McAfee Labs 2019 Threats Predictions Report

As 2018 draws to a close, we should perhaps be grateful that the year has not been entirely dominated by ransomware, although the rise of the GandCrab and SamSam variants show that the threat remains active. Our predictions for 2019 move away from simply providing an assessment on the rise or fall of a particular threat, and instead focus on current rumblings we see in the cybercriminal underground that we expect to grow into trends and subsequently threats in the wild.

We have witnessed greater collaboration among cybercriminals exploiting the underground market, which has allowed them to develop efficiencies in their products. Cybercriminals have been partnering in this way for years; in 2019 this market economy will only expand. The game of cat and mouse the security industry plays with ransomware developers will escalate, and the industry will need to respond more quickly and effectively than ever before.

Social media has been a part of our lives for more than a decade. Recently, nation-states have infamously used social media platforms to spread misinformation. In 2019, we expect criminals to begin leveraging those tactics for their own gain. Equally, the continued growth of the Internet of Things in the home will inspire criminals to target those devices for monetary gain.

One thing is certain: Our dependency on technology has become ubiquitous. Consider the breaches of identity platforms, with reports of 50 million users being affected. It is no longer the case that a breach is limited to that platform. Everything is connected, and you are only as strong as your weakest link. In the future, we face the question of which of our weakest links will be compromised.

Predictions

  • Cybercriminal Underground to Consolidate, Create More Partnerships to Boost Threats
  • Artificial Intelligence the Future of Evasion Techniques
  • Synergistic Threats Will Multiply, Requiring Combined Responses
  • Misinformation, Extortion Attempts to Challenge Organizations’ Brands
  • Data Exfiltration Attacks to Target the Cloud
  • Voice-Controlled Digital Assistants the Next Vector in Attacking IoT Devices
  • Cybercriminals to Increase Attacks on Identity Platforms and Edge Devices Under Siege

Cybercriminal Underground to Consolidate, Create More Partnerships to Boost Threats

Hidden hacker forums and chat groups serve as a market for cybercriminals, who can buy malware, exploits, botnets, and other shady services. With these off-the-shelf products, criminals of varying experience and sophistication can easily launch attacks. In 2019, we predict the underground will consolidate, creating fewer but stronger malware-as-a-service families that will actively work together. These increasingly powerful brands will drive more sophisticated cryptocurrency mining, rapid exploitation of new vulnerabilities, and increases in mobile malware and stolen credit cards and credentials.

We expect more affiliates to join the biggest families, due to the ease of operation and strategic alliances with other essential top-level services, including exploit kits, crypter services, Bitcoin mixers, and counter-antimalware services. Two years ago, we saw many of the largest ransomware families, for example, employ affiliate structures. We still see numerous types of ransomware pop up, but only a few survive because most cannot attract enough business to compete with the strong brands, which offer higher infection rates as well as operational and financial security. At the moment the largest families actively advertise their goods; business is flourishing because they are strong brands (see GandCrab) allied with other top-level services, such as money laundering or making malware undetectable.

Underground businesses function successfully because they are part of a trust-based system. This may not be a case of “honor among thieves,” yet criminals appear to feel safe, trusting they cannot be touched in the inner circle of their forums. We have seen this trust in the past, for example, with the popular credit card shops in the first decade of the century, which were a leading source of cybercrime until major police action broke the trust model.

As endpoint detection grows stronger, the vulnerable remote desktop protocol (RDP) offers another path for cybercriminals. In 2019 we predict malware, specifically ransomware, will increasingly use RDP as an entry point for an infection. Currently, most underground shops advertise RDP access for purposes other than ransomware, typically using it as a stepping stone to gain access to Amazon accounts or as a proxy to steal credit cards. Targeted ransomware groups and ransomware-as-a-service (RaaS) models will take advantage of RDP, and we have seen highly successful under-the-radar schemes use this tactic. Attackers find a system with weak RDP, attack it with ransomware, and propagate through networks either living off the land or using worm functionality (EternalBlue). There is evidence that the author of GandCrab is already working on an RDP option.

We also expect malware related to cryptocurrency mining will become more sophisticated, selecting which currency to mine on a victim’s machine based on the processing hardware (WebCobra) and the value of a specific currency at a given time.

Next year, we predict the length of a vulnerability’s life, from detection to weaponization, will grow even shorter. We have noticed a trend of cybercriminals becoming more agile in their development process. They gather data on flaws from online forums and the Common Vulnerabilities and Exposures database to add to their malware. We predict that criminals will sometimes take a day or only hours to implement attacks against the latest weaknesses in software and hardware.

We expect to see an increase in underground discussions on mobile malware, mostly focused on Android, regarding botnets, banking fraud, ransomware, and bypassing two-factor authentication security. The value of exploiting the mobile platform is currently underestimated as phones offer a lot to cybercriminals given the amount of access they have to sensitive information such as bank accounts.

Credit card fraud and the demand for stolen credit card details will continue, with an increased focus on online skimming operations that target third-party payment platforms on large e-commerce sites. From these sites, criminals can silently steal thousands of fresh credit cards details at a time. Furthermore, social media is being used to recruit unwitting users, who might not know they are working for criminals when they reship goods or provide financial services.

We predict an increase in the market for stolen credentials—fueled by recent large data breaches and by bad password habits of users. The breaches lead, for example, to the sale of voter records and email-account hacking. These attacks occur daily.

Artificial Intelligence the Future of Evasion Techniques

To increase their chances of success, attackers have long employed evasion techniques to bypass security measures and avoid detection and analysis. Packers, crypters, and other tools are common components of attackers’ arsenals. In fact, an entire underground economy has emerged, offering products and dedicated services to aid criminal activities. We predict in 2019, due to the ease with which criminals can now outsource key components of their attacks, evasion techniques will become more agile due to the application of artificial intelligence. Think the counter-AV industry is pervasive now? This is just the beginning.

