SecurityBrief New Zealand logo
New Zealand's leading source of cybersecurity and cyber-attack news
Story image

Ransomware has increased tenfold in one year, FortiGuard Labs finds

By Catherine Knowles
Wed 8 Sep 2021

The first half of 2021 demonstrates a significant increase in the volume and sophistication of ransomware attacks targeting individuals, organisations, and increasingly critical infrastructure, according to Fortinet’s latest semiannual FortiGuard Labs Global Threat Landscape Report.

The expanding attack surface of hybrid workers and learners, in and out of the traditional network, continues to be a target.

However, the researchers find that timely collaboration and partnership momentum across law enforcement as well as public and private sectors is an opportunity to disrupt the cyber criminal ecosystem going into the second half of 2021.

Overall, the report identifies five main trends.

Ransomware is about more than money

FortiGuard Labs data shows average weekly ransomware activity in June 2021 was more than tenfold higher than levels from one year ago, demonstrating a consistent and overall steady increase over a year period.

Attacks crippled the supply chains of multiple organisations, in particular sectors of critical importance, and impacted daily life, productivity, and commerce more than ever before, the researchers find.

Organisations in the telecommunications sector were the most heavily targeted followed by government, managed security service providers, automotive, and manufacturing sectors.

In addition, some ransomware operators shifted their strategy away from email-initiated payloads to focusing on gaining and selling initial access into corporate networks further showing the continued evolution of Ransomware-as-a-Service (RaaS) fuelling cyber crime.

A key takeaway is that ransomware remains a clear and present danger for all organisations regardless of industry or size. Fortinet states that organisations need to take a proactive approach with real-time endpoint protection, detection and automated response solutions to secure environments along with a zero trust access approach, network segmentation and encryption.

One in four organisations detected malvertising

Ranking the prevalence of top malware detections by malware families shows a rise in deceptive social engineering malvertising and scareware.

More than one in four organisations detected malvertising or scareware attempts with Cryxos being a notable family, according to the report.

Although, a large volume of the detections are likely combined with other similar JavaScript campaigns that would be considered malvertising.

The hybrid work reality has encouraged this trend in tactics by cyber criminals as they attempt to exploit it, aiming for not just a scare but also extortion, according to the researchers.

Increased cybersecurity awareness is important as ever to provide timely training and education to help avoid falling victim to scareware and malvertising tactics.

Botnet trends show attackers push to the edge

Tracking the prevalence of botnet detections showed a surge in activity. At the beginning of the year, 35% of organisations detected botnet activity of one sort or another, and six months later it was 51%.

A large bump in TrickBot activity is responsible for the overall spike in botnet activity during June, the researchers find.

TrickBot originally emerged on the cyber crime scene as a banking trojan but has since been developed into a sophisticated and multi-stage toolkit supporting a range of illicit activities.

Mirai was the most prevalent overall; it overtook Gh0st in early 2020 and has reigned ever since well into 2021.

Mirai has continued adding new cyber weapons to its arsenal, but it is likely that Mirai's dominance at least still partially stems from criminals seeking to exploit Internet of Things (IoT) devices used by work-from-home or learning-from-home individuals.

Gh0st is also noticeably active, which is a remote access botnet that allows attackers to take full control of the infected system, capture live webcam and microphone feeds, or download files.

More than a year into remote work and learning shifts, cyber adversaries continue to target our evolving daily habits to exploit the opportunity. To protect networks and applications, organisations need zero trust access approaches to provide least access privileges to secure against IoT endpoint and devices entering the network, Fortinet states.

Disruption of cyber crime shows reduced threat volumes

In cybersecurity not every action has an immediate or lasting effect, but several events in 2021 show positive developments specifically for defenders, according to the researchers.

The original developer of TrickBot was arraigned on multiple charges in June. Also, the coordinated takedown of Emotet, one of the most prolific malware operations in recent history, as well as actions to disrupt the Egregor, NetWalker, and Cl0p ransomware operations represent significant momentum by cyber defenders, including global governments and law enforcement to curb cyber crime.

