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Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Some 70% of cyberattacks by cyber criminals are now phishing-related, according to a new report from Microsoft, which also found that attacks on critical infrastructure represent just a small slice of state-backed hacking efforts.

Why it matters: In the past, the report notes, "cybercriminals focused on malware attacks" to compromise their targets. The shift reflects cyber criminals’ skill at quickly adapting, in this case by pivoting to tried-and-true human engineering to trick people into handing over credentials.

Of note: In the last year, Microsoft analysts observed hackers affiliated with "16 different nation-state actors either targeting customers involved in the global COVID-19 response efforts or using the crisis in themed lures to expand their credential theft and malware delivery tactics," says the report.

  • These attacks targeted government health care organizations, as well as academic and commercial entities working on vaccine research, per the report.

Meanwhile: Though much attention has focused on breaches in critical infrastructure, the vast majority of cyber espionage observed by Microsoft is unrelated to it, says the report.

  • 90% of Microsoft’s "nation-state notifications in the past year have been to organizations that do not operate critical infrastructure," says the report.
  • "Common targets have included nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), advocacy groups, human rights organizations and think tanks focused on public policy, international affairs or security."

Go deeper

Biden promises retaliation for cyberattack on government agencies

Joe Biden speaking in Atlanta on Dec. 15. Photo: Jim Watson/AFP via Getty Images

President-elect Biden on Thursday said that a suspected Russian cyberattack on multiple government agencies and U.S. companies "is a matter of great concern" and promised to impose "substantial costs" to those responsible for the attack.

Driving the news: Biden's statement came just hours after the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Agency alerted that evidence suggested that additional malware was used in what it described as “a grave risk to the Federal Government and state, local, tribal, and territorial governments as well as critical infrastructure entities and other private sector organizations.”

Mike Allen, author of AM
Dec 18, 2020 - Technology

Cyberhack looks like act of war

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

A Trump administration official tells Axios that the cyberattack on the U.S. government and corporate America, apparently by Russia, is looking worse by the day — and secrets may still be being stolen in ways not yet discovered.

The big picture: "We still don't know the bottom of the well," the official said. Stunningly, the breach goes back to at least March, and continued all through the election. The U.S. government didn't sound the alarm until this Sunday. Damage assessment could take months.

Romney: White House should "say something aggressive" on Russian cyberattack

Photo: Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty

Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) called on the White House to “aggressively” condemn a suspected Russian cyberattack in an interview with SiriusXM on Thursday evening.

Why it matters: Since news broke that hackers tied to Russia penetrated U.S. government networks and companies, public officials including President-elect Biden have come forward with rebukes. President Trump has been largely silent, though the White House has held emergency meetings with officials across agencies to address the breach, per Bloomberg.