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Developing APAC countries most vulnerable to malware - Microsoft

22 Mar 2019

Even as businesses capitalize on the latest security intelligence and protections to stay ahead in the evolving cybersecurity landscape, Asia Pacific continues to be an attractive region for cybercriminals.

Microsoft has unveiled the Asia-Pacific findings from the 24th edition of its Security Intelligence Report (SIR), an annual study aimed to improve cyber resilience in the region.

The SIRv24 comprises of core insights and key trends derived by sifting through data between January to December 2018 from multiple, diverse sources, including 6.5 trillion threat signals that go through the Microsoft cloud every day.

The Asia-Pacific insights were derived from analyzing data from 15 markets, including Australia, China, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, New Zealand, Philippines, Singapore, South Korea, Sri Lanka, Taiwan, Thailand and Vietnam.

The report includes an overview of the lessons learned from the field and recommended best practices.

“Undoubtedly, cybersecurity is one of the most pressing issues for organizations today.

“As cyber attacks continue to increase in frequency and sophistication, understanding prevalent cyber threats and how to limit their impact has become an imperative,” says Microsoft Asia cybersecurity solutions group director Eric Lam.

“The SIRv24 aims to keep pace with the ever-evolving cyber threat landscape by highlighting the techniques and tradecraft of cybercriminals and offering insights to improve cyber resilience and overall cybersecurity health of an organisation.”

Cryptocurrency mining malware becomes increasingly prevalent in Asia-Pacific

With the rise in the value of cryptocurrency, such as Bitcoin, cybercriminals seeking illicit profits have turned to malware that lets them use victims’ computers to mine cryptocurrency coins.

This approach allows them to leverage the processing power of hundreds of thousands of computers. Even when a minor infection is discovered, the anonymous nature of cryptocurrency complicates efforts to track down the responsible parties.

The SIRv24 found that between January to December 2018, the cryptocurrency mining malware encounter rate in Asia-Pacific was nearly 1.2 times (17%) higher than the global average, and India, Sri Lanka and Indonesia recorded the highest encounter rate in the region.

The report also found that the encounter rate increased or decreased with the rise or fall in the value of cryptocurrency.

Many factors have contributed to the increased popularity of mining as a payload for malware.

Unlike ransomware, cryptocurrency mining does not require user input: it works in the background, while the user is performing other tasks or is away from the computer and may not be noticed at all unless it degrades the computer’s performance sufficiently.

As a result, users are less likely to take any action to remove the threat, and it might continue mining for the benefit of the attacker for an extended period of time.

Another driver of the trend is the availability of “off-the-shelf” products for covert mining of many cryptocurrencies.

The barrier to entry is low because of the wide availability of coin mining software, which cybercriminals repackage as malware to deliver to unsuspecting users’ computers.

The weaponized miners are then distributed to victims using many of the same techniques that attackers use to deliver other threats, such as social engineering, exploits, and drive-by downloads.

 

Ransomware still a threat in Asia-Pacific despite a decline in the number of attacks

According to the SIR v24, ransomware encounters have decreased by 73% worldwide.

However, despite the decline, ransomware is still a viable threat in Asia-Pacific as the region’s encounter rate was 40% more than the global average.

Indonesia, Vietnam and India have the highest ransomware encounter rate in Asia-Pacific.

One of the key reasons contributing to the fall of ransomware attacks is the organizations and individuals becoming more aware of and dealing more intelligently with ransomware threats, including exerting greater caution and backing up important files so they can be restored if encrypted by ransomware. 

While organizations and consumers are encountering ransomware at lower volumes compared to the previous year, it does not mean the severity of attacks has declined. 

It is still capable of making a real-world impact by affecting corporate networks and crippling critical services such as hospitals, transportation, and traffic systems.

Cybercriminals continue to deliver malicious code through drive-by download pages

Although drive-by download encounters globally have decreased by 22%, Asia Pacific region experienced approximately 22% more drive-by download attacks than the rest of the world.

The highest concentration of drive-by download pages was in Taiwan, Malaysia and Indonesia.

 

A drive-by download is an unintentional download of malicious code to an unsuspecting user’s computer when they visit a web site.

The malicious code could be used to exploit vulnerabilities in web browsers, browser add-ons, applications, and the operating system.

Users can be infected with malware simply by visiting a website, even without attempting to download anything.

More advanced drive-by download campaigns can also install ransomware or even cryptocurrency mining software on a victim machine.

Developing markets in Asia-Pacific among the most vulnerable to malware

Malware poses risks to organizations and individuals in the form of impaired usability, data loss, intellectual property theft, monetary loss, emotional distress, and can even put human life at risk.

While the global malware encounter rate has decreased by 34%, the malware encounter in Asia-Pacific was 37% more than the global average.

Indonesia, Philippines and Vietnam had the highest malware encounter rates in the region, highlighting the correlation of infection rates with human development factors and technology readiness within a society.

Poor cybersecurity hygiene and low user security awareness can lead to risky IT behaviors, including using unpatched software and visiting potentially dangerous websites such as file-sharing sites, which expose devices to malware.

Using pirated software can also be a source of infection.

The report also found that the Asia-Pacific markets with the lowest malware encounter rates are Japan, Australia and New Zealand.

These locations tend to have mature cybersecurity infrastructures and well-established programs for protecting critical infrastructure and communicating with their citizens about basic cybersecurity best practices.

“To strengthen individuals’ trust in technology and prevent cyber attacks from derailing companies’ digital transformation initiatives, cybersecurity professionals need to devise a holistic strategy that includes prevention and detection and response.

“Measures such as preventive controls as well as the adoption of cloud and artificial intelligence to augment security operations will play a vital role in building organizational resilience and facilitating meaningful risk reduction within their organization,” Lam says.

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