The Ever-Evolving Threat of Malware: An In-Depth Look at 2023 Global Trends

In the dynamic digital landscape, cybersecurity threats continue to evolve, posing immense challenges for individuals, businesses, and governments. As the world becomes more interconnected, the damage caused by these threats becomes increasingly profound. In 2023, the world witnessed a concerning surge in malware attacks, specifically targeting routers, which serve as gateways to our online world. With more than a billion malware programs in existence and 560,000 new threats emerging daily, the task of ensuring digital security is more daunting than ever.

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What is Malware?

“Malware” is a term used to describe any malicious software crafted to cause damage or disruption to a computer system. It’s an umbrella term that encompasses various forms of harmful software, including viruses, worms, trojans, ransomware, and spyware. Each form of malware has a unique mode of operation and impact, making the task of cybersecurity increasingly complex.

The Changing Face of Malware in 2023

In 2023, the nature of malware underwent significant changes. Cybercriminals and hackers continued to adapt their tactics, exploiting new vulnerabilities and shifting their focus to attack different sectors. Despite the implementation of numerous anti-malware measures, the push-and-pull between security professionals and cybercriminals has led to an ever-evolving threat landscape.

The Rise in Discrete Infections Through IoT and Email

One of the most notable shifts in 2023 has been the increased focus on discrete infections through Internet of Things (IoT) devices and email. Cybercriminals are turning their attention to these areas as they provide new or underutilized vulnerabilities to exploit. As more devices become interconnected, the potential for damage increases exponentially.

The Threat to Enterprise Businesses and Governments

In terms of targets, there is a continued focus on enterprise businesses and governments, particularly with ransomware infections. These entities often house valuable data, making them attractive targets for cybercriminals.

The Impact of Employee-to-Employee Malware Spread

Another alarming trend observed in 2023 is the increase in malware activity spreading from one employee to another within organizations. In 2022, 75% of organizations experienced this type of malware spread, the highest rate since surveys began in 2016. This could be attributed to the advancement in phishing attacks and the potential distractions employees face while working from home.

Most Prevalent Malware Families in 2023

In 2023, the top three most prevalent malware families were Qbot, Formbook, and Emotet.


Qbot, also known as Qakbot, is a banking Trojan that surfaced in 2008. It was initially designed to steal banking credentials and keystrokes. Distributed primarily through spam email, Qbot incorporates several anti-VM, anti-debugging, and anti-sandbox techniques to evade detection.


Formbook is an infostealer that targets Windows operating systems. It was first detected in 2016 and has been marketed as Malware as a Service (MaaS) in underground hacking forums for its strong evasion techniques and relatively low price. FormBook can harvest credentials from various web browsers, collect screenshots, monitor and log keystrokes, and download and execute files as per its command and control server’s orders.


Emotet is a sophisticated, self-propagating, and modular Trojan. Initially used as a banking Trojan, Emotet has now evolved and is often used as a distributor for other malware or malicious campaigns. It employs multiple methods for maintaining persistence and evasion techniques to avoid detection. In addition, it can be spread through phishing spam emails containing malicious attachments or links.

The Rising Threat of Internet Security Breaches

With an ever-increasing number of devices getting connected to the internet, cybercriminals are finding more ways to penetrate systems. In 2023, threats transmuted from simple DNS virus types to complex router malware. They became sneakier and more harmful.

The Case of VPNFilter

One such instance is the VPNFilter malware, which targeted routers rather than computers. This malware was disclosed by Cisco and has already infected over 500K networking devices, triggering an urgent public service warning by the FBI to reset routers. Since all traffic flows through routers, this malware can collect personal information, spy on activities, and even disrupt internet connections.

Protecting Your Network: Steps to Take

To secure your home or corporate router and keep your data safe, consider the following steps:

  • Check the manufacturer’s website for the latest router firmware updates at least once a month and install them as soon as they become available.
  • Create a long, strong admin password for your router and use a password manager to remember the combination.
  • If you are skilled enough, disable remote access to the router admin settings.
  • Configure Wi-Fi correctly: create a unique password, use strong wireless encryption standard, and set up guest networks so that guests and neighbors do not spread malware on your network from their infected devices.
  • Use a VPN app that will encrypt all outbound information before passing it to the router, keeping it safe from cybercriminals even if they have infected the device.

Future Projections for Malware

Based on what we’ve seen in 2023, we can expect several key trends for the remainder of the year and beyond:

  • Malware-infected sites will likely continue to decline in volume.
  • Cybercriminals will continue to target larger enterprises with malware in hopes of securing a large, one-off payment.
  • The demanded ransomware payment amount will continue to increase.
  • The cryptojacking threat to IoT devices will grow, mainly due to the growing number of unsecured IoT devices that consumers purchase in ever-increasing numbers.

In summary, the digital landscape is fraught with threats that evolve and adapt at a rapid pace. As we navigate this complex environment, it is crucial to stay informed, vigilant, and proactive in our cybersecurity measures. After all, the best defense is a good offense.