The Six Nastiest Malware of 2021

Author: Kyle Machado, senior brand content writer, OpenText, owner of Webroot and Carbonite

Malware leaps from the darkness to envelop our lives in a cloak of stolen information, lost data and worse. But to know your enemy is to defeat your enemy. So we peered over the ledge leading to the dark web and leapt. The forces we sought are disruptors – without warning, they disturb our businesses and our connections to family and friends.

And darkness we found – from million-dollar ransoms to supply chain attacks, these malware variants were the six nastiest malware of 2021.

How malware disrupted our lives

These days, every major ransomware campaign runs a “double extortion” method, a scary prospect for small businesses. They steal and lock files away and they will absolutely leak data in the most damaging way if a ransom settlement is not reached.

Phishing continues to be key for these campaigns and it’s typically the first step in compromising a business for the nastiest malware.

This highlights the importance of user education – training users to avoid clicking these phishing lures or preventing them from enabling macros from these attachments are proven in stopping malware in its tracks.

While the list below may define payloads into different categories of malware, note that many of these bad actor groups contract work from others. This allows each group to specialize on their respective payload and perfect it.

This year’s wicked winners

1. Lemonduck

  • A persisting botnet with a cryptomining payload and more
  • Infects via emails, brute force, exploits and more
  • Removes competing malware, ensuring they’re the only infection

2. REvil

  • The Nastiest Ransomware of 2021 that made headlines with supply chain attacks
  • Many attempts to shutdown the REvil group have so far failed
  • Their ransomware as a service (RaaS) platform is on offer to other cybercriminals

3. Trickbot

  • Decade old banking and info-stealing Trojan and backdoor
  • Disables protections, spreads laterally and eventually leads to ransomware like Conti
  • Extremely resilient, surviving numerous attacks over the years

4. Dridex

  • Banking and info-stealing Trojan and backdoor
  • Spreads laterally and listens for domain credentials
  • Eventually leads to ransomware like Grief/BitPaymer/DoppelPaymer

5. Conti

  •  Longstanding ransomware group also known as Ryuk and likely linked to LockFile ransomware
  • TrickBot’s favorite ransomware
  • Will leak or auction off data if victims don’t pay the ransom

6. Cobalt Strike

  • White hat-designed pen testing tool that’s been corrupted and used for evil
  • Very powerful features like process injection, privilege escalation and credential harvesting
  • The customizability and scalability are just too GOOD not to be abused by BAD actors

Victimized by malware

The good news (I guess) is that last year’s average ransom payment peaked at $200,000 and today’s average is just below $150,000.

The bad news is that hackers are spreading the love and targeting businesses of all sizes. In fact, most victims are small businesses that end up paying around $50,000. Ransomware actors are getting better with their tactics, recruiting talent and providing a streamlined user experience.

The whole process is terrifyingly simple and for every one that gets shut down, two spring up to replace it. To top it off, supply chain attacks are becoming a massive issue.

How MSPs Can Protect Customers

The key to staying safe is a layered approach to cybersecurity backed up by a cyber resilience strategy. Here are tips from our experts.

Strategies for business continuity

  • Lock down Remote Desktop Protocols (RDP)
  • Educate end users
  • Install reputable cybersecurity software
  • Set up a strong backup and disaster recovery plan

Strategies for individuals

  • Develop a healthy dose of suspicion toward messages
  • Protect devices with antivirus and data with a VPN
  • Keep your antivirus software and other apps up to date
  • Use a secure cloud backup
  • Create strong, unique passwords (and don’t reuse them across accounts)
  • If a download asks to enable macros, DON’T DO IT

This guest blog is courtesy of Webroot and Carbonite, two OpenText companies and authored by Kyle Machado. Read more Webroot guest blogs here. Regularly contributed guest blogs such as this are part of ChannelE2E’s sponsorship program.

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