Staying Home? McAfee Report Shows Malware May Come Knocking

By on Jul 21, 2020

It’s no secret that COVID-19 continues to reshape the way we live our everyday lives. With each passing day, we become more reliant on our devices to stay connected with friends and family, move our professional work forward, participate in distance learning, or keep ourselves entertained.

Unfortunately, hackers are all too aware of these habits. In fact, findings from “McAfee’s COVID-19 Threat Report: July 2020” have shown how criminals pair threats to whatever is present in consumers’ lives – specifically targeting pandemic-related industries, device habits, behaviors, and more with new malware strains.

A Day in the Life of Today’s Consumer

The day in the life of today’s consumer involves a lot of internet time.

Back in March, users first transitioned from in-office to work from home to promote social distancing. As a result, they conduct their 9-to-5 from their personal living space. But with such a rushed transition, some of these workers aren’t trained on how the change impacts their online security and could be potentially working on unsecured Wi-Fi.

Working professionals aren’t the only ones who have had to adapt to a new remote environment. Students have also made the transition to distance learning, moving from in-person course work to virtual classrooms. But as more students continue their curriculum from home and online activity increases, they become more reliant on digital platforms, such as video conferencing, that have now caught the eye of hackers.

When these professionals or students are done for the day, they then turn to some safe ways to unwind. To keep entertained, users have turned to online gaming, shopping, podcasts, social media, and TV streaming for fun – with the latter experiencing a 12% increase in viewing time in the third week of March alone.

More Online Activity, More Opportunities for Cyberattacks

As it turns out, this increase in online activity has given hackers plenty of new avenues to exploit, almost all of which are pandemic-related. First and foremost, hackers have targeted attacks at those that feel the impacts of COVID-19 most directly, AKA the public sector. As McAfee research discovered, incidents have increased during Q1 2020 within the public sector by 73%, individuals by 59%, education by 33%, and manufacturing by 44%.

Additionally, McAfee Labs saw an average of 375 new threats per minute and a surge of cybercriminal exploits through COVID-19 themed malicious apps, phishing campaigns, malware, and more during the first quarter of this year. Specifically, McAfee researchers discovered campaigns using pandemic-related subject lines – including testing, treatments, cures, and remote work topics. Criminals are using this sneaky tactic to lure targets into clicking on a malicious link, downloading a file, or viewing a PDF, resulting in the user’s device becoming infected with malware.

The Rise of Malware

Speaking of malware – according to the latest McAfee COVID-19 Threat Report, total malware increased by 27% over the past four quarters and new Mac OS malware samples increased by 51%. New mobile malware also increased by a whopping 71%, with total mobile malware increasing almost 12% over the past four quarters. As for IoT devices, new malware samples increased by nearly 58%, with total IoT malware growing 82% over the past few quarters.

Mask Your Digital Life

During this time of uncertainty, it can be difficult to decipher what is fact from fiction, to successfully identify a malicious scheme and stop it in its tracks. However, consumers can help protect their digital lives by following security best practices, now and in the future. Here’s what you can do to safeguard your security and remain worry-free:

Stay updated on the latest threats

To track malicious pandemic-related campaigns, McAfee Advanced Programs Group (APG) has published a COVID-19 Threat Dashboard, which includes top threats leveraging the pandemic, most targeted verticals and countries, and most utilized threat types and volume over time. The dashboard is updated daily at 4pm ET.

Beware of messages from unknown users

If you receive a text, email, social media message, or phone call from an unknown user regarding the pandemic, it’s best to proceed with caution and avoid interacting with the message altogether.

Use a VPN

Avoid hackers infiltrating your network by using a VPN, which allows you to send and receive data while encrypting – or scrambling – your information so others can’t read it. By helping to protect your network, VPNs also prevent hackers from accessing other devices (work or personal) connected to your Wi-Fi.

Use a comprehensive security solution

Use a robust security software like McAfee® Total Protection, which helps to defend your entire family from the latest threats and malware while providing safe web browsing.

Stay updated

To stay updated on all things McAfee and on top of the latest consumer and mobile security threats, follow @McAfee_Home on Twitter, listen to our podcast Hackable?, and ‘Like’ us on Facebook.

About the Author

Pravat Lall

Pravat Lall currently serves as VP of the Consumer Cloud Segment at McAfee. He is a seasoned product & technology leader with two decades of experience building products & solutions for Enterprise and Consumer markets. Pravat is passionate about engaging with the customer and accelerating innovation to solve real-world problems in cybersecurity. When not working, ...

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