November 21, 2016

RIYADH — Symantec’s Internet Security Threat Report (ISTR), Volume 21, revealed an organizational shift by cybercriminals: They are adopting corporate best practices and establishing professional businesses in order to increase the efficiency of their attacks against enterprises and consumers. This new class of professional cybercriminal spans the entire ecosystem of attackers, extending the reach of enterprise and consumer threats and fueling the growth of online crime.

“Advanced criminal attack groups now echo the skill sets of nation-state attackers. They have extensive resources and highly-skilled technical staff that operate with such efficiency that they maintain normal business hours and even take the weekends and holidays off,” said Eyas Hawari, Country Director, Saudi Arabia, Symantec.

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’s (KSA) 2015 global Internet Security Threat Profile ranking improved in 2015, moving from 42nd place globally in 2014 to 47th in 2015. This shift indicates a lower global percentage of source-based security threats, including malicious code, spam, phishing hosts, web and network attacks, and bots detected emanating from the country. In the Middle East and Africa, KSA ranked 7th, one place below the UAE and improving three places from last year.

“Given the size of its population, strategic geographical local, breadth of industries, and strong consumer spending power, Saudi Arabia is home to some of the region’s largest organizations. Cyberthreats are one of the most critical security challenges that organizations across the globe face.,” said Hawari added. “Organizations and consumers across the country are targeted with a variety of threats, including ransomware. It is therefore imperative that they continue to adopt robust security measures and global best practises to protect themselves against such attacks.”

Advanced professional attack groups are the first to leverage zero-day vulnerabilities, using them for their own advantage or selling them to lower-level criminals on the open market where they are quickly commoditized. In 2015, the number of zero-day vulnerabilities discovered on a global level more than doubled to a record-breaking 54, a 125 percent increase from the year before, reaffirming the critical role they play in lucrative targeted attacks.

Globally, there were 430 million new malware variants discovered in 2015, a 36 percent increase from the previous year, proving that professional cybercriminals are leveraging their vast resources in attempt to overwhelm defenses and enter corporate networks.

In addition, organizations in KSA were highly attacked by malware, ranking 4h within Middle East and Africa region. 1 in 98 emails contained malware, while more than half (57.3 percent) of the emails were spam. In addition, large organizations (2,501+) were the most targeted for malware where 1 in 75 malware-mails received contained malware.

In KSA, web attacks were the most prevalent threat, catipulating the country’s global web attack rank to 30th place, up 9 positions from 2014 and 2nd in the MEA region. Social media scams are also highly prevalent in Saudi Arabia, where it ranked 4th in the Middle East and Africa and 25th globally. This could be attributed to a range of socio-economic factors including the high smartphone penetration and high-speed internet access rate in the country as these connections can be easily leveraged and exploited by cybercriminals.

Data breaches continue to impact the enterprise. In fact, large businesses that are targeted for attack will on average be targeted three more times within the year. Additionally, the largest data breach ever publicly reported occurred last year with 191 million records compromised in a single incident. There were also a record-setting total of nine reported mega-breaches. While 429 million identities were exposed, the number of companies that chose not to report the number of records lost jumped by 85 percent. A conservative estimate by Symantec of those unreported breaches pushes the real number of records lost to more than half a billion.

Ogranizations in the Finance, Insurance and Real Estate and Wholesale sectors sector were the most affected by targeted attacks in KSA in 2015.. These organizations may be targeted as they have a lucrative database of customers, which cybercriminals can leverage for future attacks.

Ransomware also continued to evolve in 2015, with the more damaging style of crypto-ransomware attacks growing by 35 percent. This more aggressive type of ransomware, known as crypto-ransomware attacks encrypts all of a victim’s digital content and holds it hostage until a ransom is paid. This year, ransomware spread beyond PCs to smartphones, Mac and Linux systems, with attackers increasingly seeking any network-connected device that could be held hostage for profit, indicating that the enterprise is the next target. KSA was the #1 most impacted country in the Middle East and Africa region in regards to ransomware, and the 31st globally with about 41 attacks per day measured.

As people conduct more of their lives online, attackers are increasingly focused on using the intersection of the physical and digital world to their advantage. In 2015, Symantec saw a resurgence of many tried-and-true scams. Cybercriminals revisited fake technical support scams, which saw a 200 percent increase last year. The difference now is that scammers send fake warning messages to devices like smartphones, driving users to attacker-run call centers in order to dupe them into buying useless services.

As attackers evolve, there are many steps businesses and consumers can take to protect themselves. As a starting point, Symantec recommends the following best practices:

For Businesses:

Don’t get caught flat-footed: Use advanced threat and adversary intelligence solutions to help you find indicators of compromise and respond faster to incidents.

Employ a strong security posture: Implement multi-layered endpoint security, network security, encryption, strong authentication and reputation-based technologies. Partner with a managed security service provider to extend your IT team.

Prepare for the worst: Incident management ensures your security framework is optimized, measureable and repeatable, and that lessons learned improve your security posture. Consider adding a retainer with a third-party expert to help manage crises.

Provide ongoing education and training: Establish simulation-based training for all employees as well guidelines and procedures for protecting sensitive data on personal and corporate devices. Regularly assess internal investigation teams—and run practice drills—to ensure you have the skills necessary to effectively combat cyber threats.

For Consumers:

Use strong passwords: Use strong and unique passwords for your accounts. Change your passwords every three months and never reuse your passwords. Additionally, consider using a password manager to further protect your information.

Think before you click: Opening the wrong attachment can introduce malware to your system. Never view, open, or copy email attachments unless you are expecting the email and trust the sender.

Protect yourself: An ounce of protection is worth a pound of cure. Use an internet security solution that includes antivirus, firewalls, browser protection and proven protection from online threats.

Be wary of scareware tactics: Versions of software that claim to be free, cracked or pirated can expose you to malware. Social engineering and ransomware attacks will attempt to trick you into thinking your computer is infected and get you to buy useless software or pay money directly to have it removed.

Safeguard your personal data: The information you share online puts you at risk for social engineered attacks. Limit the amount of personal information you share on social networks and online, including login information, birth dates and pet names.

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