COVID-19 leads to surge in cyberattacks

Kalila Sangster
·2-min read
Man typing at his laptop computer at night
51% of attacks during the COVID-19 pandemic targeted the financial sector. Photo: Getty

Security professionals have seen a surge in cyberattacks related to the coronavirus pandemic, according to the latest Global Incident Response Report by cybersecurity company VMware Carbon Black.

Over half (53%) encountered or observed an increase in cyberattacks exploiting COVID-19, in the survey of incident response (IR) professionals from around the world.

Experts highlighted remote access inefficiencies, due to the increase in the number of people working from home, as the greatest security challenge. They also pointed to virtual private network (VPN) vulnerabilities and staff shortages as reasons for the surge in cyberattacks.

The financial sector was the most commonly targeted sector, receiving 51% of attacks. This was followed by healthcare (35%), professional services (35%) and retail (31%). Cybercriminals are looking to profit from the global disruption wrought by COVID-19 and attackers continue to be motivated by financial gain, according to Carbon Black.

A third (33%) encountered instances of attempted counter IR, a 10% increase from a year before. Forms of counter IR seen during the coronavirus pandemic include destruction of logs and diversion — signalling the increasingly severe nature of attacks and the rise of more destructive attacks.

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One of the most common trends in counter IR is ‘island hopping,’ a way for cybercriminals to infiltrate into large-sized company networks by targeting their clients or partners. The attackers target the networks between two companies before taking advantage of compromising the digital assets of the bigger company.

Over half (51%) of security professionals saw cyberattacks from China, followed by North America (40%), and Russia (38%).

“There has been a dramatic surge in cyberattacks,” says Tom Kellermann, head of cybersecurity strategy, VMware Carbon Black.

“The FBI reported a 400% increase in cybercrime. This is compounded by the stark reality that cybercriminals are becoming more sophisticated and punitive. Today, malicious actors are setting their sights on commandeering an organisation’s digital transformation efforts to attack its customers. The heist has become a hostage situation and destructive attacks have become commonplace in 2020.”