Cybercriminals are overwhelmingly using legitimate compromised websites to launch web or email attacks, according to the Websense Security Labs 2014 Threat report.
The report found 85 per cent of malicious links used in web or email attacks were located on compromised legitimate websites and details the growing global criminal-infrastructure-as-a-service economy through exploit kits and redirection chains.
Through an analysis of the latest attack methodology, Websense security researchers analyse the seven threat stages of advanced attacks. In addition, outcomes include the modification and repurposing of existing malware source code.
The report also found the average number of website redirects user per attack in 203 was four, while the maximum number of redirects used in a documented attack was 20.
Websites classified as business and economy, information technology, shopping and travel made the top ten list of compromised redirect destination categories.
The Magnitude and Neutrino exploit kits experienced the largest surge in adoption following the arrest of Blackhole's creator, according to the report.
While 30 per cent of malicious executable files sampled included custom encryption of command and control communication or data exfiltration.
Websense vice president of security research, Charles Renert, said cybercriminals continued to evolve their attack planning and execution to stay ahead of most existing security measures.
"While the determined, persistent attackers continue to have success in advanced, strategic attacks using zero-day exploits and advanced malware, there has also been a boom in cyber criminal activity on a massive scale," he said.
"Even these more 'common' forms of attack are easily slipping past organisations without real-time defenses."
The report also documents how the infrastructure of an attack campaign is constantly developed, enhanced and reused throughout the entire threat life cycle.
To avoid detection when reusing components in subsequent attacks, criminals are increasingly taking an approach that involves modification and modulation of existing attack tools.
Often, this means choosing to take advantage of a specific strength of a particular piece of malware to target new industries. Websense security researchers observed the Zeus malware, which was originally designed as a financial threat and keylogging Trojan, dramatically increased in use as it was repurposed for other vertical markets.
According to the report, in the past year, the government and communications industries joined financial firms among the top five verticals targeted with Zeus malware.
The top two industries hit hardest with Zeus attacks were the services and manufacturing sectors.