In addition, the level of attention that some attacks garnered spooked a few ransomware operators to announce they were ceasing operations.

FortiGuard Labs data showed a slowdown of threat activity following the Emotet takedown. Activity related to TrickBot and Ryuk variants persisted after the Emotet botnet was taken offline, but it was at a reduced volume.

According to the researchers, this is a reminder of how hard it is to eradicate cyber threats or adversary supply chains immediately, but these events are important achievements regardless.

Defensive evasion and privilege escalation techniques favoured by cyber criminals

Studying higher resolution threat intelligence reveals valuable takeaways about how attack techniques are evolving currently, the research shows.

FortiGuard Labs analysed the specific functionality inherent to detected malware by detonating the samples to observe what the intended outcome was for cyber adversaries.

The result was a list of negative things malware would have accomplished if the attack payloads had been executed in target environments.

This shows cyber adversaries sought to escalate privileges, evade defences, move laterally across internal systems, and exfiltrate compromised data, among other techniques. For example, 55% of observed privilege escalation functionality leveraged hooking and 40% utilised process injection.

A takeaway is that there is an obvious focus on defence evasion and privilege escalation tactics. Although these techniques are not novel, defenders will be better positioned to secure against future attacks, armed with this timely knowledge, the researchers state.

Integrated and artificial intelligence (AI)-driven platform approaches, powered by actionable threat intelligence, are essential to defend across all edges and to identify and remediate shifting threats organisations face today in real time.

Partnerships, training and AI-powered prevention presents powerful defence against threats 

According to the researchers, while government and law enforcement agencies have taken actions relative to cyber crime in the past, the first half of 2021 could be a game changer in terms of the momentum for the future.

They are working with industry vendors, threat intelligence organisations, and other global partnership organisations to combine resources and real-time threat intelligence to take direct action against cyber adversaries.

Regardless, automated threat detection and AI remain essential to enable organisations to address attacks in real time and to mitigate attacks at speed and scale across all edges, the researchers state.

In addition, cybersecurity user awareness training is as important as ever with anyone being a target of cyber attacks.

Everyone needs regular instruction on best practices to keep individual employees and the organisation secure, Fortinet states.

FortiGuard Labs chief security insights and global threat alliances Derek Manky says, “We are seeing an increase in effective and destructive cyber attacks affecting thousands of organisations in a single incident creating an important inflection point for the war on cyber crime. Now more than ever, everyone has an important role in strengthening the kill chain.

"Aligning forces through collaboration must be prioritised to disrupt cyber criminal supply chains. Shared data and partnership can enable more effective responses and better predict future techniques to deter adversary efforts.

"Continued cybersecurity awareness training as well as AI-powered prevention, detection, and response technologies integrated across endpoints, networks, and the cloud remain vital to counter cyber adversaries.”

