In ongoing consultations with clients, large companies named targeted attacks and hacking as two of their biggest security challenges since they can seriously impact the continuity of business activities in an organization.
Attackers have many means to infiltrate
companies. However, many attacks, don’t require a very high level of
technological sophistication. Instead, techniques like targeted social
engineering, i.e. spear
phishing, or the use of known vulnerabilities for which,
patches may have been issued but businesses have not yet deployed, can lead to
damaged reputation, revenue and data breaches.
On the other hand, high levels of sophistication can also be utilized as is in the case of a Zero Day attack. Chief among these was Stuxnet, a recorded attack where malicious code successfully deployed four zero-day vulnerabilities to impede a uranium enrichment program in Iran, and which, according to media, was a state-sponsored attack.
There are many reasons why organizations become repeat targets. Their bank accounts contain more resources than those of an average person or small business and they also have considerable amounts of interesting data that can be monetized. Attacks targeting companies can also be used as a form of competition. Most often, this concerns data hunting, i.e. obtaining interesting information or intellectual property. These attacks can be accompanied by blackmail. For example, a client database is stolen from a company and is later approached by the perpetrators and asked, “what they are going to do about their loss”.
Different ways to monetize attacks bring different consequences
Organizations often find it difficult to admit they have been breached by these types of attacks. Consequently, this may give other companies the false impression that such attacks happen only occasionally. A typical example of targeted attacks, common in recent years, are DDoS as a Service – attacks, which are sponsored by one company to attack the website of another, with the effect of disrupting business and directing customers away from the targeted company and (possibly) towards the attacker’s “employer”. These are criminal tactics, and the attackers know very well which business areas to target for maximum gain.
There are of course other approaches. Take the example of the British National Health Service, which has become a frequent target of ransomware attacks. Digitization of health services has resulted in a situation where the malicious encryption of medical data may lead to a halt in medical interventions and surgeries. Under such conditions, targeted organizations are often more inclined to pay a ransom for the “hijacked” patient data.
In Kenya attackers have been known to target their attacks to banks and financial institutions, with figures of Ksh400 million being reported stolen from an unnamed local bank and Ksh29 million from National Bank of Kenya in 2018 alone.
Innovative approaches to old tricks
In many rural areas worldwide, one quick glance at powerlines will reveal how easy it is to make illegal connections to the power grid. As of late, cyberattackers have followed a similar model, focusing their resources on illegally mining various cryptocurrencies, which have proven to be highly popular in the public’s imagination.
The problem came to light when visitors navigated to the now compromised websites which contained the infected scrip, and who’s devices then began covertly mining bitcoins for the attackers. During the second stage, the attackers proceeded to steal bitcoins directly from infected devices when they attempted to access a popular cryptocurrency exchange. To get an idea of the scale of such an operation, StatCounter can be found on more than two million websites.
Such an attack means that system resources of infected devices at the company legitimately using the service are additionally tasked to mine. This may not concern only computers, but also mobile devices and especially servers. The subsequent cryptomining accelerates wear and tear on devices and also increases electricity bills. In addition, we should not forget that malicious cryptomining code is usually capable of uploading other types of malicious script onto the network.
Investigations may take months and are looking for a needle in a haystack
When a large company falls victim to such an attack, it is necessary to carry out a complicated investigation of what happened and how the company has been affected. Research shows that it takes about 150-200 days for companies to find out they’ve been infected. Further investigation regarding the method by which the company was infected and where the malicious code originated may take even longer.
Facing such substantial risks, large companies should leverage solutions like ESET Dynamic Threat Defense to detect new, never before seen threats.
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