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Cyber Threats from 2018

Cyber threats that surfaced in 2018

In the early stages of 2019, it’s important that we reflect on 2018 so we can improve and learn from cybersecurity issues that arose last year. The biggest thing we learned is that cyber threats are not diminishing in the least. It’s evident that cybersecurity will become even more critical in the year to come, as new and creative attacks become commonplace.  

To protect yourself, your business, and your customers, it’s crucial that you continue learning about new and emerging threats, so you know when to spot potential dangers. To stay on top of the latest tactics used by cybercriminals, let’s revisit some of the greatest threats that surfaced in 2018.

Cybercriminals are impersonating Google Docs, Outlook, and DocuSign to steal your credentials

We watched as impersonation scams became one of the fastest-growing types of cyber attacks. This scam is sent via email using zero-day email links, which means that the links weren’t used elsewhere in other emails or malicious threats. This allows these emails to bypass traditional email security measures and end up in a user’s inbox. Once the recipient clicks on the link, they are directed to a sign-in page where they must enter their credentials for Outlook, Google Docs, and DocuSign. This is how the criminals get their hands on the credentials of the user. 

Attached password stealer

Cybercriminals employ common file types, like Word documents or Excel files, to target unsuspecting users into surrendering their credentials. As with the previous trend, we saw that stealing credentials deepened in 2018 and expect occurrences to grow well into 2019 and beyond. These Word documents and Excel files seem harmless to the user but contain malicious software that compromises their information once opened. The commonality of the file types makes it difficult to spot for the typical person, which is what makes these threats so dangerous.

Phishing attempts not slowing down

Phishing has always been a part of the cybersecurity landscape, but its prominence has not diminished even in the presence of more complex security systems and infrastructure. The danger of phishing attacks is that they each have their own unique look and feel, so detecting and eliminating them becomes an even more significant challenge. From money scams to disguised links and more, cybercriminals are becoming sneakier with their phishing attempts, posing an even greater threat to every user. 

Account takeover incidents widespread

In 2018, there was an increase in account takeover attacks, meaning that a cybercriminal uses stolen credentials to initiate a cyber attack from a legitimate and verified account. This gives the cybercriminals the unique power to send out attacks virtually undetected until users and recipients know the account is compromised. Until then, they can use a real email address to launch a business email compromise (BEC), which allows them to target a company, its employees, or investors to get them to hand over money.  

BEC targets include different departments

While the account takeover incidents became more widespread in 2018, so did the specific person cybercriminals tried to target. Many times, the impersonated user was the CEO, but people of different status and departments can become targets. Nearly all impersonation emails request a wire transfer or contain malicious links. They seem reliable because they come directly from the user’s actual email address, so recipients don’t even think twice about acting on the request in the email. We can only assume that the prevalence of these attacks will continue to grow into 2019.

Ongoing “sextortion” scam utilizes breach data

This scam preys upon unsuspecting users by using deception tactics (and stolen credentials). Malicious cybercriminals will place the user’s stolen password in the subject line of an email, threatening to release an incriminating photo or video to all the user’s contact. Frightened users respond by sending the requested amount of money, or another request, to keep the damaging pieces under wraps, even though there never was a video or photo.

New spear phishing attack gift card scam

This is another impersonation attack, where the cybercriminal takes the credentials and email of a CEO, targeting office managers, executive assistants or receptionists, to con them into buying large quantities of gift cards. This trend emerged during the holiday season of 2018, and cybercriminals take advantage of the secrecy behind the gifts, as this is highly plausible to the recipients who go ahead and buy the gift cards. These gift cards end up in the hands of the hackers.

Key takeaway: never let your guard down

This is the prevailing message from 2018. Even though something looks entirely legitimate does not mean it is a credible source. The frequency of these impersonation attacks will only grow in 2019. The truth is that cybercriminals are stronger than ever, and it’s never been more important to stay on top of emerging threats so you can defend against future attacks. If you have important questions or want to know if you’re protected, contact the security professionals at Level 4 IT.