Cryptojacking soars as cyberattacks increase, diversify

Digital threat actors are adopting evolving tactical behaviors, opting for different types of malicious attacks compared to previous years, according to SonicWall.

cryptojacking attacks rise

Overall intrusion attempts were up, led by the highest year on record for global cryptojacking volume recorded by SonicWall, as threat actors shifted away from traditional ransomware attacks in favor of a stealthier means of malicious activities. The data suggests increased law enforcement activity, heavy sanctions and victims’ refusal to pay ransom demands have altered criminal conduct, and threat actors are targeting other means of revenue.

“The seemingly endless digital assault on enterprises, governments and global citizens is intensifying, and the threat landscape continues to expand,” said SonicWall President and CEO Bob VanKirk.

“Threat actors are relentless, and our data indicates they are more opportunistic than ever, targeting schools, state and local governments, and retail organizations at unprecedented rates. The 2023 SonicWall Mid-Year Cyber Threat Report helps us better understand the mindset and criminal behaviour that will in turn help SonicWall create the right countermeasures, and help organisations protect themselves by being better prepared and build stronger defenses against malicious activities,” VanKirk added.

Rise of cryptojacking

Cybercriminals are diversifying and expanding their skill sets to attack critical infrastructure, making the threat landscape even more complex and forcing organisations to reconsider their security needs. Despite the decline in global ransomware attempts (-41%), a variety of other attacks have trended up globally, including cryptojacking (+399%), IoT malware (+37%) and encrypted threats (+22%).

“SonicWall intelligence suggests that bad actors are pivoting to lower-cost, less risky attack methods with potentially high returns, like cryptojacking” said SonicWall VP of Product Security Bobby Cornwell.

“It also explains the reason we’re seeing higher levels of cybercrime in regions like Latin America and Asia. Hackers search for the weakest points of entry, with the lightest possible repercussions, limiting their risk and maximising their potential profits,” Cornwell continued.

Financially motivated threat actors continue to be successful despite challenges. They have pivoted to crimes with greater certainty of success but they will not abandon proven tactics like ransomware; they are simply shifting strategy by target rather than exiting altogether.

Prominent attacks continued to plague enterprises, cities, airlines, and even K-12 schools, causing widespread system downtime, economic loss and reputational damage. While several industries followed the global trend of ransomware volume decline, they saw a huge growth in cryptojacking attacks: education (+320X), government (+89X) and healthcare (+69X).

Threat actors diversify cyberattack strategies

Cybercriminals are using increasingly advanced tools and tactics to exploit and extort victims. While ransomware continues to be a threat, SonicWall Capture Labs threat researchers expect more state-sponsored activity targeting a broader set of victims in 2023, including SMBs, government entities and enterprises.

Analyzing cyber threats

Malware – Total global malware volume dipped slightly (-2%), in the first half of 2023, with the U.S. and U.K. logging the biggest dips – (-14%) and (-7%) respectively. Surprisingly, malware numbers climbed in every other tracked region. Europe saw an (+11%) increase, while Latin America malware jumped (+19%) – suggesting a geo-migration of threat actor behavior as they move from targeting traditional hotspots to more opportunistic locations.

Ransomware – Although overall ransomware numbers saw a -41% decline globally, Q2 suggests a potential rebound, as it spiked 73.7% when compared to Q1. Some countries still felt the sting of ransomware attacks as Germany increased (+52%) and India spiked a whopping (+133%).

IoT malware – Global volume rose 37%, totaling almost 78 million hits by the end of June. As connected devices continue to rapidly multiply, bad actors are targeting weak points of entry as potential attack vectors into organisations.

Encrypted threats – Yet another quieter approach embraced by bad actors in the last six months was encrypted threats, which climbed (+22%) globally.

“Every year we see cybercrime increase at a staggering and unprecedented rate, and our customers depend on us protect their most valuable digital assets,” said President and CEO of LAN Infotech Michael Goldstein.

SonicWall identified a total of 172,146 never-before-seen malware variants in the first half of 2023, which is down (-36%) year-over-year, suggesting bad actors are spending less time on research and development, and more time on volume-based attacks – utilising open-source tools that may be less likely to be intercepted.

In addition, threat actors appear to be leverage existing tools – leaning on tools they know will help them be successful. Despite the dip in never-before-seen malware variants, the threat landscape remains complex, with almost 1,000 strains of new variants discovered each day.

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