Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many organizations are rushing to implement digital transformation strategies sooner than anticipated. This rush can lead to more potential security risks, creating unintentional opportunities for cybercriminals who are nothing if not opportunistic. As we rely more on machines for critical business functions, a sizable attack surface is growing for machine identities.
Venafi recently released a study that examined a variety of malware, vulnerabilities and attacks using machine identities over the last five years. The study found that the machine identity attack surface is virtually exploding, with a rapid increase in all types of machine identity-related security events in 2018 and 2019. For example, the number of reported machine identity-related cyber attacks grew by over 400% during this two-year period.
“We have seen machine use skyrocket in organizations over the last five years, but many businesses still focus their security controls primarily on human identity management,” said Kevin Bocek, vice president of security strategy and threat intelligence at Venafi. “Accelerated digital transformation initiatives are in jeopardy because attackers are able to exploit wide gaps in machine identity management strategies.”
Bocek continues: “The COVID-19 pandemic is driving faster adoption of cloud, hybrid and microservices architectures, but protecting machine identities for these projects are often an afterthought. The only way to mitigate these risks is to build comprehensive machine identities management programs that are as comprehensive as customer, partner and employee identity and access management strategies.”
Key findings from the study include:
- Between 2015 and 2019, the number of reported cyberattacks that used machine identities grew by more than 700%, with this amount increasing by 433% between the years 2018 and 2019 alone.
- From 2015 to 2019, the number of vulnerabilities involving machine identities grew by 260%, increasing by 125% between 2018 and 2019.
- The use of commodity malware that abuses machine identities doubled between the years 2018 and 2019 and grew 300% over the five years leading up to 2019.
- Between 2015 and 2019, the number of reported advanced persistent threats (APTs) that used machine identities grew by 400%. Reports of these attacks increased by 150% between 2018 and 2019.
“As our use of cloud, hybrid, open source and microservices use increases, there are many more machine identities on enterprise networks—and this rising number correlates with the accelerated number of threats,” said Yana Blachman, threat intelligence researcher at Venafi. “As a result, every organization’s machine identity attack surface is getting much bigger. Although many threats or security incidents frequently involve a machine identity component, too often these details do not receive enough attention and aren’t highlighted in public reports. This lack of focus on machine identities in cyber security reporting has led to a lack of data and focus on this crucial area of security. As a result, the trends we are seeing in this report are likely just the tip of the iceberg.”