Is your browser betraying you? Emerging threats in 2023

Network attacks (IPS detections) have remained relatively flat over the last three quarters, technically down a bit more than 3%, according to WatchGuard.

emerging threats 2023

“Organisations need to pay more active, ongoing attention to the existing security solutions and strategies their businesses rely on to stay protected against increasingly sophisticated threats,” said Corey Nachreiner, CSO at WatchGuard.

“The top themes and corresponding best practices our Threat Lab have outlined for this report strongly emphasize layered malware defenses to combat living-off-the-land attacks, which can be done simply and effectively with a platform for unified security run by dedicated managed service providers,” Nachreiner continued.

Browser-based emerging threats

New browser-based social engineering trends

Now that web browsers have more protections preventing pop-up abuse, attackers have pivoted to using the browser notifications features to force similar types of interactions. Also of note from this quarter’s top malicious domains list is a new destination involving SEO-poisoning activity.

Threat actors from China and Russia behind 75% of new threats in the Q1 Top 10 list

Three of the four new threats that debuted on our top ten malware list this quarter have strong ties to nation states, although this doesn’t necessarily mean those malicious actors are in fact state-sponsored. One example from WatchGuard’s latest report is the Zuzy malware family, which shows up for the first time in the top 10 malware list this quarter.

One Zusy sample the Threat Lab found targets China’s population with adware that installs a compromised browser; the browser is then used to hijack the system’s Windows settings and as the default browser.

Persistence of attacks against Office products, End-of-Life (EOL) Microsoft ISA firewall

Threat Lab analysts continue to see document-based threats targeting Office products in the most widespread malware list this quarter. On the network side, the team also noticed exploits against Microsoft’s now-discontinued firewall, the Internet Security and Acceleration (ISA) Server, getting a relatively high number of hits. Considering this product has long been discontinued and without updates, it is surprising to see attackers targeting it.

Living-off-the-land attacks on the rise

The ViperSoftX malware reviewed in the Q1 DNS analysis is the latest example of malware leveraging the built-in tools that come with operating systems to complete their objectives. The continued appearance of Microsoft Office- and PowerShell-based malware in these reports quarter after quarter underscores the importance of endpoint protection that can differentiate legitimate and malicious use of popular tools like PowerShell.

Malware droppers targeting Linux-based systems

One of the new top malware detections by volume in Q1 was a malware dropper aimed at Linux-based systems. A stark reminder that just because Windows is king in the enterprise space, this doesn’t mean organisations can afford to turn a blind eye to Linux and macOS. Be sure to include non-Windows machines when rolling out Endpoint Detection and Response (EDR) to maintain full coverage of your environment.

Zero day malware accounting for the majority of detections

This quarter saw 70% of detections coming from zero day malware over unencrypted web traffic, and a whopping 93% of detections from zero day malware from encrypted web traffic. Zero day malware can infect IoT devices, misconfigured servers, and other devices that don’t use robust host-based defenses.

New insights based on ransomware tracking data

In Q1 2023, the Threat Lab tallied 852 victims published to extortion sites and discovered 51 new ransomware variants. These ransomware groups continue to publish victims at an alarmingly high rate; some are well-known organisations and companies in the Fortune 500.

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