The challenge of protecting users, applications and data against cyber-attack continues to grow, and many organizations struggle to not let security issues disrupt project timelines or stifle innovation as a result.

Those are among the findings of the recent cyber security report issued by Hewlett Packard Enterprise. This year’s HPE Cyber Risk Report 2016 examines the 2015 threat landscape in this context, identifying the top threats from the past year, and providess actionable intelligence around key areas of risk including application vulnerabilities, security patching and the growing monetization of malware.

The report also highlights important industry issues such as new security research regulations, the “collateral damage” from high profile data breaches, shifting political agendas, and the ongoing debate over privacy and security.

“In 2015, we saw attackers infiltrate networks at an alarming rate, leading to some of the largest data breaches to date, but now is not the time to take the foot off the gas and put the enterprise on lockdown,” says Sue Barsamian, senior vice president and general manager at Hewlett Packard Enterprise. “We must learn from these incidents, understand and monitor the risk environment, and build security into the fabric of the organization to better mitigate known and unknown threats, which will enable companies to fearlessly innovate and accelerate business growth.”

Mobile Apps Pose Greater Risks

The security study found that while web applications pose significant risk to enterprises, mobile applications present growing and distinctive risks.

“Mobile applications’ frequent use of personally identifiable information presents significant vulnerabilities in the storage and transmission of private and sensitive information,” the report notes. Indeed, approximately 75 percent of the mobile applications scanned exhibited at least one critical or high-severity security vulnerability, compared to 35 percent of non-mobile applications.

“Vulnerabilities due to API abuse are much more common in mobile applications than web applications, while error handling – the anticipation, detection, and resolution of errors – is more often found in web applications,” the study notes.

Software Vulnerability

Software vulnerability exploitation continues to be a primary vector for attack, the study reports, with mobile exploits gaining traction.

“Similar to 2014, the top ten vulnerabilities exploited in 2015 were more than one year old, with 68 percent being three years old or more,” according to the report. “In 2015, Microsoft Windows represented the most targeted software platform, with 42 percent of the top 20 discovered exploits directed at Microsoft platforms and applications”

Monetization of Malware

While there has been a lot written in recent months about changing motives for cyber-attacks – including personal vendettas or political or religious agendas, profit continues to be the dominant factor.

“Malware has evolved from being simply disruptive to a revenue-generating activity for attackers,” the study notes. “While the overall number of newly discovered malware samples declined 3.6 percent year-over-year, the attack targets shifted notably in line with evolving enterprise trends and focused heavily on monetization.”

Tightening up security

In addition to identifying where the greatest threats are, the study looks at what IT leaders and chief information security officers can do to better project systems, networks, data and customers. The report recommends the following:

Apps are the New Battlefield

“The network perimeter is vanishing; attackers have shifted focus to target applications directly. Security professionals must adjust their approach accordingly, defending not just the edge but the interactions between users, applications and data regardless of location or device.”

Patch or Perish

2015 was a record year for the number of security vulnerabilities reported and patches issued, but patching does little good if end users don’t install them for fear of unintended consequences. Security teams must be more vigilant about applying patches at both the enterprise and individual user level. Software vendors must be more transparent about the implications of their patches so that end-users aren’t afraid to deploy them.”

Monetization of Malware

Ransomware attacks targeting the enterprise and individuals are on the rise, requiring both increased awareness and preparation on the part of security professionals to avoid the loss of sensitive data. The best protection against ransomware is a sound backup policy for all important files on the system.”

Prepare for Shifting Politics

Finally, “Cross-border agreements pose challenges for enterprises struggling to keep their systems secure and in compliance. Organizations must follow the changing legislative activity closely and maintain a flexible security approach.”

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