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121 million ransomware attacks recorded in the first half of 2020

Hackers said to be getting "sneakier" as they turn to fewer attacks that spread far more quickly

Ransomware cases around the world increased by 20% in the first half of 2020, according to a report.

Researchers from SonicWall Capture Labs recorded 121.2 million attacks up to July 2020, with 79.9 million of these in the US and 5.9 million in the UK.

The increased has partly been blamed on the sudden surge of employees working remotely, placing many outside company firewalls. Coronavirus-based phishing is said to have been the biggest fact, which has grown in usage since the start of the lockdown, peaking in April.

Overall, Malware attacks actually declined by 24% compared to 2019, dropping from 4.8 billion cases to 3.2 billion. However, the report suggests that although numbers are down, hackers have been "sneaky" by launching fewer attacks that are designed to spread at a faster rate. South Korea and China suffered the brunt of these attacks, with the UK and US just outside of the top ten, according to the report.

"Cyber criminals can be resourceful, often setting traps to take advantage of people's kindness during a natural disaster, panic throughout a crisis and trust in systems used in everyday life," said SonicWall CEO Bill Conner.

"This latest cyber threat data shows that cyber criminals continue to morph their tactics to sway the odds in their favour during uncertain times. With everyone more remote and mobile than ever before, businesses are highly exposed and the cyber criminal industry is very aware of that. It's imperative that organisations move away from makeshift or traditional security strategies and realise this new business normal is no longer new."

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The report also suggested that the number of cases involving malicious Microsoft Office files have exploded, increasing 176% in 2020, some 70,184 incidents in total, including a new Excel malware variant.

While SonicWall research suggested overall malware attacks were down, specific attacks on content management systems (CMS) were up 60%, according to WP Manager, a WordPress management service, which recently discovered a leap in requests for malware removal and uncovered a surge in attempted hacking of CMS.

"It's actually shocking to note how instances of malware have increased this year," said Jason Correia, managing director of WP Manager. "For clients not on one of our site care plans, we have noticed a nearly 60% increase in the number of malware removal requests received this year – so far – which is a huge jump on 2019 figures.  Generally, we have also noticed a 30% increase in the number of brute force attempts too (attempts to hack into the website)."

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Correia suggests the increase is likely due to the general growth and adoption of WordPress as a CMS, but does point to other factors. He cites the sheer number of WordPress plugins available for download as a potential vector, which offer more opportunities than ever for hackers to target and exploit vulnerabilities.

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