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270 million malware attacks occurred between January and March

While many parts of the economy are slowing down, hacking isn’t

We’ve seen an unprecedented change in the world economy as the coronavirus pandemic has gripped the planet. Business has slowed to a trickle, and spending on shopping has started to shrink as people become more cautious about how they live their lives. One thing that hasn’t slowed down, however, is hacking across the globe.

According to Atlas VPN, 270 million incidents occurred in the first quarter of 2020. The data was gathered from three major cybersecurity firms: WatchGuard, Quick Heal, and Seqrite. While the data does show that the number of detections of malware dropped during March (when 67 million incidents were recorded) compared to January (when 87 million incidents were tracked), the volume is still significant.

Those who fell victim to the malware were predominately ordinary home users, who had been forced to adapt to working from home when employers began sending their employees away from offices. Lax security procedures and a lack of good equipment provided a potential goldmine for disreputable hackers to take advantage.

Attacks likely to continue rising

“It is safe to assume that threat actors became more active in the first quarter of 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic,” explains Rachel Welch, chief operating officer of Atlas VPN. “Many people started working from home, which created opportunities for hackers to infect unsecured networks. We can expect similar or even higher numbers in the second quarter of 2020.”

A similar increase in numbers – or sustained quantities of attacks – could prove problematic for users who are still struggling to adapt to working from home. The malware discovered on desktop computers in the first three months of 2020 showed just how significant the damage caused can be.

The most commonly discovered type of malware was an infector malware, which was encountered at one in 10 malware incidents recorded by the company. Coming in second in terms of seriousness was worm malware, which was seen more than 25 million times throughout the first three months of the year. 

What the worst malware does

The infector virus piggybacks on an executable payload and then propagates throughout a server or a computer, spreading across other programs or networks that use the same software that was first infected. As for worm malware, it “spreads copies of itself to other computers without the help of users or other programs,” according to Atlas VPN. “A computer worm can damage users in the form of stolen data, overloading a shared network, or even taking control of a computer.”

Tackling the scourge of malware is becoming something individuals, as well as companies, have to consider more carefully as the likelihood of attack increases. More home networks and computers are prone to falling victim to this kind of attack. They often lack the defenses that official work networks would have.

Defending yourself against the threat

Atlas VPN also analyzed data that showed how the malware was discovered – and repeated some home truths that we’ve known for decades. A network scan by anti-virus software, which monitors all the traffic being sent across a network to a computer, managed to catch 37% of all the malware recorded in the first three months – more than 100 million malicious programs in all.

Real-time virus scans caught a further 59 million malware incidents – or 22% of the total. And a web security scan, which monitors threats on websites, often through built-in browser extensions, caught a further 40 million – or 15% - of the attacks. The message then, is clear: make sure you’re aware of the risks from these kinds of attacks. And more importantly, have anti-virus tools that can catch criminal behavior.

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