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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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Phish Fight: Securing Enterprise Communications

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Yes, much of the world may have moved on from email to social media and culturally dubious TikTok dances, yet traditional electronic mail remains a foundation of business communication. And sadly, it remains a prime vector for malware, data leakage, and phishing attacks that can undermine enterprise protections. It doesn’t have to be that way.

In a just released report titled “GigaOm Radar for Phishing Prevention and Detection,” GigaOm Analyst Simon Gibson surveyed more than a dozen enterprise-focused email security solutions. He found a range of approaches to securing communications that often can be fitted together to provide critical, defense-in-depth protection against even determined attackers.

Figure 1. GigaOm Radar for Email Phishing Prevention and Detection

“When evaluating these vendors and their solutions, it is important to consider your own business and workflow,” Gibson writes in the report, stressing the need to deploy solutions that best address your organization’s business workflow and email traffic. “For some it may be preferable to settle on one comprehensive solution, while for others building a best-of-breed architecture from multiple vendors may be preferable.”

In a field of competent solutions, Gibson found that Forcepoint, purchased recently by Raytheon, stood apart thanks to the layered protections provided by its Advanced Classification Engine. Area 1 and Zimperium, meanwhile, are both leaders that exhibit significant momentum, with Area 1 boosted by its recent solution partnership with Virtru, and Zimperium excelling in its deep commitment to mobile message security.

A mobile focus is timely, Gibson says in a video interview for GigaOm. He says companies are “tuning the spigot on” and enabling unprecedented access and reliance on mobile devices, which is creating an urgent need to get ahead of threats.

Gibson’s conclusion in the report? He singles out three things: Defense in depth, awareness of existing patterns and infrastructure, and a healthy respect for the “human factor” that can make security so hard to lock down.

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When Is a DevSecOps Vendor Not a DevSecOps Vendor?

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DevOps’ general aim is to enable a more efficient process for producing software and technology solutions and bringing stakeholders together to speed up delivery. But we know from experience that this inherently creative, outcome-driven approach often forgets about one thing until too late in the process—security. Too often, security is brought into the timeline just before deployment, risking last minute headaches and major delays. The security team is pushed into being the Greek chorus of the process, “ruining everyone’s fun” by demanding changes and slowing things down.

But as we know, in the complex, multi-cloud and containerized environment we find ourselves in, security is becoming more important and challenging than ever. And the costs of security failure are not only measured in slower deployment, but in compliance breaches and reputational damage.

The term “DevSecOps” has been coined to characterize how security needs to be at the heart of the DevOps process. This is in part principle and part tools. As a principle, DevSecOps fits with the concept of “shifting left,” that is, ensuring that security is treated as early as possible in the development process. So far, so simple.

From a tooling perspective, however, things get more complicated, not least because the market has seen a number of platforms marketing themselves as DevSecOps. As we have been writing our Key Criteria report on the subject, we have learned that not all DevSecOps vendors are necessarily DevSecOps vendors. Specifically, we have learned to distinguish capabilities that directly enable the goals of DevSecOps from a process perspective, from those designed to support DevSecOps practices. We could define them as: “Those that do, and those that help.”

This is how to tell the two types of vendor apart and how to use them.

Vendors Enabling DevSecOps: “Tools That Do”

A number of tools work to facilitate the DevSecOps process -– let’s bite the bullet and call them DevSecOps tools. They help teams set out each stage of software development, bringing siloed teams together behind a unified vision that allows fast, high-quality development, with security considerations at its core. DevSecOps tools work across the development process, for example:

  • Create: Help to set and implement policy
  • Develop: Apply guidance to the process and aid its implementation
  • Test: Facilitate and guide security testing procedures
  • Deploy: Provide reports to assure confidence to deploy the application

The key element that sets these tool sets apart is the ability to automate and reduce friction within the development process. They will prompt action, stop a team from moving from one stage to another if the process has not adequately addressed security concerns, and guide the roadmap for the development from start to finish.

Supporting DevSecOps: “Tools That Help”

In this category we place those tools which aid the execution, and monitoring, of good DevSecOps principles. Security scanning and application/infrastructure hardening tools are a key element of these processes: Software composition analysis (SCA) forms a part of the development stage, static/dynamic application security testing (SAST/DAST) is integral to the test stage and runtime app protection (RASP) is a key to the Deploy stage.

Tools like this are a vital part of the security layer of security tooling, especially just before deployment – and they often come with APIs so they can be plugged into the CI/CD process. However, while these capabilities are very important to DevSecOps, they can be seen in more of a supporting role, rather than being DevSecOps tools per se.

DevSecOps-washing is not a good idea for the enterprise

While one might argue that security should never have been shifted right, DevSecOps exists to ensure that security best practices take place across the development lifecycle. A corollary exists to the idea of “tools that help,” namely that organizations implementing these tools are not “doing DevSecOps,” any more than vendors providing these tools are DevSecOps vendors.

The only way to “do” DevSecOps is to fully embrace security at a process management and governance level: This means assessing risk, defining policy, setting review gates, and disallowing progress for insecure deliverables. Organizations that embrace DevSecOps can get help from what we are calling DevSecOps tools, as well as from scanning and hardening tools that help support its goals.

At the end of the day, all security and governance boils down to risk: If you buy a scanning tool so you can check a box that says “DevSecOps,” you are potentially adding to your risk posture, rather than mitigating it. So, get your DevSecOps strategy fixed first, then consider how you can add automation, visibility, and control using “tools that do,” as well as benefit from “tools that help.”

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High Performance Application Security Testing

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This free 1-hour webinar from GigaOm Research. It is hosted by an expert in Application and API testing, and GigaOm analyst, Jake Dolezal. His presentation will focus on the results of high performance testing we completed against two security mechanisms: ModSecurity on NGINX and NGINX App Protect. Additionally, we tested the AWS Web Application Firewall (WAF) as a fully managed security offering.

While performance is important, it is only one criterion for a Web Application Firewall selection. The results of the report are revealing about these platforms. The methodology will be shown with clarity and transparency on how you might replicate these tests to mimic your own workloads and requirements.

Register now to join GigaOm and sponsor NGINX for this free expert webinar.

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