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An August reading list about online security and 2023 attacks landscape

An August reading list about online security and 2023 attacks landscape
An August reading list about online security and 2023 attacks landscape

An August reading list about online security and 2023 attacks landscape

In 2023, cybersecurity continues to be in most cases a need-to-have for those who don’t want to take chances on getting caught in a cyberattack and its consequences. Attacks have gotten more sophisticated, while conflicts (online and offline, and at the same time) continue, including in Ukraine. Governments have heightened their cyber warnings and put together strategies, including around critical infrastructure (including health and education). All of this, at a time when there were never so many online risks, but also people online — over five billion in July 2023, 64.5% of the now eight billion that are the world’s total population.

Here we take a look at what we’ve been discussing in 2023, so far, in our Cloudflare blog related to attacks and online security in general, with several August reading list suggestions. From new trends, products, initiatives or partnerships, including AI service safety, to record-breaking blocked cyberattacks. On that note, our AI hub (ai.cloudflare.com) was just launched.

Throughout the year, Cloudflare has continued to onboard customers while they were being attacked, and we have provided protection to many others, including once.net, responsible for the 2023 Eurovision Song Contest online voting system — the European event reached 162 million people.

Our global network — a.k.a. Supercloud — gives us a unique vantage point. Cloudflare’s extensive scale also helps enhance security, with preventive services powered by machine learning, like our recent WAF attack scoring system to stop attacks before they become known or even malware.

Recently, we announced our presence in more than 300 cities across over 100 countries, with interconnections to over 12,000 networks and still growing. We provide services for around 20% of websites online and to millions of Internet properties.

Attacks increasing. A readiness and trust game

Let’s start with providing some context. There are all sorts of attacks, but they have been, generally speaking, increasing. In Q2 2023, Cloudflare blocked an average of 140 billion cyber threats per day. One year ago, when we wrote a similar blog post, it was 124 billion, a 13% increase year over year. Attackers are not holding back, with more sophisticated attacks rising, and sectors such as education or healthcare as the target.

Artificial intelligence (AI), like machine learning, is not new, but it has been trending in 2023, and certain capabilities are more generally available. This has raised concerns about the quality of deception and even AI hackers.

This year, governments have also continued to release reports and warnings. In 2022, the US Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) created the Shields Up initiative in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. In March 2023, the Biden-Harris Administration released the National Cybersecurity Strategy aimed at securing the Internet.

The UK’s Cyber Strategy was launched at the end of 2022, and in March of this year, a strategy was released to specifically protect its National Health Service (NHS) from cyber attacks — in May it was time for the UK’s Ministry of Defence to do the same. In Germany, the new Digital Strategy is from 2022, but the Security Strategy arrived in June. A similar scenario is seen in Japan, Australia, and others.

That said, here are the reading suggestions related to more general country related attacks, but also policy and trust cybersecurity:

This blog post reports on Internet insights during the war in Europe, and discusses how Ukraine’s Internet remained resilient in spite of dozens of attacks, and disruptions in three different stages of the conflict.

An August reading list about online security and 2023 attacks landscape
Application-layer cyber attacks in Ukraine rose 1,300% in early March 2022 compared to pre-war levels.

The White House’s National Cybersecurity Strategy asks the private sector to step up to fight cyber attacks. Cloudflare is ready (✍️)

The White House released in March 2023 the National Cybersecurity Strategy aimed at preserving and extending the open, free, global, interoperable, reliable, and securing the Internet. Cloudflare welcomed the Strategy, and the much-needed policy initiative, highlighting the need of defending critical infrastructure, where Zero Trust plays a big role. In the same month, Cloudflare announced its commitment to the 2023 Summit for Democracy. Also related to these initiatives, in March 2022, we launched our very own Critical Infrastructure Defense Project (CIDP), and in December 2022, Cloudflare launched Project Safekeeping, offering Zero Trust solutions to certain eligible entities in Australia, Japan, Germany, Portugal and the United Kingdom.

