BlackBerry report highlights most common tactics used by cyber criminals

BlackBerry Limited has issued its 2020 Threat Report examining the latest adversarial techniques and tactics as analysed by BlackBerry Cylance threat researchers, duly providing key guidance organisations can leverage in order to mitigate risk. Key findings include the continued evolution of nation state-backed threat actor groups and the increased availability of sophisticated attack toolsets.

The comprehensive report also details more select threats focused on targets like embedded technologies in connected vehicles, manufacturing and mobile devices and those taking advantage of misconfigurations in cloud computing deployments.

“New techniques to obscure malicious payloads and distribute attacks across multiple organisations paid off for threat actors in 2019,” said Eric Cornelius, CTO at BlackBerry Cylance. “Given the increasing ease of access to attack toolkits combined with the explosion of endpoints connected to organisations’ networks, the global threat landscape for emerging threats will only continue to escalate in 2020.”

Bracing for more threats

The search to find and exploit vulnerabilities in the expanding attack surface has caused a shift in the industries most often targeted by malicious actors, particularly the automotive sector. For example, BlackBerry Cylance researchers discovered new back doors being deployed by Advanced Persistent Threat (APT) group OceanLotus (APT 32) in a 2019 campaign targeting multinational automotive manufacturers.

As more and more vehicles become connected – and the attention given to potential outcomes of cyber attacks on vehicles increases – attacks against this sector are anticipated to grow. As such, the automotive industry must continue investing in cyber security processes and secure connected software to ensure public trust in the transportation technologies of the future.

Additionally, Cylance researchers found that retail and wholesale remained the most targeted sectors, where almost a quarter (23%) of all retailers suffered a compromise of sensitive financial information. Three of the most prevalent threats of 2019 – Emotet, Ramnit and Upatre – all focused on retail organisations.

Coin mining operations also had a focus on retailers, with a reported 47% of attacks impacting that sector.

The report also spotlights other unique threats facing a range of industry verticals:

*Technology/Software: Attacks typically have a focus on stealing Intellectual Property. Over a quarter (26%) were victims of ransomware specifically

*Service Providers: This industry’s customer base was leveraged by threat actors to increase malicious distributions using remote management tools like Go2Assist and NinjaRMM

*Healthcare: Healthcare organisations were more likely to pay ransoms than other industries due to the critical nature of the targeted data

*Government: Attacks against Government entities can have cascading effects that not only impact Critical National Infrastructure, but also impact individuals as well given the significant quantities of personally identifiable information they store

“Threat intelligence on APT groups can help organisations understand who’s attacking their enterprise, as well as the actor’s mode of operations and motives, in order to be more proactive in protecting vulnerable systems against advanced threats,” stated Brian Robison, chief evangelist at BlackBerry Cylance. “In 2020, Artificial Intelligence and machine learning will continue to prove critical for threat prevention and remediation strategies because of the advantages they offer through continuous learning and proactive threat modelling of attacks that become more complex with the passage of time.”

Additional key findings

*Coin mining attacks have become more commonplace as cryptocurrency prevails. Criminals recognised an opportunity to passively generate revenue by infecting cryptocurrency machines

*MSSPs are becoming high-value targets for threat actors. New ransomware called Sodinokibi caused mass disruption by infiltrating hosted environments

*Data loss is increasing because of cloud misconfiguration. Misconfigured cloud resources led to a total of over seven billion records being publicly exposed in 2019. This number is only expected to increase, with cloud investments estimated to reach $49.1 billion in 2020

*Continued evolution of ransomware tactics. An increased availability of Ransomware-as-a-Service offerings, plus instances where ransomware developers have collaborated with banking trojan developers to exfiltrate data prior to encryption, are being used to further extort victims

*Increased use of host-encrypted malware. Static analysis of host-encrypted malware is almost impossible in a lab, decreasing defenders’ understanding of the malicious code and the ability for security solutions to block it

Download a copy of the report at

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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