‘Tis the Season… for Cyberattacks! 5 reasons why cyberattacks increase during the holidays and how to protect yourself and your business

By Jeff Baker, Chief Information Officer & SVP-Operations of Socium Solutions, LLC.

‘Tis the season… for cyberattacks! 

You could say the official marker for the start of the holiday season is when you hear the sweet sounds of bells followed by Mariah Carey singing she doesn’t want a lot for Christmas, except for you (of course). But, regardless of when you deem it to be the official start of the festive season, be assured that this is truly the most wonderful time of the year for cybercriminals. And yes, we have facts to back that up.

Cybereason’s 2021 research titled Organizations at Risk: Ransomware Attackers Don’t Take Holidays focuses on the threat that ransomware attacks during the weekends and holidays pose to organizations as we move into the holiday season. The global survey includes responses from 1,200+ security professionals at organizations that have previously suffered a successful ransomware attack.

Here are 5 reasons why cyberattacks increase during the holidays and what you can do to protect yourself and your business:

Increased Online Shopping and Buying: According to The Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), “the shopping season is a prime opportunity for bad actors to take advantage of unsuspecting shoppers through fake websites, malicious links, and even fake charities.“ Darktrace, a Cambridge-based global leader in cybersecurity Artificial Intelligence, reported that its security researchers discovered a 30% increase in the average number of attempted attacks globally over the holiday season in every consecutive year from 2018 to 2020. 

What you can do:

  • Make sure to install antivirus software or an added VPN for added security, especially when using wi-fi in public spaces.
  • Only shop through trusted sources with reputable and established vendors. 
  • Avoid clicking on links or downloading attachments from unknown sources and never provide passwords or bank information to unauthorized sources. 
  • Use safe methods for purchasing online, such as using credit cards instead of debit cards and checking bank or card statements for any fraudulent activity. 

No contingency plan in place: Cybereason revealed that 36% believe the attack their organizations experienced was successful because there was no contingency plan in place and only a limited number of staff to respond. The reality is that many organizations, businesses, and individuals lack a contingency plan year-round — much less during the holidays. 

What you can do:

  • Make sure you learn more about monitoring your accounts, software, and applications to identify potential threats. 
  • Implement tools and monitoring that can automatically detect unusual behavior and run security checks. If you are working with a team, you can also provide them with a guide to follow and stay safe. For example, remind your team to watch out for suspicious emails or links that can breach security.  
  • Practice your plan BEFORE you need to activate it! Many companies that do have a contingency plan, put it on the shelf and don’t review or practice until they are in an event, which then is, of course, too late. 

Job Satisfaction and Burnout: Cybereason found that 86% of respondents indicated they have missed a holiday or weekend activity because of a ransomware attack. This simple fact tied with the rush of the impending new year, vacation, and final projects, emotions start getting the best of us and can result in end-of-year burnout or finding themselves dissatisfied with their jobs, therefore, lacking interest and motivation. Which, in turn, allows for attacks and opportunities for threats. 

What you can do:

  • Humanly speaking, it may be best to let your employees know you care and that cybersecurity will be a number one priority going forward, and not just when an attack happens.
  • While it may be too late to implement a new cybersecurity plan this month, do make sure employees add two-factor protection/authentication, alert them to various phishing emails, especially ones that seem to come from bosses, and managers during this time without asking first.
  • Alert employees to “black hat hackers” that operate on a human level – acting as recruiters promising new jobs, taking meetings with people outside of the organization who are collecting information on you and the business.

Job Vacancies: Similarly, the holiday season is the time where many employees are out of the office or out of town, so there are many devices and accounts left unattended. With fewer staff, suspicious behavior is less likely to be detected. 

What you can do:

  • Make sure to implement the usage of strong passwords and added security measures, such as an added quality VPN to prevent malicious activity while being away. 
  • Hire additional seasonal 24/7 monitoring services of freelance security experts for the holiday season to monitor online activity to avoid having to call your employees when an attack does happen.
  • In addition to strong passwords, implementing MFA should be part of your plans. Once implemented, if employees did not attempt to log in, they can simply choose to ‘ignore’ the MFA request helping prevent a potential adversary from accessing their account.
  • Organizations should consider their out-of-office auto-response policy. If an adversary is phishing for valid email addresses within a business, auto-replies are a mechanism that allows them to quickly validate a legitimate email to target. 

Black Hat or Human Hacking: One form of hacking least thought of is that of “Black Hat hacker” or “human hacker.” Peter Warmka, Author of “Confessions of a CIA Spy: The Art of Human Hacking” says these hackers are actual people who pose as everyday good guys who use their capabilities to damage your organization. Posing as job recruiters, he says is a common way for them to connect on a personal level to a possible unsatisfied employee for instance, to uncover inside information on your business, current security systems and security failings to be able to later infiltrate your organization. He says, human hackers have a 100% success rate.

What you can do:

  • Overall make your employees a priority all year, but especially at the end of year and be vigilant to burnout and dissatisfied employees by adding extra security so avoid pulling them away from their time off.
  • Make sure to introduce the concept of human hacking and examples of red flags and who and when to report. 
  • Hire a security expert to come in to review potential threats with real-life examples to help employees understand that it goes beyond clicking on a link.

Stay Vigilant and Happy Holidays!

Jeff Baker is the Chief Information Officer & SVP-Operations of Socium Solutions, LLC. Founded in 2018, Socium Solutions is a minority and woman-owned security-focused Managed Security Service Provider (MSSP) built to address the organizational challenges in today’s dynamic business climate.



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