Secure by default: recommendations from the CISA’s newest guide, and how Cloudflare follows these principles to keep you secure (✍️)

In this April 2023 post we reviewed the “default secure” posture, and recommendations that were the focus of a recently published guide jointly authored by several international agencies. It had US, UK, Australia, Canada, Germany, Netherlands, and New Zealand contributions. Long story short, using all sorts of tools, machine learning and a secure-by-default and by-design approach, and a few principles, will make all the difference.

Nine years of Project Galileo and how the last year has changed it (✍️) + Project Galileo Report (✍️)

For the ninth anniversary of our Project Galileo in June 2023, the focus turned towards providing access to affordable cybersecurity tools and sharing our learnings from protecting the most vulnerable communities. There are also Project Galileo case studies and how it has made a difference, including to those in education and health, cultural, veterans’ services, Internet archives, and investigative journalism. A Cloudflare Radar Project Galileo report was also disclosed, with some highlights worth mentioning:

  • Between July 1, 2022, and May 5, 2023, Cloudflare mitigated 20 billion attacks against organizations protected under Project Galileo. This is an average of nearly 67.7 million cyber attacks per day over the last 10 months.
  • For LGBTQ+ organizations, we saw an average of 790,000 attacks mitigated per day over the last 10 months, with a majority of those classified as DDoS attacks.
  • Attacks targeting civil society organizations are generally increasing. We have broken down an attack aimed at a prominent organization, with the request volume climbing as high as 667,000 requests per second. Before and after this time the organization saw little to no traffic.
  • In Ukraine, spikes in traffic to organizations that provide emergency response and disaster relief coincide with bombings of the country over the 10-month period.

Project Cybersafe Schools: bringing security tools for free to small K-12 school districts in the US (✍️)

Already in August 2023, Cloudflare introduced an initiative aimed at small K-12 public school districts: Project Cybersafe Schools. Announced as part of the Back to School Safely: K-12 Cybersecurity Summit at the White House on August 7, Project Cybersafe Schools will support eligible K-12 public school districts with a package of Zero Trust cybersecurity solutions — for free, and with no time limit. In Q2 2023, Cloudflare blocked an average of 70 million cyber threats each day targeting the U.S. education sector, and a 47%  increase in DDoS attacks quarter-over-quarter.

Privacy concerns also go hand in hand with security online, and we’ve provided further details on this topic earlier this year in relation to our investment in security to protect data privacy. Cloudflare also achieved a new EU Cloud Code of Conduct privacy validation.

An August reading list about online security and 2023 attacks landscape
This is what a record-breaking DDoS attack (exceeding 71 million requests per second) looks like.

1. DDoS attacks & solutions

DDoS threat report for 2023 Q2 (✍️)

DDoS attacks (distributed denial-of-service) are not new, but they’re still one of the main tools used by attackers. In Q2 2023, Cloudflare witnessed an unprecedented escalation in DDoS attack sophistication, and our report delves into this phenomenon. Pro-Russian hacktivists REvil, Killnet and Anonymous Sudan joined forces to attack Western sites. Mitel vulnerability exploits surged by a whopping 532%, and attacks on crypto rocketed up by 600%. Also, more broadly, attacks exceeding three hours have increased by 103% quarter-over-quarter.

This blog post and the corresponding Cloudflare Radar report shed light on some of these trends. On the other hand, in our Q1 2023 DDoS threat report, a surge in hyper-volumetric attacks that leverage a new generation of botnets that are comprised of Virtual Private Servers (VPS) was observed.

Killnet and AnonymousSudan DDoS attack Australian university websites, and threaten more attacks — here’s what to do about it  (✍️)

In late March 2023, Cloudflare observed HTTP DDoS attacks targeting university websites in Australia. Universities were the first of several groups publicly targeted by the pro-Russian hacker group Killnet and their affiliate AnonymousSudan. This post not only shows a trend with these organized groups targeted attacks but also provides specific recommendations.

