Report: Asian Countries Are the Most Vulnerable to Malware

Asian countries, especially emerging ones, are most exposed to malicious programs. Of the top locations across the globe most at risk of malware infection in the first quarter of 2017, most of them are developing economies in this region, according to  Microsoft’s bi-annual Security Intelligence Report (SIR).

The report found that Bangladesh and Pakistan have the highest malware encounter rates around the world. This is followed by two ASEAN nations – namely Cambodia and Indonesia.

Approximately one in four computers running Microsoft real-time security products in these countries reported a malware encounter from January to March 2017.

Other top areas facing malware threats include Myanmar, Nepal, Thailand, Vietnam, each with an average malware encounter rate of more than 20 percent in the first quarter of 2017. This is more than double the global average of nine percent.

On the other hand, markets with higher levels of IT maturity, namely Australia, Hong Kong, Japan, New Zealand and Singapore, performed better than the worldwide average. In fact, Japan has been ranked the safest country in the world, with only two percent of its computers reporting a malicious program incident.

Malware Encounter Rates for Markets in Asia in Q1 2017 (from highest to lowest):

  1. Bangladesh
  2. Pakistan
  3. Cambodia
  4. Indonesia
  5. Mongolia
  6. Myanmar
  7. Vietnam             
  8. Nepal
  9. Thailand
  10. Philippines
  11. Sri Lanka
  12. China
  13. India
  14. Malaysia             
  15. Taiwan
  16. Korea
  17. Hong Kong
  18. Singapore
  19. Australia
  20. New Zealand
  21. Japan

Ransomware Attacks on the Rise

Ransomware is one of the most infamous malware families in 2017. In the first half of  this year, two waves of ransomware attacks, WannaCrypt and Petya, exploited vulnerabilities in outdated Windows operating systems worldwide, disabling thousands of devices by illegitimately restricting access to data, through encryption. This not only disrupted individuals’ daily lives but also crippled many enterprises’ operations.

The attacks were disproportionately concentrated in Europe while most of the Asia markets have not been too heavily impacted. In fact, Japan and China were listed as the two top countries with the lowest ransomware encounter rates. One of the few exceptions in the region is Korea, which has the second highest ransomware occurrence rate worldwide.

Attackers evaluate several factors when determining which regions to target, such as a country’s GDP, average age of computer users and available payment methods.

A region’s language can also be a key contributing factor as a successful attack often depends on an attacker’s ability to personalize a message to convince a user to execute the malicious file.

Globally, Win32/Spora  has rapidly become one of the most widespread ransomware families and it was the most commonly encountered ransomware family in March 2017. Spora encrypts files with several popular extensions, including .doc, .docx, .jpg, .pdf, .xls, .xlsx, and .zip. This ransomware also has worm capability, enabling it to spread to other computers in the network.

Cloud Accounts and Services Under Cyber Siege

As cloud migration increases, the cloud has become the central data hub for the majority of organizations. This also translates into more valuable data and digital assets being stored the cloud, making it an increasingly attractive target for cybercriminals.

The SIR highlighted a 300 percent increase in consumer and enterprise accounts managed in the cloud being attacked globally over the past year while the number of logins attempted from malicious IP addresses have increased by 44 percent year-over-year.

In addition, a large majority of these security compromises were the result of weak, guessable passwords and poor password management, followed by targeted phishing attacks and breaches of third-party services.

As the frequency and sophistication of attacks on user accounts in the cloud accelerates, there is an increased emphasis on the need to move beyond passwords for authentication.

Building Trust in the Digital World by Strengthening Cybersecurity Posture

As the threat landscape continues to evolve and grow, organizations need to ensure they have a solid cybersecurity architecture and robust cyber hygiene best practices. This will enable them to better protect their digital environment, detect threats and respond to attacks.

Here are four best practices that individuals and organizations can consider to minimize their cyber risk exposure and stay resilient in an everchanging threat landscape.

  • Do not work in public Wi-Fi hotspots where attackers can eavesdrop on digital communications, capture logins and passwords, and access personal data.
  • Regularly update the operating system and other software programs to ensure the latest patches are installed. This reduces the risk of vulnerability exploitation. Users should also install the most recent release of Windows 10 to take advantage of its improved security capabilities.
  • Reduce risk of credential compromise by educating users on why they should avoid simple passwords and enforcing multi-factor authentication methods. For example, the Azure Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA) provides organizations with a two-step verification solution that helps safeguard access to data and applications while meeting users’ demand for a simple sign-in process by delivering strong authentication via a range of easy verification options.
  • Enforce security policies that control access to sensitive data and limit corporate network access to appropriate users, locations, devices, and operating systems. For example, Microsoft Azure Active Directory Identity Protection enables enterprises to configure risk-based policies to automatically protect identities across their organization. These policies can automatically block users without proper authorization or offer suggestions that include password resets and multi-factor authentication enforcement.


“Driven by the proliferation of endpoints and the ubiquitous computing power of the cloud, the opportunity for digital transformation to make broad and profound impacts on society has never been greater,” said Keshav Dhakad, Assistant General Counsel & Regional Director, Digital Crimes Unit (DCU), Microsoft Asia.


“In today’s digital age, security cannot be an afterthought. It must be "built-in", all-inclusive and intelligent. The comprehensive threat intelligence that we provide with our SIR as well as advanced security solutions and best IT hygiene practices will all play a critical role in integrating cybersecurity into an organization’s DNA.


“By making security a top priority, we can build greater trust in technology and enable digital transformation to reach its fullest potential and fulfil its grandest ambitions.”