2016 Malware Report Shows Changes in Malware Trends Over the Past 12 Months

If your organization was hit with a malware or ransomware infection last year, the 2016 malware report from Malwarebytes may serve as an unpleasant reminder of 12 months best forgotten. Malware infections rose in 2016 and ransomware infections soared. In the case of the latter, there was an explosion in new variants. Malwarebytes charted a 267% increase in ransomware variants between January 2016 and November 2016. In quarter four alone more than 400 active ransomware variants were cataloged.

During those 11 months, email spam volume increased significantly as did the percentage of those spam emails that were malicious. Botnets went into overdrive distributing malicious email messages that sent swathes of malicious links and attachments to employees. There were malicious Word macros, JavaScript downloaders, PowerShell scripts, and VBScripts aplenty. Fileless malware consisting entirely of PowerShell also emerged.

The 2016 malware report shows how ransomware has become the revenue-generator of choice for many cybercriminals. It is easy to understand why. Infecting computers is a relatively easy process, ransom payments are made within a matter of days, much of the process is entirely automated, and ransomware-as-a-service means no skill is even required to jump on the bandwagon and send out campaigns.

The 2016 malware report indicates ransomware accounted for 18% of malicious payloads from spam email and ransomware is the payload of choice for exploit kits, accounting for 66% of malicious downloads.

Locky was a major threat for most of the year, but in December there was a massive spike in Cerber ransomware variants, which are now the most populous ransomware family.

The cybersecurity’s company’s 2016 malware report confirms what many security professionals already know all too well. 2016 was a particularly bad year for everyone but the cybercriminals. Unfortunately, the outlook for 2017 does not look any better. In fact, it looks like it will be even worse.

Predictions have been made that will send shivers down many a system administrator’s spine. Ransomware is set to become even more aggressive. Critical infrastructures are likely to be targeted. Healthcare ransomware attacks will increase potentially placing patients’ lives at risk. Educational institutions will be targeted. No organization will be immune to attack.

Fortunately, new ransomware families will be limited in 2017. But that is only because Locky and Cerber are so effective and can easily be tweaked to avoid detection.

Then there are the botnets. The increase in use of IoT devices would not be a problem, were it not for a lack of security. Many insecure devices are coming to market which can all too easily be added to botnets. As we saw in the tail end of the year, these botnets – such as Mirai – are capable of conducting devastating DDoS attacks. Those attacks are only likely to increase in scale and frequency. As Malwarebytes correctly points out, unless manufacturers of IoT devices are better regulated and are forced to improve their security, vast sections of the Internet will come under threat.

So, it looks like all bad news for 2017. All organizations can do is purchase the technology to deal with the threats, plug security holes promptly, train staff to be aware of the threats, and shore up their defenses. The next 12 months could be a rocky ride.

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Elizabeth Hernandez

Elizabeth Hernandez is a news writer on Defensorum. Elizabeth is an experienced journalist who has worked on many publications for several years. Elizabeth writers about compliance and the related areas of IT security breaches. Elizabeth's has a focus data privacy and secure handling of personal information. Elizabeth has a postgraduate degree in journalism. Elizabeth Hernandez is the editor of HIPAAZone. https://twitter.com/ElizabethHzone