In January 2023, something similar was seen with increased cyberattacks to Holocaust educational websites protected by Cloudflare’s Project Galileo.

Uptick in healthcare organizations experiencing targeted DDoS attacks (✍️)

In early February 2023, Cloudflare, as well as other sources, observed an uptick in healthcare organizations targeted by a pro-Russian hacktivist group claiming to be Killnet. There was an increase in the number of these organizations seeking our help to defend against such attacks. Additionally, healthcare organizations that were already protected by Cloudflare experienced mitigated HTTP DDoS attacks.

Cloudflare mitigates record-breaking 71 million request-per-second DDoS attack (✍️)

Also in early February, Cloudflare detected and mitigated dozens of hyper-volumetric DDoS attacks, one of those that became a record-breaking one. The majority of attacks peaked in the ballpark of 50-70 million requests per second (rps) with the largest exceeding 71Mrps. This was the largest reported HTTP DDoS attack on record to date, more than 54% higher than the previous reported record of 46M rps in June 2022.

SLP: a new DDoS amplification vector in the wild (✍️)

This blog post from April 2023 highlights how researchers have published the discovery of a new DDoS reflection/amplification attack vector leveraging the SLP protocol (Service Location Protocol). The prevalence of SLP-based DDoS attacks is also expected to rise, but our automated DDoS protection system keeps Cloudflare customers safe.

Additionally, this year, also in April, a new and improved Network Analytics dashboard was introduced, providing security professionals insights into their DDoS attack and traffic landscape.

2. Application level attacks & WAF

The state of application security in 2023 (✍️)

For the second year in a row we published our Application Security Report. There’s a lot to unpack here, in a year when, according to Netcraft, Cloudflare became the most commonly used web server vendor within the top million sites (it has now a 22% market share). Here are some highlights:

  • 6% of daily HTTP requests (proxied by the Cloudflare network) are mitigated on average. It’s down two percentage points compared to last year.
  • DDoS mitigation accounts for more than 50% of all mitigated traffic, so it’s still the largest contributor to mitigated layer 7 (application layer) HTTP requests.
  • Compared to last year, however, mitigation by the Cloudflare WAF (Web Application Firewall) has grown significantly, and now accounts for nearly 41% of mitigated requests.
  • HTTP Anomaly (examples include malformed method names, null byte characters in headers, etc.) is the most frequent layer 7 attack vectors mitigated by the WAF.
  • 30% of HTTP traffic is automated (bot traffic). 55% of dynamic (non cacheable) traffic is API related. 65% of global API traffic is generated by browsers.
  • 16% of non-verified bot HTTP traffic is mitigated.
  • HTTP Anomaly surpasses SQLi (code injection technique used to attack data-driven applications) as the most common attack vector on API endpoints. Brute force account takeover attacks are increasing. Also, Microsoft Exchange is attacked more than WordPress.

How Cloudflare can help stop malware before it reaches your app (✍️)

In April 2023, we made the job of application security teams easier, by providing a content scanning engine integrated with our Web Application Firewall (WAF), so that malicious files being uploaded by end users, never reach origin servers in the first place. Since September 2022, our Cloudflare WAF became smarter in helping stop attacks before they are known.

Announcing WAF Attack Score Lite and Security Analytics for business customers  (✍️)

In March 2023, we announced that our machine learning empowered WAF and Security analytics view were made available to our Business plan customers, to help detect and stop attacks before they are known. In a nutshell: Early detection + Powerful mitigation = Safer Internet. Or:

early_detection = True
powerful_mitigation = True
safer_internet = early_detection and powerful_mitigation

An August reading list about online security and 2023 attacks landscape

3. Phishing (Area 1 and Zero Trust)

Phishing remains the primary way to breach organizations. According to CISA, 90% of cyber attacks begin with it. The FBI has been publishing Internet Crime Reports, and in the most recent, phishing continues to be ranked #1 in the top five Internet crime types. Reported phishing crimes and victim losses increased by 1038% since 2018, reaching 300,497 incidents in 2022. The FBI also referred to Business Email Compromise as the $43 billion problem facing organizations, with complaints increasing by 127% in 2022, resulting in $3.31 billion in related losses, compared to 2021.