Related stories
Top stories
Story image
ABI Research
75% of 5G networks to advance to 5G-Advanced by 2030
5G-advanced is set to launch in 2025, and 75% of 5G networks will upgrade by 2030, according to ABI Research. 
Story image
Cybersecurity
Online bullying, harassment skyrockets since COVID outbreak
Harmful content reports have risen by over 25% since the outbreak of the COVID pandemic, according to Netsafe.
Story image
Ransomware
Examining the future of ransomware threats with Vectra’s CTO
As customers' valuable data move to the cloud, so will ransomware. What is the current landscape and what do we need to know?
Story image
Security Information and Event Management (SIEM)
LogRhythm updates SIEM Platform with latest innovations
LogRhythm has announced the launch of version 7.9 of the LogRhythm SIEM Platform and updates to LogRhythm NDR and LogRhythm UEBA.
Story image
Ransomware
Businesses unprepared to defend against ransomware attacks
Ransomware attacks continue to impact organisations worldwide with high costs, but businesses are still largely unprepared.
Story image
Cybersecurity
Security driving customer identity & access management adoption
"CIAM allows businesses to embed a secure identity layer into their consumer and SaaS applications, facilitating secure, seamless end user experiences."
Story image
Digital Transformation
What CISOs think about cyber security, visibility and cloud
Seeking to uncover the minds of CISOs and CIOs across Asia Pacific, my company recently asked Frost & Sullivan to take a snapshot of cloud adoption behaviour in the region.
Story image
Cloudera
Overcoming hybrid and multi-cloud challenges to drive innovation
Driven by improvements in technology, financial services companies have advanced both internal and external systems and processes, with the likes of digitisation, personalisation and risk management redefining the industry.
Story image
Artificial Intelligence
Eight top DevSecOps trends to support IT innovation in 2022
The use of DevSecOps practices is growing, as it is increasingly seen as the best way to produce high-quality and secure code. So what are the current trends?
Story image
Cybersecurity
Zero trust security adoption rises 27% in just two years
A survey of WAN managers has revealed that multi-factor authentication and single sign-on are the top zero trust features implemented.
Story image
Oracle Cloud
Commvault, Oracle to deliver Metallic Data Management as a Service
"We are excited to partner with Commvault and enable our customers to restore and recover their most mission-critical cloud data."
Story image
Revenue
Datacom announces revenue of $1.45 billion, fall in profit
Growing market pressures and border closures saw Datacom place increased focus on talent development initiatives for both existing and future employees.
Story image
Dark web
Cybercrime in Aotearoa: How does New Zealand law define it?
‘Cybercrime’ is a term we hear all the time, but what exactly is it, and how does New Zealand define it in legal terms?
Story image
Cybersecurity
FIDO Alliance releases guidelines for optimising UX with FIDO Security Keys
The new guidelines aim to accelerate multi-factor authentication deployment and adoption with FIDO security keys.
Story image
Artificial Intelligence
Vectra AI named as AWS security competency partner
Threat detection and response company Vectra AI has announced that it has become an Amazon Web Services Security Competency Partner.
Story image
Compliance
Stock security features inadequate in face of rising risk
"Organisations must proactively find ways of identifying unseen vulnerabilities and should take a diligent, holistic approach to cybersecurity."
Story image
Web Development
Whitecliffe fosters careers for the future of tech
Do you want a career in Information Technology, Networking, Web Development, Software Development, or are you looking to upskill?
Story image
Cybersecurity
Tech and data’s role in the changing face of compliance
Accenture's study found that 93% of respondents agree or strongly agree new technologies such as AI and cloud make compliance easier.
Story image
Internet of Things
ManageEngine wins big in IDC MarketScape assessment
ManageEngine's Endpoint Central service has been recognised as a leader by IDC MarketScape in several categories including Internet of Things device deployments and UEM software for SMEs.
Story image
Solutions
Progress launches latest version of network visibility solution
In Flowmon 12 network solution, Progress has expanded its support for public cloud provider flow log monitoring and launched new features.
Story image
Cybersecurity
Delinea’s Joseph Carson recognised with OnCon Icon Award
Delinea chief security scientist and advisory CISO Joseph Carson has been recognised as a Top 50 Information Security Professional in the 2022 OnCon Icon Awards.
Story image
Ransomware
Secureworks reveals new information on BRONZE STARLIGHT threat group
New research from Secureworks has uncovered new information on the Chinese threat group BRONZE STARLIGHT and how they are using targeted ransomware to initiate complicated attacks.
