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Trends of Cyberattacks in 2016

Cybercrime is increasingly becoming more belligerent and confrontational. The magnitude of cyberattacks is growing, as cybercriminals are becoming more aggressive, particularly in the event of extortion. A recently published paper presented an analysis of the cyberattacks trends that took place in the year 2016.

Today, cybercrime represents a flourishing industry. The relatively new model of Cybercrime-as-a-Service (CaaS) has simplified access to illegal services and products. Amateur cybercriminals can utilize such services to launch attacks anywhere across the globe, with minor knowledge and experience, that can help them generate considerable amounts of profit. As such, malware attacks, especially those that involve phishing of private data and banking trojans, are by far the biggest threat that can be encountered today on the internet, as reported by law enforcement agencies.

The scale and aftermaths of ransomware attacks, which lead to encryption of all files of an attacked victim, have grown massively to become one of the major threats today in the cyber-space. Via free tools, along with documentation derived from the deep web, many cybercriminals today can code and spread their own special forms of ransomware trojans and viruses. This explains why the magnitude of ransomware attacks has skyrocketed during the past few months. The below diagram from Symantec illustrates the evolution of various forms of ransomware viruses and trojans during the past decade.

Banking malware is still on the top of the list of threats affecting both individuals, as well as financial institutions, generating large amounts of profits for hackers. Hacker groups can utilize the code of popular banking trojans e.g. Citadel, Spyeye and Zeus, to code their own trojans such as Peer-to-peer Zeus or Game-over-Zeus. Even more, a brand new form of malware e.g. Dridex or Dyre, began to hit various financial institutions.

The number of cyberattacks that involved data breaches in 2016 is relatively high. The list of victims is long and include Centene, FBI’s Department of Homeland Security, Seagate, IRS, LinkedIn, MySpace, 21st Century Oncology, Office of Child Support Enforcement, Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation and Verizon Enterprise Services. These data breaches can give rise to secondary offences as the leaked data is utilized in extortion and fraud.

Sexual exploitation of children, in various online environments, is also one of the major concerns of law enforcement agencies. Hidden services, forums and websites on Tor’s network and other Darknets are used by pedophiles for the distribution and selling of child pornography. Such content can be accessed by users via the Tor browser. The growing volume of child pornography material is representing a big challenge for law enforcement agencies.

The number of successful cyberattacks in 2016 was rather massive due to the relatively large number of operating system (OS) vulnerabilities. OS developers focus presently on productivity and profit rather than privacy or cybersecurity. The security of a large percentage of smartphones today is questionable, due to a large number of vulnerabilities that could be exploited by cybercriminals. Compromised devices can be enslaved to be parts of botnets which can be used by hackers to launch cyberattacks on a wide scale e.g. Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks.

Social engineering is increasingly being utilized in various forms of cyberattacks, especially fraud. Social networks, such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, are used by cybercriminals to gather information to help them launch well targeted attacks.

Peer-to-peer networks like Tor, innovations such as the Internet of Things (IoT) and artificial intelligence (AI), the presence of zero day vulnerabilities, tools for encryption and anonymization and the public’s unawareness of various cybersecurity issues have been offering cybercriminals new opportunities throughout the past few years.

To successfully combat and beat cybercrime, law enforcement agencies have to establish initiatives in order to share knowledge, resources, expertise along with the most up-to-date practices in the field of cybercrime investigations. Throughout this process, law enforcement agencies should prioritize cooperation among various cybercrime divisions all over the globe, cybersecurity private companies, academic institutions and ethical hackers.

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