The year 2020 undeniably stands out from other recent years. It was hugely affected by the coronavirus pandemic that turned the whole world upside down, affecting also the cyberspace. The need to limit direct contact, remote work and learning have led to the transfer of a large part of our everyday life into the virtual world, which caused one of the largest digitization that could be observed in recent years. It has become very convenient for us, as numerous matters can be handled without leaving our home. Thanks to which we avoid long queues or unnecessary paperwork, but this change also has its other side. 

Such a huge amount of personal data entered into systems is vulnerable to leakage or theft. Despite the use of various security measures, cybercriminals always manage to stay one step ahead of us. We already know that hackers will be even more sophisticated this year, so let’s see what 2020 looked like and how cybercriminals benefited from the covid-19 pandemic.

Coronavirus – the biggest threat to cybersecurity

Criminals quickly picked the ideal strategy to take advantage of the pandemic and the confused people: phishing, internet frauds and spreading fake news. Already at the beginning of the pandemic, in May 2020 the number of coronavirus-related cyber attacks increased from just a few hundred to over five thousand a day.  FBI reports say that cyber crimes have increased by 300%.

Healthcare organizations and banks are the target of 30% of all cyber attacks. In both sectors, hacker attacks are increasing by 240%. This is particularly problematic due to the significant functions performed by both institutions. For example, the Czech Republic reported a cyber attack on the Brno University Hospital. In order to stop the attack employees were forced to shut down the entire IT network, postpone urgent surgical interventions and redirect seriously ill patients to other nearby hospitals. Let’s also take into account how important personal data being stored in both of these institutions is. Leakage or theft of such confidential information could end in a tragedy for the victims.

In the medium and small business sector, more than half of the companies say they have experienced more phishing attacks, the main reason behind the increased attacks was the remote work of employees. There were almost three times more attacks than in 2019. Although there has been a large increase in phishing attacks worldwide over the last years, the numbers have never grown so rapidly. 

It cannot be denied that it is small and medium-sized businesses that suffer the most from protracted lockdowns. Many countries have introduced financial support for companies that could not operate under the same conditions as before the pandemic, to help the national economy and entrepreneurs. Also, here the cybercriminals found a way to prosper. In the United States alone, there have been one hundred thousand reports of identity theft from people whose business or personal information was used by fraudsters to seize governmental funding or loans.

With the growing number of attacks, so did their costs grow. In 2020, the global cost of cybercrime has reached over $2 trillion. In the United States alone, it was $945 billion, which is $146 billion more than in 2019. 

A threat to everyone

It was not only businesses that were targeted by hackers, but also ordinary people.

According to the Federal Trade Commission, one in five people has lost money as a result of cybercrime and the losses are estimated at $3.3 billion. The biggest losses have been recorded by online investments and online shopping frauds, totaling over $600 million.

The most commonly reported fraud method was through telephone calls, and they are responsible for the largest financial loss, almost half a million dollars. The second most common fraud is via websites and mobile applications.

In many cases the chosen age group by Internet fraudsters are elderly people, for whom the latest technologies are challenging. It was no different last year, with those over 60 being one of the most attacked age groups. Seniors were also the most affected group, they lost the most money as a result of fraud, a total of around $300 million. The second most frequently chosen age group were people between 30 and 40 years old.

There were 500 000 more fraud reports in 2020 than in 2019. In the previous years the increases amounted to 200 000. 

 Identity thefts were the most frequently reported crime, followed by money extortion, and then  phishing attacks or theft of confidential data. The number of reported identity thefts was 1.4 million, twice as many as the year before. This is due to the global decline in employment. After governments of many countries extended unemployment benefits to people who lost their jobs as a result of the pandemic, cybercriminals massively applied for benefits using stolen (or forged) personal data. Taking advantage of the confusion and fear of the virus spreading, the fraudsters in the EU choose a similar tactic. By impersonating medical personnel that is supplying information material, hygiene products or testing for coronavirus, fraudsters gained access to confidential data and private homes of people who purchased their ‘services’. In this case not only the virtual safety is at risk but also the one in real life. 

Human traffickers and smugglers also benefited from increased identity thefts. Organized crime groups have invested and are continuing to invest more in the production of forged documents to strengthen the burgeoning crime market linked to the pandemic and migration crisis. Technology has allowed criminals to expand their business to almost every place in the world. Currently, traffickers and smugglers intensively use social media, where they especially search for children and young people, their search for acceptance, attention or friendship on the Internet makes them an easy target.

Cybercrime statistics have been kept for many years. They include information such as which documents are most often forged, where  they come from or which countries are most often targeted. This allows to see patterns of criminal behavior, which can contribute to more effective fraud detection. In this regard, last year’s statistics do not differ much from other years:

  • Passports were the most frequently forged documents, followed by ID cards, credit cards and driving licenses.
  • Most common forged citizenship was: French, Portuguese, Nigerian and Spanish 
  • In Europe, the most frequently attacked countries were the Netherlands, Bulgaria, Belarus and Ukraine, the most secured were Ireland, the whole of Scandinavia, Belgium and Luxembourg. 
  • In terms of security, Canada, Australia and Europe dominate the world. The worst are Africa, India, Russia and some South American countries.
How to protect yourself

Regardless of the current situation in the world, we should always remember about our safety, also in cyberspace, when working, learning from home or shopping online, we should always be vigilant. 

Europol offers advice on how to make our homes into a cyber stronghold.

How to secure our devices and accounts:

  • Install antivirus software on all devices connected to the internet
  • Choose strong and different passwords for your email and social media accounts
  • Review the privacy settings of your social media accounts

How to avoid phishing attacks: 

  • Don’t open links and attachments in unsolicited emails and text messages
  • Don’t reply to suspicious messages or calls 
  • Don’t share your bank card details or personal financial information

How to keep children safe online:

  • Use parental controls to safeguard your child’s online activity
  • Talk to your child about cyber safety. Listen to their online experiences and explain to them the importance of being just as safe online as offline

Europol also emphasizes to follow trusted sources for up-to-date factual information. If someone becomes a victim of cybercrime, they should always report it to the national police.

Entrepreneurs have one more task to fulfill, apart from taking care of their personal safety, they also have to ensure the safe functioning of the company on the Internet. Cybercrime statistics targeting enterprises should be a warning sign to implement appropriate countermeasures. It is best to protect yourself against cheaters by not letting them come to you. For this purpose, it is worth reaching for the professional services of companies that deal with cyberspace protection on a daily basis. Fully-Verified provides accurate identity verification in line with the latest KYC standards. Identity verification ensures the true identity of the verified person, supports the process of introducing new customers, reduces its costs and protects against fraudsters.

Image source: (1), Fully-Verified (2,3) – all figures are approximate

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Fully-Verified was created as answer to its founders collectively losing over $150 000 to various types of fraud in their eCommerce businesses.