Guarding Against Malware in 2023: 4 Predictions to Enhance Your Security Strategy

Jun 06, 2023
6 minutes

The ability to guard against attacks and malware designed to exploit vulnerabilities means keeping up with trends and predictions to inform your security strategy. Understanding the changing environment is imperative for security professionals to mount a strong defense against sophisticated malware attacks.

We are pleased to announce the release of the Palo Alto Networks Unit 42 Network Threat Trends Report, Vol. 2, which focuses on the latest trends in malware and the evolving threat landscape. The insights in this report provide security teams with a better understanding of what is to come for malware and recommendations for organizations to improve their security posture.

What's Next for Malware

Leveraging data collected from Palo Alto Networks Advanced WildFire® malware prevention engine, coupled with insights gathered by the Unit 42 threat research team throughout 2022 and early 2023, we have formulated four predictions regarding the future direction of malware. These predictions are derived from careful analysis of the trends observed within the collected data, revealing crucial behaviors that warrant close attention and proactive protection measures.

1. Malware will increasingly employ red team tools to avoid detection.

Malware attacks will continue to become increasingly complex and leverage advanced tools, such as Cobalt Strike and Metasploit, to avoid detection. These tools, originally designed for legitimate security purposes, have unfortunately been repurposed by threat actors to exploit vulnerabilities and gain unauthorized access to systems. These tools offer functionalities such as social engineering, phishing, spear-phishing and post-exploitation techniques, enabling attackers to infiltrate networks, maintain persistence and move laterally across compromised systems.

2. More malware families will use SSL-encrypted traffic to blend in with benign network traffic.

Threat actors are adopting tactics that mimic legitimate businesses. Currently, 12.91% of network traffic generated by malware is SSL encrypted. By mimicking legitimate network traffic and employing sophisticated evasion techniques, bad actors increase their chances of remaining undetected for prolonged periods, exacerbating the potential damage they can inflict.

3. Vulnerabilities, especially within OT systems and IoT devices, will continue to rank among the primary entry points for the propagation of malware, posing a significant initial threat vector.

The annual rise in newly discovered vulnerabilities poses a growing challenge for organizations, making it increasingly difficult to prioritize patching and mitigate the associated risks of exploitation in a timely manner. In fact, in 2022, the exploitation of vulnerabilities witnessed a staggering 55% increase when compared to the previous year. This trend in the growing attack surface compels attackers to actively target both old and new vulnerabilities, resulting in organizations being exposed to a higher risk of compromise and unauthorized access.

4. Traditional scam techniques will take advantage of AI trends.

With the widespread popularity of ChatGPT and the emergence of various AI-related tools and trends, scammers are poised to exploit users' enthusiasm, particularly through traditional scams like domain squatting. There has been a noticeable surge in traditional malware techniques that capitalize on the escalating interest in AI and ChatGPT. Given the current trajectory, we anticipate this trend to persist and even intensify in the future.

Recommendations for Your Security Strategy

Assessing your security strategy against trends and predictions can help you discover the right tools and best practices to deploy. To enhance your organization's security and minimize its attractiveness as a target, we recommend considering the following recommendations:

1. Address the increasing complexity of threats with comprehensive oversight and proactive prevention.

Comprehensive oversight entails adopting a holistic perspective of your security landscape. It is crucial to integrate robust security capabilities at all levels of your hybrid cloud environment, including hardware, firmware, operating systems, and software. Emphasize securing data at rest, in transit, and during usage to ensure comprehensive protection. Leverage AI and machine learning-based detection and prevention capabilities to stop threats such as exploits, phishing, and malware before they enter your environment.

2. Use decryption best practices to expose potential threats.

To effectively combat the rise in malicious encrypted traffic, it is essential to enable decryption capabilities on your next-generation firewalls. This empowers security teams to inspect and exert control over SSL/TLS and SSH traffic, thereby detecting and preventing threats that would otherwise remain concealed within encrypted communications.

By utilizing virtual machine introspection (VMI) to capture the symmetric keys for each SSL connection, the detection of malware can occur seamlessly and covertly. This approach enables security measures to proactively analyze encrypted traffic and effectively neutralize potential threats that may attempt to exploit this hidden avenue.

3. Respond to growing vulnerabilities with an effective patch management process.

Maintaining an up-to-date patch management process is crucial for mitigating the impact of vulnerabilities. To minimize the risk of attacks, it is essential to develop a comprehensive process that enables swift patching of newly discovered vulnerabilities. By promptly applying patches and updates, organizations can significantly reduce the window of vulnerability and the potential for exploitation. Additionally, employ proactive prevention capabilities with security tools that can stop exploit attempts as they occur.

4. Adopt a Zero Trust mindset for enhanced security.

The adoption of a Zero Trust approach eradicates any implicit trust assumptions within the organization by consistently validating digital transactions. By implementing Zero Trust best practices, such as deploying controls across all environments (on-premises, data center and cloud), security teams can effectively bolster their defenses against highly sophisticated and evasive threats.

How Palo Alto Networks Can Help

Palo Alto Networks offers a comprehensive range of cutting-edge security solutions designed to empower organizations in safeguarding themselves against an ever-evolving landscape of threats. Our Cloud-Delivered Security Services provide unparalleled protection against advanced attacks, ensuring that critical systems and data remain secure. Prisma SASE secures the hybrid workforce, enabling seamless and secure connectivity regardless of location. Prisma Cloud accelerates the secure delivery of cloud-native applications from Code to Cloud, combining agility with robust security measures.

Our Cortex platform equips organizations with unmatched visibility and a suite of cohesive tools to effectively combat threats. Additionally, Unit 42 provides world-class incident response services, offering peace of mind during critical security incidents. With Palo Alto Networks extensive portfolio of solutions, organizations can confidently navigate the digital landscape while staying one step ahead of cyber threats.

Read the entire Palo Alto Networks Unit 42 Network Threat Trends Report, Vol.2 for more malware predictions, insights into trending topics and actionable security recommendations.

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