AI-Savvy Hackers Threaten Businesses With 20% Ransomware Increase

AI-savvy hackers are increasing their ransomware attempts - here's how to remain vigilant.
ransomware increase
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Artificial intelligence is becoming more disruptive to the cybersecurity industry than ever. As ZDNet pointed out in an article “AI is changing everything about cybersecurity, for better and for worse. Here’s what you need to know”, AI has both positive and negative implications for the field.

How has artificial intelligence become a double-edged sword? While machine learning and other AI tools are used by cybersecurity experts, they are also used by hackers.

A recent report published by SonicWall Capture Labs reveals a startling look into the effects COVID-19 has on cybercrime. The 2020 SonicWall Cyber Threat Report noted a stark increase of ransomware, all during an unprecedented time for businesses using online tools to continue operations amidst the pandemic. They have started using AI to orchestrate more vicious attacks than ever, which makes them an even greater threat to their targets.

While more and more companies look to boost their current IT support services, cybercriminals have also taken the opportunity to “morph their tactics to sway the odds in their favor during uncertain times,” as reported by Bill Conner – President and CEO of SonicWall. They will use even more complex AI weapons to coordinate attacks in the future. With an uncertain future ahead, this revelation should be a red flag for any business that has yet to boost its defenses.

The Rise in AI-Driven Ransomware

While there is a noted decline in the presence of malware, the first few months of 2020 saw ransomware increase by nearly 20% worldwide. Corporations face a variety of threats from such a surge, and will require further examination of their current security measures to ensure no damage is dealt. Many of these applications relied on extensive AI capabilities.

The director of Sphere IT an IT support London based MSP – warns that the rise of malware with COVID-19 means “businesses must place extensive focus on their online security” to protect newly-converted remote workforces from cyberattacks.

Tricks, Lures, and Disguises

While employees start to operate entirely from home, companies have utilised online services such as Microsoft 365 and other IT support services more than ever before. As such, cybercriminals have used the opportunity to trick users with malware disguised as files easily mistaken as standard files from their applications. AI can indirectly assist hackers in these regards, because they can use it to mimic other people more effectively to carry out social engineering attacks.

SonicWall’s report regarding these attacks recorded an increase of 176%, with PDF and Microsoft Office file lures responsible for nearly 33% of malware attacks over the year. Many of these criminals prove to be efficient at their lawbreaking, as most of the newly recorded malware is just as sophisticated as the conventional online tools and services used by businesses.

Non-Standard Ports Bring Risk

Since the start of 2020, a reported 23% increase in cyberattacks has taken place over the use of non-standard ports. These ports are characterized by services that run on alternate ports, rather than a business’ default ports. Cybercriminals can use them to overcome conventional firewalls, and therefore steal more data from unsuspecting companies when compared to other tools. 

IT consultantshave long warned businesses to stay alert for specific programs that target their security, such as VBA Trojan Downloader, which allows assailants to download malware onto compromised devices.

Threats Invade Homes with IoT Devices

While employees transfer their operations into home offices due to the COVID-19 pandemic, they might also be unknowingly introducing new threats to the workforce. Internet of Things (IoT) devices are on the rise, as homeowners purchase in-house security cameras, gaming consoles, smart refrigerators, and more.

Remote work can make these devices a prime target for cybercriminals, as IT support firms find themselves overwhelmed by maintaining a number of devices beyond what they’re typically used to. As such, SonicWall discovered that IoT malware attacks were on a 50% increase throughout the year, as employees working from home connect their corporate devices to the same unsecured, riskier network as their IoT devices.

Email Scams Become Contagious Amongst Cybercriminals

While email tricks and lures have remained a staple throughout the internet’s development, COVID-19 has created the perfect storm for this method of cyberattacks. As more and more employees work from their own devices, SonicWall found a 7% rise in email scams during the start of 2020. However, these tricks have evolved, as many of them are now phishing attempts related to COVID-19.

AI is a Dangerous Weapon the Hands of Cybercriminals

AI has many wonderful benefits, but there is a dark side to it. Many hackers are using AI to carry out more terrifying cyberattacks. As businesses attempt to convert their operations into remote workforces, there are more opportunities than ever for cybercriminals to strike at moments of weakness. For organizations that wish to complete their digital transformations without losing vital data, the time to invest in professional business IT support is now.

Ryan Kade
Ryan Kade is the editor overseeing contributed content at Smartdata Collective and contributes weekly column.