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Be Ready for Cyberattacks During the Winter Holiday Season

December 15, 2022
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Businesses Need to Prepare Now for Possible Holiday & Weekend Cyberattacks


‘Tis the season of celebrations. For most of us, it is a long-awaited chance to take our foot off the gas, unwind with friends and family, and eat our favorite meals. The holiday season also witnesses a drastic spike in online spending. Adobe Digital Economy predicts an 11% year-on-year increase in online spending globally that will hit $910 billion this season. The same report also indicates that in the U.S. alone, online holiday sales in November and December are expected to reach a record $207 billion. However, holiday time isn’t always a relaxing time for IT professionals as cybercrime rates skyrocket and threat actors come calling. 


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Cybercriminals want to give companies an unwelcome gift


With a significant increase in online spending, cybercriminals see the holiday season as the perfect opportunity to launch attacks, and ransomware is their favorite gift to give any organization. A new holiday ransomware study from Cybereason, “Organizations at Risk 2022: Ransomware Attackers Don’t Take Holidays”, dives into ransomware impacts on companies and employees throughout the winter holidays with data included for major industries and geographic regions. The FBI also issued a warning in November, advising all organizations, executives and workers to proactively protect themselves from ransomware and fraud during the holiday season. 

Holiday Phishing & Fraud Highlights

Source: AARP


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Ransomware threats take center stage 


When reviewing the top threats that companies SOCs handled through the holiday season three major cyberattacks stood out as the most problematic incidents for SOCs, although the prominence of those threats did vary by region. In about half of the countries surveyed, respondents said that ransomware is the most common holiday and weekend threat their SOC sees. It’s especially pernicious for U.S. companies, with more than half (66%) of IT pros in the U.S. indicating that is the threat their SOC handles the most during holiday periods. For organizations in the UK, their SOC is most likely to be looking at a supply chain attack (45%). Overall, an average of 49% of respondents indicated ransomware, 46% of respondents pointed to a supply chain attack and 31% said a targeted attack was the incident that their SOC was most likely to have to deal with during a weekend or holiday.    

The Top 3 Threats SOCs See on Holiday Weekends by Country 

   US   UK   Germany   France   UAE     Singapore     Italy     South Africa    
Ransomware    66%   45%   40%   41%   50%   45%   37%   44%  
Supply chain attack    47%   54%   30%   33%   48%   38%   51%   45%  
Targeted attack    34%   29%   25%   31%   27%   29%   33%   35%  

Source: Cybereason 


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Many factors lead to an increase in cyberattacks during holidays 


As both individuals and companies have their guards down during the holiday season, cyberattacks surge to a great extent. The IT skill shortage also hampers organizations’ ability to thwart cyberattacks. The problem worsens around the winter holidays, giving threat actors the perfect opportunity to execute their devious plans. According to the Cybereason survey, most companies run at less than half staff (44%) during holidays and weekends. Many companies drop to less than 10% staffing during those periods, including companies in four major verticals: Finance (36%), Healthcare (26%), Manufacturing (17%) and IT and Telecom (15%).   

Another prominent reason for the cyberattack surge is holiday shopping. Businesses go all out with the most attractive deals and offer to beat their competition and improve their brand value. Often, consumers are so engrossed in finding the best deal that they fall into cybercriminals’ traps. Also, as the online presence increases due to shopping and using mobile devices to stay connected, cybercriminals have more opportunities to launch attacks during the holiday season. Plus, employees add unanticipated risk for businesses as they shop from work devices


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Organizations have strained networks 


As most organizations are in overdrive during the holiday season, their networks are more strained due to increased traffic, and cybercriminals are aware of this vulnerability, and they won’t hesitate to take advantage of the opportunity it presents. Bad actors also know that many companies are unprepared to handle increased traffic on their networks, making it easier for them to penetrate the networks unnoticed and launch distributed denial of service (DDoS) and other cyberattacks. 

The chances of a successful attack also increase as companies can’t afford to hurt their brand image during the holiday season due to increased customer traction. In order to ensure undisrupted business operations, many companies may be inclined to accept perpetrators’ demands and pay up in the case of a ransomware attack. Due to holiday fervor, employees are more distracted, and in a rush to complete other tasks, it’s easy for them to abandon cyber hygiene or miss signs of cyberattacks. According to The Global Risks Report 2022 by the World Economic Forum, human errors lead to 95% of data breaches.  


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Take smart precautions to mitigate holiday & weekend risk 


Making sure that a company has an incident response plan ready is essential for ensuring that a company can quickly respond to threats and mitigate damage from a successful attack. These resources can help IT professionals learn more about the holiday season cybersecurity risk and digital fraud threats that businesses face.  

One major mitigation that companies can enact is security awareness training including phishing simulations. Many major holiday threats like ransomware are often email-based. Organizations should step up training for their employees in advance of dangerous periods to prevent them from falling into cybercriminals’ traps.  


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Put powerful cybersecurity solutions in place now


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