Released: Symantec Internet Security Threat Report

Cyber Defence Team
May 31, 2017


Each year Symantec completes an Internet Security Threat Report outlining the cyber security issues that have shown to be the most prevalent throughout that year. 2016 was no different and we saw an unprecedented number of cyber attacks comparative to previous years. These included; multi-million dollar virtual bank heists, attempts to disrupt the US electoral process and large distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks powered by a botnet of Internet of Things (IoT) devices.


Although cyber attacks involving sabotage have traditionally been quite rare, in 2016 there was a significant shift towards more overt disruptive activity. Attackers focused more on disrupting organisations and countries and the rate of economic espionage, the theft of intellectual property, and trade secrets appeared to show a decline. There were 2 separate waves of attacks that were particularly noteworthy; the first involving disk-wiping malware used against targets in the Ukraine at the start of 2016 and again towards the end of the year, resulting in power outages. The second major incident; the disk-wiping Trojan Shaman, made a reappearance after a four-year absence and was utilised against multiple organisations in Saudi Arabia.


In 2016 cyber criminals became more ambitious with their financial targets and rather than going for the customers themselves they looked towards banks and financial institutions, attempting to steal millions of dollars. Groups like Banswift exploited weaknesses in bank’s security systems to infiltrate their networks and steal SWIFT credentials, allowing them to complete fraudulent transactions.
Another group named Odinaff used similar techniques, utilising malware to hide customers’ own records of SWIFT messages relating to fraudulent transactions carried out by the group. Business Email Compromise also remains a popular strategy with spear-phishing emails continuing to cause major losses, more than three billion dollars has been stolen in the past three years alone.


Ransomware has been brought to the forefront of everyone’s minds in the past few weeks as a result of the WannaCry attack and it would appear that perhaps the signs were there for an attack of this size if we look back on the trends from 2016. Indiscriminate campaigns are able to use out massive volumes of malicious emails and organisations are often overwhelmed by the sheer volume of ransomware-laden emails they receive. The average ransom demand in 2016 increased by $294, making it $1,077, when compared to 2015 and Symantec logged a 36 percent increase in ransomware infections.
Attackers have been able to refine their business model; hiding malware in innocuous emails, creating unbreakable encryption and requesting anonymous ransom payment involving cryptocurrencies.


In line with these strategies, 2016 saw cyber attackers focus on email as the main channel for attacks. One in 131 emails sent were malicious, the highest rate in five years, with the most favoured correspondence proving to be invoices or delivery notifications.
Email is popular for several reasons; there is no reliance on vulnerabilities and it uses simple deception to persuade victims into opening attachments, click on links or disclose their personal details.


“Living off the land” makes use of resources that are easily accessible rather than malware and exploits, creating many benefits for attackers. Cyber criminals are able to make more use of operating systems features, off-the-shelf tools and cloud services to take advantage of victims.
In particular scripting tools, such as PowerShell and macros, that allow remote access to Windows and Microsoft Office and enable attackers to complete malware downloads without the use of vulnerabilities or malicious tools.  Although it has become harder to identify and exploit zero days due to improvements in secure development, it is clear from the WannaCry ransomware attack that they are still an issue.


2016 saw the first major incident of an attack on IoT devices with the emergence of Mirai, a botnet composed of IoT devices such as routers and security cameras. These attackers created a botnet big enough to carry out the largest DDoS attack ever seen, exploiting the weak security of these devices. There has been a twofold increase in attempted attacks against IoT devices over 2016 and during peak activity it was reported that on average an IoT device was attacked once every 2 minutes.

The report highlighted that attackers often used very simple tools and tactics to implement their attacks and were able to make a large impact with very little difficulty. To learn more about the best practices you can enact to protect your organisation from these attacks, contact us today.