The speed in which cybercrime is committed is becoming a big concern for security experts. In 93 percent of cases, it took attackers minutes or less to compromise systems and data exfiltration occurred within minutes in 28 percent of the cases, according to the Verizon 2016 Data Breach Investigations Report.
Another area that has picked up dramatically over the prior year is phishing where end users receive an email from a fraudulent source. Alarmingly, 30 percent of phishing messages were opened – up from 23 percent in the 2015 report – and 13 percent of those clicked to open the malicious attachment or nefarious link, causing malware to drop and a foothold gained by cybercriminals.
In prior years, phishing was a leading attack pattern for only cyber-espionage and has now spread to seven of the nine incident patterns in the 2016 report. This technique is amazingly effective and offers attackers a number of advantages such as a very quick time to compromise and the ability to target specific individuals and organizations.
Adding to the list of human errors are those perpetrated by the organizations themselves. Labeled ‘miscellaneous errors,’ this incident pattern group takes the No. 1 spot for security incidents in this year’s report. In fact, 26 percent of these errors involve sending sensitive info to the wrong person. Other errors in this category include: improper disposal of company information, misconfiguration of IT systems, and lost and stolen assets such as laptops and smartphones.
“You might say our findings boil down to one common theme -- the human element,” said Bryan Sartin, executive director of global security services, Verizon. “Despite advances in information security research and cyber detection solutions and tools, we continue to see many of the same errors we’ve known about for more than a decade now. How do you reconcile that?”
The rise of the three-pronged attack
This year’s report calls out the rise of a new three-pronged attack that is being repeated with great regularity. Many organizations are falling prey to these attacks that include:
- Sending a phishing email with a link pointing to the malicious website or mainly a malicious attachment
- Malware is downloaded onto an individual’s PC that establishes the initial foothold, and additional malware can be used to look for secrets and internal information to steal (cyberespionage) or encrypt files for ransom. Many times the malware steals credentials to multiple applications through key logging.
- Use of the credentials for further attacks, for example, to log into third-party websites like banking or retail sites.
“The goal is to understand how the cybercriminals operate,” said Sartin. “By knowing their patterns, we can best prevent, detect and respond to attacks.”
Back to basics
The researchers note that basic, well-executed measures continue to be more important than complex systems, and include:
- Know what attack patterns are most common for your industry. Utilize two-factor authentication for your systems and other applications, such as when logging into popular social networking sites.
- Patch promptly.
- Monitor all inputs: Review all logs to help identify malicious activity.
- Encrypt your data: If stolen devices are encrypted, it’s much harder for attackers to access the data.
- Train your staff: Developing security awareness within your organization is critical especially with the rise in phishing attacks.
- Know your data and protect it accordingly. Also limit who has access to it.
“This year’s report once again demonstrates that there is no such thing as an impenetrable system, but often times even a basic defense will deter cybercriminals who will move on to look for an easier target,” added Sartin.