An average of 648 online threats per minute took place worldwide in the fourth quarter of last year,  up 10.2% on the previous three months, according to research by security company McAfee Labs.

The rise was driven in part by attacks related to Covid-19, which were up 114% quarter-on-quarter.

California-based McAfee commented: “As organisations the world over adapted to unprecedented numbers of employees working from home, cybercriminals worked feverishly to launch Covid-19- themed attacks on a workforce coping with pandemic restrictions and the potential vulnerabilities of remote device and bandwidth security.”

Among other findings in the McAfee Threats Report were that Powershell attacks, fileless malware inserted into Microsoft’s PowerShell system, went up 208% in Q4, driven largely by Donoff malware.

The company said it observed numerous Powershell attacks utilising Process Injection to insert code into legitimate running processes as a privilege escalation technique.

Attacks through mobile malware grew 118% in Q4, ransomware by 69% in Q4 and on the MacOS by 420% in Q3 due to EvilQuest ransomware, but slowed towards the end of the year, McAfee reported.

McAfee’s EMEA president Adam Philpott added the report’s findings highlighted the importance of IT teams being aware of the wide variety of threats which could target their organisation.

“By effectively using technology to prioritise threats, predict the types of campaigns that will be launched against them and pre-emptively improve their defensive countermeasures, organisations can rest assured that they’re doing everything they can to protect their business,” he added.

McAfee noted a doubling in publicly reported cyber incidents targeting the technology sector during Q4, with reported incidents in the public sector up 93% quarter-on-quarter. 

Malware was the main cause of security incidents in Q4, followed by account hijackings, targeted attacks and exploiting vulnerabilities.

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