15 Biggest Cybersecurity Attacks in 2021

Updated: 23 November 2021
Updated: 23 November 2021

Miklos Zoltan

Fact-checked by

Today, cybersecurity attacks have become more vulnerable and uncontrollable than before. Among them, major ransomware attacks like JBS Foods, Colonial Pipeline have become headlines in 2021.

Ransomware means malicious software designed to encrypt files on a computer, so they can prevent someone from using their own computers.

If the user needs to access their system again, they have to pay a ransom in exchange for decryption to hackers or cyber-criminals. These cyber-criminals also threaten to leak or sell authentication information or data if the user is unable to pay the ransom.

These cyber-criminals misuse security weaknesses of systems and hold the data of healthcare organizations, governments, and companies across the world and they sometimes demand millions of dollars in payment.

According to the 2021 Cyber Threat Report by SonicWall, there is a 62% increase in Ransomware since 2019. This amount is still set to rise further as cybersecurity attacks are becoming more complex and difficult to detect.

On top of all, cybersecurity attacks are even becoming more dangerous than ever before.

Related guide: Biggest ransomware attacks in 2021

Biggest Cyberattacks in 2021

Let’s explore 10 major cybersecurity attacks in 2021:

Colonial Pipeline

In May, the Colonial Pipeline, the largest fuel pipeline in the US, suffered a cyberattack that disrupted fuel supplies all along the East Coast of the United States (in 12 US states) for several days.

The cyberattack had attacked the system that managed the pipeline originating from Houston, Texas. It caused panic and chaos as millions queued for fuel.

Colonial Pipeline Company shut down its entire operations to prevent further damage. The company paid $4.4 million in bitcoin to hackers, with the FBI’s help.

A month after payment, the FBI recovered much of the ransom payment using a private key by monitoring digital wallets and cryptocurrency movement. However, finding the cyber-criminals behind this attack would prove a lot harder.

Acer

Also in May this year, Taiwanese computer hardware giant Acer suffered a Ransomware attack by the REvil hacker group, the same hackers who attacked London foreign exchange firm Travelex in 2020. The hackers demanded a ransom of USD 50 million from Acer.

The media revealed that REvil hackers had accessed Acer’s network using a vulnerability in a Microsoft Exchange server that had earlier hacked 30,000 US commercial and governmental emails.

hey also leaked the images of some of the stolen files including images of bank balances, bank communications, and financial spreadsheets. Acer never confirmed whether they actually made the ransom payment demanded by hackers.

JBS Foods

Another major attack that took place this May was on JBS Foods, one of the largest companies for meat processing in the world. REvil, the same Russia-based hacking group is thought to be behind this ransom attack.

This attack resulted in the temporary closure of operations in Canada, Australia, and the US. However, this attack didn’t lead to any major food shortages and the government informed consumers not to panic about purchasing meat.

JBS paid $11 million as ransom demanded by hackers to prevent further disruptions after consulting with experts in the cybersecurity industry on the 10th of June. This is considered one of the biggest ransomware payments of all time.

KIA Motors

In February this year, Kia Motors, a subsidiary of Hyundai, was also attacked with ransomware. However, Kia motors did not confirm this attack although they reported a widespread system and an IT outage.

Kia Motors claimed that this ‘IT outage’ impacted the internal sites, phone services, owner’s portal, payment systems, and mobile UVO Link apps used by Kia Motors America.

According to the media, the hackers DopplePaymer gang demanded $20 million as a ransom for a decrypter and to prevent the leaking of stolen data. Although the attackers released some stolen data, this hack was not in the news for the past few months.

CNA Insurance

In March this year, CNA, one of the largest Insurance firms in the US, faced a critical cyberattack that led to the termination of trading for a short period. The attackers hacked CNA’s network and encrypted 15,000 devices, including the devices used by remote employees.

This ransom attack caused the compromise of data of around 75,000 employees. This data included Social Security numbers, health benefits information, and names of the contract workers, the company’s former and present employees, and their dependents. The attack disrupted network operation and impacted specific systems like email.

The hacker group Russian cybercrime syndicate Evil Corp was thought to be behind this attack. Third-party forensic experts revealed that they had created and used a new form of ransomware called Phoenix CryptoLocker for this attack.

Media reports stated that CNA Insurance agreed to pay $40 million as ransom to get back access to its network.

Brenntag

In early May 2021, around the same time as the cyberattack of Colonial Pipeline, DarkSide, the same hacker group that was behind the Colonial Pipeline attack targeted a chemical distribution company Brenntag which has headquarters in Germany.

DarkSide had stolen 150 GB worth of data and leaked a data page consisting of screenshots of a couple of files and a description of the data stolen. DarkSide demanded $7.5 million dollars as ransom in bitcoin. However, Brenntag was able to negotiate the ransom and ended up paying $4.4 million.

Although that payment was a little more than half of the original ransom demanded, it is still considered one of the biggest ransomware payouts of all time.

Quanta

In April this year, the REvil ransomware operators also attacked Quanta. Quanta is one of the major business partners of Apple and Apple laptop manufacturers.

Quanta reported that they were attacked by hackers whose intention was to extort both Apple and Quanta. They also mentioned that their daily operations were not affected.

Because Quanta refused to negotiate with the REvil gang, the attackers targeted Apple instead. They leaked blueprints of Apple products obtained from Quanta.

REvil group also threatened that they were going to release more sensitive data and documents. However, the REvil group had called off the cybersecurity attack. Apple also didn’t mention anything about the cyberattack further.

AXA

This May, cyber insurer AXA, a European insurance company was attacked by the Avaddon ransomware group. This attack took place after the company published vital changes to its cyber insurance policy to stop coverage for ransom payments.

