Report finds ransomware and password guessing are top cybersecurity threats

Report finds ransomware and password guessing are top cybersecurity threats

The latest report from security company ESET has found that ransomware and password guessing are the top two cybersecurity threats.

The research summarised key statistics from ESET detection systems between September to December 2021. The data indicated there was a rise in email threats towards the end of 2021 as well as an increase in threats exploiting customer excitement around cryptocurrency’s bull run at the end of the year.

However, the main concern was the nearly 900% increase year on year of Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP) attacks and a critical flaw in the Log4j utility. IT teams everywhere were sent scrambling, again, to locate and patch the Log4j flaw in their systems.

Roman Kováč, chief research officer at ESET’s Slovakia-based research lab, said: “This vulnerability, scoring a 10 on the Common Vulnerability Scoring System, put countless servers at risk of a complete takeover – so it came as no surprise that cybercriminals instantly started exploiting it.

“Despite only being known for the last three weeks of the year, Log4j attacks were the fifth most common external intrusion vector in 2021 in our statistics, showing just how quickly threat actors are at taking advantage of newly emerging critical vulnerabilities.”

According to ESET data, the end of 2021 was also turbulent for RDP attacks, which escalated throughout 2020 and 2021. RDP attacks exploit many that work from home which can leave enterprise networks vulnerable if organisations fail to secure end-points due to the rapid adoption of work from home working policies. Numbers from the final weeks of 2021 broke all previous records, amounting to a staggering yearly growth of 897% in total attack attempts blocked.

Ransomware threats continue unabated

Ransomware attacks continue to be one of the most significant concerns even into 2022.

Steve Flynn, Sales and Marketing Director for ESET Southern Africa, said: “Since 2020, ransomware threats have been more aggressive than ever.

“Ransomware surpassed the worst expectations in 2021 with attacks on critical infrastructure, even here in South Africa, crippling many institutions both public and private.”

The report from ESET found that ransom demands and over USD 5 billion worth of bitcoin transactions tied to potential ransomware payments were identified in the first six months of 2021. With the bitcoin market gaining traction before it reached its highest point in November, ESET experts discovered an influx of cryptocurrency-targeting threats, boosted the by the popularity of non-fungible tokens (NFTs).

Android banking malware shows an alarming increase

For mobile users, ESET noted an alarming upsurge in Android banking malware detections, which rose by 428% in 2021 compared to 2020.

Phishing remains a problem

Email threats, often the door to a myriad of attacks, saw their yearly detection numbers more than double. This trend was mainly driven by a rise in phishing emails, which more than compensated for the rapid decline in Emotet’s signature malicious macros in email attachments. Emotet, an infamous trojan inactive for most of the year, came back in the last quarter of 2021.

No platform is immune to threats

The report also looked at the strength of various servers and platforms, but found there are none that are immune to fighting complex cyber threats. Microsoft Exchange servers were highlighted in particular as falling under siege in 2021.

Flynn continued: “The move online has made everyone’s life much easier during the pandemic. Organisations and their people have been quick to adapt, but this brought levels of threats we have never seen before.

“Cybercriminals are more determined than ever to exploit any vulnerability, and users are going to have to take cybersecurity seriously if we are to get on top of these threats in any meaningful way in the future.”