FireEye Advanced Threat Report…the inadequacy of the defense

Pierluigi Paganini September 04, 2012

The security firm FireEye has released  an interesting report  named “Advanced Threat Report” related first half of 2012 that provides an overview of the current threat landscape, evolving advanced malware and advanced persistent threat (APT) tactics, and the level of infiltration seen in organizations’ networks today.

The report presents and alarming scenario, the organizations are assisting to an impressive increase in advanced malware that is bypassing their traditional security defenses.  In these days we are reading a lot of news on agents that are able to elude common defense mechanisms, problem that is afflicting across all sectors, from defense to energy.

The organization are facing with a dramatic explosion of the diffusion of advanced malware in terms of volume and also in effectiveness in bypassing traditional signature-based security mechanisms.

A statistics proposed by the security firms declares that on average, organizations are experiencing a staggering 643 Web-based malicious events each week, incidents that have as results the impairment of final targeted systems.

This figure includes file-based threats, such as malicious executables or files that contain exploit s targeting vulnerabilities in applications, that are delivered over the web and email. The figures does not include callback activities, very common on the web.

The graph show the abnormal increase registered in the first half 2012 that is greater than the number of infection per week of the entire last year.

The reports shows that the patterns of attacks vary substantially by industry, in particular the sector of healthcare and Energy/Utilities increased respectively up 100%, and up 60% . These incidents were identified by the FireEye MPS appliances deployed globally within the networks of company customers and partners The report doesn’t provide statistics on governments sector because government agencies don’t send information back to FireEye.

The report highlight the intensified threats coming with Email-Based attacks, confirming that the email is the primary channel through which the attacks are initiated, both via links and attachments. Unfortunately, the proposed results show the great distress of companies in countering APT attacks used by cybercriminals to launch their attacks through spear phishing emails.

Between 1Q 2012 and 2Q 2012, it was observed an increase of 56% in the amount of email-based attacks that successfully penetrated organizations’ traditional security mechanisms, that is a worrying scenario.

Cyber criminals to avoid security mechanisms of the organizations have increased use of dynamic tactics, to conduct spear phishing attacks it has been used an increasing number of malicious domains for limited period of time.

The report introduce also the threat of “Throw-away” domains used only in 10 or fewer spear phishing emails and for these reason difficult to identify, making unnecessary the use of URL blacklists and reputation analysis.

The use of throw-away domains to bypass the signature and reputation-based mechanisms implemented by organizations in dramatically increased.

In the second half of 2011 and the first half of 2012, the number of spear phishing emails using a particular domain over 1,000 times remained stable but in same period, we see that spear phishing attacks using a particular domain between 10 and 99 times dramatically increased.

The report terminates reporting the high Dynamism of email-based attacks, the first criminal methodic to penetrate target’s network. During the past twelve months, the diversity of attachments that led to infections has increased dramatically demonstrating that cybercriminals “are changing their malware more quickly, employing a longer list of file names, and reproducing malware and morphing it in an automated fashion” making hard the creation of signature-based defenses.

The report presents a scary scenario that shows how much vulnerable are companies to attacks of crime that is sharpening the weapons using increasingly sophisticated techniques.

The report demonstrates that in many cases the defenses adopted by companies are not able to stop the incoming cyber threats and the forecasts for the future are not good,  infections will continue to grow and the businesses must be prepared to reject new waves of complicated attacks.

Pierluigi Paganini


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