Cyber-security Is Improving, Though Risk Continues to Grow

eWEEK DATA POINTS: The 2019 Trustwave Global Security Report identifies several positive trends for that state of cyber-security, even as attackers continue to evolve and some areas of cyber-security are getting worse.

Trustwave 2019 Global Security Report

There is never a shortage of bad news when it comes to cyber-security, thanks to a seemingly endless stream of vulnerabilities and exploits.

The 2019 Trustwave Global Security Report, released on April 25, has its fair share of bad news as it has found that multiple types of attacks have grown and attackers have continued to increase levels of sophistication. However, the 76-page report also provides insight into some positive trends—how organizations are actually doing the right things to improve cyber-security. For example, Trustwave found that threat response time has improved, with the time from intrusion to detection falling from 67 days in 2017 to 27 days in 2018.

In this eWEEK Data Points article, we look at some of the key highlights of the 2019 Trustwave Global Security Report.

Data Point No. 1: Cryptojacking is not dead.

Unauthorized cryptocurrency mining, commonly referred to as cryptojacking, grew exponentially in 2018. In 2017, Trustwave reported that only 0.2 percent of malware was coin-mining related, but that number grew to 3.0 percent in 2018.

"The most surprising story for me was the massive increase of coin-mining malware in 2018 compared to 2017," Karl Sigler, threat intelligence manager at Trustwave SpiderLabs, told eWEEK. "While the rising trend of cryptojacking web scripts was expected, after the crash of the Bitcoin market toward the end of 2018, I was surprised to see that attackers were still interested in placing coin-mining malware on compromised systems."

Data Point No. 2: All web applications are vulnerable.

Among the most startling findings in the report is that 100% of web applications tested by Trustwave had at least one vulnerability.

  • The median number of vulnerabilities in web applications tested by Trustwave grew to 15, up from 11 in 2017. 
  • 80% of the vulnerabilities discovered by Trustwave penetration testers were classified as low risk, with the remaining 20% rated medium to critical. 

Data Point No. 3: Social engineering is the top method of compromise.

While vulnerabilities are a risk, the top method by which attackers got into various organizations in 2018 was by way of tricking users in some way in an attack commonly referred to as social engineering.

  • For point-of-sale and cloud environments, 60% of breach investigations conducted by Trustwave could be attributed to social engineering as the initial point of entry. 
  • In corporate environments, social engineering was the root cause of 46% of breaches.

Data Point No. 4: Cyber-criminals look for payment card data.

  • 36% of breaches observed by Trustwave involved payment card data.
  • Online payment card data, also known as card not present, is increasingly being targeted, at 25% in 2018, up from 7% in 2017.
  • In contrast, magnetic stripe data from payment cards represented 11% of breaches.

Data Point No. 5: Hiding malware is becoming more common.

  • An increasing amount of malware is using data obfuscation techniques to stay hidden from defenders.
  • 67% of malware analyzed by Trustwave in 2018 used some form of obfuscation, up from only 30% in 2017.

Data Point No. 6: Defenders are getting better.

  • Median time duration from threat intrusion to containment was 27 days in 2018, down from 67 days in 2017. 
  • Median time between intrusion and detection for externally detected compromises fell to 55 days, down from 83 days in 2017.

"I think organizations are developing a more mature security posture both through implementing basic best practices and educating their users," Sigler said. "In 2018, this definitely forced attackers to forgo many of the typical wide net/lowest hanging fruit type attacks and launch smaller, more targeted attacks. I expect this to continue through this year as well."

Sean Michael Kerner is a senior editor at eWEEK and InternetNews.com. Follow him on Twitter @TechJournalist.

Sean Michael Kerner

Sean Michael Kerner

Sean Michael Kerner is an Internet consultant, strategist, and contributor to several leading IT business web sites.