Hacks for sale: Exploit kits provide easy avenue for unskilled attackers

One of the most common cyber-attack vehicles we’ve seen over the years involves so-called “exploit kits.” These are collections of exploits bundled together and sold as commercial software or as a service.

A typical kit includes a collection of web pages with exploits for several vulnerabilities in popular web browsers, browser add-ons, or other types of software. When an attacker installs the kit on a web server, visitors to the attacker’s malicious webpage who don’t have appropriate security updates installed are at risk of their computers being compromised through drive-by download attacks.

One reason exploit kits are so dangerous to both consumers and businesses is that an attacker needn’t be a skilled hacker to use one. Prospective attackers can buy or rent exploit kits on malicious hacker forums and other outlets. Lower skilled attackers can use the kits to perform sophisticated attacks, which contributes to the fact that they have become so widespread over time. In fact, exploit kits accounted for four of the ten most commonly encountered threats during the second half of 2015 according to our 2016 Trends in Cybersecurity e-book.

What can you do to protect your organization?

To protect your organization, it’s important that your security teams understand which exploits and exploit kits are being used most often by attackers. The graphic below shows the most frequently encountered exploits noted in our latest Security Intelligence Report, and we detail three of the more common exploits, and the kits they are a part of, below.

Most frequently encountered exploits noted in our latest Security Intelligence Report

Most frequently encountered exploits noted in our latest Security Intelligence Report

Exploit Kit: Axpergle
A.K.A.: Angler

Axpergle is the most common exploit, commonly found in the Angler exploit kit. It targets Internet Explorer, Adobe Flash Player and Java. Exploit kit authors frequently change the exploits included in their kits in an effort to stay ahead of software publishers and security software vendors. Exploits targeting zero-day vulnerabilities — those for which no security update has yet been made available by the vendor — are highly sought after by attackers, and the Axpergle authors added several zero-day Flash Player exploits to the kit in 2015.

Exploit Kit: HTML/Meadgive
A.K.A.: RIG

Other exploit kits were encountered at much lower levels. Encounters involving the RIG exploit kit (also known as Redkit, Infinity, and Goon, and detected as HTML/Meadgive) more than doubled from summer to fall of 2015, but remained far below those involving Angler.

Exploit Kit: Win32/Anogre
A.K.A.: Sweet Orange

Encounters involving the Sweet Orange kit (detected as Win32/Anogre), the second most commonly encountered exploit kit in the first quarter of 2015, decreased to negligible levels by the end of the year.

Take the first step — Keep software up to date

Keeping your software up to date is one of the most effective defenses against exploit kits and their ever-evolving attacks.

To keep up with all the latest news about exploit kits, as well as viruses, malware and other known threats, make sure to bookmark the Microsoft Malware Protection Center blog for frequent updates. And for a high-level look at the top 10 trends and stats that matter most to security professionals right now, be sure and download the 2016 Trends in Cybersecurity e-book.