Cisco Reports Cyber Attacks at ‘Unprecedented’ Level

Rapidly evolving security challenges facing businesses, IT departments and individuals have pushed cyber attack vulnerabilities in computer systems and threats from hackers to their highest level since tracking began in 2000, reports Cisco Systems.

In its annual security report, the technology company says that cumulative annual alert totals in the 12 months to October 2013 were 14% more than the previous year. The ‘unprecedented growth’ in advanced attacks saw every large company monitored by Cisco become a target for malicious traffic.

Criminals singled out pharmaceutical, chemicals, agriculture mining and electronic companies for attack in an effort to steal their intellectual property, with the malware directed against them rising more than six-fold. Attempted security breaches experienced by energy, oil and gas companies rose by more than 400%.

The ability of companies to step up their defences and secure their networks has been undermined by a worldwide shortage of nearly a million skilled security professionals, the report suggests.

Among Cisco’s other findings:

  • Increased sophistication and proliferation of the threat landscape. Simple attacks that caused containable damage have given way to organised cybercrime operations that are sophisticated, well-funded and capable of significant economic and reputational damage to public and private sector victims.
  • Increased complexity of threats and solutions due to rapid growth in intelligent mobile device adoption and cloud computing provide a greater attack surface than ever before. New classes of devices and new infrastructure architectures offer attackers opportunities to exploit unanticipated weaknesses and inadequately defended assets.
  • Cybercriminals have learned that harnessing the power of Internet infrastructure yields far more benefits than simply gaining access to individual computers or devices. These infrastructure-scale attacks seek to gain access to strategically positioned web hosting servers, nameservers and data centres – with the goal of proliferating attacks across legions of individual assets served by these resources. By targeting Internet infrastructure, attackers undermine trust in everything connected to or enabled by it.

“Although the report paints a grim picture of the current state of cyber security, there is hope for restoring trust in people institutions and technologies,” said John Stewart, senior vice president (SVP), chief security officer, threat response intelligence and development, at Cisco.

“That starts with empowering defenders with real-world knowledge about expanding attack surfaces. To truly protect against all of these possible attacks, defenders must understand the attackers, their motivations and their methods.”

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