In 2015, social engineering took center stage as hackers shifted from using automated exploits to instead encouraging people to do their dirty work- infecting systems, stealing sensitive credentials, and transferring funds.
Research conducted by Proofpoint suggests that social engineering has become the most actively used attack technique used by hackers.
Proofpoint found that 99.7 percent of attachment documents and 98 percent of URLS found in malicious emails require human interaction to infect the target. The report also found that Tuesday mornings between 9-10 AM was the most popular time criminals used to send out phishing campaigns and that most social media spam generally hits individuals in the afternoon.
In 2015, cyber criminals began targeting organizations in the UK & Europe with Microsoft Office Macros, which first appeared in the late 90s. The report also highlights how popular ransomware was in exploit kits campaigns last year and how this trend seems to be continuing in 2016.
Overall, the report suggests that 2015 was the year where attackers learned that people make the best exploits, and focused heavily on creating social engineering tactics that lured people in and tricked them into opening an attachment, downloading an application, or handing over highly sensitive credentials.
Continuing into 2016 hackers are expected to rely on the same threat framework to conduct attacks- Actor, Vector, Hosts, Payload, and Command and Control Channel. As human’s curiosity often gets the best of them, hackers will continue to rely on people’s gullibility and use individuals as unwitting pawns in their scheme to attack organizations with malware, gain key credentials, and frequently wire money directly to the hackers.
The best approach is to accept that human beings are fallible and will make mistakes and to recognize that checks and balances are going to be essential. Best practice-based security standards require the use of file integrity monitoring, audit log analysis and vulnerability scanning to head off problems.
File Integrity Monitoring (FIM) is advocated as an essential security defense by all leading authorities in security best practices, such as NIST and the PCI Security Standards Council; it will ensure that a secure, hardened build standard is maintained at all times and, if there any changes in underlying core file systems (such as when an unwittingly phished employee introduces malware), this will be reported in real-time.