Malicious emails at five-year high

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Malicious emails are at a five-year high, with one in 131 emails containing a malicious link or attachment according to new research released yesterday.

The Internet Security Threat Report, released by Symantec, also found cyber criminals have shifted from economic espionage to politically motivated sabotage in the last year.

The report found an overall shift in focus and motivation from threat actors, who have moved away from zero-day vulnerabilities and sophisticated malware as nation states shift their attention from espionage to straight sabotage.

“Cybercriminals caused unprecedented levels of disruption by focusing their exploits on relatively simple IT tools and cloud services,” Symantec Security Response director Kevin Haley said. He pointed to evidence of North Korea attacking banks in Bangladesh, Vietnam, Ecuador and Poland.

“This was an incredibly audacious hack, and was also the first time we observed strong indications of nation state involvement in financial cybercrime,” Mr Haley said. “While their sights were set even higher, the attackers from North Korea stole at least $125 million.”

According to Mr Haley cyber attacks against the US Democratic Party and the subsequent leak of stolen information reflect a trend toward criminals employing highly-publicised, overt campaigns designed to destabilise and disrupt targeted organisations and countries.

This uptick in disruptive attacks coincided with a decline in covert activity, specifically economic espionage, the theft of intellectual property and trade secrets, he said.

The report also found a growing reliance on cloud services has left organisations open to attacks, with tens of thousands of MongoDB databases hijacked and held for ransom in 2016 after users left outdated databases open on the internet without authentication turned on.

Symantec said CIOs have lost track of how many cloud apps are used inside their organisations and when asked, most assume their organisations use up to 40 cloud apps when in reality the number nears 1,000.

This disparity can lead to a lack of policies and procedures for how employees access cloud services, which in turn makes cloud apps riskier, the report said.

Mr Haley said businesses should use multi-layered defence systems while consumers should use strong passwords and keep their software and operating systems up to date.

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