Key Trends From the Most Exploited Vulnerabilities

eWEEK DATA POINTS: Microsoft-related issues represented the majority of the top 10 most exploited vulnerabilities in 2018, according to a new report from Recorded Future, but that's not the only key insight included in the report about the state of the threat landscape.

Recorded Future report

While the cyber-security threat landscape is generally thought to change from year to year, some things, as it turns out, remain unchanged.

According to a report released March 19 from Recorded Future that analyzes the top vulnerabilities of the past year, one of the key trends is that the same vulnerabilities keep showing up. The report also found that most vulnerabilities are being exploited via phishing attacks and exploit kits that specifically target flaws in Microsoft products.

In this eWEEK Data Points article, we look at some of the key findings and insights from the Record Future vulnerabilities report.

Data Point No. 1: Microsoft vulnerabilities remain actively exploited for years

Recorded Future found that a 3-year-old flaw in Microsoft's Internet Explorer was still being actively exploited.

"One of the biggest surprises was that for the first time since we started compiling the annual list, a vulnerability (CVE-2016-0189) remained among the 10 exploited vulnerabilities for a third year," Allan Liska, threat intelligence analyst at Recorded Future, told eWEEK. "This vulnerability has likely stayed relevant due to its ability to target multiple versions of IE (9-11) and the need for an administrator to run a command-line fix versus an automatic patch, which made it attractive to include in over a dozen exploit kits."

Data Point No. 2: "Double Kill" was the most exploited vulnerability

At the top of Recorded Future's list of the 10 most exploited vulnerabilities in 2018 is an exploit nicknamed "Double Kill" and formally identified as CVE-2018-8174.

Double Kill is a remote code execution vulnerability in the Microsoft VBScript Engine, impacting multiple Microsoft products, including the IE browser. According to Recorded Future, Double Kill was including multiple exploit kits and used to help spread ransomware attacks.

Data Point No. 3: Only one Flash vulnerability made the top 10

In years past, vulnerabilities in Adobe's Flash Player were commonly seen in different vendor lists of the most exploited vulnerabilities. In Recorded Future's report, Adobe Flash only accounted for a single issue in its top 10 list of the most exploited flaws.

The CVE-2018-4878 flaw in Flash is a use-after-free, memory corruption issue that could lead to remote code execution. It was the second most exploited flaw in 2018, according to Recorded Future, and was used in multiple malware campaigns, including the distribution of GandCrab ransomware.

Data Point No. 4: RATs on the decline

  • Remote Access Trojans, more commonly referred to by the acronym RAT, were also a declining category in the past year.
  • Thirty-five new RATs were released in 2018, down from 47 in 2017, and only one new RAT (Sisfader) in 2018 had an association with a top 10 exploited vulnerability.

Data Point No. 5: Beware of Threadkit

  • Exploit kits package up different vulnerabilities and make it easier for would-be attackers to use them.
  • The most discussed exploit kit in 2018, according to Recorded Future's analysis, was "Threadkit," which sells for approximately $400 and includes four of the top 10 most exploited vulnerabilities.

Data Point No. 6: Exploit kits are in transition

While Threadkit was an active exploit kit, the overall market for exploit kits is in a period of transition. According to the report, only five new exploit kits emerged in 2018, compared with 10 in 2017 and 62 in 2016.

"From a change perspective, it will be interesting to see if the development of exploit kits reverses and we see a resurgence," Liska said. "Overall, cyber-criminals will continue to exploit the vulnerabilities that have the highest success rate and to adapt exploit kits to include multiple vulnerabilities that will allow the exploit kit to remain viable."

Sean Michael Kerner is a senior editor at eWEEK and 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.