Top Cybersecurity Threats Around the Globe

November 17, 2021
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4 min read

Cybersecurity threats, risks and challenges vary a lot from one region to the next and one nation to the next. Targets vary based on local resources to exploit. Cyber criminals and nation-state attackers zero in on specific nations, companies and organizations for varying incentives. 

Of course, the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated cybersecurity threats. Attackers might launch remote work-enabled attacks or social engineering attacks using COVID-19 fears as the content. The pandemic caused supply chain and economic woes, too. 

Here are the top cybersecurity issues in each corner of the globe today. 

Africa

Several African countries have very well-developed mobile digital currency systems with millions of users, such as M-Pesa and MFS Africa. People use these for salaries, groceries and transportation in some countries, especially in Kenya. Gangs attack these systems hoping to steal money from customers. While most global vulnerability assessments worry most about data protection, these mobile digital currency systems worry about money protection. 

The urban coastal regions of Africa also face risk from ransomware attempts on ports. Ports in South Africa, for example, saw shutdowns in the wake of a major cyber attack on one of the ports. 

Regional and international tensions in East Africa and elsewhere engender cyber-spying cybersecurity threats, most recently using Pegasus spyware. As of the end of 2020, some 11 African national governments found Pegasus spyware. They presumed it to be part of spy work from both within the region and from abroad. 

Cybersecurity Threats in the Americas

Latin America faces the double whammy of high use of the internet and high rates of attacks across the board, but low coordination between governments and industry. There is also low public awareness about cyber crime due to a lack of government programs to educate the public. 

The news is led by cybersecurity topics related to the pandemic, which has ushered in wave after wave of scams, ransomware attacks and data breach phishing attacks. Many of these use COVID-related social engineering content. One major strain is fear-mongering COVID-related phishing scams. These aim to collect the information the criminals need to commit insurance and identity fraud. Emails offer stimulus money, access to vaccines and other benefits in exchange for personal information or downloading malware. 

The most heavily targeted countries in Latin America are those with the largest economies: Brazil, Mexico, Colombia and Argentina. 

Mexico has been hit recently by very large-scale malware attacks against oil giant Pemex as well as the Ministry of Economy. 

In Latin America and the Caribbean, state-sponsored attacks tend to spike in advance of international treaties, economic summits and other such events. The EVILNUGGET malware has been deployed for this purpose, mostly against transportation companies and facilities affected by China’s Belt and Road initiative. 

The United States is targeted for all kinds of cybersecurity threats, especially very large-scale state-sponsored attacks like the Solar Winds attack. These are long-term and very sophisticated. Attackers could have a wide range of goals, from political and industrial espionage to influencing operations. 

Asia

Geopolitical tensions in the region drive state-sponsored influence operations, cyber espionage and targeted financial crimes. Phishing attacks remain a common entry point for many cyberattacks across Asia. 

Tensions between countries drive a large number of cyber threats from both nation-state and non-governmental actors in all countries involved. Look at China and India, China and Taiwan, India and Pakistan, North Korea and South Korea and, of course, tensions between the U.S. and China, North Korea and Russia.

Also, much of the world’s electronics supply chain infrastructure is in Asia. So, the global trend of supply chain attack and disruption is acute in the region. Electronics exporters, like Vietnam and Malaysia, depend on buyers and manufacturers in China, and vice versa. Plus, the world depends on goods made in China. Disrupting any part of this supply chain slows deliveries, raises prices and applies pressure to all concerned. 

Many of these connections involve cooperation and partnership in public and rivalry in private. Rivalries play out through cyberattacks and espionage.

North Korea deserves special mention, as that country has a robust state-sponsored cyberattack apparatus. On the other hand, the country has almost no targets for foreign adversaries to hit back due to the lack of development and internet connectivity there. 

Russia and Turkey

Turkey and Russia straddle both Europe and Asia. Many global cybersecurity threats, both state-sponsored and criminal, start from Russia in particular. In the past year, according to a report from Microsoft, nearly 60% of the world’s observed state-sponsored attacks started with the Russian government, and one-third of the world’s successful cyberattacks from non-state actors started there, too. The new wave of ransomware-as-a-service attacks is mostly a Russian trend. A disproportionate share of information operations and election-related disinformation campaigns start in Russia as well. 

Cybersecurity Threats in Europe

European hospitals have been affected by dangerous ransomware attacks in Ireland, France and elsewhere in a big way. The two French hospitals attacked within a week — these coming after hospitals in seven French cities were hit in 2020 — by attackers using the crypto-virus Ryuk dialed up the stress factor. After all, both were battling COVID-19 and were at high capacity. The attack on Ireland earlier this year hit the Health Service Executive, which disrupted health care nationwide and forced health care workers to resort to using paper records. 

Overall, the number of serious cyberattacks roughly doubled from 2020 to 2021, according to the European Union Agency for Cybersecurity. Triple extortion ransomware attacks are very much on the rise. The cost of a data breach is exploding in that region. 

The Middle East

The Middle East region has more than its fair share of state-sponsored cybersecurity threats. These aim to disrupt rivals, cause economic hardship and sometimes even cause internal political frictions. An attack in Iran recently, for example, caused major disruptions to consumer gasoline sales. In apparent response, people breached gasoline signs criticizing the government for the gasoline lines. 

Any vulnerability analysis in the Middle East has to take regional conflict into account. 

Many of the types and methods of cyberattacks around the world are similar, with malware and ransomware topping the list. At the same time, the attackers’ goals vary widely. The one thing all of these attacks have in common: they appear all over the globe.

Mike Elgan

I write a popular weekly column for Computerworld, contribute news analysis pieces for Fast Company, and also write special features, columns and think piece...
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