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Driven by remote work, business continuity, and social distancing, the dynamics of digitization reached their peak in 2020, along with massive challenges for IT security. These benchmarks will also shape the coming year, and there will be no return from the “new normal.”

The coronavirus caused a sudden surge in digitization on a global scale. Within just a few weeks, companies remotely connected hundreds of thousands of employees to their corporate networks, requiring analog or local processes to be moved to the cloud at lightning speed. Social contacts, recreational activities, and many other aspects of the everyday lives of millions and millions of people also migrated to the digital realm.

This surge in digitization is putting the digital infrastructure of government, healthcare, business, and private households to the test. Never before have such large volumes of data had to be managed and processed. Scaling by a factor of 100 and more has pushed many a system to the limit.

Cybercriminals use pandemic as an opportunity

Cybercriminals also smelled quick prey in this fraught environment. Never before was it easier to digitally catch companies and private users on the wrong foot. A significant increase in cyber attacks of all types was the result. IT infrastructure already at the breaking point can be more easily shut down.
Myra saw a significant increase in attack activity in tandem with the rise in organic traffic. Compared to 2019, the number of DDoS attacks on websites increased by over 300 percent, and attacks on data centers doubled in the same period. Similar observations were made by the German Federal Office for Information Security (BSI): The government agency warned as early as the beginning of April that cybercriminals were increasingly exploiting the corona pandemic to commit fraud and mount attacks.

Critical infrastructure the target of attackers

Reports from Europol also confirm a significant increase in cybercriminal activity. Attackers are exploiting the high demand from the public for information on COVID-19 to engage in spam, phishing, and social engineering. The upsurge in remote workers opens up new opportunities for cybercriminals to penetrate organizations’ networks without being detected.

Assets entice cybercriminals

In general, a clear trend is emerging in the choice of targets. Just as stagecoaches attracted daring bandits in the pioneering days of the 19th century, the systems of financially strong companies are now drawing the attention of hackers on the internet. The majority of cybercriminals primarily pursue monetary goals. Against this backdrop, it is not surprising that banks, insurance companies, and institutions with critical infrastructure are also increasingly being targeted by hackers during the corona pandemic.
Viewed as a whole, the digital threat situation has worsened dramatically in 2020. Although security specialists in companies, government agencies, and other organizations have likely plugged some of the new vulnerabilities, there is still a long way to go until things calm down. 2020 has set a significantly high bar for cybersecurity. The coming year will seamlessly follow and present new challenges for securing digital processes. IT security is an ongoing optimization process that never ends.

Threats and security trends for 2021

  • Malicious domains related to the corona pandemic are used for the targeted dissemination of disinformation and malware.
  • Digital extortion by means of ransomware and RDoS (Ransom Denial of Service) attacks will continue to grow. Direct monetization makes these methods of attack particularly lucrative.
  • Fake news and propaganda on social networks and other platforms to digitally influence the 2021 German federal election.
  • Increase in volumetric multi-vector and reflection attacks that multiply the power of DDoS attacks via highly amplifying reflectors (DNS services or protocols such as NTP, TFTP, and Memcached).
  • Botnet attacks using credential stuffing and credential cracking enable cybercriminals to hijack poorly secured logins. Password security and multi-factor authentication have still not been adopted by the wider public.
  • Phishing and social engineering enable attackers to obtain valuable login credentials and other content for follow-up attacks. Away from secured corporate networks, employees working from home are particularly vulnerable to such attacks.
  • The exponential proliferation of networked devices in the IoT, new 5G networks, and industrial manufacturing (IIoT) provides more avenues of attack for malware and botnets.
  • Stricter regulations such as the IT Security Act 2.0 (IT-SiG 2.0), the 6th revised version of MaRisk, and DORA impose strict requirements on IT security, data protection, and compliance.

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