Ransomware Attacks Surge in Q3 as Cyber-Criminals Shift Tactics

A record growth in ransomware attacks took place in Q3 of 2020 compared to Q2, from 39% to 51% of all malware attempts, according to Positive Technologies’ Cybersecurity Threatscape: Q3 2020 report.

The study also found that hacking accounted for 30% of all attacks during Q3, with cyber-criminals reducing their emphasis on social engineering tactics compared with earlier this year. The researchers noted that the percentage of social engineering attacks using COVID-19 as a lure fell from 16% in Q2 to just 4% in Q3, which they attribute to people becoming more accustomed to this crisis. Additionally, social engineering attacks targeting organizations fell from 67% of all attempts in Q1 to under half (45%) in Q3.

Healthcare organizations were heavily targeted in this period, including pharmaceutical sites where COVID-19 vaccine research was being conducted. Half of all attacks against this sector involved ransomware, which resulted in serious consequences, such as the crippling of hospital functions.

The cybersecurity firm added that attackers continued to target increased network insecurity brought about by the mass shift to remote working, with exploitation of vulnerabilities up by 12 percentage points quarter-on-quarter (to 30%).

Encouragingly, there was a slow-down in the growth in attacks experienced during the first two quarters of the year, with the number of incidents rising by 2.7 percentage points compared to the previous quarter. However, the rate of targeted attacks went up from 63% to 70%.

Yana Yurakova, analyst at Positive Technologies, commented: "According to our data, COVID-19 is being exploited in attacks on individuals as well as organizations. In regard to individuals, we see that the number of phishing emails related to COVID-19 is dropping quickly. Pandemic-themed messages fell from 16% of social engineering attacks in Q2 to just 4% in Q3.

 In the previous quarter, phishing emails would advertise personal protective equipment or offer information about the virus, whereas now they are exploiting interest in a vaccine. One mailing addressed to people in the UK claimed that local vaccine efforts were going slowly and offered a supposed vaccine for sale on the site of a Canadian pharmacy chain. Individuals need to stay extra vigilant of the threats which are circulating linked to the pandemic.”

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