Malware attacks using machine identities doubled in 2019

Venafi claims machine identity capabilities have been commoditized and added to off-the-shelf malware

Commodity malware campaigns using machine identities are increasing at a rapid pace, according to a Venafi report, which reveals that this type of attack doubled between 2018 and 2019.

According to the Venafi threat intelligence team, malware attacks using machine identities, including high-profile campaigns like TrickBot, Skidmap, Kerberods and CryptoSink, grew eightfold over the last 10 years. In the second half of the last decade, these attacks increased even quicker.

Venafi threat intelligence researcher Yana Blachma states that while machine identity capabilities were once used primarily by high-profile threat actors and nation-state actors, they have since been commoditized and added to off-the-shelf malware.

As a result, Blachman says, these campaigns have become 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," Blachman explained.

"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 nonadvanced attacks can inflict serious damage on an organization and its reputation". 

An uptick in microservices, DevOps projects, cloud workloads and IoT devices on enterprise networks also complicates the misuse of machine identities. Though there are more than 31 billion IoT devices worldwide, the number of connected mobile devices will reach 12.3 billion by 2022. Venafi predicts 500 million new logical apps will be created between 2018 and 2023 too.

To communicate with one another securely, each application and device must have a machine identity to authenticate itself. Machines don’t rely on usernames or passwords to establish trust, privacy or security. Instead, cryptographic keys and digital certificates serve as machine identities. Unfortunately, organizations without such measures in place are already experiencing malware attacks designed to exploit machine identities.

According to Kevin Bocek, vice president of security strategy and threat intelligence at Venafi, human-centric security models are no longer effective in protecting against these threats.

“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,” says Bocek.

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