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2021 the year cyber criminals got creative - Proofpoint

By Shannon Williams
Wed 8 Jun 2022

Proofpoint has unveiled its annual Human Factor report, which provides a comprehensive examination of the three main facets of user risk - vulnerability, attacks, and privilege - and how threat actors continue their ceaseless creativity as they exploit the many opportunities presented by people.  

The Human Factor 2022 report dives deep into user risk, drawing on data and insight from a years worth of research, covering threats detected, mitigated, and resolved across one of the largest datasets in cybersecurity. 

"One constant that remains as organisations approach a sense of normalcy after a disruptive year is that cyber criminals continue to target and exploit people," says Ryan Kalember, EVP of cybersecurity strategy, Proofpoint.

"Last year attackers demonstrated just how unscrupulous they really are, making protecting people from cyber threats an ongoing - and often eye-opening - challenge for organisations," he says.

The report draws from a multitrillion-datapoint graph, one of the largest data sets in cybersecurity. Every day, Proofpoint analyses more than 2.6 billion email messages, 49 billion URLs, 1.9 billion attachments, 28.2 million cloud accounts, 1.7 billion mobile messages and more. This report analyses data collected throughout 2021 and sheds light on the nature of todays cyber threats, while offering actionable insight on how to protect employees against them. 

Key findings highlighted in Proofpoints 2022 Human Factor report include: 

Cyber criminals recognise that our smartphone contains the keys to both our personal and professional lives. Smishing attempts more than doubled in the US over the year, while in the UK over 50% of lures were themed around delivery notification. In addition, cyber criminals initiated more than 100,000 telephone-oriented attacks a day. 

High-privilege users are disproportionately targeted. Managers and executives make up only 10% of overall users within organisations, but almost 50% of the most severe attack risk. 

Over 80% of businesses are attacked by a compromised supplier account each month. Security awareness training focusing on supply chain threats is business critical for organisations.   

Microsoft OneDrive and Google Drive are the most common legitimate cloud infrastructure platforms used by threat actors. Last year, 35% of cloud tenants that received a suspicious log-in also experienced suspicious file activity after the breach, revealing that privilege-based risk widens as enterprises move to the cloud. On average, approximately 10% of organisations were found to have at least one authorised active malicious application in their environment. 

The hand-in-glove relationship between malware groups and ransomware operators continue. More than 20 million messages attempted to deliver malware linked to an eventual ransomware attack between January 1 to December 31, 2021. 

Attackers piggyback on pop culture. Threat actors used popular figures such as Justin Bieber and The Weeknd, and Netflix series Squid Game in their lures in 2021. By October, cyber criminals were sending Squid Game-themed emails to victims in the U.S., promising early access to the next season, or even the opportunity to be cast in future episodes. 

Cyber criminals continue to capitalise on global conflicts. Earlier this year, threat actors and APT groups aligned with national interests responded to Russias invasion of Ukraine. We saw destructive wiper malware deployed against Ukrainian organisations and key communications infrastructure, in addition to activity from Belarus- and China-aligned actors, specifically targeting European governmental organisations involved in asylum and other relief efforts. 

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