Microsoft has recently released its Security report in which the company highlights that Developing markets in the Asia Pacific challenged by ransomware and malware encounters, while developed markets struggle with increased drive-by download attack volumes: Microsoft Security Endpoint Threat Report 2019.
- Malware and ransomware attack rates in developing markets were 1.6 times higher than the regional average
- Key financial hubs, Singapore and Hong Kong struggled with drive-by download attack volumes that were three times higher than the regional and global average
16 June 2020 – Microsoft today unveiled Asia Pacific findings from the latest edition of its Security Endpoint Threat Report 2019, annual research aimed at identifying cyber threats and building cyber resilience across the region.
Findings were derived from an analysis of diverse Microsoft data sources, including 8 trillion threat signals received and analyzed by Microsoft every day, covering a 12-month period, from January to December 2019.
The research revealed significant differences in the exposure to cyber threats between developed and developing countries, with developing countries continuing to remain vulnerable to threats despite the overall decrease in encounter rates across the region.
“As security defenses evolve and attackers rely on new techniques, Microsoft’s unique access to billions of threat signals every day enables us to gather data and insights to inform our response to cyberattacks,” said Mary Jo Schrade, Assistant General Counsel, Microsoft Digital Crimes Unit, Microsoft Asia.
“The Microsoft Security Endpoint Threat report aims to create a better understanding of the evolving threat landscape and help organizations improve their cybersecurity posture by mitigating the effects of increasingly sophisticated attacks.”
Malware and ransomware remain key cybersecurity challenges in developing markets
The Asia Pacific continued to experience a higher-than-average encounter rate for malware and ransomware attacks – 1.6 and 1.7 times higher respectively than the rest of the world. This is despite a 23 and 29 percent overall decline across these two threat vectors when compared to the 2018 findings.
The research revealed that developing countries, including Indonesia, Sri Lanka, India, and Vietnam, were most vulnerable to malware and ransomware threats in 2019.
“Often, high malware encounters correlate with both piracy rates and overall cyber hygiene, which includes regular patching and updating of software. Countries that have higher piracy rates and lower cyber hygiene tend to be more severely impacted by cyber threats. Patching, using legitimate software, and keeping it updated can decrease the likelihood of malware and ransomware infections,” explained Schrade.
The research identified that countries with lower piracy rates and stronger cyber hygiene practices have witnessed a significant decline in attacks. Specifically, malware and ransomware threat encounter rates in Japan, New Zealand, and Australia were three to six times lower than the regional average.
Despite the low threat encounters observed in developed countries, Schrade encouraged all businesses to remain vigilant. “Cybercriminals do not standstill. We are witnessing attackers pivoting away from conventional methods, and shifting towards customized campaigns, targeted at specific geographies, industries, and businesses. By relying on cloud technology and developing a comprehensive cyber resilience strategy, organizations can effectively bolster their cybersecurity strategies.”
Cryptocurrency mining on the rise in developing markets
India, Indonesia, and Sri Lanka recorded the highest cryptocurrency mining encounters in Asia last year. During such attacks, victims’ computers are infected with cryptocurrency mining malware, allowing criminals to leverage the computing power of their computers without their knowledge.
On the declining encounter rate recorded in countries such as Hong Kong, Japan, and Singapore, Schrade elaborated, “Cybercriminals are usually incentivized by quick financial gains. We believe that the recent fluctuations in the value of cryptocurrency and the increased time required to generate it has perhaps led to them focusing on other forms of cybercrime.”
Drive-by download attack volume reaches parity with global average but continue to challenge regional business and financial hubs
The Drive-by download attack volume in the Asia Pacific has converged with the rest of the world at 0.08, following a 27 percent decline from 2018.
These attacks involve downloading malicious code onto an unsuspecting user’s computer when they visit a website or fill up a form. The malicious code that is downloaded is then used by an attacker to steal passwords or financial information.
Despite the general decline in drive-by download attacks across the region, the study found that regional business hubs, Singapore and Hong Kong, recorded the highest attack volume in 2019, over 3 times the regional and global average.
“We usually see cybercriminals launch such attacks to steal financial information or intellectual property. This is a likely reason why regional financial hubs recorded the highest volume of such threats. The high attack volume in these markets may not necessarily translate into a high infection rate, perhaps due to their good cyber hygiene practices and use of genuine software,” explained Schrade.
Cybersecurity in the age of COVID-19
With the turn of the new year, COVID-19 has changed the landscape and remains the top-of-mind concern for individuals, organizations, and governments around the world.
Since the outbreak, Microsoft Intelligence Protection team’s data has shown that every country in the world has seen at least one COVID-19 themed attack, and the volume of successful attacks in outbreak-hit countries seems to be increasing, as fear and the desire for information grows.
Of the millions of targeted phishing messages seen globally each day, roughly 60,000 include COVID-19 related malicious attachments or malicious URLs. Attackers are impersonating established entities like the World Health Organization (WHO), Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and the Department of Health to get into inboxes.
Schrade further explained, “According to our data, we found that COVID-19 themed threats are mostly rethreads of existing attacks that have been slightly altered to tie to the pandemic. This means that attackers have been pivoting their existing infrastructure, like ransomware, phishing, and other malware delivery tools, to include COVID-19 keywords, to capitalize on people’s fear. Once users click on these malicious links, attackers can infiltrate networks, steal information and monetize their attacks.”
Businesses and individuals have a crucial role to play in navigating cyberspace securely and are encouraged to take the following steps:
Guidance for businesses:
- Have strong tools to safeguard employees and infrastructure. This means looking into multi-layered defense systems and turning on multi-factor authentication (MFA) as employees work from home. Additionally, enable endpoint protection and protect against shadow IT and unsanctioned app usage with solutions like Microsoft Cloud App Security
- Ensure employee guidelines are communicated clearly to employees. This includes information on how to identify phishing attempts, distinguishing between official communications and suspicious messages that violate company policy, and where these can be reported internally
- Choose a trusted application for audio/video calling and file sharing that ensures end-to-end encryption
Guidance for individuals:
- Update all devices with the latest security updates and use an antivirus or anti-malware service. For Windows 10 devices, Microsoft Defender Antivirus is a free built-in service enabled through settings
- Be alert to links and attachments, especially from unknown senders
- Use multi-factor authentication (MFA) on all accounts. Now, most online services provide a way to use your mobile device or other methods to protect your accounts in this way
- Get educated on how to recognize phishing attempts and report suspected encounters, including watching out for spelling and bad grammar, and suspicious links and attachments from people you do not know
For more information on the findings published on the Microsoft Security Intelligence website, please visit: https://www.microsoft.com/securityinsights
 The research covered a total of 15 markets, including developing markets China, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Sri Lanka, Thailand, and Vietnam; and developed markets Taiwan, Singapore, New Zealand, Korea, Japan, Hong Kong, Australia. Markets were categorized with reference to International Monetary Fund’s World Economic Database, October 2018.
 The Security Endpoint Threat report records the average volume of drive-by download pages detected for every 1,000 pages indexed by Bing