Cybercriminals are quickly trading malware forransomware and may soon make a big push into hacking wearables andother Internet of Things devices, according to an annual threatreport from Santa Clara, Calif.-based network security companySonicWall.

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Using data from the daily feeds of more than a million securitysensors in about 200 countries and territories, the reportindicates point-of-sale malware creation dropped by 93% from 2014to 2016. However, the use of ransomware — software that restrictsaccess to a computer or device until a ransom is paid — was 167times higher in 2016 than in 2015.

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“It would be inaccurate to say the threat landscape eitherdiminished or expanded in 2016 — rather, it appears to have evolvedand shifted,” SonicWall President and CEO Bill Conner said.“Cybersecurity is not a battle of attrition; it's an arms race, andboth sides are proving exceptionally capable and innovative.”

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Ransomware is booming

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The meteoric rise of ransomware in 2016 isunlike anything we've seen in recent years,” SonicWallreported.

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Ransomware attack attempts grew from 3.2 million in 2014 and 3.8million in 2015 to 638 million in 2016, and by the end of the firstquarter, companies had forked over $209 million in ransom, it said.By mid2016, nearly half of organizations said they'd been targetedby a ransomware attack in the prior 12 months. Only 42% were ableto fully recover their data from a backup.

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In March 2016 alone, ransomware attacks mushroomed from 282,000to 30 million and continued through the fourth quarter of 2016,which saw 266.5 million ransomware attack attempts. Most often,malicious email campaigns were the delivery devices for ransomware,it said.

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The financial services industry was targeted in 13% ofransomware attack attempts in 2016. The industrial engineering,pharmaceutical and real estate industries were hit with 15%, 13%and 12% of attack attempts, respectively.

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“The rise of ransomwareasa-service (RaaS) made it easier thanever for cybercriminals to access and deploy ransomware. As aresult, many organizations struggled to find answers on how toprotect themselves and how to properly respond to the dilemmasraised by this new breed of cyberthreat,” SonicWall reported.

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The demise of malware

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Though ransomware is heating up, malware is cooling off. Malwareattack attempts dropped in 2016 for the first time in years, to7.87 billion from 8.19 billion in 2015. The volume of uniquemalware samples collected fell to 60 million in 2016, compared to64 million in 2015, according to SonicWall.

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“The broader adoption of chip and PIN technology in countriessuch as the United States seems to have cooled cyber criminals'interest in pointof-sale (POS) system attacks to the tune of an 88%decrease in POS malware variants since 2015,” the companyreported.

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More web traffic is using Secure Sockets Layer/Transport LayerSecurity (SSL/TLS) encryption as well, the report said. Thetechnology is primarily for providing secure authentication on theweb for purchases and other financial transactions, though it alsohelps protect privacy and security, particularly for growingnumbers of cloud-based applications.

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“SSL/TLS encryption makes it more difficult for cyberthieves tointercept payment information from consumers, but it also providesan uninspected and trusted backdoor into the network thatcybercriminals can exploit to sneak in malware,” it said. Mostcompanies don't have the infrastructure to detect malware hiddeninside encrypted web sessions, it added.

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“Unfortunately, without these protections in place, the rest ofa company's security posture is moot as the majority of trafficentering the network is not being inspected,” the report said.

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The next wave

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Criminals are falling in love with Internet of Things devicesnow, thanks to what SonicWall deemed “poorly designed securityfeatures” that enabled thieves to launch the largest distributeddenial-of-service (DDoS) attacks ever in 2016. The vulnerabilitiesexist in everything from smart cameras, wearables, smart homesystems, smart vehicles, entertainment systems and smart terminals,it said.

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“During the height of the Mirai [malware program] surge startingin November 2016, the SonicWall GRID Threat Network observed thatthe United States was by far the most targeted, with 70% of DDoSattacks directed toward the region, followed by Brazil (14%) andIndia (10%),” the report said.

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The mass compromise of IoT devices will continue and couldcreate significant privacy leaks, SonicWall added.

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“It's not enough to think like a security professional, you mustthink like an attacker to truly see where your program is weak,”the company warned.

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