File-Less Cyber-Attack; the Ultimate Silent Threat Dominate the Cyber-Strikes

Last updated: August 15, 2023 Reading time: 5 minutes
Cyber attack

According to a recent report by Barkly and Ponemon Institute, “2017 State of Endpoint Security Risk,” this technique is gaining popularity. However, the survey results reveal that the file-less cyber attack would dominate with 35 % of all the attacks in the coming year.

Looking at the security enhancements by the firms in their defending techniques, the malevolent individuals were left with fewer opportunities to invade online privacy. Therefore, they have found a new way to access sensitive data, a file-less cyber attack.

The Barkly and Ponemon Institute has surveyed 665 IT security professionals in the enterprise. They were presented that traditional attack inhibitors such as antivirus and file-scanning software are now insufficient for more advanced methods of invading PCs and computer networks.

“We are in the midst of a significant shift in endpoint security,” the institute report reads.

“Most organizations are replacing or augmenting these solutions with new security tools designed to stop file-less attacks, though many remain skeptical such attacks can be stopped.”

The report contains the stances of organizations, among which 70% claimed that their businesses are more prone to security risks than the risk a year ago. Also, they were concerned that the file-less cyber-attack had enhanced the risk exposure by making the traditional security measures ineffective and initiated gaps between next-generation alternatives.

The survey report reveals that the current preventions aren’t enough to stop file-less cyber attacks. According to the findings, 77% of the successful attacks utilized file-less cyber attacks. This new method has been predicted to take over file-based attacks with a power of 10x.

What is a File-less Cyber-Attack?

The file-less cyber-attack would probably be an unfamiliar term for many individuals; however, it could be an extreme hassle for businesses and other online entities.

This silent attacking technique can bypass antivirus software and corporate firewalls without leaving a trace, and that’s why categorized as the “living off the land” technique. It is assumed to be an extensively destructive attacking breed as it invades corporate systems without having malware inside its programming.

But how are these attacks file-less, and are they file-less?

As mentioned by Symantec in their Internet Security Threat Report (ISTR), all these threats are not file-less. The window registry is also kept on disk; some threats may initiate temporary files.

They are considered non-malware or malware-free attacks in some instances. For instance, only dual-use tools are used, and no malware binary is dropped. This couldn’t be a typical file-less attack as a file is involved in the form of one or more benign system tools.

The point is that these types of attacks may not leave a custom-built malware binary but can drop grey ware tools or scripts. Such attacks could also be considered asymptomatic due to their ability to conceal the usual symptoms expected from an infection, like a malicious file on a disk.

Therefore, this access could provide a hacker with uncomplicated chances to enter a source code that could destroy, acquire or demolish sensitive data without leaving evidence.

File-less cyber attacks are developed with different goals. Through this silent technique, the attackers invest in intellectual property, personally identifiable information (PII), or anything connected to artificial intelligence.

The businesses and entities aware of the antivirus vendors and their attacking techniques might not be shocked by the modern approach to file-less cyber attacks. It provides extreme ease and potential to the attacker, who can carry on the attack using programs already on your machine instead of conventional executable files. These attacks could extract a similar result by entering malicious code into an apparent benign file such as PDF or Word.

Plan Against the Upcoming Cyber Attack Domination

Most organizations now have traditional preventions designed according to the prevailing threats. However, this silent threat needs extra attention and parameters to protect firms from immense destruction. Therefore, organizations must have a pre-planned strategy to optimize malware invasions and rising file-less attacks.

The developmental progress of these attacking techniques at the same pace as security patches is a troublesome matter. Additionally, the invention of file-less cyber attacks could be challenging to figure out without any footprint; therefore, constructing a preventive set would also be challenging.

However, The Barkly and Ponemon report points out specific pointers to enhance security protection against file-less cyber-attack;

  • Consider preventions beyond the traditional antivirus software, such as using application whitelisting where applicable and monitoring the usage of dual-use tools inside your network.
  • Maintain a separate investment against the file-less techniques.
  • Reduce endpoint management complexity.
  • Prevention should be the priority before detection and response. For instance, having strong passwords for all your accounts, not leaving sessions logged in, keeping advanced security features such as 2FA, having updated security software, and being cautious while receiving suspicious emails.

These are some basic security measures we further elaborate on for better understanding. But, a point to remember is that these attacks being comparatively new, doesn’t have entirely different solutions from file-based attacks.

1. Invest In Basic Security Tools

An organization should confirm that its primary security protections are being followed correctly. High-quality end-to-end encryption, two-factor authentication, and updated software presence are necessary whether you are prone to a regular cyber-attack or a developed one.

As reported by the Europe Breaking News, only 10 out of 61 antivirus software could stop Petya ransomware effectively. Therefore, an intelligent selection of updated software should be made.

2. Restrict Data Access

A common cause of vulnerability exploitation is that the firms don’t have proper managing systems for their data access. For instance, employees are capable of accessing more data than is necessary. Therefore, a proper management system could evade such hassles to a greater level.

Controlled and administrative access is essential for business success. However, a centralized system could help monitor the logins and other accesses.

3. Updated Knowledge of Privacy Threats

The most destructive approach of an organization is a lack of concern and knowledge towards the development and progress of cyberattacks.

Whenever there is massive cyber destruction, many affected firms don’t have a proper security plan or prior knowledge. Similarly, cases such as file-less cyberattacks would be less damaging if reported immediately.


When the respondents were asked their opinion about the biggest security concern with the present endpoint security solutions, the most cited concern was the lack of adequate protection.

However, adopting a multilayered approach to privacy could minimize infection threats. The best is to upgrade, prevent, contain, and respond.

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About the Author

Zehra Ali is a Tech Reporter and Journalist. She has done her Masters in Mass Communication. Topics related to cybersecurity, IoT, AI, Big Data and other privacy matters are extensively covered by her on various platforms. You can follow her on twitter.

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