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Majority of ransomware attacks involve multiple threats: Here they are

Cybercriminals see burnout amongst remote workers and security teams as a vulnerable target opportunity.

Laptops are useful, but bring with them privacy and security concerns. — Photo: © Tim Sandle.
Laptops are useful, but bring with them privacy and security concerns. — Photo: © Tim Sandle.

New research reveals nearly 4 in 5 ransomware attacks include threats beyond data encryption. This means online users today, especially businesses, need to be extremely vigilant of cyberattacks.

Cybercriminals are increasingly clever, seeking to mislead online users in an attempt to steal their personal information.

For example, in 2022, 82 percent of all breaches involved ‘the human element’. For example, ‘vishing’, emotional manipulation, ‘deepfakes’, and phishing emails, according to Dr Niklas Hellemann, CEO at SoSafe, a cybersecurity awareness provider.

Hellemann observes: “As cybercriminals are finding new ways to attack online users, especially as technology improves, it is extremely important to be aware of the up-to-date attacks that will most likely evolve through 2023.”

Turning his attention to the corporate entity, Hellemann states: “Whilst it is important for everyday users to be aware of potential scams, it is also just as important for larger organisations, for which – in some cases existence-threatening – financial damage is at stake.”

In terms of suitable actions, Hellemann recommends: “Organisations need to empower their teams in digital self-defense. While cybercrime is constantly professionalizing, companies need to activate their employees as part of their cyberdefense.”

In terms of managing this, Hellemann  offers: “Therefore, it is important for employees and employers to keep up with upcoming cybercrime trends as part of improving cyberdefense.”

Hellemann’s five cybersecurity concerns are:

#1 – Emotional manipulation

According to Hellemann: “One of the most popular weapons of choice for cybercriminals is using emotional manipulation and is set to rise even further in 2023. While technical setups change, cybercriminals can always exploit our human emotions to open a door into our systems.”

In terms of examples, he says: “Emotions like greed, curiosity, urgency, helpfulness and fear naturally trigger us and certain behaviors, tricking potential victims into either providing certain information, opening compromised files or making a payment on time for example.”

To illustrate this Hellemann draws on a new survey: “SoSafe data showed that with an apparent willingness to help, cybercriminals tempted more than a third (37 percent) of recipients to click on malicious content in 2022 – with praise and flattery this rose to 41 percent clicking on the content.”

In terms of advice, Hellemann offers: “If you feel any emotional pressure from receiving an email or text message from an organisation or person, always try to verify provided information or requested action before actioning anything.”

#2 – ‘Vishing’

‘Vishing’ which stands of ‘voice phishing’ is already being used as a deepfake technology to successfully trick employees into believing they’re talking with members of their own organisations.

Hellemann  notes: “As part of a vishing attack, someone will receive a phone call or voice message from someone pretending to be from a reputable company or someone you know. This is to induce individuals to reveal personal information, like bank details and credit card numbers.”

The situation appears to be deteriorating: “Unfortunately, as the quality of deepfake and vishing technology improves and becomes easier to produce, cybercriminals are very likely to be able to conduct successful, more believable attacks this year.”

#3 – Targeting burnout amongst remote workers

With the third concern, Hellemann says: “Cybercriminals see burnout amongst remote workers and security teams as a vulnerable target opportunity. Employees are stressed due to a continuously changing, uncertain and difficult situation- particularly regarding our economy. This makes them vulnerable to emotional manipulation.”

Building on this, Hellemann cautions: “At the same time, security teams are confronted with an increasing complexity. To name one development, the ongoing shift towards hybrid and remote work creates new weaknesses in an organisations’ security that security specialists need to take care of. With a general increase in attacks, security teams are reaching capacity and suffering from burnout too- leading to more security threats.”

This leads to negative consequences: “As a result, the phishing strategy that increased the most in success last year, was exerting authority and pressure on its targets – this tactic’s success rate increased by more than 10 percent”.

#4 – One-time ransomware extortion attempts will be a thing of the past

Tactics are changing, observes Hellemann: “Cybercriminals in  will use clever psychological tactics in their extortion, and compound them with further attacks. This is known as Multiple Extortion. They tend to follow up their initial theft, encryption, and ransom of sensitive data- with the threat of releasing these data if the ransom isn‘t paid.”

How this appears is by “using methods such as DDoS attacks, crypto mining, or bot networks until their demands are met. Compound ransomware attacks will attempt to extort higher value sums from organisations, increasing the risk of damage.”

#5- Supply chain attacks

A threat to businesses is through supply chain attacks. As noted by Hellemann: “This is because cybercriminals are improving at exploiting their victims’ partner and supplier networks. This is normally down to security flaws in the supply chain- for example as a result of the software used by partners or suppliers.”

Drawing on real-life events, Hellemann selects: “An example of a supply chain attack in 2022 was the hack of the authentication services provider Okta, whose network was hacked by the Lapsus$ group. Okta’s customer information was accessed through Sitel, a company subcontracted to provide customer service functions for Okta. This allegedly impacted more than 15 thousand customers.”

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Dr. Tim Sandle is Digital Journal's Editor-at-Large for science news. Tim specializes in science, technology, environmental, business, and health journalism. He is additionally a practising microbiologist; and an author. He is also interested in history, politics and current affairs.

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