'Malware-cocktail' cyber attacks double in one year, shocking report warns

Computer hackers are targeting victims with 'virus cocktails': Shutterstock

Computer virus “cocktails” used by hackers to wreak havoc and cause networks to seize up more than doubled last year, according to new research.

A study by networks security firm SonicWall found the different malware “recipes” used by cybercriminals increased by more than 100 per cent — from 1,419 types detected in 2016 to 2,855 last year.

Although the number of ransomware incidents dropped to 184 million last year from 638 million in 2016, there were many more varieties and their make-up was more complex, the report said. It comes after one ransomware attack — the WannaCry worm — targeted NHS computer systems last May, locking up out-of-date and vulnerable Windows PCs.

Hackers demanded ransoms in bitcoin to decrypt the computers.

SonicWall’s report also collated last year’s data breach figures. They show the vast leaks, which included those affecting Uber and Equifax, meant more personal information than ever before was dumped illegally online.

SonicWall chief executive Bill Conner described the attacks as a “cyber arms race affecting every government, business, organisation and individual”.

PCs and Apple Macs in Europe made up nearly 40 per cent of victims, and the most affected software included Microsoft Office and Adobe Flash. The number of more general malware attacks also increased to 9.3 billion incidents, up nearly 20 per cent on 2016.

Malware can find its way onto a user’s machine from phishing emails, infected file-sharing downloads, scam video links or fake Flash updates, such as the Bad Rabbit worm. These viruses can slow down a computer, install keyloggers to steal data or sneak in tools that harness a victim’s computing power to mine cryptocurrency.

The most recent security concerns involved Intel chips affected by the major Meltdown and Spectre flaws.

SonicWall’s data was gathered from sources including more than 200,000 daily malware samples and “honeypots” created by the company to lure hackers so their viruses can be collected and interrogated in a secure environment.

The report also warns that cybercriminals could target the increasing number of “smart” devices which are connected to the internet, from cars to household appliances such as refrigerators, thermostats and light bulbs.

Mr Conner said: “As the NHS witnessed last year, ransomware is a favourite tool for cybercriminals that will not be going away.”