Acronis has released the findings of its Mid-Year Cyberthreats Report, From Innovation to Risk: Managing the Implications of AI-driven Cyberattacks. The comprehensive study, based on data captured from more than one million global endpoints, provides insight into the evolving cybersecurity landscape and uncovers the growing utilisation of generative artificial intelligence (AI) systems, such as ChatGPT, by cybercriminals to craft malicious content and execute sophisticated attacks.
The biannual threat report, which also covered regions of interest in the Middle East, highlights ransomware as the dominant risk to small and medium-sized businesses. And while the number of new ransomware variants continues to decline, ransomware attacks’ severity remains significant. Equally concerning is the growing prominence of data stealers, who leverage stolen credentials to gain unauthorised access to sensitive information.
“The volume of threats in 2023 has surged relative to last year, a sign that criminals are scaling and enhancing how they compromise systems and execute attacks,” said Candid Wüest, Acronis VP of Research. “To address the dynamic threat landscape, organisations need agile, comprehensive, unified security solutions that provide the necessary visibility to understand attacks, simplify context, and provide efficient remediation of any threat, whether it may be malware, system vulnerability, and everything in between.”
Heightened attacks in MENA region
According to the report, phishing is the primary method criminals use to unearth login credentials. In the first half of 2023 alone, the number of email-based phishing attacks has surged 464% when compared to 2022. Over the same frame, there has also been a 24% increase in attacks per organisation.
In the first half of 2023, Acronis-monitored endpoints observed a 15% increase in the number of files and URLs per scanned email. Cybercriminals have also tapped into the burgeoning large language model (LLM)-based AI market, using platforms to create, automate, scale, and improve new attacks through active learning.
Regionally, the number of Malware detections in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) and Kuwait as of May 2023 had experienced an infection rate of 11% each and a global ranking of 25 and 27 respectively. The United Arab Emirates (UAE) reported a 10% infection rate over the same period, ranking globally at position 31.
Regarding blocked URLs, Kuwait topped the region at 30%, ranking at position 2 globally while Egypt and KSA ranked at positions 7 and 14, having registered 15% and 14%, respectively. On its part, the UAE had the least number of blocked URLs, registering only 8% and ranking at position 30 globally.
The cyberattack landscape is evolving
Cybercriminals are becoming more sophisticated in their attacks, using AI and existing ransomware code to drill deeper into victims’ systems and extract sensitive information. AI-created malware is adept at avoiding detection in traditional antivirus models and public ransomware cases have exploded relative to last year. Acronis-monitored endpoints are picking up valuable data about how these cybercriminals operate and recognises how some attacks have become more intelligent, sophisticated, and difficult to detect.
Drawing from extensive research and analysis, key findings from the report include:
- Acronis blocked almost 50 million URLs at the endpoint in Q1 2023, a 15% increase over Q4 2022.
- There were 809 publicly mentioned ransomware cases in Q1 2023, with a 62% spike in March over the monthly average of 270 cases.
- In Q1 2023, 30.3% of all received emails were spam and 1.3% contained malware or phishing links.
- Each malware sample lives an average of 2.1 days in the wild before it disappears. 73% of samples were only seen once.
- Public AI models are proving an unwitting accomplice for criminals looking for source code vulnerabilities, creating attacks and developing fraud prevention-thwarting attacks like deep fakes.
Breaches demonstrate major security concerns
Traditional cybersecurity methods and lack of action let attackers in, the report shares:
- There is a lack of strong security solutions in place that can detect zero-day vulnerability exploitations.
- Organisations often fail to update vulnerable software in a timely manner, long after a fix becomes available.
- Linux servers face inadequate protection against the cybercriminals who are increasingly going after them.
- Not all organisations follow proper data backup protocol, including the 3-2-1 rule.
With these trends in mind, Acronis emphasises the need for proactive cyber protection measures. A sound cybersecurity posture requires a multi-layered solution that combines anti-malware, EDR, DLP, email security, vulnerability assessment, patch management, RMM, and backup capabilities. Leveraging an advanced solution that combines AI, machine learning, and behavioral analysis can help mitigate the risks posed by ransomware and data stealers. Through ongoing research, development, and collaboration with industry partners, Acronis is committed to empowering individuals and businesses by providing innovative solutions which protect against emerging cyberthreats.