HP research shows that the vast majority of malware is still delivered by email
- Published: Wednesday, 17 March 2021 08:58
HP has published its latest Quarterly Threat Insights Report, providing analysis of real-world attacks against customers worldwide. The report found that 88 percent of malware was delivered by email into users’ inboxes, in many cases having bypassed gateway filters. It took 8.8 days, on average, for threats to become known by hash to antivirus engines – giving hackers over a week’s ‘head-start’ to further their campaigns. 29 percent of malware captured by HP was previously unknown – due to the widespread use of packers and obfuscation techniques by attackers seeking to evade detection.
“This report highlights the deficiencies in traditional defenses that rely on detection to block malware,” said Dr. Ian Pratt, Global Head of Security for Personal Systems at HP Inc. “Attackers have repeatedly found new ways to bypass traditional detection-based tools, making it more important than ever for organizations to build zero-trust design principles into their security architecture.”
“Opportunistic cybercrime does not show any signs of slowing,” commented Alex Holland, senior malware analyst at HP Inc. “Cybercriminals are exploiting low-cost malware-as-a-service kits, which are proliferating in underground forums. Kits like APOMacroSploit, which emerged in Q4 2020, can be bought for as little as $50 USD, illustrating just how low the barrier to entry is for opportunistic cybercrime. We have also seen threat actors continue to experiment with malware delivery techniques to improve their chances of establishing footholds into networks. The most effective execution techniques we saw in Q4 2020 involved old technologies like Excel 4.0 macros that often offer little visibility to detection tools.”
Other key findings in the report include:
- Trojans made up 66 percent of malware samples analyzed, driven largely by malicious spam campaigns distributing Dridex malware.
- The most common email lures were fake invoice attachments.
- The most common type of malicious attachments were: documents (31 percent), archive files (28 percent), spreadsheets (19 percent) and executable files (17 percent).
- Malicious executables rose by 12 percent with CVE-2017-11882 – a memory corruption flaw in Microsoft Office’s Equation Editor – accounting for nearly three-quarters of the exploits seen.
- A 12 percent growth in malware that exploits CVE-2017-0199, which is commonly used to run malicious scripts to deploy malware when a user opens an Office document.
“Q4 saw attackers shift from Word documents to executable files to deliver RATs. There was an uptick in malicious email campaigns targeting German users with Agent Tesla and Formbook RATs that were delivered as executables attached to emails,” continued Holland. “The largest rise was in Dridex campaigns, which are typically used by attackers to deploy ransomware. Ultimately, any attacker gaining a foothold on an endpoint is bad news – they can use this access to scrape credentials, move laterally between systems, exfiltrate data, or sell their access to other cybercriminals – so it creates huge risk for businesses.”
“For every new malware variant hackers create, they have a few days’ head start to capitalize on their campaigns, infecting machines before detection tools catch-up. With automation, this process is now easier than ever.” continues Dr. Pratt. “Trying to detect every threat is futile, as something will always slip through the net,” Pratt added. “The best cyber defense is being able to isolate risks on the endpoint through micro-virtualization. This kind of hardware-enforced isolation removes the opportunity for malware to cause harm to the host PC – even from novel malware – because it does not rely on a detect-to-protect security model. By having security built in at the hardware level, endpoint devices can help to defend users and recover from attacks automatically, improving business resiliency. This way, businesses can carry on doing what they do best, safe in the knowledge that their users and data are protected.”
About the research
Data was gathered within HP customer Sure Click virtual-machines from October-December 2020.