Story image
Trend Micro
5G network projects driven by improving security and privacy
Trend Micro's new study reveals the prospect of improved security and privacy capabilities are the main motivations behind private 5G wireless network projects.
Story image
Compliance
SentinelOne integrates with Torq to empower security teams
"With Torq, security teams can extend the power of SentinelOne to systems across the organisation to benefit from a proactive security posture.”
Story image
MSP
Video: 10 Minute IT Jams - An update from CyberArk
Olly Stimpson joins us today to discuss the importance of MSP programmes and how MSP partners are experiencing success with CyberArk.
Story image
Document Management
NZ's FileInvite raises $10M in latest investment round
FileInvite has raised $10 million in Series A investment to fast-forward the extinction of email for requesting and collecting documents online.
Story image
Vendor
Forescout reveals top vulnerabilities impacting OT vendors
Forescout’s Vedere Labs has disclosed OT: ICEFALL, naming 56 vulnerabilities affecting devices from 10 operational technology vendors.
Story image
Cybersecurity
Email threats spike 101%, remains a top attack vector
"Each year we see innovation in the threat landscape, but each year email remains a major threat to organisations."
Story image
Data Protection
How secure is accounting software data in Aotearoa?
A recent Xero study found ICT spending for NZ businesses has increased 25% compared to pre-pandemic levels, so how safe is accounting software?
Story image
HP Inc
Firmware attacks significant threat in age of hybrid work
Changing workforce dynamics are creating new challenges for IT teams around firmware security, according to new research.
Story image
Cybersecurity
Blasé attitudes to cybersecurity by business a national risk
The largely unregulated state of cybersecurity in NZ, and consequential ambivalence of most businesses, risk hurting the country's trading prospects.
Story image
Cybersecurity
Unknown connections: How safe is public WiFi in Aotearoa?
If it's not your own household WiFi, then who has control of your data and is your connection actually safe?
Story image
Cybersecurity
Without trust, your security team is dead in the water
The rise of cyberattacks has increased the need for sound security that works across any type of business, but with any change, buy-in is essential. Airwallex explains why.
Story image
Tech job moves
Tech job moves - Bitdefender, Cohesity, Fortinet & MODIFI
We round up all job appointments from June 27-30, 2022, in one place to keep you updated with the latest from across the tech industries.
Story image
Cloud Security
Palo Alto Networks bolsters cloud native security offerings
Latest Prisma Cloud platform updates help organisations continuously monitor and secure web applications with maximum flexibility.
Story image
WatchGuard Technologies
Ransomware volume doubled 2021 total by end of Q1 2022
Ransomware detections in the first quarter of this year doubled the total volume reported for 2021, according to a new report. 
Story image
Remote Working
RDP attacks on the rise, Kaspersky experts offer advice
"Given that remote work is here to stay, we urge companies to seriously look into securing their remote and hybrid workforce to protect their data."
Story image
Research
New study reveals 51% of employees using unauthorised apps
The research shows that 92% of employees and managers in large enterprises want full control over applications, but they don't have it.
Story image
Cybersecurity
Vulnerable APIs costing businesses billions every year
Large companies are particularly vulnerable to the security risks associated with exposed or unprotected APIs as they accelerate digital transformation.  
Story image
Cyber Criminal
Identity and access: the fight is on
Blue team defenders are used to protecting our data, applications, and users with access controls and other security mechanisms, which is why attacks like this are especially challenging when they target identity and access control systems.
Story image
Cybersecurity
Video: 10 Minute IT Jams - An update from CrowdStrike
Scott Jarkoff joins us today to discuss current trends in the cyber threat landscape, and the reporting work CrowdStrike is doing to prevent further cyber harm.
Story image
Cybersecurity
How organisations can mitigate IoT and IIoT security risks
IoT and IIoT come with inherent risks because they are often deployed faster than they can be secured, putting organisations in danger of cyber threats. Here are tips on how to mitigate those risks.
Story image
Cybersecurity
Zscaler launches co-located data centres in Canberra and Auckland
The investment will offer public and private sector enterprises greater resilience in support of their zero trust cybersecurity posture.
Story image
Gartner
Gartner's top recommendations for security leaders
"Leaders now recognise that major disruption is only one crisis away. We can’t control it, but we can evolve our thinking, philosophy, program and architecture.”