Cisco warns of unprecedented growth of malicious traffic

By Semaj Itosno, Nairobi, Kenya

Threats designed to take advantage of users’ trust in systems, applications and personal networks have reached startling levels, a new report by Cisco reveals.

The Cisco 2014 Annual Security Report also indicates a shortage of more than a million security professionals across the globe in 2014.

“Organisations across Africa must realize that it is no longer if they will be targeted by cyber-attacks, but rather when. Chief Information Security Officers face growing pressure to protect terabytes of data on an increasingly porous network, manage information safely especially on the cloud, and evaluate the risks of working with third-party vendors for specialized solutions – all in the wake of shrinking budgets and leaner IT teams,” said David Meads, Vice President for Cisco in Africa.

"The sophistication of the technology and tactics used by online criminals—and their nonstop attempts to breach networks and steal data—have outpaced the ability of IT and security professionals to address these threats. Most organizations do not have the people or the systems to continuously monitor extended networks and detect infiltrations, and then apply protections, in a timely and effective manner," reads the report in part.

According to the report, attacker methods include socially engineered theft of passwords and credentials, hide-in-plain-sight infiltrations, and exploitation of the trust required for economic transactions, government services and social interactions.

The report can be accessed at http://www.cisco.com/web/offers/lp/2014-annual-security-report/index.html

Due to increased sophistication and proliferation of the threat landscape, says the report, simple attacks that caused containable damage have given way to organized cybercrime operations that are sophisticated, well-funded, and capable of significant economic and reputational damage to public and private sector victims. 

"One-hundred percent of a sample of 30 of the world’s largest Fortune 500 company networks generated visitor traffic to Web sites that host malware. Ninety-six percent of networks reviewed communicated traffic to hijacked servers. Similarly 92 percent transmitted traffic to Web pages without content, which typically host malicious activity," reads the report in part.

Java continues to be the most frequently exploited programming language targeted by online criminals. Data from Sourcefire, now a part of Cisco, also shows that Java exploits make up the vast majority (91 percent) of indicators of compromise (IOCs).

Overall vulnerabilities and threats reached the highest level since initial tracking began in May 2000. As of Oct. 2013, cumulative annual alert totals increased 14 percent year-over-year from 2012.

Increased complexity of threats and solutions due to rapid growth in intelligent mobile device adoption and cloud computing provide a greater attack surface than ever before. New classes of devices and new infrastructure architectures offer attackers opportunities to exploit unanticipated weaknesses and inadequately defended assets.

Cyber criminals have learned that harnessing the power of Internet infrastructure yields far more benefits than simply gaining access to individual computers or devices.

These infrastructure-scale attacks seek to gain access to strategically positioned web hosting servers, nameservers and data centers—with the goal of proliferating attacks across legions of individual assets served by these resources. By targeting Internet infrastructure, attackers undermine trust in everything connected to or enabled by it.

“Although the Cisco Annual Security Report paints a grim picture of the current state of cyber security, there is hope for restoring trust in people, institutions and technologies – and that starts with empowering defenders with real-world knowledge about expanding attack surfaces. To truly protect against all of these possible attacks, defenders must understand the attackers, their motivations and their methods – before, during and after an attack," added Sabrina Dar, General Manager for Cisco East Africa.

 

Dar said today’s advanced threats that can attack hosts through a combination of different vectors require a continuous security response versus point in time solutions.

 

"Web and Email gateways do a large amount of heavy lifting in the threat defense ecosystem, blocking the delivery of malicious content. With the Sourcefire acquisition Cisco is now able to provide customers in East Africa with the best advanced malware protection from the cloud to the network to the endpoint,” said Dar.

 

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