McAfee Inc. released its McAfee Labs Threats Report: April 2017, which details the challenges facing threat intelligence sharing efforts, probes the architecture and inner workings of Mirai botnets, assesses reported attacks across industries, and reveals growth trends in malware, ransomware, mobile malware and other threats in Q4 2016.
“The security industry faces critical challenges in our efforts to share threat intelligence between entities, among vendor solutions, and even within vendor portfolios,” said Vincent Weafer, Vice President of McAfee Labs. “Working together is power. Addressing these challenges will determine the effectiveness of cybersecurity teams to automate detection and orchestrate responses, and ultimately tip the cybersecurity balance in favor of defenders.”
The report reviews the background and drivers of threat intelligence sharing; various threat intelligence components, sources, and sharing models; how mature security operations can use shared data; and critical sharing challenges that the industry must overcome. Those challenges include:
- Volume. A massive signal-to-noise problem continues to plague defenders trying to triage, process, and act on the highest-priority security incidents.
- Validation. Attackers may file false threat reports to mislead or overwhelm threat intelligence systems, and data from legitimate sources can be tampered with if poorly handled.
- Quality. If vendors focus just on gathering and sharing more threat data, there is a risk that much of it will be duplicative, wasting valuable time and effort. Sensors must capture richer data to help identify key structural elements of persistent attacks.
- Speed. Intelligence received too late to prevent an attack is still valuable, but only for the cleanup process. Security sensors and systems must share threat intelligence in near real time to match attack speeds.
- Correlation. The failure to identify relevant patterns and key data points in threat data makes it impossible to turn data into intelligence and then into knowledge that can inform and direct security operations teams.
To move threat intelligence sharing to the next level of efficiency and effectiveness, McAfee Labs suggests focusing on three areas:
- Triage and prioritization. Simplify event triage and provide a better environment for security practitioners to investigate high-priority threats.
- Connecting the dots. Establish relationships between indicators of compromise so that threat hunters can understand their connections to attack campaigns.
- Better sharing models. Improve ways to share threat intelligence between our own products and with other vendors.
“Increasingly sophisticated attackers are evading discrete defense systems, and siloed systems let in threats that have been stopped elsewhere because they do not share information,” Weafer continued. “Threat intelligence sharing enables us to learn from each other’s experiences, gaining insight based on multiple attributes that build a more complete picture of the context of cyber events.”
Mirai Botnet Proliferation
Mirai was responsible for the fourth quarter’s highly publicized DDoS attack on Dyn, a major DNS service provider. Mirai is notable because it detects and infects poorly secured IoT devices, transforming them into bots to attack its targets.
The October public release of the Mirai source code led to a proliferation of derivative bots, although most appear to be driven by script kiddies and are relatively limited in their impact. But the source code release has also led to offerings of “DDoS-as-a-service” based on Mirai, making it simple for unsophisticated yet willing attackers to execute DDoS attacks that leverage other poorly secured IoT devices. Mirai botnet-based DDoS attacks are available as a service in the cybercriminal marketplace for $50 to $7,500 per day.
McAfee Labs estimates that 2.5 million Internet of Things (IoT) devices were infected by Mirai by the end of Q4 2016, with about five IoT device IP addresses added to Mirai botnets each minute at that time.
Q4 2016 Threat Activity
In the fourth quarter of 2016, McAfee Labs’ Global Threat Intelligence network registered notable trends in cyber-threat growth and cyber-attack incidents across industries:
- Malware growth. The number of new malware samples slowed 17% in Q4, while the overall count grew 24% in 2016 to 638 million samples.
- Mobile malware. The number of new mobile malware samples declined 17% in Q4, while total mobile malware grew 99% in 2016.
- Ransomware growth. The number of new ransomware samples dropped 71% in Q4, mostly due to a drop in generic ransomware detections, as well as a decrease in the activity of the Locky and CryptoWall strains. The number of total ransomware samples grew 88% in 2016.
- Mac OS malware. Although still small compared to Windows threats, the number of new Mac OS malware samples grew 245% in Q4 due to adware bundling. Total Mac OS malware grew 744% in 2016.
- Spam botnets. Spam email messages from the top 10 botnets dropped 24% in Q4 to 181 million emails. They generated 934 million spam messages in 2016 overall.
- Reported security incidents. McAfee counted 197 publicly-disclosed security incidents in Q4 and 974 publicly-disclosed security incidents in 2016. Security incidents are events that compromise the integrity, confidentiality, or availability of information assets. Some, but not all, of these incidents are breaches. Breaches are incidents that result in the confirmed disclosure (not just potential exposure) of data.
- Public sector cyber-attacks. The public sector experienced the greatest number of incidents by far, but McAfee believes this may be the result of stricter requirements for reporting incidents, as well as an increase in attacks related to the U.S. election process, mostly voter database incidents and defacing of election websites.
- Banking and gaming attacks. A Q3 jump in incidents in the software development sector was due to the rise in attacks on gaming platforms. In the finance sector, the SWIFT attacks on the banking sector led to a Q2 jump in incidents.
- Botnet activity. The KelihosC botnet, a recent purveyor of phony pharmaceuticals and Russian automotive supplies (such as “winter and summer tires at competitive prices”), increased its overall volume during Q4.