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The  2022 Annual Threat Monitor Report from NCC Group highlights a 5 percent decrease in ransomware attacks between January – December 2022.

Although there were slightly less attacks than 2021, there was a notable surge in ransomware attacks between February and April, coinciding with the start of the Russia-Ukraine conflict when prominent threat actor LockBit ramped up activity.

Analysis from across 2022 continues to highlight ransomware operators as effective innovators willing to find any opportunity and technique to extort money from their victims with data leaks and DDoS being added to their arsenal to mask more sophisticated attacks.

Compiled by NCC Group’s Global Threat Intelligence team, the report details the events of 2022 and their impact on the cyber threat landscape, providing an overview of incidents across all sectors and highlighting global trends.

The insights are based on incidents identified by NCC Group’s global managed detection and response service (MDR) and its global cyber incident response team (CIRT).

North America and Europe suffered the most ransomware attacks in 2022.

North America saw 44 percent of all incidents, a 24 percent decrease on 2021’s figures. Europe experienced 35 percent of all incidents, an 11 percent increase in attack numbers, compared to 2021. This was potentially influenced by surges in activity associated with the Russia-Ukraine conflict in the first half of the year.

Rise in DDoS and BEC attacks

The term 'ransomware’ originally referred to a type of software that encrypts data for the purposes of extortion. Then came double extortion which covered ransomware and then a subsequent leaking of sensitive data on a ‘leak site’– also known as ‘pay-now-or-get-breached’. Now prolific ransomware operators such as Lockbit 3.0 are using DDoS attacks to add even more pressure to a victim organization – known as triple extortion.

NCC Group observed 230,519 DDoS events across 2022 with 45 percent targeted at the United States, 27 percent of which occurred in January.

This early surge in DDoS attacks and botnet-led breaches reflects greater turbulence within the wider cyber threat landscape, in part influenced by the Russia-Ukraine conflict. DDoS continues to be weaponized by both criminal and hacktivist groups as part of the conflict, alongside disinformation campaigns and destructive malware, to cripple critical national infrastructure in Ukraine and beyond.

Often garnering less attention than their ransomware counterparts business email compromise (BEC) attacks are clearly a growing threat organizations must pay attention to, and represented 33 percent of all incidents observed by NCC Group’s Cyber Incident Response Team (CIRT).

Matt Hull, NCC Group’s Global Head of Threat Intelligence, commented:

“2022 was another year that kept us on our toes. The threat landscape has been heavily influenced by the conflict between Russia and Ukraine, with a whole arsenal of offensive cyber capabilities, from DDoS to malware, deployed by criminals, hacktivists, and even other nations. Though perhaps not the ‘cybergeddon’ that some expected from the next big global conflict, we are seeing state-sponsored attacks ramp up with cyber warfare proving to be critical in this hybrid cyber-physical battlefield.

“Despite this slight dip in ransomware attacks, this does not mean we collectively declare ‘job done’. Indeed, this decline in attack volume and value is probably in part due to an increasingly hardline, collaborative response from governments and law enforcement, and of course the global impact of the war in Ukraine. As a result, we have witnessed several coordinated operations in 2022 that saw arrests of key members of prolific cyber-criminal operatives, as well as the disbanding of long established groups. Least of all Conti, which was 2021’s most active group.

“Looking ahead to 2023, we expect bad actors to focus their attention on compromising supply chains, bypassing multi factor authentication (MFA) and taking advantage of misconfigured APIs. The threat will persist and organizations must remain vigilant, understand how they could be exposed and take steps to mitigate any risk.”

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