IoT and OT malware saw a huge rise in 2023

DDOS Attack code concept art
(Image credit: Shutterstock / DaLiu)

Malware attacks against Internet of Things (IoT) and Operational Technology (OT) devices have increased four-fold in a year as criminals demonstrate persistence and the ability to adapt to evolving conditions, new research has claimed.

The ZscalerTM ThreatLabz 2023 Enterprise IoT and OT Threat Report, based on an analysis of some 300,000 blocked attacks on IoT devices in a six-month period, shows just how relentless cyberspace threat actors are.

As per the report, the attackers are going mostly for legacy vulnerabilities. Out of the 39 most popular IoT exploits, 34 abused flaws that have existed in these devices for at least three years. In two-thirds of all attacks (66%), the threat actors would try to deploy Mirai and Gafgyt, popular malware families that assimilate vulnerable devices into a botnet which can later be used for distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks. 

Manufacturing and retail

Botnet-driven DDoS attacks cause “billions of dollars” in financial losses across industries, around the world, the report claims. Furthermore, by DDoSing OT devices, critical industrial processes can be disrupted, possibly even putting human lives at risk.

More than half of IoT device traffic comes from manufacturing and retail companies (52%), with 3D printers, geolocation trackers, industrial control devices, automotive multimedia systems, data collection terminals, and payment terminals sending the majority of signals over digital networks. 

At the same time, the manufacturing sector experiences 6,000 IoT malware attacks every week, on average. Another sector that can’t catch its breath due to a constant barrage of malware attacks is education. This is mostly because the education industry stores vast amounts of sensitive information that cybercriminals can leverage in different ways. IoT malware attacks in the education sector increased by nearly 1000%, the report claims.

Most infections for the year - 46% - happened in Mexico, followed by Brazil and Colombia (in no particular order). Almost all of the IoT malware (96%) is distributed from compromised IoT devices in the United States.

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Sead is a seasoned freelance journalist based in Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina. He writes about IT (cloud, IoT, 5G, VPN) and cybersecurity (ransomware, data breaches, laws and regulations). In his career, spanning more than a decade, he’s written for numerous media outlets, including Al Jazeera Balkans. He’s also held several modules on content writing for Represent Communications.