The number of ransomware attacks reported by web users grew by 485 per cent in 2020 compared to the previous year, as cybercriminals sought to capitalise on fears around the pandemic and increased time spent online.
Ransomware, malicious software designed to infect systems and demand a ransom to release sensitive personal or financial information, are often distributed through phishing emails and downloaded files that exploit weaknesses in a device’s security to access a person’s data.
The majority of reported attacks (64 per cent) took place within the first six months of last year, a 19 per cent increase on the same time in 2019, according to cyber security firm Bitdefender’s annual report.
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Criminals created fake Zoom download sites to trick users into downloading what they thought was legitimate video conferencing software, but in reality spied on them and stole their data, the research found.
“Since the world had to adapt to remote work and staying at home became the new normal, threat [bad] actors have also updated their spam-sending tactics by focusing more on delivering seemingly legitimate emails, in an attempt to maximise their chances of infecting users,” the report’s authors said.
“With fewer typos, more jargon, and use of legitimate logos when impersonating companies and organisations, cybercriminals fully used their social engineering skills to create believable spam messages.”
Bogdan Botezatu, director of threat research and reporting at Bitdefender, said the firm’s findings revealed that consumers were under “constant assault from cybercriminals”.
“Cybercriminals will stop at nothing to use outlier events and human empathy to line their pockets. As the pandemic continues we are constantly seeing attacks evolve through malware delivery mechanisms, inventive social engineering and new exploits,” he said.