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Report: Endpoint Malware and Ransomware in First Three Quarters of 2021 Topped All of 2020

A new Internet Security Report from global network security and intelligence provider WatchGuard Technologies found that endpoint malware and ransomware attacks during the first three quarters of 2021 totaled more than in all of 2020.

The report, highlighting malware trends and network security threats for Q3 2021, is based on analyses by WatchGuard Threat Lab researchers. “While total perimeter malware detection volume decreased from the highs reached in the previous quarter, endpoint malware detections have already surpassed the total volume seen in 2020 (with Q4 2021 data yet to be reported),” WatchGuard said in a news release, also noting that “a significant percentage” of malware continues to arrive over encrypted connections, a trend noted in previous quarters.

“While the total volume of network attacks shrank slightly in Q3, malware per device was up for the first time since the pandemic began,” said Corey Nachreiner, chief security officer at WatchGuard. “Looking at the year so far as a whole, the security environment continues to be challenging. It’s important that organizations go beyond the short-term ups and downs and seasonality of specific metrics, and focus on persistent and concerning trends factoring into their security posture.”

Notable findings from the report include:

Nearly Half of Zero-Day Malware Delivered Via Encrypted Connections: The percentage of malware that arrived via Transport Layer Security jumped from 31.6% to 47%. “A lower percentage of encrypted zero-days are considered advanced, but it is still concerning given that WatchGuard’s data shows that many organizations are not decrypting these connections and therefore have poor visibility into the amount of malware hitting their networks,” the report states.

As Users Update Microsoft Windows and Office, Attackers Are Focusing on Newer Vulnerabilities: “In Q3, CVE-2018-0802 – which exploits a vulnerability in the Equation Editor in Microsoft Office – cracked WatchGuard’s Top 10 gateway antivirus malware by volume list, hitting number 6, after showing up in the most-widespread malware list in the previous quarter,” the report states. “In addition, two Windows code injectors (Win32/Heim.D and Win32/Heri) came in at Numbers 1 and 6 on the most-detected list, respectively.”

Attackers Disproportionately Targeted the Americas: Network attacks targeting the Americas accounted for 64.5% of Q3 threats; Europe came in at 15.5% and APAC, 20%.

The Top 10 Network Attack Signatures Are Behind a Majority of Threats Detected: Of the 4,095,320 hits detected in Q3, 81% were attributed to the top 10 signatures. “In fact, there was just one new signature in the top 10 in Q3, ‘WEB Remote File Inclusion /etc/passwd’ (1054837), which targets older, but still widely used Microsoft Internet Information Services (IIS) web servers,” the report states. “One signature (1059160), a SQL injection, has continued to maintain the position it has held atop the list since early 2019.”

Scripting Attacks On Endpoints Continue At Record Pace: By the end of Q3, WatchGuard’s AD360 threat intelligence and Endpoint Detection and Response had recorded 10% more attack scripts than in all of the previous year. As hybrid workforces start to look like the rule rather than the exception, a strong perimeter is no longer enough to stop threats.

Even Trusted Domains Can Be Compromised: A protocol flaw in Microsoft’s Exchange Server Autodiscover system allowed attackers to collect domain credentials and compromise several normally trustworthy domains. “Overall, in Q3, WatchGuard Fireboxes blocked 5.6 million malicious domains, including several new malware domains that attempt to install software for cryptomining, key loggers and remote access trojans, as well as phishing domains masquerading as SharePoint sites to harvest Office365 login credentials,” the report states. “This highlights the critical need for organizations to focus on keeping servers, databases, websites, and systems updated with the latest patches to limit vulnerabilities for attackers to exploit.”

Ransomware Continuing To Increase: After a decline in 2020, ransomware attacks reached 105% of 2020 totals by the end of September 2021 and were on pace to reach 150% once all of the 2021 data is analyzed. “Ransomware-as-a-service operations continue to lower the bar for criminals with little or no coding skills, providing the infrastructure and the malware payloads to carry out attacks globally in return for a percentage of the ransom,” the report says.

WatchGuard’s quarterly research reports are based on anonymized data from active WatchGuard Fireboxes whose owners have opted to share data in direct support of the Threat Lab’s research efforts. In Q3, WatchGuard blocked a total of more than 16.6 million malware variants (454 per device) and more than 4 million network threats. Visit WatchGuard’s website to view the full report.

About the Author

Kristal Kuykendall is editor, 1105 Media Education Group. She can be reached at [email protected].

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