cybersecurity and fraud

The shifting threat landscape

Governments around the world faced a broad array of cybersecurity attacks in 2016. Internet-of-things devices were enlisted as assets in distributed denial-of-service attacks, and email was used as a common delivery tool, according to the latest Symantec Internet Security Threat Report.

The number of zero-day attacks fell from 4,066 to 3,986, which Symantec said could be the result of successful bug bounty programs and the increased focus on security in product development. There was also a distinct drop in web attacks, which fell by almost a third year-over-year. But as attacks in those areas decreased, other vectors gained in popularity.

According to Symantec, email was the "favored threat delivery method of attackers" in 2016. Malware-bearing spear-phishing campaigns increased from 1 in 220 email messages in 2015 to 1 in 131 messages in 2016, which could be due to the use of botnets for spam campaigns, Symantec said.

"Attackers have honed and perfected the ransomware business model, using strong encryption, anonymous Bitcoin payments, and vast spam campaigns to create dangerous and wide-ranging malware," the report states. As a result, there were 36 percent more attacks last year, with higher ransom amounts being demanded.

As IoT devices become more numerous, botnet attacks similar to what the world saw when Mirai brought down Dyn servers last year could increase and prove the importance of risk-based security standards.

The most eye-catching developments in 2016 were attempts to target political campaigns, Symantec said. The hack of the Democratic Party proved to be "a wake-up call for governments around the world both in terms of what the leaks intended to achieve and the brazen nature by which they were executed," the report states. Officials in Germany, which has an election coming up this year, have said they have already noticed more attacks that seek to sow uncertainty.

Read the full report here.

About the Author

Matt Leonard is a reporter/producer at GCN.

Before joining GCN, Leonard worked as a local reporter for The Smithfield Times in southeastern Virginia. In his time there he wrote about town council meetings, local crime and what to do if a beaver dam floods your back yard. Over the last few years, he has spent time at The Commonwealth Times, The Denver Post and WTVR-CBS 6. He is a graduate of Virginia Commonwealth University, where he received the faculty award for print and online journalism.

Leonard can be contacted at or follow him on Twitter @Matt_Lnrd.

Click here for previous articles by Leonard.

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