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Advanced Persistent Threats get more advanced, persistent and threatening

What it says on the security biz tin

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Organisations are getting hit with a malicious email attachment or web link designed to evade legacy defences up to once every three minutes, according to a report by security biz FireEye.

FireEye's latest advanced threat report states tech businesses are at the forefront of cyber-espionage malfeasance, with one event per minute. Some industries are attacked cyclically, while some verticals experience attacks more erratically.

For instance, China recently listed healthcare as one of the priorities in its 15-year science and technology development strategy for 2006 to 2020. This led to a surge in cyber-espionage campaigns against healthcare firms, FireEye's Rob Rachwald explains in a blog post on the report.

Spear phishing remains the most common method for launching advanced malware campaigns during the second half of last year. Businesses targeted by spear phishing emails generally fall into three general categories: shipping and delivery, finance, and general business.

Zip files remain the preferred file of choice for malware delivery, featuring in 92 per cent of attacks. But blocking or quarantining .zip files at the gateway, even if it doesn't interfere with legitimate business processes, isn't really the way ahead.

Attackers are getting even smarter by coming up with sneakier way to evade detection. For example, FireEye has uncovered examples of malware that execute only when users move a mouse, a tactic which could dupe current sandbox detection systems since the malware doesn’t generate any activity.

In addition, malware writers have also incorporated virtual machine detection as a means to frustrate security analysis of their wares and DLL files to improve persistence. By avoiding the more common .exe file type, attackers using DLL files stand a better chancing of avoiding detection for longer.

FireEye's report (registration required), published on Monday, is gathered from 89 million malware events and direct intelligence uncovered by the FireEye research team. It reckons the latest generation of cyber-espionage attacks routinely bypass traditional defences such as firewalls, next-generation firewalls, IPS, anti-virus and security gateways.

FireEye has, of course, a vested interest in highlighting the deficiencies of typical corporate defences in talking up the need for its cloud-based security platform. But that doesn't mean its general assessment that advanced persistent threat crews are running rings around corporate defenders is wrong.

“This report provides an overview of how attacks have become much more advanced and successful at penetrating networks, regardless of industry,” said Ashar Aziz, FireEye founder and CTO. He added:

“As cybercriminals invest more in advanced malware and innovations to better evade detection, enterprises must rethink their security infrastructure and reinforce their traditional defences with a new layer of security that is able to detect these dynamic, unknown threats in real time.” ®

Remote control for virtualized desktops

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