Cyber Ad-versaries Using Analytics to Measure “Victims per Click”

Cyber Ad-versaries Using Analytics to Measure “Victims per Click”

  • DarkGate campaign uses Ad tools to sharpen attacks: Malicious PDF attachments, posing as OneDrive error messages, direct users to sponsored content hosted on a popular ad network. This leads to DarkGate malware.
    • By using ad services, threat actors can analyze which lures generate clicks and infect the most users – helping them refine campaigns for maximum impact.
    • Threat actors can use CAPTCHA tools to prevent sandboxes from scanning malware and stopping attacks by ensuring only humans click.
    • DarkGate hands backdoor access to cybercriminals into networks, exposing victims to risks like data theft and ransomware.
  • A shift from macros to Office exploits: In Q4, at least 84% of attempted intrusions involving spreadsheets, and 73% involving Word documents, sought to exploit vulnerabilities in Office applications – continuing the trend away from macro-enabled Office attacks. But macro-enabled attacks still have their place, particularly for attacks leveraging cheap commodity malware like Agent Tesla and XWorm.
  • PDF malware is on the rise: 11% of malware analyzed in Q4 used PDFs to deliver malware, compared to just 4% in Q1 and Q2 2023. A notable example was a WikiLoader campaign using a fake parcel delivery PDF to trick users into installing Ursnif malware.
  • Discord and TextBin being used to host malicious files: Threat actors are using legitimate file and text sharing websites to host malicious files. These sites are often trusted by organizations, helping the sites to avoid anti-malware scanners, increasing attackers’ chances of remaining undetected.

Alex Holland, Senior Malware Analyst in the HP Wolf Security threat research team, comments:

“Cybercriminals are becoming adept at getting into our heads and understanding how we work. For instance, the design of popular cloud services is always being refined, so when a fake error message appears, it won’t necessarily raise an alarm, even if a user hasn’t seen it before. With GenAI generating even more convincing malicious content at little-to-no cost, distinguishing real from fake will only get harder.”

By isolating threats that have evaded detection tools on PCs – but still allowing malware to detonate safely – HP Wolf Security has specific insight into the latest techniques used by cybercriminals in the fast-changing cybercrime landscape. To date, HP Wolf Security customers have clicked on over 40 billion email attachments, web pages, and downloaded files with no reported breaches.

The report details how cybercriminals continue to diversify attack methods to bypass security policies and detection tools. Other findings include: