McAfee: COVID-19 Cyber-Attacks Continue to Escalate
McAfee sees COVID-19-themed cyber-attack detections increase by 240% in Q3 and 114% in Q4 2020
The latest McAfee Threats Report: April 2021 examines cybercriminal activity related to malware and the evolution of cyber threats in the final two quarters of 2020. In Q4, McAfee Labs observed an average of 648 threats per minute, an increase of 60 threats per minute (10%) over Q3.
Both quarters also saw COVID-19-related cyber-attack detections increase by 240% in Q3 and 114% in Q4, while Powershell threats rose again by 208% due to continued increases in Donoff malware activity.
Raj Samani, McAfee fellow and Chief Scientist, said, “The world—and enterprises—adjusted amidst pandemic restrictions and sustained remote work challenges, while security threats continued to evolve in complexity and increase in volume. Though a large percentage of employees grew more proficient and productive in working remotely, enterprises endured more opportunistic COVID-19 related campaigns among a new cast of bad-actor schemes.”
He added that ransomware and malware targeting vulnerabilities in work-related apps and processes were active and remain dangerous threats capable of taking over networks and data, and has costed millions in assets and recovery costs.
Each quarter, McAfee assesses the state of the cyber threat landscape based on in-depth research, investigative analysis, and threat data gathered by the McAfee Global Threat Intelligence cloud from over a billion sensors across multiple threat vectors around the world. The introduction of MVISION Insights in 2020 has made it possible for the company to track the prevalence of campaigns, their associated IoCs, and determine the in-field detections. This month’s report is the first to feature statistics such as the top MITRE ATT&CK techniques observed in Q4 among criminal and APT groups, while sharing observations on the SUNBURST malware that rocked the cybersecurity world at the end of 2020.
As the pandemic began to surge around the world, McAfee saw a 605% increase in Q2 2020. These attacks again increased by 240% in Q3 and 114% in Q4.
In Q3 2020, McAfee Labs observed an average of 588 threats per minute, an increase of 169 threats per minute (40%). By the fourth quarter, this average rose to 648 threats per minute, an increase of 60 threats per minute (10%).
- Powershell threats grew 208% in Q4 driven largely by Donoff malware. McAfee observed numerous Powershell attacks utilizing Process Injection to insert code into legitimate running processes as a privilege escalation technique.
- Mobile malwaregrew 118% in Q4 in part due to a surge in SMS Reg samples. The HiddenAds, Clicker, MoqHao, HiddenApp, Dropper and FakeApp strains were the most detected mobile malware families.
- Ransomware grew in volume 69% from Q3 to Q4 driven by Cryptodefense. REvil, Thanos, Ryuk, RansomeXX and Maze groups topped the overall list of ransomware families.
- MacOS malwareexploded in Q3 420% due to EvilQuest ransomware but then slowed towards the end of the year.
The top MITRE ATT&CK techniques observed by McAfee in Q3 and Q4 included System Information Discovery, Obfuscated Files or Information, File and Directory Discovery, Data Encryption for Impact, Stop Services, Process Injection, Process Discovery, Masquerading Techniques, and Exploits of Public Facing Applications.
- System Information Discovery was one of the more notable MITRE techniques in the campaigns McAfee observed in Q4 2020. The malware in these campaigns contained functionality that gathered the OS version, hardware configuration and hostname from a victim’s machine and communicated back to the threat actor.
- Obfuscated Files or Information was the second most observed technique for Q4. One noteworthy example was threat actor group APT28’s use of virtual hard drive (VHD) files to package and obfuscate their malicious payloads to bypass security technology.
- Process Injection. McAfee observed this privilege escalation technique among several malware families and threat groups, including Powershell threats, RAT tools such as Remcos, ransomware groups such as REvil, and multiple state-sponsored APT groups.
- Exploits of Public Facing Applications. The fourth quarter saw an uptick in the use of this technique as multiple reports from CISA, NSA warned that industry that state sponsored threat actors are actively leveraging several vulnerabilities in public facing applications such as remote management and VPN software. Beyond sophisticated nation-state actors, McAfee also observed ransomware groups leveraging this initial access tactic.