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Exploit Kits Target Old Vulnerabilities More Than Zero Days, Research Finds

Zero-days may make the most noise in the news, but many exploit kits are relying on tried-and-true vulnerabilities to get the job done.

Zero-days may make the most noise in the news, but many exploit kits are relying on tried-and-true vulnerabilities to get the job done.

According to research from security vendor Solutionary, 58 percent of the vulnerabilities targeted by the most popular exploit kits in the fourth quarter of 2012 were more than two years old. The report did not say what the most commonly exploited vulnerability was. However, researchers did find that BlackHole 2.0 – despite being the most often used exploit kit based on volume – targets fewer vulnerabilities than other exploit kits. The most versatile of the kits was Phoenix, which supports roughly 16 percent of all vulnerabilities being exploited, according to the report.

VulnerabiltiesThat most of the vulnerabilities were at least two years old supports the idea that organizations should not just focus on patching zero-days, the report notes.

“The fact that cyber criminals are able to penetrate network defenses by targeting aging vulnerabilities and using old techniques demonstrates that many organizations are still playing catch-up when it comes to cyber security,” said Rob Kraus, director of research for Solutionary’s Security Engineering Research Team (SERT), in a statement. “Tight budgets, inability to convince stakeholders at all levels that security should be a priority, and a shortage of research resources could be among the reasons why many security and risk teams are continuing to operate in reactive mode.”

While ‘From Russia with Love’ may be the title of a James Bond movie, it could easily become the mantra of the creators of the exploit kits the company examined as well. According to the company, nearly 70 percent of the exploit kits it reviewed were released or developed in Russia. China and Brazil were the next in line in terms of originating exploit kits, though together they combined for only 12 percent of the kits.

Thirty percent of the malware samples the company analyzed traced back to JavaScript malware variants used for redirection, obfuscation and encryption, all used in the BlackHole exploit kit. All totaled, some 18 percent of the malware samples studied by SERT in the fourth quarter were directly attributable to BlackHole, according to the report.

“Exploit kits largely focus on targeting end-user applications,” Kraus said. “As a result, it is vital that organizations pay close attention to patch management and endpoint security controls in order to significantly decrease the likelihood of compromise.”

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