The UK has been ranked in the top five countries most targeted by advanced persistent threat cyber attacks, according to a report released by security firm FireEye.
The FireEye Regional Advanced Threat Report for EMEA 2015 (PDF) showed that education, energy and financial services in the UK represent more than 50 percent of observed attacks.
The top five most attacked countries are Israel, Saudi Arabia, Spain and Germany, followed by the UK. The most targeted sectors are energy, aerospace, government and finance.
Richard Turner, vice president of EMEA for FireEye, told V3 that threat actors appear to have an increasingly specific end game when using tools to compromise systems.
"Organisations continue to be targeted and vulnerable, but the group of top five targets has remained consistent," said Turner about the main countries impacted in the study.
Instead of simply defending a network it is more important to develop incident response plans to stay proactive against cyber threats.
"It's no longer just about defense, yet that seems to be the area that most organisations focus on," he said.
Turner also acknowledged that the emerging trend indicates that cyber threats are becoming increasingly focused.
"Attacks are becoming more targeted whether it's advanced persistent threats or ransomware. Generally speaking, the groups that perpetrate these crimes are focusing their efforts," he noted.
Furthermore, the danger from "advanced threat actors" is on the rise. FireEye revealed that the amount of malware observed doubled in the first half of 2015, based on a network analysis of FireEye customers that shared their data for the report.
"We have seen more sophisticated and organised cyber criminal campaigns continually innovating their evasion techniques for financial purposes," said FireEye researchers Jens Monrad, Yogi Chandiramani and Andy Norton in a blog post.
"Motivated by a plethora of objectives, threat actors are increasing their level of sophistication to steal personal data and business strategies, gain a competitive advantage, or degrade operational reliability."
One of these objectives, according to the report, is an increased focus on financial theft, focusing specifically on families of credentials theft malware known as Cridex/Emotet and Dridex.
"Though primarily used to collect credentials for financial institution websites, threat actors can configure [the malware] to capture form submissions to webmail, social networks or file-sharing sites," the report stated.
"Threat actors typically distribute these malware variants using spam emails. Often bearing a subject regarding 'invoices', the spam emails contain a malicious XLS or DOC attachment.
"Users should be cautious when opening any email attachments and seek advice before following instructions that require lowering any security defences, such as enabling macros. Credentials theft is a booming dark web business model."
The FireEye report also revealed that government remains one of the most targeted sectors for cyber criminals.
"We expect that government agencies and institutions will continue to face threats from financially motivated threat actors in search of personal or sensitive data," the report noted.
"Central agencies and institutions that maintain citizens' data, like departments of revenue, are particularly at risk due to the potentially valuable information stored on their networks."
Local government departments, often not adequately protected from cyber attack, remain vulnerable, according to FireEye.
"Local governments likely lack the resources for stringent network security and monitoring, making them a technically easier target for threat actors," the report said.
"However, despite the relatively lax network security, local government networks also contain potentially valuable information for nation state threat actors, including insight into major industries operating in their jurisdictions, as well as personnel and financial data."
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