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Many attackers lurk undetected for months, study finds

According to, attackers who penetrate company networks often pose as legitimate users for long periods of time, causing lengthy delays before victims figure out they’ve been hacked.

FireEye’s Mandiant forensics service found that it took a median of 205 days for an organization to detect a compromise, down slightly from 229 days in 2013, according to its 2015 Threat Report.

The drop is nearly insignificant. “I don’t think it’s enough to make a claim that people are getting better at this,” said Matt Hastings, a senior consultant with Mandiant who works on incident response.

One of the main problems is that attackers are moving away from using malware that can be quickly detected. Instead, they’re stealing authentication credentials and using them to log into systems remotely. In that way, they look like legitimate users logging into systems, which becomes difficult to detect.

In two of the largest payment card data breaches, affecting Target and Home Depot, attackers obtained credentials used by third-parties to access those retailers’ networks, allowing them to gain a foothold that eventually enabled attacks on their point-of-sale systems.

To be sure, attackers still use malware and backdoors, but more judiciously. In fact, victims will often find components and tools used for an attack and remove them, Hastings said, but still fail to understand fully what is going on.

As a result, the hackers—seeing that some of their intrusions have been detected—can change tactics to maintain their presence in a network.

Mandiant’s report said in 69 percent of breaches, an organization found out about an attack from another group, such as law enforcement. That’s up from 67 percent in 2013 and 63 percent in 2012.

One of the ways an attacker can appear to be an authorized user is by gaining VPN access. Mandiant saw attackers obtain login credentials for those systems more in 2014 than ever before.

Once they enter through a VPN, an attacker can often get access to other systems, Hastings said. That opens the possibility of using a tool such as Mimikatz, which can collect clear-text passwords of users currently logged in.

Windows will keep credentials in memory so they can be reused for single-sign on, and that can allow Mimikatz to grab them.

Windows Server 2012 R2 and Windows 8.1 have a defensive mechanism called “protected processes” to defend against this kind of attack, Hastings said. But most organizations use Windows Server 2008 functional domains and Windows 7 endpoints.

“Unfortunately, at this point, it’s very hard to mitigate this type of risk,” Hastings said.

To further blur their activity, attackers modify and recompile Mimikatz’s source code. Mandiant said it did not find a single instance in which an organization’s antivirus software detected or prevented Mimikatz from running, despite its reputation.

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Infographic: The Many Faces of Today’s Hackers

Almost every day, we hear about a new security breach, but who’s behind these attacks? Whether you’re dealing with the “professional mercenary,” the “cyber warrior” or the “malicious insider,” cyberhackers come in many shapes and sizes. See the infographic below depicting the many faces of today’s hackers, from general types of hackers that enterprises often face to the types of attacks they’re most likely to deploy. Click on the image to magnify and download.

black market hacker personas

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More Cyber Attacks are Imminent and Here’s Why [Study + Key Takeaways]

Over the past 15 years, the hacking industry has evolved from being individually-driven to being carried out by complex organizations that are well-organized, more efficient and better equipped to capitalize from stolen credit card data.

As each new large-scale hack emerges and gains widespread attention, the incentives for more hacker markets increase, thus underscoring the fact that credit card hacks are becoming ubiquitous and are imminent for most Americans.

Non-profit national security think tank RAND Corporation recently released a study entitled “Markets for Cybercrime Tools and Stolen Data” in which the evolution of cybercrime and its now more modernized global operations are discussed in great detail.

Here are five takeaways we’ve identified from the study:

1.) Black and gray cybercrime hacker markets continue to emerge as its proven to be an extremely lucrative business with relatively low investment and minimal barriers to entry.

2.) Black market hacking organizations are difficult to identify and understand by law enforcement, as they are geographically spread out, diverse, segmented, and usually hidden under anonymity and encryption.

3.) Black cybercrime markets mirror the normal evolution of a free market – in both innovation and growth. There has been a steady increase in the availability of goods and services offered by black cybercrime markets, from stolen records and exploit kits to “stolen-to-order” goods, such as intellectual property and zero-day vulnerabilities.

4) There will be more activity in darknets, more checking and vetting of participants, more use of cryptocurrencies, greater anonymity capabilities in malware, and more attention to encrypting and protecting communications and transactions.

5) Exploitation of social networks and mobile devices will continue to grow, and there will be more hacking for hire, as-a-service offerings and brokers as the markets grow in size and complexity.

Given the information provided by the study, questions remain around how we can suppress and/or prevent such hacks from taking place. RAND Corporation suggests “mandates for encryption and point-of-sale terminals, safer and stronger storage of passwords and user credentials, and implementation of ‘chip and PIN in the U.S.'”

Paymetric develops best-in-class electronic payment acceptance and data security solutions. As RAND Corporation suggested, storing sensitive cardholder data on-site leaves your systems vulnerable to attacks by hackers.

XiSecure® On-Demand for Cardholder Data is our award-winning proprietary tokenization solution that eliminates the transmission and storage of sensitive data in your internal systems, dramatically improving data security and minimizing the risk of a data breach and brand exposure. Click here to learn more about our data security solutions.

Read and download the full study here.


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