Leading 5 International Cyber Security Trends of 2023, According to Google Report


It is taking less time for organisations to detect opponents in their environment, a report by Mandiant Consulting, a part of Google Cloud, has discovered. This recommends that companies are strengthening their security posture.

The M-Trends 2024 report also highlighted that the leading targeted markets of 2023 were monetary services, service and expert services, tech, retail and hospitality, health care and federal government. This lines up with the truth that 52% of assaulters were mainly inspired by monetary gain, as these sectors typically possess a wealth of sensitive– and therefore valuable– information.

Percentage of threat groups with different motivations in 2023. Percentage of danger groups with various inspirations in 2023. Image: Mandiant Consulting Financially-motivated activity was discovered to have actually gone up by 8%since 2022, which is partially discussed by the parallel increase in ransomware and extortion cases. The most common ways that threat stars accessed to a target network were through exploits, phishing, prior compromise and taken credentials.

Dr Jamie Collier, Mandiant Danger Intelligence Advisor Lead for Europe, told TechRepublic in an e-mail: “Despite the focus on ransomware and extortion operations within the security neighborhood, these attacks stay effective across a range of sectors and areas. Extortion campaigns for that reason remain highly profitable for cyber crooks.

“As an outcome, lots of financially-motivated groups performing other types of cyber crime have actually transitioned to extortion operations in the last five years.”

TechRepublic takes a much deeper check out the top 5 cyber security patterns of 2023 and skilled recommendations highlighted by the 15th yearly M-Trends report:

  1. International organisations are improving their cyber defences.
  2. Cyber wrongdoers have actually an increased focus on evasion.
  3. Cloud environments are being targeted more frequently.
  4. Cyber bad guys are changing methods to bypass MFA.
  5. Red groups are utilizing AI and big language models.

1. Worldwide organisations are enhancing their cyber defences

According to the M-Trends report, the median dwell time of global organisations decreased from 16 days in 2022 to 10 days in 2023 and is now at its lowest point in more than a years. The dwell time is the amount of time enemies remain undiscovered within a target environment and suggests the strength of an organization’s cyber posture. This figure recommends that business are making significant enhancements to their cyber security.

Nevertheless, there could be another contributing element; the typical proportion of attacks due to ransomware increased to 23% in 2023 over 18% in 2022.

Dr. Collier discussed to TechRepublic: “The effect of extortion operations is immediately apparent. In the event when ransomware is released, a victim’s systems will be encrypted and rendered unusable. Alternatively, if information is stolen, a cyber wrongdoer will quickly be in touch to extort a victim.”

SEE: Leading 7 Cybersecurity Dangers for 2024

Organisations in the Asia-Pacific area saw the most significant reduction in typical dwell time, with it decreasing by 24 days over the last year. Mandiant experts link this to the fact that the majority of attacks detected were ransomware-related, and this bulk was greater than any other region. On the other hand, business in Europe, the Middle East and Africa saw the average dwell time increase by 2 days. This is believed to be because of the local data normalising following a collective protective effort by Mandiant in Ukraine in 2022.

Another proof that organizations are improving at detecting cyber hazards is that Mandiant found that 46% of compromised organisations first recognized proof of compromise internally instead of by an outdoors entity like a law enforcement agency or cyber security business, up from 37% in 2022.

Percentage of threat investigations sparked by internal or external detection from 2011 to 2023. Portion of risk examinations stimulated by internal or external detection from 2011 to 2023. Image: Mandiant Consulting 2. Cyber lawbreakers have an increased focus on evasion Cyber bad guys are progressively targeting edge gadgets, utilizing”living off the land”methods, and releasing zero-day exploits, suggesting a restored concentrate on maintaining persistence on networks for as long as

possible. Dr. Collier told TechRepublic:”With network defenders increasingly on the lookout for extortion projects, incredibly elusive methods increase the possibilities of a successful operation. Ransomware operations are much more efficient when cyber crooks can reach the most sensitive and important locations of a target’s network and evasive techniques assist them to achieve this.”

Targeting edge gadgets

Edge devices normally do not have endpoint detection and action (EDR) capabilities, so they are strong targets for cyber crooks looking to go under the radar. In 2023, Mandiant private investigators discovered that the very first and 3rd most targeted vulnerabilities were connected to edge gadgets. These were:

  • CVE-2023-34362: A SQL injection vulnerability in the MOVEit file transfer application.
  • CVE-2023-2868: A command injection vulnerability in physical Barracuda Email Security Entrance devices.

