Despite the high-profile headlines of 2017, businesses are still not prepared to face today’s fast-evolving threats.
This is among the findings from a Sophos survey, “The state of endpoint security today”, which shows the extent to which businesses are at risk of repeated ransomware attacks and vulnerable to exploits. The survey polled more than 2 700 IT decision makers from mid-sized businesses in 10 countries worldwide, including the US, Canada, Mexico, France, Germany, UK, Australia, Japan, India and South Africa.

Ransomware continues to be a major issue across the globe with 54% of organisations surveyed hit in the last year and a further 31 percent expecting to be victims of an attack in the future. On average, respondents impacted by ransomware were struck twice.

“Ransomware is not a lightning strike — it can happen again and again to the same organisation. Sophos is aware of cybercriminals unleashing four different ransomware families in half-hour increments to ensure at least one evades security and completes the attack,” says Brett Myroff, MD of Sophos distributor, Netxactics.

“If IT managers are unable to thoroughly clean ransomware and other threats from their systems after attacks, they could be vulnerable to reinfection. No one can afford to be complacent. Cybercriminals are deploying multiple attack methods to succeed, whether using a mix of ransomware in a single campaign, taking advantage of a remote access opportunity, infecting a serve, or disabling security software.”

This relentless attack methodology combined with the growth in ransomware-as-a-service, the anticipation of more complex threats and the resurgence of worms like WannaCry and NotPetya puts businesses in serious need of a security makeover, according to Sophos. In fact, more than 77% of those impacted by ransomware were running up to date endpoint protection, confirming that traditional endpoint security is no longer enough to protect against today’s ransomware attacks.

“Organisations of all sizes are starting 2018 with inadequate protection against ransomware, despite last year’s international headlines,” says Myroff. “Given the ingenuity, frequency and financial impact of attacks, all businesses should re-evaluate their security to include predictive security technology that has the capabilities needed to combat ransomware and other costly cyber threats.”

According to those affected by ransomware last year, the median total cost of a ransomware attack was $133 000. This extends beyond any ransom demanded and includes downtime, manpower, device cost, network cost and lost opportunities. Five percent of those surveyed reported a $1,3-million to $6,6-million as total cost.

IT professionals also need to be aware of how exploits are used to gain access to a company’s system for data breaches, distributed-denial-of-service attacks and crypto-mining. Sophos’ survey revealed considerable misunderstanding around technologies to stop exploits with 69% unable to correctly identify the definition of anti-exploit software. With this confusion, it’s not surprising that 54% do not have anti-exploit technology in place at all. This also suggests that a significant proportion of organisations have a misplaced belief that they are protected from this common attack technique yet are at significant risk.

“The lack of awareness and lack of protection against exploits is alarming. Sophos has seen a resurgence in cybercriminals looking for vulnerabilities to actively use in countless attack campaigns,” Myroff says. “Last year as many as five new Office exploits have been used for cybercriminal activity, according to SophosLabs. When cybercriminals are deliberately seeking out both known and zero-day vulnerabilities, and an organisation has a deficit in defences, it adds up to a bad security situation.”

Intrusions from exploits have been happening for years but are still a prominent threat and often go undetected for months, if not years. Once inside a system, cybercriminals use complex malware that can hide in memory or camouflage itself. In many cases, businesses do not know they’ve been breached until someone finds a large cache of stolen data on the Dark Web.

“Since traditional endpoint technologies are often unable to keep up with advanced exploit attacks used to compromise a system, Sophos has added predictive, deep learning capabilities to the newest version of its next-generation endpoint protection product, Sophos Intercept X,” he adds. “It’s time to disrupt these intrusions.”

Although 60% of respondents admitted their endpoint defences are not enough to block the attacks seen last year, only 25 percent have predictive threat technologies, such as machine or deep learning, leaving 75% vulnerable to repeated ransomware attacks, exploits and evolving advanced threats. Sixty percent plan to implement predictive threat technology within a year, yet confusion about it persists. Of those surveyed, 56% admitted that they do not have a full understanding of the differences between machine learning and deep learning.

Given the speed at which cyber threats have evolved it is not surprising that many IT managers are unable to stay ahead of the next-generation technology required for security. Yet this knowledge gap could be placing operations at risk. Organisations need effective anti-ransomware, anti-exploit and deep learning technology to stay secure in 2018 and beyond, Myroff says.