In 2022, Cloudflare Area 1 kept 2.3 billion unwanted messages out of customer inboxes. This year, that number will be easily surpassed.

Introducing Cloudflare’s 2023 phishing threats report (✍️)

In August 2023, Cloudflare published its first phishing threats report — fully available here. The report explores key phishing trends and related recommendations, based on email security data from May 2022 to May 2023.

Some takeaways include how attackers using deceptive links was the #1 phishing tactic — and how they are evolving how they get you to click and when they weaponize the link. Also, identity deception takes multiple forms (including business email compromise (BEC) and brand impersonation), and can easily bypass email authentication standards.

Cloudflare Area 1 earns SOC 2 report (✍️)

More than one year ago, Cloudflare acquired Area 1 Security, and with that we added to our Cloudflare Zero Trust platform an essential cloud-native email security service that identifies and blocks attacks before they hit user inboxes. This year, we’ve obtained one of the best ways to provide customers assurance that the sensitive information they send to us can be kept safe: a SOC 2 Type II report.

Back in January, during our CIO Week, Email Link Isolation was made generally available to all our customers. What is it? A safety net for the suspicious links that end up in inboxes and that users may click — anyone can click on the wrong link by mistake. This added protection turns Cloudflare Area 1 into the most comprehensive email security solution when it comes to protecting against malware, phishing attacks, etc. Also, in true Cloudflare fashion, it’s a one-click deployment.

Additionally, from the same week, Cloudflare combined capabilities from Area 1 Email Security and Data Loss Prevention (DLP) to provide complete data protection for corporate email, and also partnered with KnowBe4 to equip organizations with real-time security coaching to avoid phishing attacks.

How to stay safe from phishing (✍️)

Phishing attacks come in all sorts of ways to fool people. This high level “phish” guide, goes over the different types — while email is definitely the most common, there are others —, and provides some tips to help you catch these scams before you fall for them.

Top 50 most impersonated brands in phishing attacks and new tools you can use to protect your employees from them (✍️)

Here we go over arguably one of the hardest challenges any security team is constantly facing, detecting, blocking, and mitigating the risks of phishing attacks. During our Security Week in March, a Top 50 list of the most impersonated brands in phishing attacks was presented (spoiler alert: AT&T Inc., PayPal, and Microsoft are on the podium).

Additionally, it was also announced the expansion of the phishing protections available to Cloudflare One customers by automatically identifying — and blocking — so-called “confusable” domains. What is Cloudflare One? It’s our suite of products that provides a customizable, and integrated with what a company already uses, Zero Trust network-as-a-service platform. It’s built for that already mentioned ease of mind and fearless online use. Cloudflare One, along with the use of physical security keys, was what thwarted the sophisticated “Oktapus” phishing attack targeting Cloudflare employees last summer.

On the Zero Trust front, you can also find our recent PDF guide titled “Cloudflare Zero Trust: A roadmap for highrisk organizations”.

An August reading list about online security and 2023 attacks landscape

4. AI/Malware/Ransomware & other risks

We have shown in previous years the role of our Cloudflare Security Center to investigate threats, and the relevance of different types of risks, such as these two 2022 and 2021 examples: “Anatomy of a Targeted Ransomware Attack” and “Ransom DDoS attacks target a Fortune Global 500 company”. However, there are new risks in the 2023 horizon.

How to secure Generative AI applications (✍️)

Groundbreaking technology brings groundbreaking challenges. Cloudflare has experience protecting some of the largest AI applications in the world, and in this blog post there are some tips and best practices for securing generative AI applications. Success in consumer-facing applications inherently expose the underlying AI systems to millions of users, vastly increasing the potential attack surface.

