Will ransomware steal your holiday cheer? This year, it could, if you’re unprepared for the surge in ransomware attacks that agencies like the FBI foresee during the end-of-year holiday season.
Indeed, not only does the frequency of ransomware attacks in general continue to climb, but as the FBI warned in summer 2021, threat actors have begun exhibiting a pattern of exploiting holidays to launch attacks.
Here’s what this pattern means for businesses as we approach the 2021 holiday season, and what you can do to keep the ransomware attackers at bay.
Why ransomware protection is critical during the holidays
You don’t need to be a cybersecurity expert to understand why threat actors love holidays. Holiday seasons create something of a perfect storm for launching attacks like ransomware.
On the one hand, holidays are often associated with an increase in financial activity for many businesses, which tend to run sales and see higher rates of customer engagement -- especially during the major end-of-year holidays. By disrupting business operations during this critical period of sales activity, ransomware attackers increase their chances of getting victims to pay ransoms.
At the same time, the fact that employees tend to be out of the office more frequently during holiday periods, creates openings for threat actors. Workers who are barraged with more than their normal volume of phone calls or emails, because colleagues are taking holiday vacations, may not be as vigilant as they otherwise would when checking for phishing attempts. At the same time, IT security staff may not be as responsive during the holidays, to help get ahead of attacks. It’s therefore no coincidence that phishing attacks tend to explode in frequency during the final months of the year.
And this year, we can expect conditions to be especially ripe for cyberattacks, given the general increase in Internet traffic and online shopping that has resulted from the pandemic. The holiday shopping season has begun earlier and earlier in recent years, shifting from late November into early November, and now possibly into October. This also increases cybersecurity risks by extending the window of opportunity that threat actors can exploit.
If holiday ransomware threats are killing your holiday cheer just as the season gets underway, don’t worry. We have a special offer at the end of this article to help your business stay clear of ransomware attacks this holiday season.
Holiday ransomware in real life
The increased cybersecurity risks that businesses face during holiday periods are not just theoretical. The past year has already included several major ransomware incidents associated with holidays:
- Mother’s Day 2021: In May 2021, Mother’s Day weekend in the United States was marred by disruptions to fuel supplies as a result of a major attack against the Colonial petroleum pipeline. The breach, which caused a week-long suspension of operations, resulted from a DarkSide ransomware attack.
- Memorial Day weekend: Later that same month, the U.S. Memorial Day weekend witnessed another critical infrastructure attack. This time, threat actors used Sodinokibi/REvil ransomware to disrupt the operations of a major meat supplier, causing a complete production shortage that affected both the United States and Australia.
- Fourth of July: Ransomware attackers were back at it in July 2021 for the American Fourth of July weekend, which saw another Sodinokibi/REvil ransomware attack. This time, threat actors executed a supply chain attack against software vendor Kaseya, allowing them to breach the infrastructure of hundreds of other organizations that used Kaseya’s platform.
This string of attacks has prompted outlets like Wired to observe that, “ransomware hackers love a holiday weekend.” The FBI and the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) put it in more sobering terms, noting that, “cyber actors have conducted increasingly impactful attacks against U.S. entities on or around holiday weekends.”
And if ransomware attackers love holiday weekends, there’s every reason to believe that they’ll love the extended end-of-year 2021 holiday season even more. Sales events like Black Friday, combined with weeks-long vacations from the office, mean that threat actors can double down on the vulnerabilities they were able to exploit during shorter holidays this past summer.
Protect yourself from ransomware this holiday season
If worries about ransomware protection this holiday season have you choking on your eggnog, the good news is that there are effective protections you can implement to defend yourself against ransomware. By deploying tools that can preemptively block ransomware hiding within your business’s IT infrastructure or applications, you can keep the attackers at bay, and keep your business humming smoothly into 2022 and beyond.
To help businesses implement these protections, Minerva Labs is offering a special endpoint security solution that gives businesses of all sizes ransomware protection against all threats, even if they lack in-house IT teams or security experts. Contact us to learn more or to request a free two-week trial.