Bad actors are capitalizing on the convergence of COVID-19 and the US presidential election to strike hard, says a small study.

VMware’s sixth Global Incident Response Threat Report claims that the cybersecurity challenges of the current global pandemic are now colliding with the 2020 US presidential election.

This can be seen in the surge in cyberattacks that are increasingly sophisticated and destructive, with 82% of attacks now involving counter incident response (IR), and 55% involving island hopping, where an attacker infiltrates an organization’s network to launch attacks on others within the supply chain.

Data for the September report was based on an online survey of just 83 three incident response (IR) and cybersecurity professionals from around the world in September 2020.  

Key survey findings from IR and cybersecurity professionals include:

Incidents of counter IR were at an all-time high, occurring in 82% of IR engagements  
This suggests the prevalence of increasingly sophisticated, often nation-state attackers, who have the resources and cyber savvy skills to colonize victims’ networks. Destructive attacks, which are often the final stage of counter IR, have also surged, with respondents estimating victims experienced them 54% of the time.

55% of cyberattacks targeted the victim’s digital infrastructure for the purpose of island hopping
The pandemic has left organizations increasingly vulnerable to such attacks as their employees shift to remote work and less-secure home networks and devices.

Custom malware was used in 50% of attacks reported by respondents. This demonstrates the scale of the dark web
Now, malware and malware services can be purchased to empower traditional criminals, spies and terrorists, many of whom do not have the sophisticated resources to execute these attacks.

As we approach the presidential election, cybersecurity remains a top concern and nation-state attackers pose a significant threat 
Drawing upon their security expertise, and in line with recent advisories from the US’s Cybersecurity & Infrastructure Security Agency–73% of respondents believed there will be foreign influences on the 2020 US presidential election, and 60% believed it will be influenced by a cyberattack

Said Tom Kellermann, Head of Cybersecurity Strategy, VMware Carbon Black: “The disruption caused by COVID-19 has created a massive opportunity for criminals to restructure their businesses. The rapid shift to a remote-working world combined with the power and scale of the dark web has fueled the expansion of e-crime groups. And now ahead of the election, we are at cybersecurity tipping point, cybercriminals have become dramatically more sophisticated and punitive focused on destructive attacks.”