McAfee Labs reports record surges in health care attacks, fileless malware, cryptocurrency mining

McAfee catalogues 478 new cyber threats every minute, 8 every second; cybercriminals embrace novel techniques and schemes to capture new revenue streams.


* Health care experiences 211 per cent increase in disclosed security incidents in 2017
* Fileless malware leveraging Microsoft PowerShell grows 267 per cent in Q4 2017
* Cybercriminals follow the money into cryptocurrency mining
* New ransomware grows 35 per cent; ends 2017 with 59 per cent growth year over year
* New mobile malware decreases by 35 per cent; infection rates are highest in South   America
* New Mac OS malware samples increase by 24 per cent in Q4; total Mac OS malware grows 243 per cent in 2017

SANTA CLARA, Calif., March 12, 2018 – McAfee, the device-to-cloud cybersecurity company, today released its McAfee Labs Threats Report:

March 2018, examining the growth and trends of new malware, ransomware, and other threats in Q4 2017. McAfee Labs saw on average eight new threat samples per second, and the increasing use of fileless malware attacks leveraging Microsoft PowerShell. The Q4 spike in Bitcoin value prompted cybercriminals to focus on cryptocurrency hijacking through a variety of methods, including malicious Android apps.

“The fourth quarter was defined by rapid cybercriminal adoption of newer tools and schemes—fileless malware, cryptocurrency mining, and steganography. Even tried-and-true tactics, such as ransomware campaigns, were leveraged beyond their usual means to create smoke and mirrors to distract defenders from actual attacks,” said Raj Samani, McAfee Fellow and Chief Scientist.

“Collaboration and liberalized information-sharing to improve attack defenses remain critically important as defenders work to combat escalating asymmetrical cyberwarfare.”

Each quarter, McAfee Labs assesses the state of the cyber threat landscape based on threat data gathered by the McAfee Global Threat Intelligence cloud from hundreds of millions of sensors across multiple threat vectors around the world. McAfee Advanced Threat Research complements McAfee Labs by providing in-depth investigative analysis of cyberattacks from around the globe.

Cybercriminals Take On New Strategies, Tactics The fourth quarter of 2017 saw the rise of newly diversified cybercriminals, as a significant number of actors embraced novel criminal activities to capture new revenue streams. For instance, the spike in the value of Bitcoin prompted actors to branch out from moneymakers such as ransomware, to the practice of  hijacking Bitcoin and Monero wallets. McAfee researchers discovered Android apps developed exclusively for the purpose of cryptocurrency mining and observed discussions in underground forums suggesting Litecoin as a safer model than Bitcoin, with less chance of exposure.

Cybercriminals also continued to adopt fileless malware leveraging Microsoft PowerShell, which surged 432 per cent over the course of 2017, as the threat category became a go-to toolbox. The scripting language was used within Microsoft Office files to execute the first stage of attacks.

“By going digital along with so many other things in our world, crime has become easier to execute, less risky and more lucrative than ever before,” said Steve Grobman, Chief Technology Officer for McAfee. “It should be no surprise to see criminals focusing on stealthy fileless PowerShell attacks, low risk routes to cash through cryptocurrency mining, and attacks on soft targets such as hospitals.”

Health Care Targeted

Although publicly disclosed security incidents targeting health care decreased by 78 per cent in the fourth quarter of 2017, the sector experienced a dramatic 210 per cent overall increase in incidents in 2017. Through their investigations, McAfee Advanced Threat Research analysts conclude many incidents were caused by organizational failure to comply with security best practices or address known vulnerabilities in medical software.

McAfee Advanced Threat Research analysts looked into possible attack vectors related to health care data, finding exposed sensitive images and vulnerable software. Combining these attack vectors, analysts were able to reconstruct patient body parts, and print three-dimensional models.

