Cybercriminals launch stealthy, customizable attacks

Leveraging data gathered from social media sites, cybercriminals can create personalized phishing emails.

With cybercriminals releasing, on average, 74,000 new strains of malware every day, one would expect many of these variations to be copies of one another. However, several experts have recently reported that malware is actually becoming more customizable, meaning hackers can personalize their weapon of choice to exploit vulnerabilities in a specific network. In addition, it would appear that the days of brash hackers trying to make a name for themselves with a pyrotechnic network breach are long gone, as cybercriminals increasingly favor stealth measures.

The early days of malware were marked by individual programmers creating their own unique malicious code. That gave way to an era of mass-produced tools that could be easily recreated and deployed by countless hackers. Over time, cyberdefense specialists have been able to mitigate the damage caused by the latter thanks to the proliferation of networks containing information regarding threats. These databases facilitated the sharing of critical information including how to identify and neutralize widespread malware.

The best (or worst) of both worlds
Many of today's cybercriminals have combined the advantages provided by both approaches to malware design. By integrating customizable components with their mass-produced programs, hackers can create numerous malware variants to target the vulnerabilities of specific networks.

For instance, cybercriminals have customized their phishing tools to create more sophisticated and effective campaigns. Similar to the way that marketers use consumer data to create more focused digital advertisements, hackers have leveraged information gathered from online sources such as social media sites to inform their phishing emails. Instead of creating the generic and conspicuous mass emails typically associated with phishing attacks, cybercriminals can now craft personalized messages that are more difficult for users to identify as threats.

Criminals value stealthy malware
Hackers have also been developing more sophisticated stealth-based behavior in their cyberweapons. One analyst noted that traditional malware intrusions usually resulted in a telltale service disruption, but this is becoming increasingly rare. Instead, security experts are finding that the amount of time that malicious programs spend embedded in a network has increased over the years. According to a study on the state of cybersecurity, it took an average of 210 days for IT personnel to identify a network breach. At the high end of the spectrum, five percent of respondents said malware infections lasted for upwards of three years before being detected.

As much as cybersecurity experts work to create effective network-level defensives, industrious hackers are finding ways around them. Businesses and individuals alike can no longer rely on these measures alone to protect their systems. A holistic approach to cybersecurity, including the use of application control, is much more effective. Users can prevent unknown or unwanted programs from running on their machines and prevent malware including zero day viruses from infecting their systems.

Matt Williams

A self-proclaimed ‘tech geek’, Matt has worked in technology for a decade and divides his time between blogging and working in IT. A huge New York Giants fan, when not watching football Matt gets his game on playing Call of Duty with his friends and other tech bloggers.