Exploits for Microsoft Office in-the-wild topped the list of cyber headaches in Q1 2018. Overall, the number of users attacked with malicious Office documents in Q1 2018 rose more than four times compared to Q1 2017. In just three months, its share of exploits used in the attacks grew to almost 50 percent, which is double the average share of exploits for Microsoft Office across 2017. These are the main findings from Kaspersky Lab’s Q1 2018 IT threat evolution report.
Attacks based on the exploits are considered to be very powerful, as they do not require any additional interactions with the user and can deliver their dangerous code discreetly. Therefore, they are widely used both by cybercriminals looking for profit and by sophisticated nation-backed state actors for malicious purposes.
The first quarter of 2018 experienced a massive inflow of these exploits, targeting popular Microsoft Office software. According to Kaspersky Lab experts, this is likely to be the peak of a longer trend, as at least ten in-the-wild exploits for Microsoft Office software were identified in 2017-2018, compared to two zero-day exploits for Adobe Flash Player used in-the-wild during the same time period.
The share of Adobe Flash Player exploits used in attacks is decreasing as expected (accounting for slightly less than three percent in the first quarter), as Adobe and Microsoft have made concerted efforts in making it difficult to exploit Flash Player.
After cybercriminals discover a vulnerability, they prepare a ready-to-go exploit. They then frequently use spear-phishing as the infection vector, compromising users and companies through emails with malicious attachments. Such spear-phishing attack vectors are usually discreet and very actively used in sophisticated targeted attacks – there were many examples of this in the last six months alone.
For instance, in autumn 2017, Kaspersky Lab’s advanced exploit prevention systems identified a new Adobe Flash zero-day exploit used in-the-wild against its customers. The exploit was delivered through a Microsoft Office document and the final payload was the latest version of FinSpy malware. Analysis of the payload enabled researchers to confidently link this attack to a sophisticated actor known as “BlackOasis.” The same month, Kaspersky Lab experts published a detailed analysis of СVE-2017-11826, a critical zero-day vulnerability used to launch targeted attacks in all versions of Microsoft Office. The exploit for this vulnerability is an RTF document containing a DOCX document that exploits СVE-2017-11826 in the Office Open XML parser. Finally, just a few days ago, information on Internet Explorer zero-day CVE-2018-8174 was published. This vulnerability was also used in targeted attacks.
“The threat landscape during the first quarter again shows that a lack of attention to patch management is one of the most significant cyber-dangers,” said Alexander Liskin, security expert, Kaspersky Lab. “While vendors usually issue patches for the vulnerabilities, users often can’t update their products in time, which results in waves of discreet and highly effective attacks once the vulnerabilities have been exposed to the broad cybercriminal community.”
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