Attacks on macro-less Word documents rise as ‘Zero Day’ malware variants jump by 167%

Total malware attacks are up by 33% and cyber criminals are increasingly leveraging Microsoft Office documents to trick their victims and deliver malicious payloads. That’s according to the latest Internet Security Report from WatchGuard Technologies, which is based on global threat intelligence data from nearly 40,000 Firebox appliances.

Dynamic Data Exchange attacks head WatchGuard’s Top Ten malware list as hackers increasingly exploit issues within the Microsoft Office standard to execute code. Also called ‘macro-less malware’, these malicious documents often use PowerShell and obfuscated script in order to evade network defences.

Additionally, two of the Top Ten network attacks involved Microsoft Office exploits, further emphasising the growing trend of malicious document attacks.

“After a full year of collecting and analysing Firebox Feed data, we can clearly see that cyber criminals are continuing to leverage sophisticated and evasive attacks and make use of resourceful malware delivery schemes to steal valuable data,” said Corey Nachreiner, CTO at WatchGuard Technologies. “Although these criminal tactics may vary over time, we can be certain that the broad trend will persist. The risks have never been greater for those businesses with less IT and security resources. We encourage businesses of all sizes to proactively mitigate these threats by way of layered security services, advanced malware protection and employee education and training in Best Practice.”

The report also shows that nearly half of all malware detected eluded basic anti-virus solutions. ‘Zero Day’ malware accounted for 46% of all malware in Q4. This level of growth suggests that criminals are using more sophisticated evasion techniques capable of slipping attacks past traditional AV services, which further underscores the importance of behaviour-based defences. 

Script-based attacks

Script-based attacks caught by signatures for JavaScript and Visual Basic Script threats, such as downloaders and droppers, accounted for 48% of top malware detected in Q4. Users should take note of the continued popularity of these attacks and watch out for malicious script in web pages and e-mail attachments of any kind.

The full Internet Security Report features evaluations of the quarter’s most pervasive malware and network attacks, recommendations for useful defensive strategies in today’s threat landscape and a detailed breakdown of the ‘Krack Attack’ (one of the foremost information security issues in 2017).

Additionally, the report includes a new research project from the WatchGuard Threat Lab, which analyses a database of more than one billion stolen password records to stress just how often users choose weak passwords and re-use credentials across multiple accounts.

This quarter’s conclusions are based on anonymised Firebox Feed data from nearly 40,000 active WatchGuard Fireboxes worldwide, which blocked more than 30 million malware variants (783 per device) and 6.9 million network attacks (178 per device) in Q4 2017.

*Download the WatchGuard Internet Security Report

About the Author
Brian Sims BA (Hons) Hon FSyI, Editor, Risk UK (Pro-Activ Publications) Beginning his career in professional journalism at The Builder Group in March 1992, Brian was appointed Editor of Security Management Today in November 2000 having spent eight years in engineering journalism across two titles: Building Services Journal and Light & Lighting. In 2005, Brian received the BSIA Chairman’s Award for Promoting The Security Industry and, a year later, the Skills for Security Special Award for an Outstanding Contribution to the Security Business Sector. In 2008, Brian was The Security Institute’s nomination for the Association of Security Consultants’ highly prestigious Imbert Prize and, in 2013, was a nominated finalist for the Institute's George van Schalkwyk Award. An Honorary Fellow of The Security Institute, Brian serves as a Judge for the BSIA’s Security Personnel of the Year Awards and the Securitas Good Customer Award. Between 2008 and 2014, Brian pioneered the use of digital media across the security sector, including webinars and Audio Shows. Brian’s actively involved in 50-plus security groups on LinkedIn and hosts the popular Risk UK Twitter site. Brian is a frequent speaker on the conference circuit. He has organised and chaired conference programmes for both IFSEC International and ASIS International and has been published in the national media. Brian was appointed Editor of Risk UK at Pro-Activ Publications in July 2014 and as Editor of The Paper (Pro-Activ Publications' dedicated business newspaper for security professionals) in September 2015. Brian was appointed Editor of Risk Xtra at Pro-Activ Publications in May 2018.

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