Cybercriminals get bolder as impact from SolarWinds and ransomware grows

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In 2006, then-U.S. Senator Barack Obama published a book, “The Audacity of Hope,” on his way to winning the White House in 2008. If the cybersecurity community were to write a similar treatise today, the appropriate title would most likely be “The Audacity of Hacks.”

FireEye Inc. held a series of sessions this month to offer a “state of cybersecurity” picture timed with the release of its Mandiant M-Trends 2021 report. One conclusion from the sessions and the report’s findings is that nation states and cybercriminals have become increasingly emboldened over the past year. Hacking has morphed from annoyance and inconvenience into extortion and social disruption on a global scale.

FireEye itself received confirmation of the perilous state of cybersecurity in December when the firm realized that hackers managed to steal its closely guarded Red Team assessment tools used to test customer security. The company’s analysis of how a portion of its crown jewels could be breached led to the discovery of what is now known as the SolarWinds exploit, a sophisticated malware campaign which allowed hackers to infiltrate systems involving at least 100 private companies and multiple U.S. government agencies.

The breach, which reflected extraordinary tradecraft and sophistication according to FireEye, is believed to have been led by the Russian government. The audacious hack has captured the attention of security analysts and government officials around the world, and it has set the stage for what may well be a rocky year ahead.

“What’s different now is the audacity that nation states are using, against a backdrop of a global pandemic,” Sandra Joyce, executive vice president and head of global intelligence at FireEye Mandiant, said during one of the company’s sessions this month. “For everything we see nation states do, the cybercriminals are carefully watching.”

Dwell times decrease

This year’s Mandiant report offered a mix of good news and bad. On the positive side, 59% of security incident investigations by the firm were initially detected by its customers, a 12% increase over the previous year.

In addition, global median dwell time or the duration…