2021: The Year of the Vaccine and Novel Cybersecurity Hazards

2021 will be the year when the cybersecurity and healthcare sectors combine efforts.


Atlanta, United States; Bengaluru, Karnataka & Mumbai, Maharashtra, India: Undoubtedly, COVID-19 was the dominant theme of 2020. As news of the pandemic made the headlines throughout the tumultuous year, novel norms such as social distancing made work-from-home an absolute necessity. The pandemic has launched the health sector to the frontline of cybersecurity in the last year and in 2021 the threats are likely to evolve and continue.

With individuals already coping with an array of unprecedented changes, cybercriminals took advantage of the surmounting panic. They launched sophisticated scams and phishing attacks on enterprise infrastructure, individual computing systems, and healthcare and research institutions. In March 2020, as India went into a nation-wide lockdown, there was a 667% rise in the use of COVID-19-related phishing attacks by threat actors since the end of February.

Recently in its new global report titled “The Hidden Costs of Cybercrime,” the cybersecurity firm McAfee reported its observations on the global losses from cybercrime amounting to $1 trillion, marking over a 50% increase from $600 billion in 2018. The firm also notes that the annual cost of cybercrime in 2020 will be more than 1% of the global gross domestic product (GDP).

The Covid-19 pandemic has had a massive impact on the cyberthreat landscape in 2020. About 80% of firms have witnessed an increase in cyberattacks, with multiple startups in India suffering data breaches. With 2020 being a testament to individual consumers and businesses adjusting to the new normal, cyberattacks continue to escalate. So far, the financial services sector has remained a strong target for cyberattacks, with the healthcare sector not far behind. According to the Official Cybercrime Report published annually by Cybersecurity Ventures, cybercrime is projected to cost the world $6 trillion annually by 2021, up from $3 trillion in 2015.

“In this day and age, cybercrime is lucrative because everything is digital. From the adoption of smart devices to e-commerce, businesses are interconnected, leading to inconspicuous gaps in the defense armor. Prioritizing security is a must in 2021, and it’s time that businesses develop a cohesive cybersecurity plan.” says Mandar Patil, VP of Business Development and Customer Success at Cyble.

As evidenced from recent happenings, threat actors have turned their attention to the vaccine cold chain. Ransomware attacks targeting healthcare institutions and the COVID-19 vaccine cold chain are on the rise. The sharp rise in pandemic-related cyber frauds is proof that in 2021, ransomware is also expected to evolve into targeted ransomware.

According to Beenu Arora, Founder and CEO at Cyble, “2020 will always be remembered as the year in which cybersecurity incidents transformed the society in numerous ways. Researchers worldwide have also gone to the extent of summarizing the year as the origin of the ‘cyber-pandemic’. Cyble’s research has indicated that organized cybercrime has been putting the cyber defenses of healthcare organizations to the test, with corporate espionage attempts for stealing the Covid-19 vaccine research data descending from all directions. In 2021, it’s no surprise that malicious actors will continue to target healthcare providers because huge repositories of medical data records are best-sellers on the Dark Web.”

Technology is advancing in leaps and bounds and helping us stay connected, besides fostering global communications and trade. However, threat actors are quick to adapt to new technologies and upgrade the means at their disposal. We advise people to remain vigilant and cautious about what they see online. With cybercrime expected to grow in volume and sophistication in 2021, it is crucial to verify the authenticity of online content before trusting news, tweets, mobile applications, and sales offers as they can very well be manipulated for criminal purposes. To survive and succeed in the post-COVID-19 era, security services and technology providers must rethink their strategies and upgrade their offerings to accommodate a transformed threat landscape.