Cyberattacks evolved in 2020 as threat actors sought to profit from the unprecedented socioeconomic, business and political challenges brought on by the Covid-19 pandemic.
In 2020, IBM Security X-Force observed attackers pivoting their attacks to businesses for which global Covid-19 response efforts heavily relied, such as hospitals, medical and pharmaceutical manufacturers, as well as energy companies powering the Covid-19 supply chain.
According to the 2021 X-Force Threat Intelligence Index, cyberattacks on healthcare, manufacturing, and energy doubled from the year prior, with threat actors targeting organisations that could not afford downtime due to risks of disrupting medical efforts or critical supply chains.
In fact, manufacturing and energy were the most attacked industries in 2020, second only to the finance and insurance sector. Contributing to this was attackers taking advantage of the nearly 50% increase in vulnerabilities in industrial control systems (ICS), which manufacturing and energy both strongly depend on.
In the Middle East and Africa region, data theft and data leak were by far the most common attack types, accounting for a significant 29% of attacks. Server access, ransomware and credential theft all tied for second place, representing 14% of attacks each. Attackers in the region also continued to gain access to systems through Remote Access Trojans (RATs) and misconfiguration, while insider incidents also affected organisations across the Middle East and Africa.
“The unexpected developments of the past year led organisations to accelerate their digital transformation efforts to ensure business agility and continuity. This also meant that organisations were required to invest in new technologies and processes that guarantee a more comprehensive approach to security,” says Sheldon Hand, data and AI: automation and security business unit leader at IBM Southern Africa.
“Organisations’ rapidly expanding digital footprint coupled with the adaptability and resourcefulness of cyber adversaries only highlighted the need for security to be a core item on every business’s agenda,” he adds.
The X-Force Threat Intelligence Index is based on insights and observations from monitoring over 150 billion security events per day in more than 130 countries, including South Africa, the UAE, KSA and Turkey in the Middle East and Africa. In addition, data is gathered and analysed from multiple sources within IBM, including IBM Security X-Force Threat Intelligence and Incident Response, X-Force Red, IBM Managed Security Services, and data provided by Quad9 and Intezer, both of which contributed to the 2021 report.
Some of the report’s key highlights include:
* Cybercriminals Accelerate Use of Linux Malware – With a 40% increase in Linux-related malware families in the past year, according to Intezer, and a 500% increase in Go-written malware in the first six months of 2020, attackers are accelerating a migration to Linux malware, that can more easily run on various platforms, including cloud environments.
* Pandemic Drives Top Spoofed Brands – Amid a year of social distancing and remote work, brands offering collaboration tools such as Google, Dropbox and Microsoft, or online shopping brands such as Amazon and PayPal, made the top 10 spoofed brands in 2020. YouTube and Facebook, which consumers relied on more for news digestion last year, also topped the list. Surprisingly, making an inaugural debut as the seventh most commonly impersonated brand in 2020 was Adidas, likely driven by demand for the Yeezy and Superstar sneaker lines.
* Ransomware Groups Cash In On Profitable Business Model – Ransomware was the cause of nearly one in four attacks that X-Force responded to in 2020, with attacks aggressively evolving to include double extortion tactics. Using this model, X-Force assesses Sodinokibi – the most commonly observed ransomware group in 2020 – had a very profitable year. X-Force estimates that the group made a conservative estimate of over $123-million in the past year, with approximately two-thirds of its victims paying a ransom, according to the report.
Amid the Covid-19 pandemic, many businesses sought to accelerate their cloud adoption. “In fact, a recent Gartner survey found that almost 70% of organisations using cloud services today plan to increase their cloud spending in the wake of the disruption caused by Covid-19.”
But with Linux currently powering 90% of cloud workloads and the X-Force report detailing a 500% increase in Linux-related malware families in the past decade, cloud environments can become a prime attack vector for threat actors.
With the rise in open-source malware, IBM assesses that attackers may be looking for ways to improve their profit margins – possibly reducing costs, increasing effectiveness and creating opportunities to scale more profitable attacks. The report highlights various threat groups such as APT28, APT29 and Carbanak turning to open-source malware, indicating that this trend will be an accelerator for more cloud attacks in the coming year.
The report also suggests that attackers are exploiting the expandable processing power that cloud environments provide, passing along heavy cloud usage charges on victim organizations, as Intezer observed more than 13% new, previously unobserved code in Linux cryptomining malware in 2020.
With attackers’ sights set on clouds, X-Force recommends that organisations should consider a zero-trust approach to their security strategy. Businesses should also make confidential computing a core component of their security infrastructure to help protect their most sensitive data – by encrypting data in use, organizations can help reduce the risk of exploitability from a malicious actor, even if they’re able to access their sensitive environments.
The 2021 report highlights that cybercriminals opted to disguise themselves most often as brands that consumers trust. Considered one of the most influential brands in the world, Adidas appeared attractive to cybercriminals attempting to exploit consumer demand to drive those looking for coveted sneakers to malicious websites designed to look like legitimate sites. Once a user visited these legitimate-looking domains, cybercriminals would either seek to carry out online payment scams, steal users’ financial information, harvest user credentials, or infect victims’ devices with malware.
The report indicates that the majority of Adidas spoofing is associated with the Yeezy and Superstar sneaker lines. The Yeezy line alone reportedly pulled in $1,3-billion in 2019 and was one of the top selling sneakers for the sportswear manufacturing giant. It’s likely that, with the hype for the next sneaker release in early 2020, attackers leveraged the demand of the money-making brand to make their own profit.
Additional key findings in the report include:
* Vulnerabilities Surpass Phishing as Most Common Infection Vector – The 2021 report reveals that the most successful way victim environments were accessed last year was scanning and exploiting for vulnerabilities (35%), surpassing phishing (31%) for the first time in years.
* Europe Felt the Brunt of 2020 Attacks – Accounting for 31% of attacks X-Force responded to in 2020, per the report, Europe experienced more attacks than any other region, with ransomware rising as the top culprit. In addition, Europe saw more insider threat attacks than any other region, seeing twice as many such attacks as North America and Asia combined.