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Threat Actors Quickly Adopt Effective Exploits

Cybercriminals and nation state groups were quick to adopt the most effective exploits last year, a new AlienVault report reveals.

Cybercriminals and nation state groups were quick to adopt the most effective exploits last year, a new AlienVault report reveals.

Not only do the most effective exploits proliferate quickly between cybercriminals, but some of them remain popular for years after their initial discovery.

The top 10 list of exploits – by number of occurrences in vendor reports – is dominated by Microsoft Office and Microsoft Windows, data from AlienVault’s Open Threat Exchange (OTX) platform reveals. Adobe Flash, Microsoft .NET, and Android/Linux were also present on the list, with one exploit each.

The exploit to appear most often in vendor reports last year was CVE-2017-0199, a code execution bug affecting Microsoft Office. Detailed in April 2017, when it was already being abused in attacks, the vulnerability started being adopted almost immediately, and the trend continued toward the end of the year as well.

The popularity of this exploit continued to grow even after Microsoft released a patch. Originally abused with malicious Rich Text File (RTF) documents, the flaw was leveraged with PowerPoint Slide Show files by August, and threat actors continued to use it in this manner in the following months as well.

Some attackers combined multiple exploits to avoid detection, using CVE-2017-0199 together with CVE-2012-0158, an old Office flaw that is still exploited in many campaigns and which made it to the third position on AlienVault’s top 10 exploits for last year.

The second place went to CVE-2015-1641, an exploit that was already highly popular one year after it became public. Actors exploiting the vulnerability include the Patchwork cyberespionage group and cybercriminals located in Nigeria.

In addition to CVE-2017-0199, three other exploits discovered in 2017 were among the most reported by vendors, namely CVE-2017-0144, CVE-2017-0262, and CVE-2017-8759. A .NET zero-day, CVE-2017-8759 was patched in September, after it was abused to deliver the FinFisher malware to Russian-speaking individuals.

The only exploit targeting operating systems other than Windows that made it to AlienVault’s top 10 list is CVE-2013-6282, targeting a bug leveraged by Android malware to escalate privileges once installed on a victim’s phone.

A Windows 2000 flaw reported in 2001 was encountered the most by AlienVault’s customers, the company reports. Two vulnerabilities from 2017 made it to the top 10 list of exploits seen the most, namely CVE-2017-0144 and CVE-2017-5638 (an Apache Struts bug).

“This data-set is very large, and consists of many billions of security events. However the data is heavily biased towards “noisy” network based exploit attempts from worms and exploit scanners. This explains why we’re still recording ancient vulnerabilities from 2001 in this table,” AlienVault points out.

Written By

Ionut Arghire is an international correspondent for SecurityWeek.

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