New cyber threat report forecasts 2021 to be the ‘year of extortion’

Research by Acronis predicts a surge in cybercrime based on the security and protection challenges heightened by the pandemic

The next 12 months could be described as the ‘year of extortion’, according to the Acronis Cyberthreats Report, with experts predicting an upsurge in cases of cybercrime following the protection and security challenges deriving from the shift to remote working.

Released earlier this week (2 December), the report provides a detailed overview of the current threat landscape and projections for 2021. Acronis has warned that the next 12 months could bring aggressive cybercrime activity as criminals pivot their attacks from data encryption to data exfiltration.

Source: Acronis Cyber Threats Report 2020

According to the findings, ransomware continues to be the most damaging threat, with Maze ransomware accounting for almost half of all known cases this year. Despite this, however, the study points to a rising trend of cybercriminals trying to maximise their financial gain. Moving beyond collecting ransoms to decrypt infected data, criminals are now stealing proprietary – and often embarrassing – data before encrypting it, then threatening to publicly release the stolen files if the victim fails to cough up.

Data also showed that more than 1,000 businesses had their data leaked following a ransomware attack in 2020 – a trend that’s expected to grow in 2021, surpassing encryption as the criminals’ primary tactic.

Source: Acronis Cyber Threat Report 2020

“More than any year in recent memory, 2020 posed a tremendous number of challenges to IT professionals, organisations, and the service providers who support them,” said Stas Protassov, co-founder of Acronis. “What we’ve seen is how quickly bad actors are adjusting their attacks to the new IT landscape. By analysing the activity, attacks, and trends we’ve detected and clearly presenting our partners and help the IT community at large prepare for the threats on the horizon.”

Source: Acronis Cyber Threat Report 2020

The report’s other impactful findings include:

  • Attacks on remote workers will rise – while 31% of global companies reported daily cyber-attacks this year, numbers are expected to increase in 2021, since the defences for systems outside of the corporate network are more easily compromised, giving bad actors access to organisational data.
Source: Acronis Cyber Threat Report 2020
  • Ransomware will seek new victims and become more automated – ransomware attackers will become more focused to provide a bigger return on their efforts. Breaking into one network to steal data from several organisations is more profitable than attacking individual organisations. So, while small businesses will remain a target, cloud environments and organisations such as managed service providers will become more valued targets since their systems can provide access to the data of multiple clients.
Source: Acronis Cyber Threat Report 2020
  • Legacy solutions struggle to keep up – blocking new malware has rendered traditional anti-malware solutions obsolete, since they can no longer keep pace with the increased sophistication and frequency of new threats. In 2020, the average lifespan of a malware sample was just 3.4 days. As attackers continue to capitalise on automation, the number of malware samples will also climb. As such, companies will need to find new protection approaches that are agile and designed to stay ahead of new threats. Simple standalone security and backup solutions will no longer suffice.
Source: Acronis Cyber Threats Report 2020

Candid Wüest, VP of cyber protection research at Acronis and co-author of the report, commented: “When it comes to existing solutions and strategies, the current trends in cyber-attacks all show us that traditional cybersecurity is failing – usually because of weak technologies and human error, which are both avoidable. Just as cybercriminals are evolving their attacks, organisations need to advance their protection and security. Comprehensive cyber protection solutions offer the integration and automation that eliminate complexity, optimise performance, and streamline recovery when a successful attack inevitably occurs.”

In other news: Using Serious Games technology to educate youth about cybercrime


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