McAfee sees a surge of COVID-19-themed malicious apps and other attacks in the first quarter.
McAfee Labs saw an average of 375 new threats per minute and a surge of cybercriminals exploiting the pandemic through COVID-19-themed malicious apps, phishing campaigns, malware, and more during the first quarter of 2020, the cybersecurity company is reporting.
Disclosed incidents targeting the public sector, individuals, education and manufacturing increased; nearly 47% of all publicly disclosed security incidents took place in the United States, according to the McAfee COVID-19 Threat Report: July 2020.
Further, ransomware attacks have evolved into data breaches as cybercriminals steal data prior to encryption, the company said. Threats targeting cloud services increased 630%, concentrated largely on collaboration services such as Microsoft 365.
"Thus far, the dominant themes of the 2020 threat landscape have been cybercriminals' quick adaptation to exploit the pandemic and the considerable impact cyberattacks have had," said Raj Samani, McAfee fellow and chief scientist, in a statement.
"What began as a trickle of phishing campaigns and the occasional malicious app quickly turned into a deluge of malicious URLs and capable threat actors leveraging the world's thirst for more information on COVID-19 as an entry mechanism into systems across the globe."
Each quarter, McAfee assesses the state of the cyber threat landscape based on in-depth research, investigative analysis, and threat data gathered by its Global Threat Intelligence cloud from over a billion sensors across multiple threat vectors around the world, the company said.
New pandemic-focused topics emerged
McAfee researchers found that COVID-19 campaigns use pandemic-related subjects including testing, treatments, cures, and remote work topics to lure targets into clicking on a malicious link, downloading a file, or viewing a PDF.
To track these campaigns, McAfee Advanced Programs Group (APG) has published a COVID-19 Threat Dashboard, which includes top threats leveraging the pandemic, most targeted verticals and countries, and most utilized threat types and volume over time. The dashboard is updated daily at 4 pm ET.
"Cybersecurity cannot be solved by cookie cutter approaches; each organization is unique and has specific intelligence requirements and objectives," said Patrick Flynn, head of McAfee APG, in a statement. "The McAfee COVID-19 Threat Dashboard utilizes data to create true analyzed intelligence, which allows users to understand the total threat environment, informing them of potential threats before they are weaponized.
Data breaches: The new ransomware attacks
Over the first quarter of 2020, McAfee observed malicious actors focus on sectors where availability and integrity are fundamental, including manufacturing, law and construction firms.
"No longer can we call these attacks just ransomware incidents. When actors have access to the network and steal the data prior to encrypting it, threatening to leak if you don't pay, that is a data breach," said Christiaan Beek, senior principal engineer and lead scientist, in a statement. "Using either weakly protected Remote Desktop Protocol or stolen credentials from the underground, we have observed malicious actors moving at light speed to learn the network of their victims and effectively steal and then encrypt their data."
New ransomware declined 12% in Q1, McAfee said, however, total ransomware increased 32% over the past four quarters.
Other threat activity McAfee observed over Q1 included:
Malware overall. New malware samples slowed by 35%; total malware increased 27% over the past four quarters. New Mac OS malware samples increased by 51%.
Mobile malware. New mobile malware increased by 71%, with total malware growing nearly 12% over the past four quarters.
Regional targets. Disclosed incidents targeting the Americas increased 60%, incidents targeting Asia-Pacific increased 27%, while Europe decreased 7%.
Security incidents. McAfee Labs counted 458 publicly disclosed security incidents, an increase of 41% from Q4. 50% of all publicly disclosed security incidents took place in North America, followed by 9% in Europe. Nearly 47% of all publicly disclosed security incidents took place in the United States.
Vertical industry targets. Disclosed incidents targeting the public sector increased 73%, individuals increased 59%, education increased 33%, and manufacturing increased 44%.
Attack vectors. Overall, malware led disclosed attack vectors, followed by account hijacking and targeted attacks.
Cryptomining. New coin mining malware increased 26%. Total coin mining malware samples increased nearly 97% over the past four quarters.
IoT. New malware samples increased nearly 58%; total IoT malware grew 82% over the past four quarters.
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