What Is the Real Reasoning Behind the Uptick in Cyber Attacks During COVID-19?

By Devin Partida, Editor-in-Chief, ReHack.com

The COVID-19 pandemic isn’t the only plague that’s been threatening people in 2020. As the infection rates grew, so did the number of cyberattacks that people and businesses encountered. It’s evident there’s a connection between these cyberattacks and COVID-19, but what is it?

Many people simplify the issue to one of greed. People are more vulnerable during the pandemic, so cybercriminals have capitalized on that to turn a profit. Cybercrime rates against medical institutions, like the 500% increase in cybercrime the WHO noted, seem to support this.

Greed certainly plays a part in the uptick in cybercrime but isn’t the only issue at hand. To say that cyberattacks are increasing to take advantage of vulnerable people is an oversimplification. This trend is the result of a combination of factors creating a perfect opportunity for cybercriminals.

The World Has Moved Online

In many ways, changes in crime have echoed the changes in daily life as a whole. In general, crime rates are falling, with emergency calls dropping by as much as 25% in some areas. While total crime is down, cybercrime is skyrocketing, with large-scale breaches increasing 273% in Q1 of 2020.

If it were a matter of greed alone, then physical crime would increase as well. Instead, cybercrime has replaced more traditional criminal actions as daily life shifts to the online sphere. Much of life, from school to socialization to work, takes place online now, so crime has followed.

This shift toward digitization was likely inevitable, but because of COVID-19, it occurred almost overnight. The move online was not gradual, so the rise in cybercrime wasn’t either. Mass migration to the digital world was bound to happen over the next few years, meaning cybercrime was bound to replace traditional crime on a notable scale — and COVID accelerated this trend.

A Higher Chance of Success

Events and trends throughout the pandemic gave cybercriminals some unique opportunities that offered a heightened chance of success. As stimulus checks rolled out, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) issued a warning about an increased risk of fraud. Since people were already expecting to hear about financial updates, IRS-related schemes would be more convincing.

Similarly, as the government released Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans, cybercriminals targeted small businesses by impersonating government officials. The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) stopped more than $42 million in potential fraud, and cybercriminals likely stole millions more. Companies may have spotted these scams in other contexts, but since they were expecting changes, they didn’t catch on to the fraud.

Government relief programs weren’t the only areas where cyberattacks and COVID-19 collided. As employees expected more workflow changes or unusual emails, phishing tactics became less noticeable. In today’s digital landscape, cybercriminals don’t always have more to gain, but they do have a higher chance of succeeding.

A Changing Digital Landscape

People aren’t just using the internet more, but they are using it differently amid COVID-19. Similarly, not all types of cybercrime grew proportionately, with some methods becoming more popular as digital trends changed. The world’s overall digital landscape is shifting, and this has created new opportunities for cyberattacks.

Cloud-based attacks have increased 630% between January and April as companies rushed to adopt cloud technologies. Today more than ever, people are using the internet to collaborate, and these online collaborations have caught the eye of cybercriminals. These attacks don’t always target the most vulnerable, but typically the most profitable subjects.

Though individual users are arguably easier targets, 72% of data breaches this year targeted larger companies. The average ransomware payment also rose by 33%, indicating that cybercriminals are going after corporations more than individuals now. As the internet becomes more of a place for business, it becomes a more prominent target for crime.

Stay Safe From All Threats Amid COVID-19

Cyberattacks and COVID-19 have combined to make 2020 a threatening year for individuals and organizations alike. As the pandemic causes new disruptions and changes in daily life, crime adapts to fit the new normal. These two plagues aren’t spreading independently from one another, but are closely linked.

To stay safe from all the dangers of COVID-19, people need to consider their cybersecurity. Cyberattacks and COVID-19 may not immediately seem like related issues, but the pandemic has made the world ripe for cybercrime. As the world’s online behavior continues to shift, cybercrime will likely continue to evolve with it.

Devin Partida is an industrial tech writer and the Editor-in-Chief of ReHack.com, a digital magazine for all things technology, big data, cryptocurrency and more. To read more from Devin, please check out the site.

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