabilities discovered in 2014, leaving an open playing field for attackers to exploit known security gaps before they were patched, Symantec said.
Meanwhile, advanced attackers continued to breach networks with highly-targeted spear-phishing attacks, which increased a total of 8% in 2014, the company said.
What makes last year particularly interesting is the precision of these attacks, which used 20% fewer emails to successfully reach their targets, and incorporated more drive-by malware downloads and other web-based exploits.
Additionally, Symantec said it observed attackers:

  • Using stolen email accounts from one corporate victim to spear-phish other victims higher up the food chain;
  • Taking advantage of companies’ management tools and procedures to move stolen IP around the corporate network before exfiltration; and
  • Building custom attack software inside the network of their victims to further disguise their activities.

Digital extortion on the rise

5 out of 6 large companies in Malaysia targeted in 2014: Symantec

Email remains a significant attack vector for cybercriminals, but they continue to experiment with new attack methods across mobile devices and social networks to reach more people, with less effort, said Symantec.
“Instead of doing the dirty work themselves, cybercriminals are taking advantage of unwitting users to proliferate their scams,” said Tan.
“For 2014, Malaysia is ranked fifth in the Asia Pacific region for the number of social media scams.
“Interestingly, the majority of such scams, up to 84%, were shared manually as attackers took advantage of people’s willingness to trust content shared by their friends,” he added.
While social media scams can provide cybercriminals with quick cash, some rely on more lucrative and aggressive attack methods like ransomware, which rose 113% last year.
Notably, there were 45 times more victims of crypto-ransomware attacks than in 2013. Instead of pretending to be law enforcement seeking a fine for stolen content, as was seen with traditional ransomware, the more vicious crypto-ransomware attack style holds a victim’s files, photos and other digital content hostage without masking the attacker’s intention.
Malaysia recorded an estimated 4,530 ransomware attacks last year, the ninth highest in the region.
“2014 saw the first piece of crypto-ransomware on mobile devices on Android,” said Tan.
“Malaysia is ranked 13th globally, with 37% of mobile devices experiencing attempted or successful malware infection,” he added.
Secure it, don’t lose it
As attackers persist and evolve, there are many steps businesses and consumers can take to protect themselves. As a starting point, Symantec recommends the following best practices:
For businesses:

  • Don’t get caught flat-footed: Use advanced threat 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 optimised, 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 guidelines and company policies 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.

For consumers:

  • Use strong passwords: This cannot be emphasised enough. Use strong and unique passwords for your accounts and devices, and update them on a regular basis – ideally every three months. Never use the same password for multiple accounts.
  • Be cautious on social media: Don’t click links in unsolicited email or social media messages, particularly from unknown sources. Scammers know people are more likely to click on links from their friends, so they compromise accounts to send malicious links to the account owner’s contacts.
  • Know what you’re sharing: When installing a network-connected device, such as a home router or thermostat, or downloading a new app, review the permissions to see what data you’re giving up. Disable remote access when not needed.

Symantec said its Internet Security Threat Report provides an overview and analysis of the year in global threat activity.
The 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.
Related Stories:
Cybercriminals more patient, eyeing bigger targets: Symantec
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No 1 security vulnerability is careless or unaware employees: EY survey
Cyber-attacks greater national threat than physical attacks: Survey
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