The report authors composed: “Mandiant anticipates that we will continue to see targeting of edge devices and platforms that traditionally do not have EDR and other security options due to the difficulties related to discovery and examination of compromise. Exploitation of these devices will continue to be an attractive preliminary gain access to vector for Chinese espionage groups to remain unnoticed and preserve determination into target environments.”

SEE: Q&A on how Dell sees security at the edge

Remote administrator tools and “living off the land” techniques

About 20% of malware families spotted by Mandiant in 2023 did not fit into a typical category, which is a greater percentage than previous years. Furthermore, 8% of attacks in this “other” category involved the use of remote administration tools and other utilities. These are less most likely to be flagged by default by EDR, or other security tools, which can keep the aggressor undetected, and are frequently combined with “living off the land” strategies.

Percentage of malware families observed in 2023 of different categories. Percentage of malware households observed

in 2023 of different categories. Image: Mandiant Consulting Living off the land is using genuine, pre-installed tools and software within a target environment during a cyber attack to assist evade detection. This can lower the total intricacy of the malware by enabling the enemy to weaponize existing functions that have currently been security evaluated by the organisation. It is particularly effective with edge devices because they are typically not kept an eye on by network protectors, enabling them to stay on the network for longer.

A recent example the Mandiant scientists spotted is a backdoor called THINCRUST, which was appended into the web framework files that were responsible for providing the API interface for FortiAnalyzer and FortiManager gadgets. The hazard actors were able to harness the native API execution to access and send commands to THINCRUST by merely interacting with a new endpoint URL they had included.

Zero-day exploits

In 2023, Mandiant researchers tracked 97 distinct zero-day vulnerabilities made use of in the wild, representing a more than 50% growth in zero-day usage over 2022. The zero-days were made use of by espionage groups and financially-motivated attackers aiming to steal valuable information to turn a profit.

The report’s authors expect the number of identified zero-day vulnerabilities and exploits that target them will continue to grow in the coming years due to a number of factors, including:

  • Increase of zero-day exploitation by ransomware and information extortion groups: In 2023, zero-day exploits in MOVEit, GoAnywhere, Citrix and PaperCut were targeted significantly thanks to leak site posts.
  • Continued state-sponsored exploitation attacks: A Microsoft report found circumstances of nation-state cyber espionage increased in 2015.
  • Growth of “turnkey” make use of kits: Turnkey exploit kits are off-the-shelf tools that can be purchased from commercial security vendors. A report by HP Wolf Security noted a surge in Excel files with DLLs contaminated with the cheap Parallax remote gain access to Trojan in 2023.

Suggestions from the M-Trends report

  • Keep patch management of edge gadgets to avoid exploitation of recognized vulnerabilities.
  • Take a “defence-in-depth” method to assist in finding proof of zero-day exploitation.
  • Carry out examinations and network searching activities if there’s suspicion of compromise and, if there is, aim to find how assailants entered and maintained access.
  • Follow security suppliers’ guidance for hardening architecture to improve defences.
  • Guarantee you have an incident action plan and conduct broad ecological tracking.
  • Layer network segmentation and logging with innovative EDR solutions.
  • Evaluate suppliers’ security practices and network requirements before deploying brand-new hardware or software application to establish a standard for typical use.

3. Cloud environments are being targeted regularly

Cloud adoption is continuously growing– Gartner anticipates more than 50% of business will utilize market cloud platforms by 2028— and, for that reason, more opponents are turning their attention to these environments. According to CrowdStrike, there was a 75% boost in cloud invasions in 2023 over 2022.

Mandiant experts state aggressors are targeting weakly implemented identity management practices and credential storage to acquire legitimate qualifications and prevent multifactor authentication (MFA).

SEE: UK’s NCSC Issues Warning as SVR Hackers Target Cloud Solutions

Mandiant observed instances where attackers accessed to cloud environments because they took place throughout qualifications that were not saved safely. Qualifications were discovered on an internet-accessible server with default configurations or had been stolen or leaked in a previous information breach and not been altered since. They likewise got using various methods to bypass MFA, covered in more detail in the next section.

When inside the cloud environment, the authors observed bad stars carrying out a variety of techniques to abuse the cloud services, consisting of:

  • Using native tools and services to keep access, relocation laterally or steal data: Making use of pre-installed tools like Azure Data Factory and Microsoft Entra ID suggested the adversaries might decrease their operational profile and evade detection for longer.
  • Creating virtual makers (VMs) to get unmonitored access to the organisation’s cloud: When an aggressor creates a VM that runs on the organisation’s cloud facilities, it will not have their mandated security and logging software application installed on them. It can also allow for lateral movement to the on-premises network through VPN.
  • Utilising the cloud’s processing power for cryptomining.
  • Utilizing open-source offensive security toolsets to survey the environment.

