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Symantec Report: Formjacking Up, Ransomware, Cryptojacking Slip on Crooks’ Hot List

Cyber criminals have become even more determined, destructive, and sneaky in the past year, turning to formjacking to quietly steal bank card credentials while relying less on ransomware and cryptojacking, a new Symantec report said.

The security specialist’s 24th edition of its Internet Security Threat Report (ISTR) is based on data gleaned from the vendor's Global Intelligence Network, comprised of nearly 125 million attack sensors, records of thousands of threat events per second, and roughly nine petabytes of security threat data.

Here are some tops-down findings from the look-back study:

  • Nearly one in ten targeted attack groups now use malware to destroy and disrupt business operations, up 25 percent compared to 2017.
  • Attackers enhanced tried-and-tested tactics including spear-phishing, hijacking legitimate tools, and malicious email attachments.
  • Enterprise ransomware infections jumped by 12 percent.
  • Cloud resources are increasingly easy targets for digital thieves with more than 70 million records stolen or leaked from poorly configured S3 public cloud storage buckets.
  • More attackers display interest in compromising operational and industrial control systems with the potential for sabotage.

Symantec’s state-of-the-state report covers the main battlegrounds:

  • The rise of formjacking
  • Sliding ransomware and cryptojacking use
  • Cloud security
  • Living off the land techniques
  • Conventional attacks
  • The Internet of Things (IoT) vulnerabilities
  • Consumer privacy

Here’s what Symantec has to say about those:

On formjacking. Cyber formjackers inject malicious code into retailers’ websites to pilfer shoppers' bank card information. It’s getting popular, Symantec said. By the security provider’s reckoning, every month nearly 5,000 unique websites are hit with formjacking code. Although some high profile formjacking grabbed the news recently, it’s small and medium-sized retailers that are better targets, according to Symantec’s numbers.

Some perspective: Ten credit cards stolen from any single website can yield more than $2 million each at an investment of less than $50 to buy one card on the dark market, Symantec said. Consumers can’t know if they are visiting an infected online retailer and enterprises are at risk for supply chain attacks, said Greg Clark, Symantec chief executive.

On ransomware and cryptojacking. They’re no longer the hacking methods of choice for cyber bad guys, owing to cloud growth and declining cryptocurrency values. However, even though ransomware infections dropped by 20 percent last year, the first dip in five years, attacks hitting enterprises jumped by 12 percent. More than 80 percent of ransomware infections in 2018 victimized organizations, Symantec said.

Still, don’t think cryptojacking is so yesterday even though currency values dropped by 90 percent last year. The low barrier of entry, minimal overhead and anonymity make it a viable alternative.

On cloud security. With cloud security, past is prologue, Symantec said, claiming that cloud security reminds it of PCs back in the day when desktop cyber breaks in were commonplace. Symantec pointed out that 70 million records had been stolen or leaked from poorly configured S3 buckets last year.

On living off the land and supply chain vulnerabilities. Supply chain and so-called living off the land (LotL) attacks (scorning custom malware in favor of publicly available hacking tools and software already installed on targeted computers) spiked nearly 80 percent last year. LotL techniques allow attackers to “maintain a low profile and hide their activity in a mass of legitimate processes,” Symantec said. Consider malicious PowerShell scripts, which increased 1,000 percent last year, by Symantec's measure: The security specialist blocks 115,000 of them each month but said that’s less than one percent of overall PowerShell usage.

On conventional attack methods. The old mainstays are still popular. The number of attack groups using malware such as spear-phishing, custom designed to destroy and disrupt business operations, increased by 25 percent in 2018.

On the IoT. Don’t think that because attacks on routers made up 90 percent of infected devices that the entire IoT, including smart home devices, isn’t vulnerable. Because it is, Symantec said. Attacks groups are homing in on the IoT -- VPNFilter malware was the water break. Conceived by a skilled threat actor, it enables hackers to destroy or wipe a device, steal credentials and get in the middle of systems for gathering and analyzing real time data.

“With an increasing trend towards the convergence of IT and industrial IoT, the next cyber battlefield is operational technology,” said Kevin Haley, Symantec Security Response director.

On consumer privacy. Consumer privacy will define the IT landscape for years to come. The Cambridge Analytica/Facebook mess and the advent of the General Data Privacy Regulation aside, it’s smartphones that are the “greatest spying device ever created -- a camera, a listening device and location tracker all in one,” Symantec said.

Here’s a stat to chew on: According to Symantec's research, 45 percent of the most popular Android apps and 25 percent of the most popular iOS apps request location tracking, 46 percent of popular Android apps and 24 percent of popular iOS apps request permission to access your device’s camera, and email addresses are shared with 44 percent of the top Android apps and 48 percent of the most popular iOS apps.

D. Howard Kass

D. Howard Kass is a contributing editor to MSSP Alert. He brings a career in journalism and market research to the role. He has served as CRN News Editor, Dataquest Channel Analyst, and West Coast Senior Contributing Editor at Channelnomics. As the CEO of The Viewpoint Group, he led groundbreaking market research.