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Ransomware variants almost double in six months – FortiGuard
Mon, 22nd Aug 2022
FYI, this story is more than a year old

Ransomware variants have almost doubled in the past six months, with exploit trends demonstrating the endpoint remains a target as work-from-anywhere continues, according to the latest semiannual FortiGuard Labs Global Threat Landscape Report.

"Cyber adversaries are advancing their playbooks to thwart defence and scale their criminal affiliate networks," says Derek Manky, chief security strategist and VP global threat intelligence, FortiGuard Labs.

"They are using aggressive execution strategies such as extortion or wiping data as well as focusing on reconnaissance tactics pre-attack to ensure better return on threat investment," he says.

"To combat advanced and sophisticated attacks, organisations need integrated security solutions that can ingest real-time threat intelligence, detect threat patterns, and correlate massive amounts of data to detect anomalies and automatically initiate a coordinated response across hybrid networks."

Glenn Maiden, director of threat intelligence, Australia and New Zealand, Fortinet, adds, "The FortiGuard Labs Global Threat Landscape 1H 2022 report has found the number of ransomware variants has almost doubled over the previous six months while the volume of ransomware, which spiked in 2021, has remained steady.

"This means FortiGuard Labs has seen the same amount of ransomware attacks; however, there is double the diversity of ransomware variants," he says.

One of the drivers for this increase in diversity is the popularity of Ransomware-as-a-Service (RaaS). RaaS can enable even a relatively unsophisticated criminal to execute a lucrative ransomware attack.

As organisations maintain remote and hybrid working models, cyber adversaries are focusing on concealing activity from end point security systems. Looking at the top tactics and techniques from the past six months of endpoint detection and response (EDR) telemetry, defence evasion is the top tactic employed by malware developers. Attackers are likely to use techniques like system binary proxy execution to hide malicious intentions.

Cyber affiliates are now much more sophisticated in selecting their targets. An attacker that conducts deeper pre-attack reconnaissance will lead to a campaign that is highly tailored to the victim and much more likely to succeed than a generic a spray-and-pray model.

Preparation is the best way to mitigate the threat of cyberattack. The Australian Cyber Security Centre Essential Eight advice to prevent, contain, and recover will be very effective, ensuring that even if a breach occurs, any impact is minimised and services can be effectively and quickly restored.

Highlights of the 1H 2022 report:

  • The ransomware threat continues to adapt with more variants enabled by Ransomware-as-a-Service (RaaS)
  • Work-from-anywhere (WFA) endpoints remain targets for cyber adversaries to gain access to corporate networks
  • Operational technology (OT) and information technology (IT) environments are both attractive targets as cyber adversaries search for opportunities in the growing attack surface and IT/OT convergence
  • Destructive threat trends continue to evolve, as evidenced by the spread of wiper malware as part of adversary toolkits
  • Cyber adversaries are embracing more reconnaissance and defence evasion techniques to increase precision and destructive weaponisation across the cyber-attack chain

Ransomware variant growth shows evolution of crime ecosystems 

Ransomware remains a top threat and cyber adversaries continue to invest significant resources into new attack techniques. In the past six months, FortiGuard Labs has seen a total of 10,666 ransomware variants, compared to just 5,400 in the previous six-month period. That is nearly 100% growth in ransomware variants in half a year.

RaaS, with its popularity on the dark web, continues to fuel an industry of criminals forcing organisations to consider ransomware settlements. To protect against ransomware, organisations, regardless of industry or size, need a proactive approach. Real-time visibility, protection, and remediation coupled with zero-trust network access (ZTNA) and advanced endpoint detection and response (EDR) are critical. 
Exploit trends show OT and the endpoint are still irresistible targets

The digital convergence of IT and OT and the endpoints enabling WFA remain key vectors of attack as adversaries continue to target the growing attack surface. Many exploits of vulnerabilities at the endpoint involve unauthorised users gaining access to a system with a goal of lateral movement to get deeper into corporate networks. For example, a spoofing vulnerability (CVE 2022-26925) placed high in volume, as well as a remote code execution (RCE) vulnerability (CVE 2022-26937). Also, analysing endpoint vulnerabilities by volume and detections reveals the relentless path of cyber adversaries attempting to gain access by maximising both old and new vulnerabilities. In addition, when looking specifically at OT vulnerability trends, the sector was not spared. A wide range of devices and platforms experienced in-the-wild exploits, demonstrating the cybersecurity reality of increased IT and OT convergence and the disruptive goals of adversaries. Advanced endpoint technology can help mitigate and effectively remediate infected devices at an early stage of an attack. In addition, services such as a digital risk protection service (DRPS) can be used to do external surface threat assessments, find and remediate security issues, and help gain contextual insights on current and imminent threats.

Destructive threat trends continue with wipers widening

Wiper malware trends reveal a disturbing evolution of more destructive and sophisticated attack techniques continuing with malicious software that destroys data by wiping it clean. The war in Ukraine fuelled a substantial increase in disk wiping malware among threat actors primarily targeting critical infrastructure. FortiGuard Labs identified at least seven major new wiper variants in the first six months of 2022 that were used in various campaigns against government, military, and private organisations. This number is significant because it is close to the number of wiper variants that have been publicly detected since 2012. Additionally, the wipers did not stay in one geographical location but were detected in 24 countries besides Ukraine. To minimise the impact of wiper attacks, network detection and response (NDR) with self-learning artificial intelligence (AI) is helpful to better detect intrusions. Also backups must be stored off-site and offline.

Defence evasion remains top attack tactic globally

Examining adversarial strategies reveals takeaways about how attack techniques and tactics are evolving. FortiGuard Labs analysed the functionality of detected malware to track the most prevalent approaches over the last six months. Among the top eight tactics and techniques focused on the endpoint, defence evasion was the most employed tactic by malware developers. They are often using system binary proxy execution to do so. Hiding malicious intentions is one of the most important things for adversaries. Therefore, they are attempting to evade defences by masking them and attempting to hide commands using a legitimate certificate to execute a trusted process and carry out malicious intent. In addition, the second most popular technique was process injection, where criminals work to inject code into the address space of another process to evade defences and improve stealth. Organisations will be better positioned to secure against the broad toolkits of adversaries armed with this actionable intelligence. Integrated, AI and ML-driven cybersecurity platforms with advanced detection and response capabilities powered by actionable threat intelligence are important to protect across all edges of hybrid networks.
AI-powered security across the extended attack surface

When organisations gain a deeper understanding of the goals and tactics used by adversaries through actionable threat intelligence, they can better align defences to adapt and react to quickly changing attack techniques proactively. Threat insights are critical to help prioritise patching strategies to better secure environments. Cybersecurity awareness and training are also important as the threat landscape changes to keep employees and security teams up-to-date. Organisations need security operations that can function at machine speed to keep up with the volume, sophistication, and speed of todays cyber threats. AI and ML-powered prevention, detection, and response strategies based on a cybersecurity mesh architecture allow for much tighter integration, increased automation, as well as a more rapid, coordinated, and effective response to threats across the extended network.