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Cyber attacks rise sharply and don't appear to slow down in any way

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September 21, 2015

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Cyberattacks from Russia have increased drastically because of sanctions related to the Ukraine while assaults from Iran have dropped over recent months, thanks to the recent Iran nuclear deal.

But the overall trend in cyber attacks is nevertheless increasing at an alarming rate. David DeWalt, FireEye chief executive, said today that these events show how the diplomatic landscape affects what is happening in cyberspace even though the overall direction points to increased attacks.

From tracking fifty or so offensive hacker groups since 2012, FireEye is now monitoring 350 groups who are busy “hacking, stealing, disrupting services and spying from just about anywhere,” according to DeWalt.

State-backed hackers in Russia work closely with cybercrime elements, such as the remnants of the notorious Russian Business Network, and have been particularly active in targeting U.S. retailers such as Target as well as equity and hedge fund managers since mid-2013.

Overall, various cyber attacks targeting credentials and log-in details, as well as direct assaults targeting supply chains rather than targeted organizations directly, are becoming more commonplace.

Energy, government and aerospace are the industry verticals most on the front line but most industry sectors are affected to a lesser or greater extent, according to FireEye.

The security company estimates that the median time to detect cyber attacks is currently about 205 days (approx. 7 months).

It takes about a month to respond to various cyber attacks. DeWalt added that major security breaches such as eBay, Adobe and more recently, the U.S. government’s Office of Personnel Management leaks are making the security situation a lot worse these days.

Particularly, FireEye has seen data harvested from a recent security breach of the Sabre airline reservation system that was greatly abused in several follow-up attacks.

“Credential stealing or using password logins to carry out further attacks is the arms race we’re in right now with attackers,” DeWalt underscored.

And typical ID dumps create huge security issues downstream, he added. Stolen IDs and software security vulnerabilities are hackers’ two main tricks today.

The two were brought together over recent months in successful attacks that planted backdoored operating systems on Cisco routers, for example.

Those security breaches were carried off remotely and used to redirect packets, according to DeWalt.

We caught up with DeWalt during a FireEye briefing to the regional press in Madrid recently. From being an also-ran two years back, Spain has become the third biggest target of APTs: advanced persistent threats in the EMEA region over recent months.

Israel (the largest target) and Saudi Arabia are both more attacked than organizations in Germany and Britain, according to FireEye’s statistics.

The reason for Spain’s prominence isn’t clear, even to FireEye’s marketing team, however. But then again, there's still a lot in history books when it comes to Spain.

But the overall trend in cyber attacks is definitely on the increase in the last two to three years. In fact, Chinese president Xi Jinping is meeting with President Barack Obama this week in Washington and in Seattle to discuss the topic of cyber security, among others.

When Xi arrives in Washington, President Obama is expected to press the Chinese leader to halt cyberattacks on U.S. government agencies and corporations.

Beijing says it has nothing to do with the attacks, but Obama's patience is clearly wearing thin these days. "We can choose to make this an area of competition, which I guarantee you we'll win if we have to," President Obama has reiterated at least twice to President Xi.

Source: FireEye.

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