They mentioned that they would not allow reimbursing ransomware payments of many of their clients. On May 18, AXA claimed that they had become victims of a targeted ransomware attack and it had impacted their operations in the Philippines, Hong Kong, Malaysia, and Thailand.

The Avaddon hackers got access to a massive 3 TB of data from the company’s Asian operations and this ironic attack made headlines those days.

AXA announced that a dedicated team with external forensic experts investigated the attack and business partners and regulators were informed. However, AXA did not release the further impact and the type of cyberattack.

CD Projekt

In February of this year, the HelloKitty gang hacked CDProjekt Red, a well-known video game development firm based in Poland. The hackers gained access to the source code of game projects which were under development and encrypted devices.

However, CDProjekt has not paid the ransom payment because they had backups in place which they used to restore the lost data.

National Basketball Association (NBA)

This year, ransomware attacks targeted organizations and businesses from all different kinds of industries. Surprisingly, the National Basketball Association (NBA) was also among them.

In mid-April of this year, Babuk, the hacker group, announced that they had stolen 500 GB of their confidential data. Babuk gang threatened that these confidential data, including contracts and financial information, will be made public if the NBA fails to make the ransom payment they have demanded.

However, as of this article, the NBA has not made this ransom payment.

Ireland’s Health Service Executive (HSE)

In May of this year, the government organization that runs all public health services in Ireland experienced a ransomware attack that caused the shutdown of their IT systems as a precaution.

As a precautionary measure, many of the HSE systems were offline. Although many health services were disrupted, they operated National Ambulance Services as normal. Because systems were disrupted, they canceled all outpatient appointments and other patients experienced delays.

Because healthcare centers were unable to access computer records, they informed patients to bring in paper documents.

The Conti gang were behind this attack and they demanded $20 million as ransom in exchange for decrypting the data. The hackers also leaked some of the data.

Although there were disruptions, Ireland’s public health network stated that either they or the government would not pay the ransom.

ExaGrid

On May 4, ExaGrid, a backup storage company that helps businesses to recover after a ransomware attack also suffered from a ransomware attack of its own.

The Conti cybercriminal was behind the attack. The cyberattack stole internal documents and impacted the ExaGrid corporate network. The hackers exfiltrated source code, confidential contracts, and customer and employee data.

According to LeMagIT, a ransom of $2.6 million was paid to the hackers by ExaGrid in exchange for the decryption key to reclaim access to encrypted data.

However, the original demand by the Conti cybercriminal gang was over $7 million. Still, ExaGrid has not denied or confirmed this cyberattack and they have not released further details.

Buffalo Public Schools

Cyberattacks in the education sector are constantly rising. As a result, many schools suffered from ransomware attacks in 2021. The cyberattack on Buffalo public schools in New York was one of them. The Buffalo Public School has an IT system with highly sensitive information for 34,000 students.

On March 12, the school system was hit by a ransomware attack that led to shutting down the entire school system. Because this cyberattack shut down the operations across the district, classroom learning for thousands of students was abandoned. It also led to cancellation of both in-person and remote instruction for one week.

On March 15, Kriner Cash from Buffalo Schools stated that the school was actively working with federal, state, and local law enforcement, and cybersecurity experts to investigate the cyberattack. However, it was not clear whether personal data was stolen or not. On March 22, Buffalo schools resumed their operations.

University of the Highlands and Islands

On March 7th of this year, the University of the Highlands and Islands suffered from a cyberattack. As a result, the university had to close all of its research labs and colleges.

The attack was important as Cobalt Strike, a penetration testing toolkit was utilized for the attack, and normally this toolkit was used for legitimate purposes. However, the university has not revealed further details about this attack.

Microsoft Exchange Server

A mass cyberattack took place in March and it impacted millions of Microsoft clients. The hackers exploited vulnerabilities in Microsoft’s Exchange Server for this attack.

Because of this attack, operations of nine government agencies and 60,000 private companies in the US were disrupted. However, they have not revealed further details of this cyberattack.

Final Words

Who can be involved in a cyberattack?

The cyber risk ecosystem involves many aspects and players. Sometimes, it can be pretty complex. Organizations of all sizes can be or have been victims of cyberattacks. So, all businesses that are connected to the internet can be involved in cyberattacks. Any system where businesses interact online like paying suppliers, searching the internet, emailing customers can be attacked by hackers.

What are the most common types of cyberattacks?

According to the latest Cyber Security Breaches Survey, conducted by the UK Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport, 46% of businesses have experienced cyberattacks in the last 12 months.

The most common types are:

  • Malware including ransomware cyberattacks, spyware, or viruses (16%)
  • Phishing cyber attacks (86%)

Is it possible to identify cyberattacks before they actually happen?

Still, many businesses cannot understand their vulnerabilities and are not prepared to manage cyberattacks. Fortunately, today, there are available tools in the market which companies can use to identify cyber risk vulnerabilities rapidly. Most of these tools are affordable.

In this digital disruption era, businesses should carefully inspect their systems for cyber threats on an ongoing basis. CRIF Decision Solutions has identified this need and developed CRIF Cyber Check, powered by KYND, which companies can use as a proactive response to cyber management.

Written by: Shanika W.

Connect with the author:

Shanika Wickramasinghe is a software engineer by profession. She works for WSO2, one of the leading open-source software companies in the world. One of the biggest projects she has worked on is building the WSO2 identity server which has helped her gain insight on security issues. She is keen to share her knowledge and considers writing as the best medium to do so. Cybersecurity is one of her favorite topics to write about.

Being a graduate in Information Technology, she has gained expertise in Cybersecurity, Python, and Web Development. She is passionate about everything she does, but apart from her busy schedule she always finds time to travel and enjoy nature.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.