Recommendations from the M-Trends report

  • Update employee authentication policies.
  • Usage phishing-resistant MFA such as certificate-based authentication and FIDO2 security keys by means of SMS rather of telephone call and one-time passwords.
  • Execute controls that limit access to cloud resources to just trusted gadgets.

Must-read security protection

4. Cyber bad guys are changing methods to bypass MFA

Now that multifactor authentication has ended up being a basic security practice in lots of organisations, assaulters are checking out new, creative tactics to bypass it. According to Mandiant, the variety of compromises versus cloud-based identities configured with MFA is increasing.

In 2023, the company observed an increase of adversary-in-the-middle (AiTM) phishing pages that steal post-authentication session tokens and enable bad stars to circumvent MFA. In an AiTM project, assaulters established a proxy server that captures a user’s credentials, MFA codes and session tokens provided by the logon portal while relaying the connection to the genuine server.

SEE: New phishing and business e-mail compromise projects increase in complexity, bypass MFA

The majority of service email compromise cases Mandiant reacted to in 2023 involved the threat star circumventing the user’s MFA by means of AiTM. In the past, the relative complexity of establishing AiTM phishing facilities compared to traditional credential collecting types might have kept the number of these attacks low. Nevertheless, there are now a number of AiTM packages and phishing-as-a-service offerings promoted in the cybercriminal underground, according to Mandiant. These products considerably lower the barrier to entry for AiTM phishing, resulting in an uptick.

Other methods the Mandiant scientists observed opponents using to bypass MFA include:

  • Social engineering attacks: For instance, spear phishing emails where the target is pushed into exposing their login information on a spoofed website. The assaulter then uses them to sign in on the legitimate website, which sends an MFA notification to the user who accepts. The organisation’s assistance desk might also be targeted with an instruction to reset a password or MFA device.
  • SIM-swapping: This includes transferring a target’s phone number to a SIM card controlled by an attacker, so they can accept the MFA alert and take over an account. Mandiant observed a boost in SIM-swapping attacks in 2023.
  • Password-guessing: Attackers guess the passwords to inactive or service accounts that do not have MFA establish so they can enrol their own device.

Recommendations from the M-Trends report

  • Implement AiTM-resistant MFA approaches and gain access to policies that obstruct logons based upon, for instance, organisation-defined areas, gadget management status or historical logon homes.
  • Display authentication logs for IP addresses connected with phishing infrastructure, authentication with a taken token or geographically infeasible logins.

5. Red groups are utilizing AI and big language models

Red teams consist of cyber security analysts who plan and carry out attacks versus organisations for the purposes of determining weaknesses. In 2023, Mandiant specialists utilized generative AI tools to accelerate specific activities in red team evaluations, including:

  • The development of initial drafts of destructive e-mails and landing pages for faux social engineering attacks.
  • The advancement of custom-made tooling for when analysts experience unusual or brand-new applications and systems.
  • The research and development of tooling in cases where environments do not fit the functional standard that can be utilized once again and once again.

Dr. Collier told TechRepublic: “The role of AI in red teaming is extremely iterative with a great deal of back and forth between big language designs (LLMs) and a human expert. This highlights the special contribution of both.

“AI is typically well suited for repetitive tasks or fetching info. Yet, having red group specialists that understand the trade craft and have the abilities to use context offered by LLMs in practical circumstances is much more important.”

AI was likewise utilized in Mandiant’s purple team engagements, where analysts should end up being acquainted with a client’s environment from the point of view of an assaulter and protector to promote partnership in between red and blue groups. Generative AI was used to help them comprehend the client’s platform and its security quicker.

SEE: HackerOne: How Artificial Intelligence Is Altering Cyber Risks and Ethical Hacking

In the report, the authors speculated on how cyber security experts could use AI in the future. Red teams generate a significant quantity of information that might be utilized to train models tuned to assist protect client environments. However, AI developers will also need to find novel methods to ensure models have appropriate guardrails in place while at the same time permitting the genuine use of harmful activity by red groups.

“The mix of red team competence and effective AI leads might lead to a future where red groups are considerably more reliable, and organisations are much better able to stay ahead of the danger positioned by motivated assaulters,” the authors wrote.


The metrics reported in M-Trends 2024 are based upon Mandiant Consulting investigations of targeted attack activity performed in between January 1, 2023 and December 31, 2023.


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