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Malware and botnets: Why Emotet is dominating the malicious threat landscape in 2019

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Phishing attacks are on the rise
ZDNet’s Danny Palmer sits down with TechRepublic’s Karen Roby to discuss the rising number of phishing attacks and preventative measures you need to be taking. Read more: https://zd.net/2C6rIVO

Emotet accounts for almost two-thirds of payloads delivered by email during the start of 2019, as the malware continues to plague businesses and individuals around the world.

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While it started life as a banking trojan, Emotet has evolved into more of a botnet, with its criminal operators leasing out loading capabilities and allowing other cyber attackers to deliver their own malware to victims as a secondary payload.

Such is the power of Emotet that analysis by security company Proofpoint has found that the malware accounted for almost all of the botnet payloads delivered by email between January and March 2019 – and botnets accounted for 61% of all malicious payloads sent in phishing messages during that period.

SEE: A winning strategy for cybersecurity (ZDNet special report) | Download the report as a PDF (TechRepublic)

The reclassification of Emotet as a botnet – a type of malware that secretly takes hold of a large network of machines and can be exploited to perform malicious tasks without the victim being aware – has seen botnets rise to become the most common malicious threat delivered in email-based attacks.

As a result, malicious phishing emails delivering banking Trojans account for just one in five email attacks, down from over half at the end of last year – although with the number of Trojans being delivered in second-stage attacks by botnets, the threat of these data-harvesting malware attacks remains as dangerous as ever.

Outside of banking Trojans and botnets, the remainder of threats delivered by email includes credential harvesters, remote access Trojans, ransomware, and keyloggers.

But it’s Emotet which has become the most prolific form of malware delivered by emails, thanks in part to its stealthy and flexible nature – which can then be piggybacked on by other malicious campaigns.

“Emotet, by its nature, is modular and flexible and, in addition to supporting spreading via networks, now comprises a sufficiently large botnet to be able to regularly distribute massive campaigns allowing it to spread further via email,” Chris Dawson, threat intelligence lead at Proofpoint told ZDNet.

“The group behind Emotet are adept at localization and frequently distribute large-scale campaigns in a range of geographies, languages, etc., increasing their global footprint,” he added.

The spread of Emotet is driven by malicious URLs in phishing emails: analysis by researchers suggests that the number of threats delivered my malicious URLs outnumbers those delivered by malicious attachments by five to one.

SEE: Cybersecurity in an IoT and mobile world (ZDNet special report) | Download the report as a PDF (TechRepublic)

Dawson believes that a rise in malicious URLs being used to delivered malware could be down to cyber criminals taking advantage of users increasingly trusting cloud and web-based services.

“While we have long been trained not to open attachments from unknown senders, increasing use of file-sharing services and web-based applications means that individuals often click through links with less hesitation,” he said.

“Similarly, those links can leverage legitimate file-sharing services with their attendant familiar domains, can use lookalike domains, or can have the URL masked in text, making it harder to recognize potentially malicious content”.

In order to combat the threats posed by Emotet and other malicious payloads delivered by social engineering, Proofpoint researchers recommend that security teams assume that users will click and build up a defence policy from there. However, if the emails can be prevented from reaching inboxes in the first place, they’re far less likely to cause damage.

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Work from Home Security

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Spin Master is a leading global children’s entertainment company that invents toys and games, produces dozens of television and studio series that are distributed in 160 countries, and creates a variety of digital games played by more than 30 million children. What was once a small private company founded by childhood friends is now a public global supply chain with over 1,500 employees and 28 offices around the world.

Like most organizations in 2020, Spin Master had to adapt quickly to the new normal of remote work, shifting most of its production from cubicles in regional and head offices to hundreds of employees working from home and other remote locations.

This dramatic shift created potential security risks, as most employees were no longer behind the firewall on the corporate network. Without the implementation of hardened endpoint security, the door would be open for bad actors to infiltrate the organization, acquire intellectual property, and ransom customer information. Additionally, the potential downtime caused by a security breach could harm the global supply chain. With that in mind, Spin Master created a self-imposed 30-day deadline to extend its network protection capabilities to the edge.

