Beware The Latest Malware

Malware is one of the most well-known cyber threats, defined as a blanket term for computer programs used to damage a computer or network and gain access to sensitive information. Malware has been around for a long time, but it is still a major problem for businesses – around half of all organisations suffered a malware attack against company-owned devices in the last year. 

And in 2020, the use of malware by cybercriminals is growing. The malware strains have begun to use more sophisticated techniques and in some cases, they can even evade traditional signature-based defences; at present antivirus solutions are only able to block just over 40% of malware attacks.

Additionally, malware is expanding its field of targets and is now being used against mobile phones and smart devices. 

Perhaps even more worrying is the rise of malware-as-a-service, which has seen criminals develop ‘affiliate programmes’ that engage people with little to no cyber hacking skills to extort money from victims. This means that businesses need to start taking malware much more seriously, and put in resources and investment to defend themselves against the latest malware threats across the world. Protecting your company now means going far beyond relying on antivirus and firewall software. 

Attacks are more damaging than ever before
If you are still not convinced by the need to take malware more seriously, the first thing to note is that the severity of malware attacks is increasing. Organisations affected by malware can suffer extensive damage – not only financially but also to their reputation.

One key example is currency exchange bureau Travelex which recently lost control of its IT systems and customer data in a malware attack. The cybercriminals involved then demanded a ransom of $3 million to restore services. 
It is also worth noting that it is not just businesses that are targeted with malware. In 2019, in excess of 70 state and local governments in the US suffered ransomware attacks. 

How malware spreads
Malware is able to spread extremely rapidly – and this is partly due to the fact that it is spread in a variety of different ways. Some of the most common occur as phishing attacks – where unsuspected users are tricked into opening an application or website in an email. It is also common for criminals to use so-called software subversion, where they infect applications and software that is used by web developers, rather than websites or networks directly. 
Malware can also be spread by hackers who gain access to a network and then control it remotely. And there are even examples of employees and other insiders taking a bribe from cybercriminals in order to plant malware in a network. 

Latest malware threats to be aware of
Malware can take many different forms, and some of the most well-known of the latest malware threats include:

  • Ryuk - this is a sophisticated ransomware that infiltrates a system and then encrypts the data stored on it, making it unusable. A message is then displayed informing the user of these facts and demanding payment in the form of Bitcoin in order to get the files decrypted.
  • Trickbot - this is a banking trojan that is used to target small and medium-sized businesses – it is used to steal personal information in order to conduct identity fraud.
  • Emotet - another banking trojan which has evolved into a threat-delivery service. It is distributed through spam emails that are designed to look like legitimate emails.
  • Dridex - this is another form of malware that can evade traditional defences and specialises in the theft of online banking credentials.

How to protect your business against malware
While traditional defences alone are ineffective against these newer malware threats, there are thankfully many things that you can do to protect your business against them. The first thing to note here is that systems should be regularly patched, and vulnerability scans should be carried out in order to identify systems and applications at risk. 

Signature-based and behavioural-based detection technologies also have a role to play. Endpoint detection and response tools monitor user behaviour in the system in order to detect the latest types of malware – this allows them to disrupt and mitigate attacks. These tools are complex and time-consuming to manage however, and many businesses prefer to make use of managed endpoint detection and response services

There are also some best practice steps you should take to keep your business secure, such as keeping data regularly backed up to multiple sources on and off-site, utilising multi-factor authentication when users login to accounts, as well as providing training to employees about the risks of the latest threats. 

Chester Avey is an independent business consultant.     

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