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Massive increase in cyber threats since global pandemic - report

By Ryan Morris-Reade, Fri 12 Nov 2021

New research has found a major increase in cyber threats since the start of the global COVID-19 pandemic.

McAfee Enterprise and FireEye have released the Cybercrime in a Pandemic World: The Impact of COVID-19 report, revealing the imminent need for organisations to prioritise and strengthen their cybersecurity architecture. 

The findings indicated that over half (57%) of UK organisations experienced increased cyber threats during the pandemic, and 80% of organisations who experienced downtime did so during peak season. 

As the holiday season approaches, supply chain and logistics, and e-commerce and retail industries are among those to see predictable increases in consumer and business activity - making them more vulnerable to cyber threats and leaving businesses, employees and consumers data at risk. 

"It is imperative that all businesses of scale evaluate and prioritise security technology to keep them protected, especially during peak seasons like the holidays," says Bryan Palma, chief executive of the newly combined company. 

"Traditional approaches are no longer enough - 94% want their organisation to improve its overall cyber readiness - and businesses need an integrated security architecture and an always-on approach to prevent, protect and react to the threats of today."

In addition to increased consumer spending, the holiday season sees a significant impact on industries coping with increased consumer demands. Some 80% of organisations in the UK are anticipating a moderate to substantial increase in demand during the 2021 holiday season. 

"From cars and petrol to toys and tech, to a limited workforce and lack of services to deliver goods, the "everything shortage" is real. This creates an urgency for organisations to have actionable security plans and to contain and respond to threats effectively," the report says.

While many organisations are anticipating an impact on security this holiday season, 75% struggle to maintain a fully staffed security team during the festive period, and a further 73% are expecting at least half of the workforce to be working remotely, heightening the organisation's vulnerability to cyber threats and increasing the need for substantial security measures to be in place.

According to Adobe's 2021 Digital Economy Index, global online spending is expected to increase by 11% in 2021 during the holiday season. However, with store closures and increases in online shopping, along with concerns over product availability from Christmas gifts to seasonal food and worries about shipping, this industry is faced with more threats than before. 

According to the McAfee Enterprise COVID-19 dashboard, the global retail industry accounts for 5.2% of the total detected cyber threats. Such threats include compromised payment credentials and cloud storage, as well as other forms of retail fraud and theft.

"While the current climate paints a bleak picture, this should serve as a reminder to businesses that there's never been a more important time to ensure their security architecture is robust enough to contain and respond to any emerging threats," says McAfee, EMEA vice president, Fabien Rech.

"As we enter into peak holiday season and the goods and services industries face logistical and supply challenges during a time of high demand, organisations need to strengthen their infrastructure and ramp up their security efforts, making it more challenging for cybercriminals to breakthrough".

While IT professionals know cyber threats have intensified, the findings show that organisations have not effectively prioritised security in the past 18 months since the onset of Covid-19:

  • 57% saw an increase in online/web activity.
  • More than 4 in 5 (81%) have experienced increased cyber threats since the pandemic.
  • A quarter (24%) have had their technology and security budgets reduced.
  • 43% have suffered from downtime due to a cyber concern, costing some over $100,000.

"Key challenges impacting businesses globally create the perfect catalyst for cybercriminals to capitalise," says Palma. "To protect their bottom-line during holiday spikes in activity now is the time for enterprises and commercial businesses to ensure they're outfitted with the cybersecurity architecture needed to address the most aggressive and innovative threat."

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