Attackers drop web exploits for macros and trickery

New research shows that old-fashioned spam and trickery is the most common way of infecting machines, driven largely by Dridex banking malware.

Over the course of 2015 cybercriminals turned away from technically sophisticated software exploits towards cheaper and possibly more effective social engineering that tricks people to infecting their own machines, according to security firm Proofpoint.

“The year 2014 was all about the technically sophisticated attacker. We saw levels of software coding and ingenuity that were very impressive. These were people that spent lots of time and money and the guys in the underground forums were offering bounties of millions of dollars for technical exploits. Over the past year the pendulum went all the way in the other direction. As humans, we’re a lot easier to exploit and cheaper,” Kevin Epstein, VP of threat operations at Proofpoint told CSO Australia.

Analysing a subset of its own customers data, Proofpoint found that in 2015 99.7 percent of documents used in attachment-based campaigns contained malicious macros to compromise a target rather than automated exploits.

Macros in Microsoft’s Word, for example, are disabled by default to reduce the risk of attackers exploiting them to install malware. Epstein said a typical method to convince people to undo that protection is by creating a document with a blurred image and instructions that tell the recipient the image was blurred for their protection and that to view it requires enabling macros.

In instances where attacker email contained a URL, 74 percent led to pages designed to phish credentials while 26 percent sent victims to a page that encouraged them to run a malicious program, for example by downloading a Word document from Dropbox.

According to Epstein, just two percent of the attack email linked to a web page hosting an exploit kit. In other words, very few attacks required no human interaction.

The most common malware last year were banking Trojans, accounting for 74 percent of all payloads. Dridex banking malware, as measured by message volume, was ten times greater than the next most common malware.

Despite efforts by law enforcement to take down Dridex’s infrastructure, the botnet emerged as one of the key sources of malware infections last year.

Read more: Americans, Romanians most willing to pay ransomware fees – but not for work files

Symantec recently estimated that Dridex accounted for 48 percent of infections in 2015, peaking at 16,000 infections per day in June, achieved exclusively by massive spam campaigns that only operate between Monday to Friday.

Nearly all Dridex campaigns rely on Word documents laced with a malicious macro that installs malware designed to steals banking credentials via a man-in-the-browser attack. Last week however the same infection method was used to spread the new Locky ransomware, suggesting Dridex was expanding from stealing banking credentials to holding data at ransom through file encryption software.

Epstein said Proofpoint gathered its data over a year from a subset of customers that volunteered to share their data with the company. He declined to say how many customers data was used for the study.




With data increasingly being stored in the cloud, it’s critical to be able to evaluate and manage the security of cloud solutions. Dropbox's Solutions Architect team are teaming up with the Symantec Information Protection group to discuss the latest industry best practices.

Register here for the February 25th webinar on* Managing enterprise cloud security.

Read more: Ransomware perpetrators' increasing focus on Australia is just targeted marketing

Join us at the CSO Perspectives Roadshow in March.

CSO is proud to present our international keynote speakers: Robert Lentz, former CISO of US Department of Defense discussing the evolution of Cyber Security and Graham Cluley, world- renown IT Security blogger and Analyst (UK) on the rise of Malware in our age. We will also be featuring our Security Awareness stream, where you will hear from the likes of NAB and ANZ, as they discuss the importance of staff and customer security awareness programs. We will have up to 18 different interactive Security Exchange discussions on a variety of different topics for you to choose from as you build your personalised agenda for the day. Join CSO for a day of networking with your peers, engaging and discussing topics relevant to you, hearing from some of the top worldwide IT Security leaders in the market and attending the exhibition floor to win some amazing prizes.

Join the CSO newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.

Tags banking TrojansspamdropboxEpsteincybercriminalstrickeryransomwaremalwareCSO AustraliaMacrosDridexattackersproofpoint

More about CSODropboxIT SecurityMicrosoftNABProofpointSymantec

Show Comments

Featured Whitepapers

Editor's Recommendations

Solution Centres

Stories by Liam Tung

Latest Videos

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: The Human Factor - Your people are your biggest security weakness

    ​Speakers: David Lacey, Researcher and former CISO Royal Mail David Turner - Global Risk Management Expert Mark Guntrip - Group Manager, Email Protection, Proofpoint

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: Current ransomware defences are failing – but machine learning can drive a more proactive solution

    Speakers • Ty Miller, Director, Threat Intelligence • Mark Gregory, Leader, Network Engineering Research Group, RMIT • Jeff Lanza, Retired FBI Agent (USA) • Andy Solterbeck, VP Asia Pacific, Cylance • David Braue, CSO MC/Moderator What to expect: ​Hear from industry experts on the local and global ransomware threat landscape. Explore a new approach to dealing with ransomware using machine-learning techniques and by thinking about the problem in a fundamentally different way. Apply techniques for gathering insight into ransomware behaviour and find out what elements must go into a truly effective ransomware defence. Get a first-hand look at how ransomware actually works in practice, and how machine-learning techniques can pick up on its activities long before your employees do.

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: Get real about metadata to avoid a false sense of security

    Speakers: • Anthony Caruana – CSO MC and moderator • Ian Farquhar, Worldwide Virtual Security Team Lead, Gigamon • John Lindsay, Former CTO, iiNet • Skeeve Stevens, Futurist, Future Sumo • David Vaile - Vice chair of APF, Co-Convenor of the Cyberspace Law And Policy Community, UNSW Law Faculty This webinar covers: - A 101 on metadata - what it is and how to use it - Insight into a typical attack, what happens and what we would find when looking into the metadata - How to collect metadata, use this to detect attacks and get greater insight into how you can use this to protect your organisation - Learn how much raw data and metadata to retain and how long for - Get a reality check on how you're using your metadata and if this is enough to secure your organisation

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: How banking trojans work and how you can stop them

    CSO Webinar: How banking trojans work and how you can stop them Featuring: • John Baird, Director of Global Technology Production, Deutsche Bank • Samantha Macleod, GM Cyber Security, ME Bank • Sherrod DeGrippo, Director of Emerging Threats, Proofpoint (USA)

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    IDG Live Webinar:The right collaboration strategy will help your business take flight

    Speakers - Mike Harris, Engineering Services Manager, Jetstar - Christopher Johnson, IT Director APAC, 20th Century Fox - Brent Maxwell, Director of Information Systems, THE ICONIC - IDG MC/Moderator Anthony Caruana

    Play Video

More videos

Blog Posts

Market Place