The cybercriminal underground is becoming increasingly organized, according to researchers at HP. The criminal underground functions like a regular economy, with people selling goods and services such as phishing kits, malware, and access to compromised networks. As a result, the bar of entry is lower since unskilled criminals can buy the things that previously prevented them from engaging in cybercrime.

HP’s report shared the following findings:

  • “75% of malware detected was delivered via email, while web downloads were responsible for the remaining 25%. Threats downloaded using web browsers rose by 24%, partially driven by users downloading hacking tools and cryptocurrency mining software.
  • “The most common email phishing lures were invoices and business transactions (49%), while 15% were replies to intercepted email threads. Phishing lures mentioning COVID-19 made up less than 1%, dropping by 77% from H2 2020 to H1 2021.
  • “The most common type of malicious attachments were archive files (29%), spreadsheets (23%), documents (19%), and executable files (19%). Unusual archive file types – such as JAR (Java Archive files) – are being used to avoid detection and scanning tools, and install malware that’s easily obtained in underground marketplaces.
  • “The report found 34% of malware captured was previously unknown, a 4% drop from H2 2020.
  • “A 24% increase in malware that exploits CVE-2017-11882, a memory corruption vulnerability commonly used to exploit Microsoft Office or Microsoft WordPad and carry out fileless attacks.”

The researchers also observed a “résumé-themed malicious spam campaign targeted shipping, maritime, logistics and related companies in seven countries (Chile, Japan, UK, Pakistan, US, Italy and the Philippines), exploiting a Microsoft Office vulnerability to deploy the commercially-available Remcos RAT and gain backdoor access to infected computers.”

Alex Holland, a Senior Malware Analyst at HP, stated that criminals continue to rely on phishing to gain initial access because it works so well.

“Cybercriminals are bypassing detection tools with ease by simply tweaking their techniques,” Holland said. “We saw a surge in malware distributed via uncommon file types like JAR files – likely used to reduce the chances of being detected by anti-malware scanners. The same old phishing tricks are reeling in victims, with transaction-themed lures convincing users to click on malicious attachments, links, and web pages.”

New-school security awareness training can give your organization an essential layer of defense by enabling your employees to spot phishing attacks that slip past your technical defenses.