Marilyn Wilkinson, November 2023

Why The Holidays Are Prime Time for Ransomware Attacks

Are you looking forward to unwinding and enjoying quality time with your family this holiday season? While you’re planning your festivities, it’s important to remember that hackers are looking forward to the holidays, too—but probably not for the same reasons you are. 

Research shows that ransomware attacks increase by 30% during the holiday season. In November and December, the number of attempted ransomware attacks is typically 70% higher than in January and February.  

Last December, this trend was brought to light by a series of high-profile attacks on the Guardian, Twitter, California’s Department of Finance, and even SickKids hospital.

These incidents aren’t mere coincidences. They’re part of a disturbing pattern that has led organizations like the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) to issue warnings reminding businesses to be vigilant.

As you prepare to celebrate, let’s explore how you can protect your organization. 

Why Do Ransomware Attacks Spike During the Holiday Season?

What is it about the holiday season that makes it so appealing to cybercriminals? There are a few reasons:

  • People Are Distracted

In the midst of the end-of-year celebrations, even the most vigilant workplaces can be tempted to drop their guard. Employees, preoccupied with holiday plans and festive activities, are less attentive to potential cyber threats. This shift in focus creates an ideal opportunity for cybercriminals to execute their malicious plans.

  • IT Departments Are Understaffed

During the holidays, the IT skills shortage hits harder, leaving IT departments severely understaffed. It’s common for businesses to run with less than half their usual staff (44% according to a study). In sectors like Finance, Healthcare, Manufacturing, and IT, staffing can drop below 10%. This critical shortfall during the festive season offers cybercriminals the perfect opportunity to strike.

  • Businesses Are Busy 

The holiday season sees a significant increase in online shopping and financial transactions, making it a lucrative period for cybercriminals. The volume of activity provides ample opportunities for them to intercept sensitive data and financial information.

Companies are also busier than usual, making it easier for hackers to mask their activities.

  • Criminals Prey on Seasonal Goodwill

The holiday season’s spirit of giving is often exploited by cybercriminals through phishing campaigns and fraudulent charity appeals. These scams play on people’s willingness to help, increasing the likelihood of successful security breaches.

  • Hackers Have More Leverage

Many businesses rely on the holiday shopping rush to reach their end of year financial goals. As a result, hackers believe that companies are more willing to pay a ransom to avoid disrupting operations during this key time. 

Ransomware Attacks Are More Devastating During The Holidays

Ransomware attacks that take place during the holidays typically catch companies off guard, with less staff and resources available, resulting in longer investigation periods and large monetary damages. 

A global cybersecurity study confirmed that attacks on weekends and holidays lead to higher costs and revenue losses. In fact, more than one-third of IT professionals who experienced a ransomware attack on a weekend or holiday admitted their organizations lost more money as a result. 

Therefore, due to the increased risk over the holidays, cybersecurity is even more critical during this period. 

How to Protect Your Organization This Holiday Season

Here is how you can safeguard your organization and its business-critical data and systems:

  • Review and Ramp Up Your Ransomware Defence and Detection 

It’s essential to assess your ransomware protection to ensure your organization is sufficiently protected against potential threats. Businesses tend to overestimate their preparedness, relying on antivirus solutions and endpoint protection that leave systems vulnerable when faced with today’s sophisticated attacks. 

CryptoSpike from ProLion provides a last line of defense at the file storage level, going beyond traditional methods. With the ability to detect and block ransomware attacks in real-time and its granular restore function, CryptoSpike equips your systems with active protection against even the most advanced cyber threats. When attackers strike, you can easily detect the unusual activity, block the attack, and if the worst case scenario happens, restore the files you need.

  • Train Employees for Awareness and Response

Training employees to recognize and respond to cyber threats is important all year round, but it’s worth conducting a refresher at the start of the holiday season. Regular training on common methods and practices, like phishing, can significantly reduce the risk of a cyberattack being successful. 

  • Update Software Regularly and Manage Patches

Consistent software updates and patch management are critical in safeguarding your systems from vulnerabilities. Regular updates close potential security loopholes that cybercriminals often exploit. 

  • Adopt a Zero Trust Strategy

In today’s cybersecurity landscape, adopting a Zero Trust strategy is essential. This approach, based on the principle of trusting nothing and verifying everything, ensures that only authenticated and authorized users and devices have access to your network. 

  • Develop a Comprehensive Incident Response Plan

Preparing for the worst-case scenario is key. Ensure you have ransomware response plan in place that includes containment, communication, and recovery. Regularly updating and practicing this plan through drills will ensure that your team is equipped to respond effectively in the event of an attack.

  • Ensure Adequate Staffing and Pre-plan an Incident Response Team

It’s crucial to have sufficient staff on hand, especially during off-peak business hours. Statistics show that one-third (34%) of organizations hit by a ransomware attack during a weekend or holiday struggled to quickly assemble their incident response team. To avoid losing precious time, plan your incident response team in advance.

Keep Your Data Safe This Holiday Season

While you are reading this right now, cybercriminals are planning to capitalize on the upcoming holiday season. To ensure you don’t get caught out, learn more about ransomware protection or talk to our team about your security needs. Happy holidays!