In 2018 we saw new process-injection techniques such as “process doppelgänging” with the SynAck ransomware, and PROPagate injection delivered by the RigExploit Kit. By adding technologies such as artificial intelligence, evasion techniques will be able to further circumvent protections.
Different evasions for different malware

In 2018, we observed the emergence of new threats such as cryptocurrency miners, which hijack the resources of infected machines. With each threat comes inventive evasion techniques :

  • Cryptocurrency mining : Miners implement a number of evasion techniques. Minerva Labs discovered WaterMiner, which simply stops its mining process when the victim runs the Task Manager or an antimalware scan.
  • Exploit kits : Popular evasion techniques include process injection or the manipulation of memory space and adding arbitrary code. In-memory injection is a popular infection vector for avoiding detection during delivery.
  • Botnets : Code obfuscation or anti-disassembling techniques are often used by large botnets that infect thousands of victims. In May 2018, AdvisorsBot was discovered using junk code, fake conditional instructions, XOR encryption, and even API hashing. Because bots tend to spread widely, the authors implemented many evasion techniques to slow reverse engineering. They also used obfuscation mechanisms for communications between the bots and control servers. Criminals use botnets for activities such as DDOS for hire, proxies, spam, or other malware delivery. Using evasion techniques is critical for criminals to avoid or delay botnet takedowns.
  • Advanced persistent threats : Stolen certificates bought on the cybercriminal underground are often used in targeted attacks to bypass antimalware detection. Attackers also use low-level malware such as rootkits or firmware-based threats. For example, in 2018 ESET discovered the first UEFI rootkit, LoJax. Security researchers have also seen destructive features used as anti-forensic techniques: The OlympicDestroyer malware targeted the Olympic Games organization and erased event logs and backups to avoid investigation.

Artificial intelligence the next weapon

In recent years, we have seen malware using evasion techniques to bypass machine learning engines. For example, in 2017 the Cerber ransomware dropped legitimate files on systems to trick the engine that classifies files. In 2018, PyLocky ransomware used InnoSetup to package the malware and avoid machine learning detection.

Clearly, bypassing artificial intelligence engines is already on the criminal to-do list; however, criminals can also implement artificial intelligence in their malicious software. We expect evasion techniques to begin leveraging artificial intelligence to automate target selection, or to check infected environments before deploying later stages and avoiding detection.

Such implementation is game changing in the threat landscape. We predict it will soon be found in the wild.

Synergistic Threats Will Multiply, Requiring Combined Responses

This year we have seen cyber threats adapt and pivot faster than ever. We have seen ransomware evolving to be more effective or operate as a smoke screen. We have seen cryptojacking soar, as it provides a better, and safer, return on investment than ransomware. We can still see phishing going strong and finding new vulnerabilities to exploit. We also noticed fileless and “living off the land” threats are more slippery and evasive than ever, and we have even seen the incubation of steganography malware in the Pyeongchang Olympics campaign. In 2019, we predict attackers will more frequently combine these tactics to create multifaced, or synergistic, threats.

What could be worse ?

Attacks are usually centered on the use of one threat. Bad actors concentrate their efforts on iterating and evolving one threat at a time for effectiveness and evasion. When an attack is successful, it is classified as ransomware, cryptojacking, data exfiltration, etc., and defenses are put in place. At this point, the attack’s success rate is significantly reduced. However, if a sophisticated attack involves not one but five top-notch threats synergistically working together, the defense panorama could become very blurry. The challenge arises when an attempt is made to identify and mitigate the attack. Because the ultimate attack goals are unknown, one might get lost in the details of each threat as it plays a role in the chain.

One of the reasons synergic threats are becoming a reality is because bad actors are improving their skills by developing foundations, kits, and reusable threat components. As attackers organize their efforts into a black-market business model, they can focus on adding value to previous building blocks. This strategy allows them to orchestrate multiple threats instead of just one to reach their goals.

An example is worth a thousand words

Imagine an attack that starts with a phishing threat—not a typical campaign using Word documents, but a novel technique. This phishing email contains a video attachment. When you open the video, your video player does not play and prompts you to update the codec. Once you run the update, a steganographic polyglot file (a simple GIF) is deployed on your system. Because it is a polyglot (a file that conforms to more than one format at the same time), the GIF file schedules a task that fetches a fileless script hosted on a compromised system. That script running in memory evaluates your system and decides to run either ransomware or a cryptocurrency miner. That is a dangerous synergistic threat in action.

The attack raises many questions: What are you dealing with? Is it phishing 2.0? Is it stegware? Is it fileless and “living off the land”? Cryptojacking? Ransomware? It is everything at the same time.

This sophisticated but feasible example demonstrates that focusing on one threat may not be enough to detect or remediate an attack. When you aim to classify the attack into a single category, you might lose the big picture and thus be less effective mitigating it. Even if you stop the attack in the middle of the chain, discovering the initial and final stages is as important for protecting against future attempts.
Be curious, be creative, connect your defenses

Tackling sophisticated attacks based on synergic threats requires questioning every threat. What if this ransomware hit was part of something bigger? What if this phishing email pivots to a technique that employees are not trained for? What if we are missing the real goal of the attack?

Bearing these questions in mind will not only help capture the big picture, but also get the most of security solutions. We predict bad actors will add synergy to their attacks, but cyber defenses can also work synergistically.

SOURCE :  https://securingtomorrow.mcafee.com/other-blogs/mcafee-labs/mcafee-labs-2019-threats-predictions/

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