McAfee detects cryptocurrency mining surge in second quarter; Windows 10 Cortana vulnerabilities, blockchain attack vectors



McAfee, a device-to-cloud cybersecurity company, released Tuesday its McAfee Labs Threats Report: September 2018, examining the growth and trends of new cyber threats in the second quarter this year. In the second quarter, McAfee Labs saw the surge in cryptomining malware growth that began in Q4 2017 continue through the first half of 2018.

McAfee also saw the continued adaptation of the type of malware vulnerability exploits used in the WannaCry and NotPetya outbreaks of 2017.

In the second quarter, McAfee Labs detected five new threats a second, including new threats showing notable technical developments that improve upon the latest successful technologies and tactics to outmaneuver their targets’ defenses.

The total number of ransomware samples continues to grow, increasing 57 percent over the past four quarters. Although the appearance of new ransomware families has slowed overall in recent quarters, McAfee also saw established ransomware families spawn new variants. For instance, McAfee saw a dozen new variants of the Scarab ransomware family appear in the second quarter alone. These newcomers account for more than 50 percent of the total number of known Scarab variants identified since the family’s appearance in mid-2017.

New mobile malware samples increased 27 percent in the second quarter; this is the second successive quarter of growth. McAfee customers in South America reported the highest rate of infection, at 14 percent. Total mobile malware grew 42 percent in the past four quarters.

A 204 percent increase in new samples suggests that hackers appear to have shifted to a new generation of JavaScript malware. After decreasing significantly over the last three quarters, JavaScript malware accounted for more than 7 million new samples, a record high, and up from around 2 million in the first quarter.

While PowerShell has been active among fileless malware developers in recent previous quarters, new samples slowed to 15 percent growth. But new LNK malware continues to grow, as cybercriminals are increasingly using .lnk shortcuts to surreptitiously deliver malicious PowerShell scripts and other malware. Total samples in the category have increased 489 percent over the past four quarters.

The Gamut spam botnet outpaced all others in the second quarter. Most notably, it pushed high volumes of “Canada Revenue Agency” phishing scams. Notable recent campaigns were related to bogus employment offers that are commonly used as a “money mule” recruitment tactic.

A year after the outbreaks of the WannaCry and NotPetya attacks, new malware samples specifically designed to exploit software vulnerabilities increased by 151 percent in the second quarter. McAfee saw the exploits from these two high-profile threats repurposed within new malware strains, and newly discovered vulnerability exploits similarly adapted to produce entirely new threats.

“WannaCry and NotPetya provided cybercriminals compelling examples of how malware could use vulnerability exploits to gain a foothold on systems and then quickly propagate across networks,” Beek continued. “It’s still surprising to see numerous vulnerabilities from as far back as 2014 used successfully to spearhead attacks, even when there have been patches available for months and years to deflect exploits. This is a discouraging testament to the fact that users and organizations still must do a better job of patching vulnerabilities when fixes become available.”

McAfee Labs and the Advanced Threat Research team discovered a vulnerability in the Cortana voice assistant in Microsoft Windows 10. The flaw, for which Microsoft released a patch in June, could have allowed attackers to execute code from the locked screen of a fully patched Windows 10 machine (RS3 and RS4 before the June patch).

McAfee addressed three vectors of research that have been combined by Microsoft and together represent CVE-2018-8140. McAfee submitted the vulnerability to Microsoft in April as part of McAfee’s responsible disclosure policy.

Although less common than ransomware, cryptomining malware has quickly emerged as a factor on the threat landscape. After growing around 400,000 in the fourth quarter of 2017, new cryptomining malware samples grew a stunning 629 percent to more than 2.9 million samples in the first quarter. This trend continued in the second quarter as total samples grew by 86 percent with more than 2.5 million new samples. McAfee Labs has even identified what appear to be older malware such as ransomware newly retooled with mining capabilities.

In some cases, cryptomining targets specific groups rather than a broad field of potential victims. One cryptomining malware strain has targeted gamers on a Russian forum by posing as a “mod” claiming to enhance popular games. Gamers were tricked into downloading the malicious software, which proceeded to use their computer resources for profit.

While cryptomining malware primarily targets PCs, other devices have become victims. For instance, Android phones in China and Korea have been exploited by the ADB.Miner malware into producing Monero cryptocurrency for its perpetrators.

“A few years ago, we wouldn’t think of internet routers, video-recording devices, and other Internet of Things devices as platforms for cryptomining because their CPU speeds were too insufficient to support such productivity,” said Christiaan Beek, lead scientist and senior principal engineer with McAfee Advanced Threat Research. “Today, the tremendous volume of such devices online and their propensity for weak passwords present a very attractive platform for this activity. If I were a cybercriminal who owns a botnet of 100,000 such IoT devices, it would cost me next to nothing financially to produce enough cryptocurrency to create a new, profitable revenue stream.”

The McAfee Mobile Research team found a new billing-fraud campaign of at least 15 apps on Google Play. The new campaign demonstrates that cybercriminals keep finding new ways to steal money from victims using apps on official stores such as Google Play.

The actors behind this campaign, the AsiaHitGroup Gang, has been active since at least late 2016 with the distribution of the fake-installer applications Sonvpay.A, which attempted to charge at least 20,000 victims from primarily Thailand and Malaysia for the download of copies of popular applications.

One year later, the Sonypay.B campaign was discovered on Google Play. Sonvpay.B used IP address geolocation to confirm the country of the victim and added Russian victims to the billing fraud to increase its potential to steal money from unsuspected users.

 

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