The Most Common Root Causes of Attacks Were Unpatched Vulnerabilities and Compromised Credentials, While Ransomware Continues to Be the Most Common “End Game”

Dwell Time—Time From the Start of an Attack to When it’s Detected—Decreased From 15 to 10 Days

OXFORD, U.K. — April 25, 2023 —

Sophos, a global leader in innovating and delivering cybersecurity as a service, today released its Active Adversary Report for Business Leaders, an in-depth look at the changing behaviors and attack techniques that adversaries used in 2022. The data, analyzed from more than 150 Sophos Incident Response (IR) cases, identified more than 500 unique tools and techniques, including 118 “Living off the Land” binaries (LOLBins). Unlike malware, LOLBins are executables naturally found on operating systems, making them much more difficult for defenders to block when attackers exploit them for malicious activity.

In addition, Sophos found that unpatched vulnerabilities were the most common root cause of attackers gaining initial access to targeted systems. In fact, in half of investigations included in the report, attackers exploited ProxyShell and Log4Shell vulnerabilities—vulnerabilities from 2021—to infiltrate organizations. The second most common root cause of attacks was compromised credentials.

“When today's attackers aren't breaking in, they're logging in. The reality is that the threat environment has grown in volume and complexity to the point where there are no discernible gaps for defenders to exploit. For most organizations, the days of going at it alone are well behind them. It truly is everything, everywhere, all at once. However, there are tools and services available to businesses that can alleviate some of the defensive burden, allowing them to focus on their core business priorities,” said John Shier, field CTO, Sophos.

More than two-thirds of the attacks that the Sophos IR team investigated (68%) involved ransomware, demonstrating that ransomware is still one of the most pervasive threats for companies. Ransomware also accounted for nearly three-quarters of Sophos’ IR investigations over the past three years.

While ransomware still dominates the threat landscape, attacker dwell time decreased in 2022, from 15 to 10 days, for all attack types. For ransomware cases, the dwell time decreased from 11 to 9 days, while the decrease was even greater for non-ransomware attacks. The dwell time for the latter declined from 34 days in 2021 to just 11 days in 2022. However, unlike in past years, there was no significant variation in dwell times between different sized organizations or sectors.

“Organizations that have successfully implemented layered defenses with constant monitoring are seeing better outcomes in terms of attack severity. The side effect of improved defenses means that adversaries have to speed up in order to complete their attacks. Therefore, faster attacks necessitate earlier detection. The race between attackers and defenders will continue to escalate and those without proactive monitoring will suffer the greatest consequences,” said Shier.

The Sophos Active Adversary Report for Business Leaders is based on 152 incident response (IR) investigations spanning the globe across 22 sectors. Targeted organizations were located in 31 different countries, including the U.S. and Canada, the U.K., Germany, Switzerland, Italy, Austria, Finland, Belgium, Sweden, Romania, Spain, Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, Japan, Hong Kong, India, Thailand, the Philippines, Qatar, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Kenya, Somalia, Nigeria, South Africa, Mexico, Brazil, and Colombia. The most represented sectors are manufacturing (20%), followed by healthcare (12%), education (9%), and retail (8%).

The Sophos Active Adversary Report for Business Leaders provides organizations with actionable threat intelligence and insights needed to optimize security strategies and defenses.

To learn more about attacker behaviors, tools and techniques, Everything Everywhere All At Once: The 2023 Active Adversary Report for Business Leaders on

About Sophos

Sophos is a global leader and innovator of advanced security solutions that defeat cyberattacks, including Managed Detection and Response (MDR) and incident response services and a broad portfolio of endpoint, network, email, and cloud security technologies. As one of the largest pure-play cybersecurity providers, Sophos defends more than 600,000 organizations and more than 100 million users worldwide from active adversaries, ransomware, phishing, malware, and more. Sophos’ services and products connect through the Sophos Central management console and are powered by Sophos X-Ops, the company’s cross-domain threat intelligence unit. Sophos X-Ops intelligence optimizes the entire Sophos Adaptive Cybersecurity Ecosystem, which includes a centralized data lake that leverages a rich set of open APIs available to customers, partners, developers, and other cybersecurity and information technology vendors. Sophos provides cybersecurity-as-a-service to organizations needing fully managed security solutions. Customers can also manage their cybersecurity directly with Sophos’ security operations platform or use a hybrid approach by supplementing their in-house teams with Sophos’ services, including threat hunting and remediation. Sophos sells through reseller partners and managed service providers (MSPs) worldwide. Sophos is headquartered in Oxford, U.K. More information is available at