In the 24th edition of its Security Intelligence Report (SIR), an annual study aimed to improve cyber resilience in the region, Microsoft said malware remains a huge cyberthreat in the Asia-Pacific not only to organizations but to personal computers as well.
Malware remains a huge threat not only to individual users but to organizations as well. It can cause impaired usability, data loss, intellectual property theft, monetary loss, emotional distress, and can even put human life at risk, according to the report. While the global malware encounter rate has decreased by 34 percent, the malware encounter in the Asia-Pacific was 37 percent more than the global average. Indonesia, the Philippines, and Vietnam had the highest malware encounter rates in the region, highlighting the correlation of infection rates with human development factors and technology readiness within a society.
The report found that “poor cybersecurity hygiene” is the main cause of this prevalence followed by low-security awareness. Organizations that do not patch software are the most vulnerable. Users who visit potentially websites such as file-sharing sites may also expose devices to malware. Using pirated software can also be a source of infection.
The report also found that the Asia Pacific markets with the lowest malware encounter rates are Australia, Japan, and New Zealand. These locations tend to have mature cybersecurity infrastructures and well-established programs for protecting critical infrastructure and communicating with their citizens about basic cybersecurity best practices.
“To strengthen individuals’ trust in technology and prevent cyberattacks from derailing companies’ digital transformation initiatives, cybersecurity professionals need to devise a holistic strategy that includes prevention and detection and response. Measures such as preventive controls as well as the adoption of cloud and artificial intelligence to augment security operations will play a vital role in building organizational resilience and facilitating meaningful risk reduction within their organization,” Lam said.
The SIRv24 found that between January and December 2018, the cryptocurrency mining malware encounter rate, is the percentage of computers running Microsoft real-time security products that report a malware encounter, in the Asia-Pacific, was nearly 1.2 times (17 percent) higher than the global average, and India, Sri Lanka, and Indonesia recorded the highest encounter rate in the region. The report also found that the encounter rate increased or decreased with the rise or fall in the value of cryptocurrency.
Technology company Microsoft attributes this to the rise in the value of cryptocurrency such as Bitcoin.
The SIRv24 comprises of core insights and key trends derived by sifting through data between January to December 2018 from multiple, diverse sources, including 6.5 trillion threat signals that go through the Microsoft cloud every day. The Asia-Pacific insights were derived from analyzing data from 15 markets, including Australia, China, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, New Zealand, Philippines, Singapore, South Korea, Sri Lanka, Taiwan, Thailand, and Vietnam. The report includes an overview of the lessons learned from the field and recommended best practices.
“Undoubtedly, cybersecurity is one of the most pressing issues for organizations today,” said Eric Lam, Director, Cybersecurity Solutions Group, Microsoft Asia. “As cyberattacks continue to increase in frequency and sophistication, understanding prevalent cyberthreats and how to limit their impact has become an imperative. The SIRv24 aims to keep pace with the ever-evolving cyberthreat landscape by highlighting the techniques and tradecraft of cybercriminals and offering insights to improve cyber resilience and overall cybersecurity health of an organization.”
The report said cybercriminals choose cryptomining over ransomware because “cryptocurrency mining does not require user input: it works in the background, while the user is performing other tasks or is away from the computer, and may not be noticed at all unless it degrades the computer’s performance sufficiently.”
Because it works stealthily in the background, only when the malware has done its job will users be able to detect it.
Ransomware encounters nosedive at 73 percent worldwide but Microsoft said users must not brush off the threat because it is a “viable threat” in the region with an encounter rate of 40 percent which is more than the global average. Countries Indonesia, India, and Vietnam posts the most number of ransomware attacks in the region.
Awareness and action are the keys to the cybercriminal’s diminishing interest in using ransomware. While organizations and consumers are encountering ransomware at lower volumes compared to the previous year, it does not mean the severity of attacks has declined. It is still capable of making a real-world impact by affecting corporate networks and crippling critical services such as hospitals, transportation, and traffic systems.