Cybersecurity firm, Trellix, has released its latest Threat Labs Report which covers Q4 2021 threat research. The findings detail wiper malware aimed at Ukraine and an upsurge in cyberthreats from a likely Russian-backed actor in the fourth quarter of 2021, as well as malware being used most often in reported incidents in Q4 2021, accounting for 46% of total incidents.
Trellix, the cybersecurity company helping to deliver the future of extended detection and response (XDR), has released its Threat Labs Report: April 2022, examining cybercriminal behaviour over the last six months. Key findings from the report include individual consumers being the number one target of cybercriminals, closely followed by the healthcare vertical. Additionally, the transportation, shipping, manufacturing and information technology industries showed a sharp increase in threats.
“We’re at a critical juncture in cybersecurity and observing increasingly hostile behaviour across an ever-expanding attack surface,” said Christiaan Beek, Lead Scientist and Principal Engineer, Trellix Threat Labs. “Our world has fundamentally changed. The fourth quarter signalled the shift out of a two-year pandemic which cybercriminals used for profit and saw the Log4Shell vulnerability impact hundreds of millions of devices, only to continue cyber momentum in the new year where we’ve seen an escalation of international cyber activity.”
Threats to critical infrastructure
Q4 2021 saw increased cyber activity targeting sectors essential to the function of society:
- Transportation and shipping were the target of 27% of all advanced persistent threat (APT) — activity by adversarial and stealthy actors — detections
- Healthcare was the second most targeted sector, bearing 12% of total detections
- From Q3 to Q4 2021, threats to manufacturing increased 100% and threats to Information Technology increased 36%
- Of Trellix customers, the transportation sector was targeted in 62% of all observed detections in Q4 2021
Trellix also recently released a global Cyber Readiness Report investigating how critical infrastructure providers are preparing for cyberattacks. It found many critical infrastructure providers have not implemented cybersecurity best practices despite high-profile breaches.
Threats to Ukraine
Trellix Threat Labs has been investigating wiper malware and other cyberthreats targeting Ukraine. Wipers render devices within targeted organisations useless by destroying the memory critical to how the devices operate. Trellix analysis of the Whispergate and HermeticWiper malware used before and during the invasion of Ukraine details the similarities and differences of the two strains used to destabilise Ukrainian IT systems by destroying the communications within the country.
TheThreat Labs Report: April 2022 study lists threat actors targeting Ukraine, including Actinium APT, Gamaredon APT, Nobelium APT (also known as APT29), UAC-0056 and Shuckworm APT. Of all APT activity Trellix observed in Q4 2021, APT29 accounted for 30% of the detections.
The report details recommendations for organisations seeking to proactively protect their environment from tactics these actors use.
Tactics, techniques and procedures
Trellix observed the continued use of Living off the Land (LotL) methods, where criminals use existing software and controls native to a device to execute an attack. Windows Command Shell (CMD) (53%) and PowerShell (44%) were the most-frequently used NativeOS Binaries, and Remote Services (36%) was the most-used Administrative Tool in Q4 2021.
Trellix Threat Labs recently found LotL techniques deployed by DarkHotel – a suspected South Korean APT group – using Excel files to successfully infiltrate luxury hotels and glean information on prominent guests traveling for work and conferences.
Earlier this year, Trellix Threat Labs also identified a multi-stage espionage attack on a Prime Minister’s office to surveille high-ranking government officials and defence sector business executives. This campaign featured the use of Microsoft’s OneDrive as a Command and Control (C2) server and Excel to gain access to victim environments.
Other methods and techniques gaining traction among cyber adversaries in recent months:
- Cobalt Strike ranked highest among tools used by APT groups in Q4 2021 — a 95% increase from Q3
- Obfuscated files or information, followed by credentials from web browsers, and file and directory discovery were the techniques observed most in Q4 2021
- Malware was used most often in reported incidents in Q4 2021, accounting for 46% of total incidents and increasing 15% from Q3 2021
Threats to Individuals
Notably, the report found a significant (73%) increase in cyber incidents targeting individuals and positioned people as the top attack sector in Q4 2021. This includes threats executed through social media, mobile devices and other services where consumers store data and credentials. For example, in Q4 2021, Facebook discovered spyware campaigns targeting users around the world and another criminal group leveraged Joker malware to target Android users globally. These attacks are typically politically motivated to follow a person’s interactions and contacts.
This follows the release of In the Crosshairs: Organizations and Nation-State Cyber Threats, a report from Trellix and the Center for Strategic and International Studies which found access to consumer data was, and will likely continue to be, the motive for nearly half of state-backed cyberattacks.
“The rise in threats against individuals is definitely cause for concern for organisations, particularly given that a vast majority of employees now operate in a hybrid workplace, often using home networks (which are arguably less secure) and unmanaged devices. Organisations need to be able to put in place effective controls without hampering employee productivity — a difficult balance to strike but one that must be prioritised,” said Vibin Shaju, General Manager, UAE, Trellix.
Q4 2021 threat activity
- Ransomware families. Lockbit (21%) was the most prevalent ransomware family detected in Q4 2021 — a 21% increase from Q3 — followed by Cuba (18%) and Conti (16%).
- Ransomware arrests. REvil/Sodinokibi, the top ransomware family detected in Q3 2021, did not rank among most prevalent detections in Q4 due to Global Law Enforcement interventions.
- Ransomware increase. Substantial increases in ransomware activity were observed in Italy (793%), the Netherlands (318%) and Switzerland (173%) in Q4 2021. India (70%) and the UK (47%) also experienced notable increases compared to Q3.
- Malware families. RedLine Stealer (20%), Raccoon Stealer (17%), Remcos RAT (12%), LokiBot (12%) and Formbook (12%) amounted to almost 75% of malware families observed in Q4 2021.
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