A look at emergent threats and their influence

Analyzing Dell data sources and the 2014 threat landscape, their new report found a surge in point-of-sale (POS) malware, increased malware traffic within encrypted (https) web protocols, as well as twice the number of attacks on supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) systems over 2013.

“Everyone knows the threats are real and the consequences are dire, so we can no longer blame lack of awareness for the attacks that succeed,” said Patrick Sweeney, executive director, Dell Security. “Hacks and attacks continue to occur, not because companies aren’t taking security measures, but because they aren’t taking the right ones.”

“Malware targeting point-of-sale systems is evolving drastically, and new trends like memory scraping and the use of encryption to avoid detection from firewalls are on the rise,” said Sweeney. “To guard against the rising tide of breaches, retailers should implement more stringent training and firewall policies, as well as re-examine their data policies with partners and suppliers.”

For many years, financial institutions and other companies that deal with sensitive information have opted for the secure HTTPS protocol that encrypts information being shared, otherwise known as SSL/TLS encryption. More recently, sites such as Google, Facebook, and Twitter began adopting this practice in response to a growing demand for user privacy and security.

While this move to a more secure web protocol is a positive trend, hackers have identified ways to exploit HTTPS as a means to hide malicious code. Given that data (or in this case malware) transmitted over HTTPS is encrypted, traditional firewalls fail to detect it. Without a network security system that provides visibility into HTTPS traffic, organizations run the risk of letting malware from sites using HTTPS enter their systems and go undetected.

Dell’s research saw a rise in HTTPS traffic in 2014, which could lead to an increase in attacks leveraging encrypted web traffic in 2015:

  • Dell saw a 109 percent increase in the volume of HTTPS web connections from the start of 2014 to the start of 2015.
  • Encrypted malware attacks have already begun to target mainstream media sources. In December 2014, Forbes’ Thought of the Day interstitial page was hijacked by Chinese hackers to distribute malware over a three-day period.

“Managing threats against encrypted web traffic is complicated. Just as encryption can protect sensitive financial or personal information on the web, it unfortunately can also be used by hackers to protect malware,” said Sweeney. “One way organizations mitigate this risk is through SSL-based web browser restrictions, with exceptions for commonly used business applications to avoid slowing company productivity.”

Industrial operations leverage SCADA systems to control remote equipment and collect data on that equipment’s performance. Attacks against SCADA systems are on the rise, and tend to be political in nature as they target operational capabilities within power plants, factories, and refineries.

Dell SonicWALL saw an increase in SCADA attacks against its customer base this year.

  • 2014 saw a 2x increase in SCADA attacks compared to 2013.
  • The majority of these attacks targeted Finland, the United Kingdom, and the United States; one likely factor is that SCADA systems are more common in these regions and more likely to be connected to the Internet.
  • Buffer overflow vulnerabilities continue to be the primary point of attack.

“Since companies are only required to report data breaches that involve personal or payment information, SCADA attacks often go unreported,” said Sweeney. “This lack of information sharing combined with an aging industrial machinery infrastructure presents huge security challenges that will to continue to grow in the coming months and years.”

Dell also identified the following trends and predictions:

  • More organizations will enforce security policies that include two-factor authentication. Along with this development we will see an increase in attacks against these technologies.
  • Android will remain a hot target for malware writers. Dell expects new, more sophisticated techniques to thwart Android malware researchers and users by making the malware hard to identify and research.
  • As wearable technology becomes more widespread in the next year, expect to see the first wave of malware targeting these devices.
  • Digital currencies including Bitcoin will continue to be targeted; Botnets will be involved in the digital currency mining attacks.
  • Home routers and home network utilities, such as surveillance systems, will be targeted and perhaps used to assist large DDoS attacks.
  • Electric vehicles and their operating systems will be targeted.
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