6 ways malicious automation is a threat to your business 

Society’s continued and increased reliance on online applications and cloud-based systems is creating a situation where cybercrime is becoming a more lucrative ‘business’ than ever before. In 2020, 86% of all data breaches were financially motivated and by the end of 2021, cybercrime will be costing the world over $6 trillion annually.

These figures indicate the sheer volume of cybercrime happening, and it’s not just massive corporations. In fact, cybercriminals primarily target small and medium-sized companies, exploiting the fact SMBs don’t have the same level of defenses that a larger organisation does.

The ability to scale up malicious attacks is largely due to cybercriminals relying on automated tools to achieve their goals. Automation has become a key tool in both cybercrime and cybersecurity.

What is malicious automation?

When we think of automation, we tend to imagine machines that are programmed to do a specific task without human intervention, such as those used in car manufacturing or distribution.

Yet technological advancements have taken automation a step further and we now have artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning tools, which are basically ways data is used to make predictions about an event, then activate pre-programmed actions.

The cybersecurity industry uses automation tools to collect data and rapidly process it to protect networks from cyberattacks.

However, this type of automated decision-making can be used by anyone for legitimate or illegal purposes.

In fact, large scale automation has made cyberattacks more viable in the long run, allowing passwords to be cracked more readily, and identifying better targets to attack in the future.

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Common types of malicious automation attacks

6 common types of automation malicious actors might use that can affect your business include:

  1. Malware - or malicious software - refers to a hostile or intrusive program that exploits the usability of your device and benefits the attacker. One example is Trojans, which masquerade as legitimate programs. Another is ransomware - programs designed to steal data and ask for a ransom to decrypt the files. This is often not honoured and information ends up on the dark web.
  2. DDoS (distributed denial-of-service) attack is when many compromised internet-connected devices target a server and cause problems for its users. In the first 6 months of 2020 alone there were almost 5 million DDoS attacks. Attackers are using automation to enable thousands of machines to effectively gang up on one target, and to figure out what techniques ensure successful attacks.
  3. Phishing attacks are when malicious actors imitate a legitimate company or person in an email or other electronic message with the intent to extract personal or financial information. Automated phishing allows attackers to organise a campaign to send millions of messages that appear different and at different times to an organisation.
  4. Credential stuffing, in which large-scale automated login requests to web applications attempt to gain access to account credentials, typically consisting of lists of usernames, email addresses and corresponding passwords, then used to gain unauthorised access.
  5. SQL injection attacks are malicious requests for action to be enacted on a database, such as creating, modifying, deleting, or extracting data, as well as accessing personal or credit card information, intellectual property, etc. Automation allows attackers to launch pre-meditated campaigns against several web forms to locate any SQL injection vulnerability.
  6. Botnets (sometimes called bad bots) are a collection of internet-connected computers and devices that are infected and controlled remotely by malicious actors. A botnet can be used to send email spam, perform DDoS attacks, click on links in a 'click fraud' campaign, or generate malicious traffic.

Automated threats have become a highly sophisticated form of attacking organisations, requiring equally sophisticated tools as defence.

How to defend against malicious automation?

Automation tools increase the chance malicious actors will locate and exploit vulnerabilities, so it is important organisations look to their own security defenses to prevent this.

A sound and effective security strategy is critical and can be beyond the scope of in-house IT teams, tasked with managing day-to-day technology issues. Security overview and strategy can be best managed by security teams who are specialists at looking for system vulnerabilities and designing robust security solutions.

Managed security service providers have the expertise and up-to-date knowledge to recommend implementation of a range of cybersecurity solutions and automated techniques.

These might be implementing intrusion detection and prevention systems, which actively monitor and analyse traffic entering the network, and employ automated actions to stop malicious activities.

Security orchestration, automation and response (SOAR) is a technology that automatically collects data about and responds to security threats. Microsoft Azure Sentinel is one such system, which executes security workflows at the right time, without human intervention, and it performs these actions in the cloud.

The future is automated, and with the increasing likelihood of being targeted by malicious automated attacks, it’s vital to ensure your business is well defended.

Automated security systems and robust security strategies form the backbone of defense. If you’re interested in expert technical knowledge and solutions, talk to the team at Essential Tech to find out more.

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