Malware attacks using machine identities continue to increase

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Malware attacks using machine identities doubled from 2018 to 2019 and have increased eight fold over the last decade.

New threat analysis from machine identity management company Venafi looks at security incidents and third-party reports in the public domain, including high-profile campaigns such as, TrickBot, Skidmap, Kerberods and CryptoSink.

"Unfortunately, machine identities are increasingly being used in off-the-shelf malware," says Yana Blachman, threat intelligence researcher at Venafi. "In the past, machine identity capabilities were reserved for high-profile and nation-state actors, but today we're seeing a 'trickle-down' effect. Machine identity capabilities have become commoditized and are being added to off-the-shelf malware, making it more sophisticated and harder to detect. For example, massive botnet campaigns abuse machine identities to get an initial foothold into a network and then move laterally to infect further targets. In many recorded cases, bots download crypto-mining malware that hijacks a target's resources and shuts down services. When successful, these seemingly simple and non-advanced attacks can inflict serious damage on an organization and its reputation."

The problem is made more complicated by the growth of microservices, DevOps projects, cloud workloads and IoT devices on enterprise networks. There are already more than 31 billion IoT devices worldwide and the number of connected mobile devices is expected to grow to 12.3 billion by 2022.

Between 2018 and 2023, 500 million new logical apps will be created, which is equal to the number built over the past 40 years. All of these applications and devices must have machine identities to authenticate themselves to each other so they can communicate securely. However, machines -- whether they are an app in a Kubernetes cluster or a serverless function in the cloud -- don't rely on usernames or passwords to establish trust, privacy and security. Instead, they use cryptographic keys and digital certificates that serve as machine identities. Because most organizations don't have machine identity management programs in place, attacks exploiting machine identities are already causing serious economic damage.

"As we continue to move through digital transformation of nearly every essential service, it's clear that human-centric security models are no longer effective," says Kevin Bocek, vice president of security strategy and threat intelligence at Venafi. "To protect our global economy, we need to provide machine identity management at machine speed and cloud scale. Every organization needs to ensure they have full visibility and comprehensive intelligence over every authorized machine they are using in order to defend themselves against the rising tide of attacks."

You can read more on the Venafi blog.

Photo Credit: Jirsak/Shutterstock

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