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COVID-19 related email threats pose huge risk in 2020

COVID-19 related threats were the single largest type of threat in the first half of 2020, according to Trend Micro, the cybersecurity solutions company.

According to the company’s annual mid-year roundup report, Trend Micro blocked 8.8 million COVID-19 related threats, nearly 92% of which were email-based.

Of the threats detected, more than 37,700 cases were detected from Hong Kong, of which more than 25,000 were email-based threats.

Trend Micro found email samples that claimed to provide the latest news and updates on the virus but instead delivered malware to its recipients.

Cybercriminals shifted their focus from January through June to take advantage of global interest in the pandemic, Trend Micro states.

The risk to businesses was compounded by security gaps created by a completely remote workforce. In total, Trend Micro blocked 27.8 billion cyber threats in the first half of 2020, 93% of which were email-borne.

Business Email Compromise (BEC) detections increased by 19% from the second half of 2019, in part due to scammers trying to capitalise on home workers being more exposed to social engineering.

Among all the threats in the first half of the year, ransomware was a constant factor. Although the number of detected ransomware threats decreased, Trend Micro saw a 45% increase in new ransomware families compared to the same time last year.

Global organisations have also been burdened by a significant spike in newly disclosed vulnerabilities, the company states.

Trend Micro's Zero Day Initiative (ZDI) published a total of 786 advisories, representing a 74% increase from the second half of 2019.

Some of these came as part of Microsoft Patch Tuesday updates, which have fixed an average of 103 CVEs per month so far in 2020 - including the largest number of patches ever issued in a single month (129) in June.

Trend Micro also observed a 16% increase in vulnerabilities disclosed in industrial control systems (ICS), compared to the first half of 2019, which could create major challenges for smart factory owners and other organisations running IIoT environments.

Trend Micro consulting manager Hong Kong and Macau, Tony Lee, says, "The pandemic has dominated all of our lives during the first half of 2020, but it's not slowing down the cybercriminals.

"IT leaders must continue to adapt their cybersecurity strategies to account for increased threats to their new normal. That means protecting remote endpoints, cloud systems, user credentials and VPN systems, as well as refreshing training courses to turn that newly dispersed workforce into a more effective first line of defense."

To effectively protect dispersed corporate networks, Gartner recommends businesses "refine security monitoring capabilities to reflect an operating environment where network traffic patterns, data and system access vectors have changed due to increased remote and mobile operations.”

Trend Micro XDR helps customers do this by correlating security events across the entire IT environment, the company states.