Cyber arms race flare up in Europe amid geopolitical unrest

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Ransomware volume saw a geographically-driven shift as geopolitical strife impacts cybercriminal activity, SonicWall said in its mid-year update to its 2022 Cyber Threat report.

The update reveals that there was an 11% increase in global malware, a 77% spike in IoT malware, and a 132% rise in encrypted threats.

“In the cyber arms race, cybersecurity and geopolitics have always been inseparably linked, and in the last six months we have seen that play out across the cyber landscape,” said SonicWall president and CEO Bill Conner. 

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“The cyber warfare battlefront has shifted, as our data indicates a 63% rise in ransomware in Europe and a concerted effort to target financial sector companies, while ransomware volume dropped in other regions,” said Conner.

He added that with major increases in encrypted threats, IoT malware, cryptojacking and new unknown variants, it’s critical that cybersecurity leaders have all the required tools and technology to proactively detect and remediate against increasingly sophisticated and targeted threats to their business.

After a record-breaking 2021, overall ransomware attacks have trended down in the first half of 2022, decreasing globally for the fourth consecutive quarter. Government sanctions, supply chain deficiencies, dropping cryptocurrency prices and limited availability of needed infrastructure are all making it more difficult for cybercriminals.

“As bad actors diversify their tactics, and look to expand their attack vectors, we expect global ransomware volume to climb — not only in the next six months, but in the years to come,” said Conner. “With so much turmoil in the geopolitical landscape, cybercrime is increasingly becoming more sophisticated and varying in the threats, tools, targets and locations.”

While global ransomware dipped to start the year, Europe saw significant increases in malware attacks (+29% year-over-year) and ransomware attempts (+63%). 

In terms of volume, seven of the top 11 countries targeted by ransomware were in Europe (United Kingdom, Italy, Germany, Netherlands, Norway, Poland and Ukraine), suggesting a cyber threat climate shift for the region.

Similar to shifting ransomware numbers, malware volume was level or dropped in typical hot spots like the United States (-1%), United Kingdom (-9%) and Germany (-13%), while rising collectively in Europe (+29%) and Asia (+32%).

The financial sector combatted a 100% increase in malware attacks, a 243% hike in ransomware attempts and a staggering 269% in cryptojacking attempts.

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