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Cybercrime Increases As Online Crooks Grow Smarter: Report

14 April 2016, 9:30 am EDT By Santiago Tiongco Tech Times
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Symantec has released its findings on hacker attacks from the past year, detailed in its annual Internet Security Threat Report. The report studied global threat activity and found that hackers are getting smarter in the process.  ( Symantec )

Symantec's 2016 Internet Security Threat Report (ISTR) reveals that the year 2015 saw an increase in hacking numbers and smarter attacks.

The report concludes that, each week, a new zero-day vulnerability was discovered; stolen or lost records were estimated to be around half a billion; about three-quarters of websites were found to have vulnerabilities; employees targeted by spear-phishing campaigns saw a 55 percent increase in occurrence; ransomware attacks increased to 35 percent; and the number of fake technical support scams prevented reached about 100 million instances.

And these are just the recorded facts.

Hackers are getting so much craftier and smarter that victims don't even realize that they're under attack. Attacks have become more subtle and even stealthier. Users are lucky if they catch the attack, but those unaware of threats often suffer major damages in properties.

These attacks can happen to anyone, anywhere, and at any given time — be it a large tech company or the average netizen.

One Zero-Day Vulnerability Discovered Each Week

In 2015, a new zero-day vulnerability was discovered each week, totaling 54 vulnerabilities, more than double the number back in 2014.

These attacks are possible because of vulnerabilities found in programs that hackers exploit even before developers can come up with a patch.

The Case of Adobe

Four out of the five most exploited apps were on Flash Player. Adobe comments in an interview that, to avoid such attacks, users should always update their system to the latest patch.

The company believes that since Flash Player is such a ubiquitous software installed in every system, it's the target of most zero-day vulnerability attacks. Adobe assures users that, once an attack is detected, the company is quick to respond and rolls out a patch in a matter of days. It's now up to the user to make sure that they protect themselves.

While Adobe's quick response is admirable, other companies do not handle these issues the same way.

Symantec found that breached companies would sometimes withhold information and not release the full report of attacks on their system. As such, not only were there 429 million records hackers mined from vulnerable companies, but more than half a billion could have been compromised, as estimated in the ISTR.

Staying Alert Against Recurring Attacks

Three-quarters of websites were found to be vulnerable to attacks as well. To this day, 75 percent of legitimate web companies have vulnerabilities in their system, putting online users at risk. Hackers can infect a trusted website which, when logged into, would spread the infection to unsuspecting users.

Symantec's ISTR detailed how "web administrators struggle to stay current on patches," allowing millions of attacks against netizens every day.

Experts warn that, if a first attack is prevented, companies should still stay alert for recurring attacks in the future. The ISTR found that most hackers who are fixated on hacking a particular system will not easily give up and will retry at a later date.

Forms of Cyber Attack

Particular strands of these attacks used ransomware to extort money from companies. Ransomware is a malware infection that encrypts a system's date then demands ransom from affected parties to supposedly "decrypt" the files.

Previous attacks targeted hospitals and effectively shut down healthcare systems in the U.S.

Hackers would also reportedly disguise themselves as tech support specialists who help clean out a system for malware infection. In reality, however, these supposed experts would be disabling virus protection, updates, and notifications, thereby increasing vulnerabilities in a system.

Symantec blocked 100 million of these attacks in 2015.

A grim infographic from Symantec predicts that, in the year 2020, the risk of attacks could grow to 20.8 billion against "internet-connected" things.

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