Key Findings:

  • Think Long Term: The initial goal of establishing a stop-gap work-from-home (WFH) and work-from-anywhere (WFA) strategy has since morphed into a permanent strategy, requiring long-term solutions.
  • Gather Skills: The real urgency posed by the global pandemic made forging partnerships with providers that could fill all the required skill sets a top priority.
  • Build Momentum: The compressed timeline left no room for delay or error. The Board of Directors threw its support behind the implementation team and gave it broad budget authority to ensure rapid action, while providing active guidance to align strategy with action.
  • Deliver Value: The team established two key requirements that the selected partner must deliver: implementation support and establishing an ongoing managed security operations center (SOC).
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Key Criteria for Evaluating Privileged Access Management

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Privileged Access Management (PAM) enables administrative access to critical IT systems while minimizing the chances of security compromises through monitoring, policy enforcement, and credential management.

A key operating principle of all PAM systems is the separation of user credentials for individual staff members from the system administration credentials they are permitted to use. PAM solutions store and manage all of the privileged credentials, providing system access without requiring users to remember, or even know, the privileged password. Of course, all staff have their own unique user ID and password that they use to complete everyday tasks such as accessing email and writing documents. Users who are permitted to handle system administration tasks that require privileged credentials log into the PAM solution, which provides and controls such access according to predefined security policies. These policies control who is allowed to use which privileged credentials when, where, and for what tasks. An organization’s policy may also require logging and recording of the actions undertaken with the privileged credentials.

Once implemented, PAM will improve your security posture in several ways. The first is by segregating day-to-day duties from duties that require elevated access, reducing the risk of accidental privileged actions. Secondly, automated password management reduces the possibility that credentials will be shared while also lowering the risk if credentials are accidentally exposed. Finally, extensive logging and activity recording in PAM solutions aids audits of critical system access for both preventative and forensic security.

How to Read this Report

This GigaOm report is one of a series of documents that helps IT organizations assess competing solutions in the context of well-defined features and criteria. For a fuller understanding consider reviewing the following reports:

Key Criteria report: A detailed market sector analysis that assesses the impact that key product features and criteria have on top-line solution characteristics—such as scalability, performance, and TCO—that drive purchase decisions.

GigaOm Radar report: A forward-looking analysis that plots the relative value and progression of vendor solutions along multiple axes based on strategy and execution. The Radar report includes a breakdown of each vendor’s offering in the sector.

Vendor Profile: An in-depth vendor analysis that builds on the framework developed in the Key Criteria and Radar reports to assess a company’s engagement within a technology sector. This analysis includes forward-looking guidance around both strategy and product.

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Adventist Risk Management Data Protection Infrastructure

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Companies always want to enhance their ability to quickly address pressing business needs. Toward that end, they look for new ways to make their IT infrastructures more efficient—and more cost effective. Today, those pressing needs often center around data protection and regulatory compliance, which was certainly the case for Adventist Risk Management. What they wanted was an end-to-end, best-in-class solution to meet their needs. After trying several others, they found the perfect combination with HYCU and Nutanix, which provided:

  • Ease of deployment
  • Outstanding ROI
  • Overall TCO improvement

Nutanix Cloud Platform provides a software-defined hyperconverged infrastructure, while HYCU offers purpose-built backup and recovery for Nutanix. Compared to the previous traditional infrastructure and data protection solutions in use at Adventist Risk Management, Nutanix and HYCU simplified processes, speeding day-to-day operations up to 75%. Now, migration and update activities typically scheduled for weekends can be performed during working hours and help to increase IT staff and management quality of life. HYCU further increased savings by providing faster and more frequent points of recovery as well as better DR Recovery Point Objective (RPO) and Recovery Time Objective (RTO) by increasing the ability to do daily backups from one to four per day.

Furthermore, the recent adoption of Nutanix Objects, which provides secure and performant S3 storage capabilities, enhanced the infrastructure by:

    • Improving overall performance for backups
    • Adding security against potential ransomware attacks
    • Replacing components difficult to manage and support

In the end, Nutanix and HYCU enabled their customer to save money, improve the existing environment, and, above all, meet regulatory compliance requirements without any struggle.

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