Cyber criminal activity has witnessed a massive surge with new threat actors emerging amid the Covid-19 pandemic, according to cyber security firm McAfee’s ‘COVID-19 Threat Report: July 2020.’

The study examined cyber criminal activity related to Covid-19 and the evolution of cyber threats in Q1 2020.

According to the report, an average of 375 new threats emerged per minute. Cyber criminals had leveraged the pandemic to conduct cyber criminal activities through themed malicious apps, phishing campaigns, malware, etc.

The report counted 458 publicly disclosed security incidents as security incidents increased by 27 per cent in the Asia-Pacific market.

“Disclosed incidents targeting the public sector, individuals, education and manufacturing increased; nearly 47 per cent of all publicly disclosed security incidents took place in the US,” it said.

“Thus far, the dominant themes of the 2020 threat landscape have been cyber criminals’ quick adaptation to exploit the pandemic and the considerable impact cyber attacks have had,” said Raj Samani, McAfee fellow and chief scientist. “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.”

Ransomware attacks

Ransomware attacks have now evolved into data breaches where attackers are targeting sectors such as law and construction. among others, to steal valuable data.

“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. “Using either weakly protected Remote Desktop Protocol or stolen credentials from the underground, we have observed malicious actors moving at light’s speed to learn the network of their victims and effectively steal and then encrypt their data.”

Even though new ransomware declined 12 per cent in the first quarter, overall,  total ransomware has increased 32 per cent over the past four quarters as per the report.

Increase in malware

New PowerShell malware increased 688 per cent in the first quarter while total malware grew 1,902 per cent over the past four quarters, as per the study.

While overall malware samples have decreased by 35 per cent, new Mac OS malware samples have increased by 51 per cent. Mobile is a major target when it comes to malware. As per the report, mobile malware increased by 71 per cent in Q1 2020.

Cryptomining malware and IoT malware also witnessed an increase of 26 per cent and 58 per cent respectively.

Researchers at McAfee said that Covid-19 related cyber attack campaigns use pandemic-related subjects including testing, treatments, cures, and remote work topics to lure their targets into clicking on a malicious link, downloading a file, or viewing a PDF.

McAfee Advanced Programs Group (APG) has also published a Covid-19 Threat Dashboard to track these campaigns.

The dashboard lists “top threats leveraging the pandemic, most targeted verticals and countries, and most utilised threat types and volume over time."