Data Exfiltration 101: How Threat Actors Compromise Networks

Cybercriminals use a wide variety of attack vectors to infiltrate corporate networks. From that point, they may spend weeks or months conducting research, identifying vulnerabilities, and exfiltrating sensitive data to their own servers for data theft extortion. Data exfiltration 101 describes the types of attacks that lead to data exfiltration and why 83% of all attacks rely on it as the primary vector.

There are many kinds of attack vectors. They include everything from malicious email attachments to insider threats and sophisticated technical exploits.

Cybersecurity professionals and IT leaders must constantly allocate resources to detect and prevent attacks on these vectors. Knowing which ones cybercriminals are currently focusing on helps security leaders make efficient use of those resources.

This information is obviously important for detection since detection-based systems tend to narrowly target certain vectors. It’s also important for prevention-based cybersecurity because it informs IT leaders’ greater security strategy. If you don’t know where attacks are coming from, preventing them is a near-impossible challenge.

Global Statistics: Today’s Most Targeted Sectors

Cybercrime trends change based on the specific sectors and industries targeted. According to BlackFog’s 2021 Annual Ransomware report, the most frequently targeted sectors of 2021 were:

  • Technology – 89% increase year-over-year.
  • Healthcare – up 30% year-over-year.
  • Retail – up 100% year-over-year.
  • Government – up 24% year-over-year.

Considering the economic and geopolitical upheaval taking place in Eastern Europe as a result of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, it’s likely that many of these sectors will see themselves targeted even more in the near future. Government and military agencies in particular are likely to experience concentrated attack efforts made by state-supported cybercriminal organizations.

Your own organization’s risk profile depends on whether it is an enterprise-level organization or a small to mid-size business. Cybercriminals modify their tactics, techniques, and procedures based on the size and preparedness of their victims.

Top 5 Enterprise Attack Vectors

Large enterprises can typically afford to implement a complex set of cybersecurity tools, with. 80% using between 3 and 19 different cybersecurity tools. Many of these tools are industry-leading security platforms operated by highly experienced security personnel.

However, cybercriminals have learned to exploit vulnerabilities in highly complex enterprise security environments. They may focus their efforts on incompatibilities between different enterprise tools or compromise trusted accounts and try to hijack those tools for their own use.

Some of the most common attack vectors today’s enterprises face include:

Fileless Malware Attacks

Fileless attacks rely entirely on the exploited system’s memory, running without requiring installation. Fileless malware often consists of malicious code injected into running processes like JavaScript, which makes it incredibly difficult to detect by conventional means.

Phishing and Spear Phishing

Phishing attacks remain one of the most common entry points cybercriminals use to defraud enterprise users. Email remains the most popular format, with special attention to high-value email accounts that receive large volumes of incoming mail.

Potentially Unwanted Programs

It’s common for enterprise employees to unknowingly consent to downloading programs and files alongside legitimate applications. In the past, these applications typically included spyware and adware. Now, cybercriminals are using them to install keyloggers and gain access to privileged user accounts.

Brute Force Password Attacks

While most enterprises have strict password policies, many employees fail to adhere to them. Many organizations still require employees to set eight-character passwords even though attackers can now crack these codes in less than one hour.

Outdated Software on Endpoint and Special-Purpose Devices

Endpoint systems and special-purpose devices running on legacy software are easy targets for hackers. Special-purpose devices can include POS terminals, check-in kiosks, and smart appliances of any kind. Industrial enterprises have additional vectors in their rapidly expanding fleets of Internet-of-Things devices.

Enterprises can improve their security posture by consolidating their security solutions and reducing the complexity of their tech stacks. Overly complex security environments contain many moving parts that highly motivated cybercriminals may successfully bypass.

Small and Mid-Sized Businesses are Particularly Vulnerable

Cybercriminals have learned to target smaller organizations instead of large, well-defended enterprises. They now target smaller businesses that are often unable to adequately defend themselves the way large enterprises can.

More than 80% of smaller organizations have less than 10 cybersecurity tools deployed. One third of these have only one or two tools at their disposal.

Over 40% of cyberattacks target small businesses. Attackers now use highly automated workflows to identify vulnerable organizations and launch attacks to probe their defenses. The three most common types of attacks on small businesses are:

  1. Phishing and Social Engineering Attacks: 57%
  2. Compromised and Stolen Endpoint Devices: 33%
  3. Credential Theft Attacks: 30%

Small and mid-sized businesses can effectively address security risks by hiring qualified managed security service providers who use best-in-class technology. These services often come at a vastly reduced rate compared to in-house expertise, giving smaller organizations access to enterprise-level technology at favorable cost.

However, small businesses must pay close attention to their security partners and the technologies they use. Competent, reputable partners who use a balanced set of technologies (including both detection and prevention-based solutions) are worth the higher rates they often charge.

Anti Data Exfiltration (ADX)

Today’s cybercriminals can use a variety of methods to gain access to protected networks, and there are signs this trend will increase sharply in the near future. Enterprises and small businesses alike should look beyond detection-based solutions to ensure their most sensitive data is truly secure.

All of the attack vectors listed above share a single factor in common. In order for the attack to succeed, data must travel from inside the protected organization to the outside. Attackers must somehow coordinate with software located inside the target’s network.

Data exfiltration protection serves as a critical layer of protection against ransomware, data breaches and malware attacks. This prevents cybercriminals from accessing sensitive data and cuts off communication between compromised accounts and cybercriminal Command & Control centers.

Small businesses, managed security service providers, and large enterprises alike should make this prevention-based technology a crucial part of their overall security posture. Stop cybercriminals from accessing protected data and protect your most sensitive assets from exploitation.

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