“Health care is a valuable target for cybercriminals who have set aside ethics in favour of profits,” said Christiaan Beek, McAfee Lead Scientist and Senior Principal Engineer. “Our research uncovered classic software failures and security issues such as hardcoded embedded passwords, remote code execution, unsigned firmware, and more. Both health care organizations and developers creating software for their use must be more vigilant in ensuring they are up to date on security best practices.”

Q4 2017 Threats Activity

Fileless malware. In Q4 JavaScript malware growth continued to slow with new samples decreasing by 9 per cent, while new PowerShell malware more than tripled, growing 267 per cent.

Security incidents. McAfee Labs counted 222 publicly disclosed security incidents in Q4, a decrease of 15 per cent from Q3. 30 per cent of all publicly disclosed security incidents in Q4 took place in the Americas, followed by 14 per cent in Europe and 11 per cent in Asia.

Vertical industry targets. Public, health care, education, and finance, respectively, led vertical sector security incidents for 2017.

o             Health care. Disclosed incidents experienced a surge in 2017, rising 210 per cent, while falling 78 per cent in Q4.

o             Public sector. Disclosed incidents decreased 15 per cent in 2017, down 37 per cent in Q4.

o             Education. Disclosed incidents rose 125 per cent in 2017, remaining stagnant in Q4.

o             Finance. Disclosed incidents rose 16 per cent in 2017, falling 29 per cent in Q4.

Regional Targets.

o             Americas. Disclosed incidents rose 46 per cent in 2017, falling 46 per cent in Q4.

o             Asia. Disclosed incidents fell 58 per cent in 2017, rising

o            Europe. Disclosed incidents fell 20 per cent in 2017, rising 18 per cent in Q4.

o            Oceania. Disclosed incidents rose 42 per cent in 2017, falling 33 per cent in Q4.

Attack vectors. In Q4 and 2017 overall, malware led disclosed attack vectors, followed by account hijacking, leaks, distributed denial of service, and code injection.

Ransomware. The fourth quarter saw notable industry and law enforcement successes against criminals responsible for ransomware campaigns. New ransomware samples grew 59 per cent over the last four quarters, while new ransomware samples growth rose 35 per cent in Q4. The total number of ransomware samples increased 16 per cent in the last quarter to 14.8 million samples.

Mobile malware. New mobile malware decreased by 35 per cent from Q3. In

2017 total mobile malware experienced a 55 per cent increase, while new samples declined by 3 per cent.

Malware overall. New malware samples increased in Q4 by 32 per cent. The total number of malware samples grew 10 per cent in the past four quarters.

Mac malware. New Mac OS malware samples increased by 24 per cent in Q4.

Total Mac OS malware grew 243 per cent in 2017.

Macro malware. New macro malware increased by 53 per cent in Q4, declined by 35 per cent in 2017.

Spam campaigns. 97 per cent of spam botnet traffic in Q4 was driven by Necurs—recent purveyor of “lonely girl” spam, pump-and-dump stock spam, and Locky ransomware downloaders—and by Gamut—sender of job offer–themed phishing and money mule recruitment emails.

For more information on these threat trends and statistics, please visit:

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About McAfee Labs

McAfee Labs and McAfee Advanced Threat Research are one of the world’s leading sources for threat research, threat intelligence, and cybersecurity thought leadership. With data from hundreds of millions of sensors across key threats vectors—file, web, and network—McAfee Advanced Threat Research delivers real-time threat intelligence, critical analysis, and expert thinking to improve protection and reduce risks. McAfee Labs develops core threat detection technologies that are incorporated into the broadest security product portfolio in the industry.

About McAfee

McAfee is the device-to-cloud cybersecurity company. Inspired by the power of working together, McAfee creates business and consumer solutions that make our world a safer place.

McAfee Canada maintains a website called “The State of Consumer and Enterprise Security in Canada” in order to provide a one-stop shop for writers looking for information on a variety of trends and issues affecting and shaping the Canadian security landscape. Feel free to check out the resource site for security information, statistics, story ideas, and access to published McAfee surveys and studies:

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