Exfiltration malware takes center stage in cybersecurity concerns

While massive public data breaches rightfully raise alarms, the spike in malware designed to exfiltrate data directly from devices and browsers is a key contributor to continued user exposure, according to SpyCloud.

malware exfiltrate data

The 2023 report identified over 22 million unique devices infected by malware last year. Of the 721.5 million exposed credentials recovered by SpyCloud, roughly 50% came from botnets, tools commonly used to deploy highly accurate information-stealing malware.

These infostealers enable cybercriminals to work at scale, stealing valid credentials, cookies, auto-fill data, and other highly valuable information to use in targeted attacks or sell on the darknet.

“The pervasive use of infostealers is a dangerous trend because these attacks open the door for bad actors like Initial Access Brokers, who sell malware logs containing accurate authentication data to ransomware syndicates and other criminals,” said Trevor Hilligoss, Director of Security Research at SpyCloud. “Infostealers are easy, cheap, and scalable, creating a thriving underground economy with an ‘anything-as-a-service’ model to enable cybercrime. This broker-operator partnership is a lucrative business with a relatively low cost of entry.”

Cybercriminals can easily access critical business applications

Cybercriminals have doubled down and exploited the economic downturn, growing hybrid workforce, ghost accounts from terminated employees, and increased outsourcing, which elevates third-party exposure.

When employees access corporate networks using unmanaged or undermanaged devices infected with malware, threat actors have an easy way into critical business applications, including single sign-on platforms and virtual private networks.

SpyCloud researchers recaptured millions of credentials harvested from popular third-party business applications exposed to malware in 2022. The data exfiltrated from these apps – including code repositories, customer databases, messaging platforms, and HR systems – gives bad actors the information needed to deploy damaging follow-on attacks like ransomware.

If these credentials are not properly remediated and remain active, they will continue to pose an ongoing threat for organizations, even after the device has been cleared of the malware.

Organizations ignore threat of sophisticated malware-based attacks

“Organizations are overlooking the mounting threat of sophisticated malware-based attacks and the protracted business impact of infected devices. Leaders need a new approach that disrupts the flow of stolen authentication data and mitigates the ongoing threat of these exposures,” said Hilligoss.

“Collectively, we need to start thinking about protecting digital identities using a Post-Infection Remediation approach, rather than solely focusing on cleaning individual infected devices. Taking action on exposed employee data before it can be used by criminals is paramount to preventing account takeover, fraud, ransomware and other forms of cybercrime,” concluded Hilligoss.

With a comprehensive Post-Infection Remediation approach, security teams can augment their traditional cyber incident response playbooks with additional steps to fully negate opportunities for ransomware and other cyberattacks by resetting the application credentials and invalidating session cookies siphoned by infostealer malware.

Password hygiene remains poor

Session hijacking enabled by stolen cookies is growing in prevalence: SpyCloud researchers recaptured nearly 22 billion device and session cookies in 2022. These records give criminals access to sensitive information by allowing them to bypass MFA and hijack an active session, essentially turning bad actors into employee clones.

Users’ personally identifiable information (PII) is just as tempting as ever: SpyCloud researchers uncovered 8.6 billion PII assets in 2022, including 1.4 billion full names, 332 million national IDs/full social security numbers, and 67 million credit card numbers.

Password hygiene remains poor despite increased cybersecurity training focus: 72% of users exposed in 2022 breaches were still reusing previously compromised passwords. Passwords tied to pop culture trends also remain popular, with SpyCloud recovering over 327,000 passwords related to artists Taylor Swift and Bad Bunny, over 261,000 related to streaming services such as Netflix and Hulu and over 167,000 related to Queen Elizabeth’s death and the British royal family.

The government sector is at a higher risk from malware-infected devices than enterprises: SpyCloud uncovered 695 breaches containing .gov emails in 2022, a nearly 14% increase from 2021. Password reuse rates among government employees remain high – 61% for users with more than one password exposed in the last year.

The three most common exposed plaintext passwords associated with government emails are 123456, 12345678, and password. Nearly 74% of exposed government credentials across the globe in 2022 were exfiltrated by malware (compared to 48.5% across the board).

Don't miss