The number of cyberattacks where malware holds user data “hostage” is expected to grow in 2016 as hackers target more companies and advanced software is able to compromise more types of data, according to a report from Intel Corp.’s McAfee Labs.
“Ransomware” is malicious software that allows a hacker to access an individual or company’s computers, encrypt sensitive data and then demand some form of payment to decrypt it. Doing so essentially lets hackers hold user data or a system hostage.
McAfee Labs researchers saw more than 4 million samples of ransomware in the second quarter of 2015, including 1.2 million that were new, and expects those instances to grow in 2016. That compares to fewer than 1.5 million total samples in the third quarter 2013, when fewer than 400,000 were new.
The report examines current trends in cybercrime and makes predictions about what the future may hold for organizations working to keep pace with business and technology opportunities, and the cybercriminals that target them.
2016 Threat Predictions
The 2016 threat predictions run the gamut of trends, from the likely threats around ransomware, attacks on automobile systems, infrastructure attacks, and the warehousing and sale of stolen data, among other likely issues in 2016:
• Hardware. Attacks on all types of hardware and firmware will likely continue, and the market for tools that make them possible will expand and grow. Virtual machines could be targeted with system firmware rootkits.
• Ransomware. Anonymizing networks and payment methods could continue to fuel the major and rapidly growing threat of ransomware. In 2016, greater numbers of inexperienced cybercriminals will leverage ransomware-as-a-service offerings which could further accelerate the growth of ransomware.
• Wearables. Although most wearable devices store a relatively small amount of personal information, wearable platforms could be targeted by cybercriminals working to compromise the smartphones used to manage them. The industry will work to protect potential attack surfaces such as operating system kernels, networking and Wi-Fi software, user interfaces, memory, local files and storage systems, virtual machines, web apps, and access control and security software.
• Attacks through employee systems. Organizations will continue to improve their security postures, implement the latest security technologies, work to hire talented and experienced people, create effective policies, and remain vigilant. Thus, attackers are likely to shift their focus and increasingly attack enterprises through their employees, by targeting, among other things, employees’ relatively insecure home systems to gain access to corporate networks.
• Cloud services. Cybercriminals could seek to exploit weak or ignored corporate security policies established to protect cloud services. Home to an increasing amount of business confidential information, such services, if exploited, could compromise organizational business strategy, company portfolio strategies, next-generation innovations, financials, acquisition and divestiture plans, employee data and other data.
• Automobiles. Security researchers will continue to focus on potential exploit scenarios for connected automobile systems lacking foundational security capabilities or failing to meet best practice security policies. IT security vendors and automakers will proactively work together to develop guidance, standards and technical solutions to protect attack surfaces such as vehicle access system engine control units (ECUs), engine and transmission ECUs, advanced driver assistance system ECUs, remote key systems, passive keyless entry, V2X receiver, USBs, OBD IIs, remote link type apps and smartphone access.
• Warehouses of stolen data. Stolen personally identifiable information sets are being linked together in big data warehouses, making the combined records more valuable to cyber-attackers. The coming year will see the development of an even more robust dark market for stolen personally identifiable information and usernames and passwords.
• Integrity attacks. One of the most significant new attack vectors will be stealthy, selective compromises to the integrity of systems and data. These attacks involve seizing and modifying transactions or data in favor of the perpetrators, such as a malicious party changing the direct deposit settings for a victim’s paychecks and having money deposited into a different account. In 2016, McAfee Labs predicts that we could witness an integrity attack in the financial sector in which millions of dollars could be stolen by cyber thieves.
• Sharing threat intelligence. Threat intelligence sharing among enterprises and security vendors will grow rapidly and mature. Legislative steps may be taken making it possible for companies and governments to share threat intelligence. The development of best practices in this area will accelerate, metrics for success will emerge to quantify protection improvement, and threat intelligence cooperatives between industry vendors will expand.
Predictions through 2020
The five year look ahead attempts to predict how the types of threat actors will change, how attackers’ behaviors and targets will change, and how the industry will meet these challenges over the next five years:
• Below-the-OS attacks. Attackers could look for weaknesses in firmware and hardware as applications and operating systems are hardened against conventional attacks. The lure would be the broad control attackers can potentially gain through these attacks, as they can conceivably access any number of resources and commandeer administration and control capabilities.
• Detection evasion. Attackers will attempt to avoid detection by targeting new attack surfaces, employing sophisticated attack methods, and actively evading security technology. Difficult-to-detect attack styles will include fileless threats, encrypted infiltrations, sandbox evasion malware, exploits of remote shell and remote control protocols, and the aforementioned, below-the-OS attacks targeting and exploiting master boot records (MBR), BIOS, and firmware.
• New devices, new attack surfaces. While there has not yet been a surge in IoT and wearable attacks, by 2020 we may see install bases of these systems reach substantial enough penetration levels that they will attract attackers. Technology vendors and vertical solution providers will work to establish user safety guidance and industry best practices, as well as build security controls into device architectures where appropriate.
• Cyberespionage goes corporate. McAfee Labs predicts that the dark market for malware code and hacking services could enable cyberespionage malware used in public sector and corporate attacks to be used for financial intelligence-gathering and the manipulation of markets in favor of attackers.
• Privacy challenges, opportunities. The volume and value of personal digital data will continue to increase, attracting cyber thieves, and potentially leading to new privacy regulations around the world. Concurrently, individuals will seek and receive compensation for sharing their data, a market will develop around this “value exchange,” and the environment this market shapes could change how individuals and organizations manage digital privacy.
• Security industry response. The security industry will develop more effective tools to detect and correct sophisticated attacks. Behavioral analytics could be developed to detect irregular user activities that might indicate compromised accounts. Shared threat intelligence is likely to deliver faster and better protection of systems. Cloud-integrated security could improve visibility and control. Finally, automated detection and correction technology promises to protect enterprises from the most common attacks, freeing up IT security staff to focus on the most critical security incidents.
The full report is at http://www.mcafee.com/us/resources/reports/rp-threats-predictions-2016.pdf