Understanding the Types of Cyber Threats on the Rise in 2019

Keeping your IT environment safe means ensuring your finger is on the pulse of the latest threats in cyber-security. However, while there are always the latest zero-day threats and new attack vectors, each year we see some fundamental repeats. Often attackers find it easy to penetrate networks that have poor hygiene such as old exploits left unpatched, authentication issues such as a lack of two factor authentication and weak passwords. These types of network threats threaten the security of your enterprise, endanger your public image, and put customer data and privacy at risk.

While some types of cyber threats have been around for many years, as we enter 2019, many are growing in complexity or changing in design. This risk is growing, especially as businesses continue to move their workloads and processes to multi and hybrid-cloud environments. Virtualization and hypervisors, container orchestration, and auto-scaling workloads are all realities of a modern enterprise. If we really think about what was new in 2018 and will surely continue in 2019, it is attackers attacking critical applications, data centers and clouds directly. In order to stay secure, as well as manage compliance and keep control despite potential gaps in vendor security, your own solution needs to step up. Businesses will increasingly need to choose a security solution that can effortlessly manage a hybrid and multi-cloud infrastructure.

Attackers are regularly learning new methods to gain entry or cause damage. Here are the top threats to look out for in 2019.

Direct Attacks on Data Centers and Clouds

What we’ve seen through our work with our customers and through our Guardicore Global Sensor Network is an increase in attacks on data centers and clouds directly. These types of cyber-security threats do not use targeted spear phishing campaigns to gain entry through a user within an enterprise. Instead, we see attackers finding known and zero day vulnerabilities in applications they can reach directly and exploiting these to get inside. In many cases their work is assisted by fundamental weaknesses like insecure passwords and a lack of dual factor authentication. One of Guardicore Labs’ most important finds this year was the Butter campaign. The attacker(s) started their attack by merely brute forcing poorly passworded SSH servers to gain access. Once they gained access – we found attackers moving incredibly easily across these applications and data centers due to poor segmentation.

While these attacks on the data centers are easy to accomplish, they remain difficult to spot. In fact, for some companies, security teams are not even the ones to ring the alarm bell. Dwell time is not reduced or mitigation started with an enterprise finding the attackers and blocking the threat, but with a third-party letting the enterprise know there is something wrong. In some cases this could be White Hat researchers or the customers themselves, and in the case of attackers seeking monetization – it could be credit card or law enforcement companies that notify the compromised enterprise.

Crypto-jacking

Many experts failed to predict the increase of cryptocurrency attacks for 2018, but no one is making that mistake this year. Attackers are often financially-driven, and mining for cryptocurrency is one way to attempt a quick payout, with more guaranteed results than ransomware. Besides merely offering DDoS as RAT as a service to their customers, the attackers are seeking an additional revenue stream. In fact, while crypto-jacking has risen 44.5% since 2017, ransomware has dropped by almost 30%. Mining malware often looks to exploit vulnerabilities such as unpatched software or known bugs such as this year’s Microsoft Windows Server 2003 vulnerability, or the Oracle Web Logic flaw.
The impact of these attacks is huge, and attackers can steal vast amounts of CPU usage from victims, slowing down performance overall and having a negative effect on both business and customers. Like a worm, virus, or other types of cyber-security threats, crypto-jacking attacks can be tough to find, leaving stakeholders using time-wasting trial and error to find the source of the slowdown. Visibility into the traffic on your network is essential, so that you can track CPU usage and compare real-time activity to historical baselines.

APT

An APT is an Advanced Persistent Threat, where an attacker can breach a network and stay undetected for a long period of time. The goal of these attacks is not to cause instant damage or immediately ask for ransom, drawing attention to your breach, but rather to insidiously steal information or security data in an unobtrusive way. An APT could breach your network using malware, exploit kits or by piggybacking on legitimate traffic. This could make it difficult to spot. Once your network is infected, an APT could find login credentials, and then use these to make lateral moves around your data center or wider system.

Origins of APTs are usually found to be state actors – either direct or sponsored government attackers. Probably the best example this year was the Marriott/SPG attack. With a dwell time that began in 2014 the state actor enjoyed great benefit from their access to Marriott’s SPG network. The data stolen included names, phone numbers, email addresses, passport numbers, dates of birth and arrival and departure information.

This personally identifiable data from an attack of this kind could offer an intelligence agency all sorts of very tangible benefits. One example could be the ability to create more legitimate looking false passports with the use of real identification documents.

This kind of breach would also provide actionable tracking information, allowing an agency or a bad actor to track people’s movements. They could see if someone was checking into particular locations or even catch a meeting between multiple people of interest. The data would also allow them to learn travel patterns and even potentially set up intelligence agencies to “intercept” people of interest.
Because APTs and similar types of cyber-security threats are designed to go unnoticed, they can be difficult to spot. Signs to look out for could be unusual network activity such as spikes in data access. Key defense tactics could be isolating critical data using micro-segmentation and using white lists to limit access to only the applications that should be allowed to communicate with one another.

File-less Malware

One dangerous type of attack that is typically found as part of an APT is file-less malware. As the name suggests, a file is never created, so standard antivirus file-based detection does not work against these breaches. While traditionally, file-less techniques were the first step in malware infection, in recent months fully file-less attacks are gaining traction.

These types of network threats often pivot from memory exploits to highly trusted system tools and then move to access of the rest of a network, undetected. The most common kinds of file-less malware attacks are remote logins, WMI-based attacks, and PowerShell or Microsoft Office based. In short – no malware doesn’t mean no breach. Micro-segmentation, especially if done with effective rules and in even more thorough projects down to the process level, can keep your most critical applications safe from lateral moves even within the same application cluster, even against the threats you can’t see coming.

Attacks on Critical IoT Devices

The final and perhaps the most frightening increase we have seen through 2018 is attackers commandeering critical IoT devices. Often unpatched, and residing in what are generally flat networks (ones without any segmentation), medical devices have been a big target in 2018 and are likely to be further exploited in 2019.

Furthermore, “point of sale” systems are another attack environment we’ve seen increase in popularity, as they also often suffer from a lack of patching and security, and are an easy target for both physical and remote attacks.

Recognizing how to Ward off These Types of Cyber-Security Threats

The combination of increasingly complex IT environments and the growing sophistication of cyber threats is a dangerous one. Micro-segmentation technology can reduce the attack surface in case of a breach, isolating attackers and keeping them away from critical assets and sensitive customer data. Building a smart segmentation strategy starts with a map of your entire IT environment, with application dependency mapping to visualize all the communications and flows in your ecosystem. This true visibility and real-time control over your entire infrastructure, from on premises data centers to multi and hybrid cloud IaaS is essential, in 2019 and beyond.

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