McAfee warns of a stronger, more effective cybercriminal underground in 2019

Malware-as-a-service families are expected to strengthen, energizing the market for attack outsourcing and the evolution of increasingly innovative and agile attack methods, according to the “McAfee Labs 2019 Threats Predictions Report.” As a result, corporate data, home IoT devices and brand reputations will be under siege, with cybercriminals largely utilizing social media, the cloud and mobile phones as increasingly prominent attack vectors.

“In 2018, we witnessed even greater collaboration among cybercriminals through underground alliances,” said Raj Samani, chief scientist at McAfee. “This collaborative mentality has allowed for efficiencies in underground technologies and tactics, and the evolution of bad actors into some of the most organized and agile adversaries in the world. However, while we expect the underground market collaboration to continue, the year 2019 will also see cybersecurity alliances of defenders continuing to mature and further fortify defenses.”

The report reflects the informed opinions of thought leaders from McAfee Labs, McAfee Advanced Threat Research and members of McAfee’s Office of the CTO. It examines current trends in cybercrime and the evolution of IT, and anticipates what the future may hold for organizations, consumers and those working to protect them.

A Stronger, More Effective Cybercriminal Underground

Cybercriminals are quickly fortifying the malware-as-a-service market by aligning to sell modular attack components. These one-stop-shops make it easier for criminals of all experience and skill levels to execute successful attacks. This market consolidation will continue in 2019 and cybercriminal enterprises will flourish as established cyber gangs partner with other top-level services such as money laundering, evasion techniques and vulnerability exploits. As evidenced by conversations within the underground community, an increase is expected in mobile malware, botnets, banking fraud, ransomware and attempts to bypass two-factor authentication.

Cyberattacks Made Simpler with Easy Access to Technologies

As security gets stronger, bad actors need to be increasingly inventive. The availability of modular attack components on the underground market will enable attackers to combine and repurpose established tactics and technologies to achieve new goals.

  • Artificial Intelligence for Improved Evasion: The accessibility of technologies such as artificial intelligence-as-a-service will enable cybercriminals to develop cyber-attacks with increasingly sophisticated evasion techniques. With artificial intelligence, cybercriminals will have the ability to automate target selection, scan for target network vulnerabilities, and assess the posture and responsiveness of infected environments to avoid detection before deploying later stages of attacks.
  • Nation-State Strategies Repurposed for Corporate Extortion: Bots used to amplify deceitful messaging have already been created and are available for sale on the cybercriminal underground. Following in the footsteps of recent infamous nation-state campaigns to sway public opinion, cybercriminals will repurpose bots and leverage social media to extort organizations by threatening their brands. 
  • Synergistic Superthreats for Attack Success: Bad actors will evolve their usual strategy centered on the use of a single threat, in favor of combining several attack types to bypass defenses. For example, combining phishing, stegware and fileless malware for an attack with multiple goals. These synergistic superthreats will work together, blurring the traditional defense panorama and complicating the process to identify and mitigate the attack.

Cloud, Home IoT and Social Media Platforms Under Siege

With access to increasingly effective tactics and strategies, bad actors will have the ability to focus their attacks on broader and more complicated targets. In 2019, cybercriminals will target intellectual property, Internet of Things (IoT) in the home and identity credentials via the cloud, mobile phone and social media platforms, respectively.

  • Data Exfiltration Attacks via the Cloud: McAfee foresees a significant increase in target attacks on the large amounts of corporate data now residing in the cloud. As much as 21% of the content now managed in the cloud contains sensitive materials, such as intellectual property, customer and personal data. Possible scenarios include cloud-native attacks targeting weak WPIs or ungoverned API endpoints, expanded reconnaissance and exfiltration of data in cloud databases, and leverage of the cloud as a springboard for cloud-native man-in-the-middle attacks to launch cryptojacking or ransomware attacks.
  • Home IoT Attacks via Smartphones, Tablets and Routers: New mobile malware will investigate smartphones, tablets and routers to gain access to the digital assistants and home IoT devices they control. Once infected, these devices can serve as a picklock to the consumer home door, and can supply botnets, which can launch DDoS attacks or grant cybercriminal access to personal data and the opportunity for other malicious activities such as opening doors and connecting to controlservers.   
  • Identity Attacks via Social Media Platforms: In 2019, large scale social media platforms will implement additional measures to protect customer information, however as the platforms grow in numbers, cybercriminals will be further enticed to focus their resources on attacking the data-rich environments. High-impact attacks, such as those targeting Industrial Control Systems (ICS), have seen success in part due to static password use across environments. Successful social media and other various identity platform and edge device breaches will provide the keys to adversaries to launch similar attacks in the future.