Using the power of Cloudflare’s global network to detect malicious domains using machine learning  (✍️)

Taking into account the objective of preventing threats before they create havoc, here we go over that Cloudflare recently developed proprietary models leveraging machine learning and other advanced analytical techniques. These are able to detect security threats that take advantage of the domain name system (DNS), known as the phonebook of the Internet.

How sophisticated scammers and phishers are preying on customers of Silicon Valley Bank (✍️)

In order to breach trust and trick unsuspecting victims, threat actors overwhelmingly use topical events as lures. The news about what happened at Silicon Valley Bank earlier this year was one of the latest events to watch out for and stay vigilant against opportunistic phishing campaigns using SVB as the lure. At that time, Cloudforce One (Cloudflare’s threat operations and research team) significantly increased our brand monitoring focused on SVB’s digital presence.

How Cloudflare can help stop malware before it reaches your app (✍️)

In April 2023, Cloudflare launched a tool to make the job of application security teams easier, by providing a content scanning engine integrated with our Web Application Firewall (WAF), so that malicious files being uploaded by end users, never reach origin servers in the first place.

Analyze any URL safely using the Cloudflare Radar URL Scanner  (✍️)

Cloudflare Radar is our free platform for Internet insights. In March, our URL Scanner was launched, allowing anyone to analyze a URL safely. The report that it creates contains a myriad of technical details, including a phishing scan. Many users have been using it for security reasons, but others are just exploring what’s under-the-hood look at any webpage.

Unmasking the top exploited vulnerabilities of 2022 (✍️)

Last, but not least, already from August 2023, this blog post focuses on the most commonly exploited vulnerabilities, according to the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA). Given Cloudflare’s role as a reverse proxy to a large portion of the Internet, we delve into how the Common Vulnerabilities and Exposures (CVEs) mentioned by CISA are being exploited on the Internet, and a bit of what has been learned.

If you want to learn about making a website more secure (and faster) while loading third-party tools like Google Analytics 4, Facebook CAPI, TikTok, and others, you can get to know our Cloudflare Zaraz solution. It reached general availability in July 2023.

Wrap up

“The Internet was not built for what it has become”.

This is how one of Cloudflare’s S-1 document sections begins. It is also commonly referenced in our blog to show how this remarkable experiment, the network of networks, wasn’t designed for the role it now plays in our daily lives and work. Security, performance and privacy are crucial in a time when anyone can be the target of an attack, threat, or vulnerability. While AI can aid in mitigating attacks, it also adds complexity to attackers’ tactics.

With that in mind, as we’ve highlighted in this 2023 reading list suggestions/online attacks guide, prioritizing the prevention of detrimental attack outcomes remains the optimal strategy. Hopefully, it will make some of the attacks on your company go unnoticed or be consequences-free, or even transform them into interesting stories to share when you access your security dashboard.

If you’re interested in exploring specific examples, you can delve into case studies within our hub, where you’ll find security related stories from different institutions. From a technology company like Sage, to the State of Arizona, or the Republic of Estonia Information Security Authority, and even Cybernews, a cybersecurity news media outlet.

And because the future of a private and secure Internet is also in our minds, it’s worth mentioning that in March 2022, Cloudflare enabled post-quantum cryptography support for all our customers. The topic of post-quantum cryptography, designed to be secure against the threat of quantum computers, is quite interesting and worth some delving into, but even without knowing what it is, it’s good to know that protection is already here.

If you want to try some security features mentioned, the Cloudflare Security Center is a good place to start (free plans included). The same applies to our Zero Trust ecosystem (or Cloudflare One as our SASE, Secure Access Service Edge) that is available as self-serve, and also includes a free plan. This vendor-agnostic roadmap shows the general advantages of the Zero Trust architecture, and as we’ve seen, there’s also one focused on high risk organizations.

Be cautious. Be prepared. Be safe.


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Article_Author: João Tomé