Businesses on high alert as Symantec reports “tactical shift” in cyber attacks

"Attackers don’t need to break down the door to a company’s network when the keys are readily available."

There has been a “tactical shift” by cyber-attackers, who are infiltrating networks and evading detection by hijacking the infrastructure of major corporations and using it against them.

In a record-setting year for zero-day vulnerabilities, Symantec’s' Internet Security Threat Report (ISTR), Volume 20 reveals that it took software companies an average of 59 days to create and roll out patches—up from only four days in 2013.

Attackers took advantage of the delay and, in the case of Heartbleed, leapt to exploit the vulnerability within four hours.

Meanwhile, there were 24 total zero-day vulnerabilities discovered in 2014, leaving an open playing field for attackers to exploit known security gaps before they were patched.

“Attackers don’t need to break down the door to a company’s network when the keys are readily available,” says Kevin Haley, director, Symantec Security Response.

“We’re seeing attackers trick companies into infecting themselves by Trojanising software updates to common programs and patiently waiting for their targets to download them—giving attackers unfettered access to the corporate network.”

According to the security vendor, advanced attackers continued to breach networks with highly-targeted spear-phishing attacks, which increased a total of 8 percent in 2014.

For Haley, what makes last year particularly interesting is the precision of these attacks, which used 20 percent fewer emails to successfully reach their targets and incorporated more drive-by malware downloads and other web-based exploits.

Additionally, Symantec observed attackers:

• Using stolen email accounts from one corporate victim to spear-phish other victims higher up the food chain;

• Taking advantage of companies’ management tools and procedures to move stolen IP around the corporate network before exfiltration;

• Building custom attack software inside the network of their victims to further disguise their activities.

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