Total malware attacks are up by 33 percent and cyber criminals are increasingly leveraging Microsoft Office documents to trick victims and deliver malicious payloads, according to the latest Internet Security Report from WatchGuard Technologies, based on global threat intelligence data from nearly 40,000 Firebox appliances. WatchGuard has also launched a new Threat Landscape data visualisation tool, giving public access to daily updates about the most prevalent computer and network security threats affecting SMBs and distributed enterprises.

Dynamic Data Exchange (DDE) attacks topped WatchGuard’s top-ten malware list as hackers increasingly exploited issues within the Microsoft Office standard to execute code. Also called ‘macro-less malware’, these malicious documents often use PowerShell and obfuscated script to get past network defences. Additionally, two of the top-ten network attacks involved Microsoft Office exploits, further emphasising the growing trend of malicious document attacks.

Overall, malware attacks grew significantly, while zero day malware variants jumped 167 percent. WatchGuard Fireboxes blocked over 30 million malware variants in Q4 2017, which was a 33 percent increase over the previous quarter. Out of the total threats prevented, the subset of new or zero day malware instances rose steeply by 167 percent, compared to the previous quarter. These increases can likely be attributed to heightened criminal activity during the holiday season.

“After a full year of collecting and analysing Firebox Feed data, we can clearly see that cyber criminals are continuing to leverage sophisticated, evasive attacks and resourceful malware delivery schemes to steal valuable data,” said Corey Nachreiner, chief technology officer at WatchGuard Technologies. “Although these criminal tactics may vary over time, we can be certain that this broad trend will persist, so the risks have never been greater for small and midsize organisations with less IT and security resources. We encourage businesses of all sizes to proactively mitigate these threats with layered security services, advanced malware protection and employee education and training in security best practices.”

The report also shows that nearly half of all malware detected eluded basic antivirus (AV) solutions. WatchGuard Fireboxes block malware using both legacy signature-based detection techniques and a modern, proactive behavioural detection solution – APT Blocker – which provides advanced malware protection by catching malware variants missed by legacy AV signatures. This zero day malware accounted for 46 percent of all malware in Q4. This level of growth suggests criminals are using more sophisticated evasion techniques capable of slipping attacks past traditional AV services, which further underscores the importance of behaviour-based defences.

Script-based attacks caught by signatures for JavaScript and Visual Basic Script threats, such as downloaders and droppers, accounted for 48 percent of top malware detected in Q4. Users should take note of the continued popularity of these attacks and watch out for malicious script in web pages and email attachments of any kind.

The full Internet Security Report features evaluations of the quarter’s most pervasive malware and network attacks, recommendations for useful defensive strategies in today’s threat landscape, and a detailed breakdown of “the Krack Attack” – one of the top information security issues in 2017.

Additionally, the report includes a new research project from the WatchGuard Threat Lab, which analyses a database of more than 1 billion stolen password records to stress just how often users choose weak passwords and re-use credentials across multiple accounts. This quarter’s conclusions are based on anonymised Firebox Feed data from nearly 40,000 active WatchGuard Fireboxes worldwide, which blocked more than 30 million malware variants (783 per device) and 6.9 million network attacks (178 per device) in Q4 2017.

New Threat Landscape Data Visualisation Tool

WatchGuard’s new Threat Landscape data visualisation tool offers daily security insights regarding the top malware and network attacks around the globe. The Threat Landscape page enables users to search Firebox Feed data by type of attack, region or country, and targeted date ranges, with interactive graphics that are updated instantly and easy to read.

For more information, download the full report here,  and to access live, real-time threat insights by type, region, and date, visit WatchGuard’s Threat Landscape page.

 

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