How COVID-19 Influenced the Rise in Malware Attacks in 2020

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Malicious software, popularly known as malware has been responsible for the loss of data and assets by individuals, businesses, and government organizations for a long time now. Every year, companies run into losses costing them several billions of dollars, and it doesn’t seem like the trend is stopping anytime soon as losses accrued from malware attacks are projected to reach $20 billion by 2021. 

COVID-19’s Influence on the rate of Malware Attacks

What began as a few phishing campaigns and the “usual” malware threat actions soon turned to a full-blown cyberattack on individuals and businesses. The new dynamics that the COVID-19 pandemic ushered in brought about a change in the way humans live – this would include the wearing of masks and most importantly, social distancing. 

To enforce the latter, several institutions had to shut their doors, leaving only essential services open. People had to work from home – a decision which was made hastily, and out of necessity. This left very little window for many offices to patch up their IT security and prepare their workers for remote work.

How Cybercriminals Preyed on the COVID-19 Pandemic

There is, however, so much a workplace can do to ensure total personal cyber hygiene by its workers. Cybercriminals preyed on the vulnerability and launched a myriad of attacks at individuals, using them as a medium to infiltrate corporate networks. 

Through several phishing campaigns, masked as COVID-19 related information, cybercriminals disbursed various forms of emails containing malicious links which, when clicked, could potentially trigger the beginning of an attack. 

The quest for information regarding the pandemic would naturally tickle the curiosity of anyone who receives an email providing valuable information about prevention or home remedies for the virus. Additionally, the grant disbursed by governments of several countries around the world was also used as a means by which these cybercriminals got to unsuspecting victims. 

Forms of Malicious Software

These attacks, of course, came in different severities and degrees of damage. Outlined below are the common forms in which malware are designed:

  • Virus

    comes as a program, which when executed, modifies files on the infected device, and replicates itself across several files, replacing them with its code. 

  • Worm

    this replicates itself across connected devices in a network, taking up system resources and also wreaking different kinds of havoc such as data theft, backdoor installation, Dedicated Denial of Service (DDoS) etc.

  • Trojan

    this kind of malware camouflages as an actual program so it might enter into a system undetected by an unsuspecting user. It can seize control of a computer and damage it, disrupt its processes or steal data.

  • Spyware

     just as the name implies, they spy on the victim’s activities and pass the data on to a reporting location for use by the hacker.

  • Ransomware

    this malware encrypts files on a device, requiring the victim to pay a ransom to get a decryption tool or code to get back their files. 

Safety Measures Against Malware Attacks

Having discussed the different forms of malware and its prevalence during the COVID-19 pandemic, safety measures should also be considered. Discussed below are a number of them:

  • Upgrade System Operating System (OS) regularly

    In production, developers often release updates to existing products in use by their consumers. Asides from performance upgrades, they release security patches to fix bugs and vulnerabilities which may not have been discovered when the product was going live. 

This is why it is usually advisable for individuals and system administrators to download and install system upgrades as soon as they are released to stay up-to-date with the latest security offering provided by their OS developers.

 

  • Use a Firewall

    Firewalls, either software or hardware are designed as filters to prevent unauthorized access to a network. For PC users, the default firewall provided by the OS manufacturer is often decent enough. Still, it is always advisable for organizations to install third-party firewall applications to secure their network. This would keep malicious elements away from manipulating the system.

 

  • Use Antimalware Software

    This might be regarded as the most effective way by which malware threats can be contained before they materialize into an attack. Antimalware software scans every file coming into the system and quarantines or deletes them if they seem malicious. The software can also be set to conduct periodic deep scans on the entire system to weed out any malicious program that may be hiding within the device or network.

 

  • Imbibe Good Internet Practices

    Organizations should hold symposiums for their staff and individuals should continuously educate themselves on the perils of malware attacks and their impact on data and assets. In the same vein, best practices to cultivate, such as avoid downloading documents from unverified sources, avoid clicking unsafe links, or interacting with dangerous websites should be strictly adhered to.

Conclusion

Malware attacks can cost individuals and organizations a lot of money if not well managed. This is why they should be envisaged by entities, no matter how little – and proper steps should be taken to forestall these attacks. Protecting your devices with a VPN, antivirus software or firewall equipment are some of the few but surefire ways to keep the attacks from occurring or even materializing into something disastrous.

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