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Cisco security report finds ‘unprecedented growth’ of advanced attacks

January 16, 2014  

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The Cisco 2014 Annual Security Report, released today, reveals that threats designed to take advantage of users’ trust in systems, applications and personal networks have reached “startling levels.”

According to the report, a worldwide shortage of nearly one million skilled security professionals is impacting organizations’ abilities to monitor and secure networks, while overall vulnerabilities and threats reached their highest levels since 2000.

The report’s findings offer a picture of rapidly evolving security challenges facing businesses, IT departments and individuals. Attacker methods include socially engineered theft of passwords and credentials, hide-in-plain-sight infiltrations, and exploitation of the trust required for economic transactions, government services and social interactions.

It found:

* Increased sophistication and proliferation of the threat landscape. Simple attacks that caused containable damage have given way to organized cybercrime operations that are sophisticated, well-funded, and capable of significant economic and reputational damage to public and private sector victims.

* Increased complexity of threats and solutions due to rapid growth in intelligent mobile device adoption and cloud computing provide a greater attack surface than ever before. New classes of devices and new infrastructure architectures offer attackers opportunities to exploit unanticipated weaknesses and inadequately defended assets.

“Cybercriminals have learned that harnessing the power of Internet infrastructure yields far more benefits than simply gaining access to individual computers or devices,” Cisco said in a release. “These infrastructure-scale attacks seek to gain access to strategically positioned web hosting servers, nameservers and data centres — with the goal of proliferating attacks across legions of individual assets served by these resources. By targeting Internet infrastructure, attackers undermine trust in everything connected to or enabled by it.”

The report indicates a shortage of more than a million security professionals across the globe in 2014. The sophistication of the technology and tactics used by online criminals — and their nonstop attempts to breach networks and steal data — have outpaced the ability of IT and security professionals to address these threats.

Most organizations do not have the people or the systems to continuously monitor extended networks and detect infiltrations, and then apply protections, in a timely and effective manner, it added.

“Although the Cisco Annual Security Report paints a grim picture of the current state of cyber security, there is hope for restoring trust in people, institutions and technologies — and that starts with empowering defenders with real-world knowledge about expanding attack surfaces,” said John Stewart, Cisco’s chief security officer. “To truly protect against all of these possible attacks, defenders must understand the attackers, their motivations and their methods — before, during and after an attack.”

Other findings include:

* Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks, which disrupt traffic to and from targeted websites and can paralyze ISPs, have increased in both volume and severity. Some DDoS attacks seek to conceal other nefarious activity, such as wire fraud before, during or after a noisy and distracting DDoS campaign.

* Multipurpose Trojans counted as the most frequently encountered web-delivered malware, at 27% percent of total encounters in 2013.

* Java continues to be the most frequently exploited programming language targeted by online criminals. Data from Sourcefire, now a part of Cisco, shows that Java exploits make up the vast majority (91%) of Indicators of Compromise (IOCs).

* 99% of all mobile malware targeted Android devices. At 43.8%, Andr/Qdplugin-A was the most frequently encountered mobile malware, typically via repackaged copies of legitimate apps distributed via non-official marketplaces.

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