Even though malware infections spiked after the first weekend of online holiday shopping, the biggest spike may be yet to come. Last year the biggest day for malware infections during the holiday shopping season didn’t come until the middle of December.

Computer malware infections jumped from Black Friday through Cyber Monday, according to data released by Enigma Software Group, makers of the SpyHunter anti-malware software. In fact, the research so far nationally has revealed a 123.65 percent spike; last year infections over the holiday shopping weekend jumped 106 percent; and North Carolina had the largest spike in infections with a whopping 316 percent increase.

“We believe malware makers are taking advantage of people’s online habits to trick them into clicking on links that will cause infections,” said Enigma spokesperson Ryan Gerding. “Sophisticated phishing attacks appear to be particularly strong this season.”

Gerding sat down with Inside Counsel to discuss why malware infections spiked after the first weekend of online holiday shopping season. According to him, malware infections spiked after the first weekend for two key reasons: First, there was simply more online traffic. And when more people are online, there will be more infections, and second, some malware makers are specifically targeting people with attacks that take advantage of the rise in online shopping during the holidays.

“The bad guys are sending out emails that look like they are from legitimate online retailers,” he explained. “Those emails have messages aimed at trying to get people to click on a link in the email. Malware makers know that at this time of year, people may be more likely to click on an email related to online shopping because they’re doing more online shopping than normal.”

In the past couple of years, it has been found that the days with the highest number of infections typically fall later in the holiday shopping season. Last year it was Dec. 14, and this year, the busiest day for infections was Dec. 13.


“It’s impossible to know exactly what tactics each bad guy took advantage of for each infection on each day,” he said. “But in terms of holiday shopping activity, the middle of the holiday shopping season is when folks may be most likely to expect messages regarding shipping and delivery of items they bought early in the shopping season. So, they may be even more likely to accidentally click on something that looks legitimate.”

Today, malware makers will employ whatever tactic is at their disposal to get people to click on links that will lead to infections. Per Gerding, any time they can take advantage of your normal online activity, they will. During the holiday season that means sending fake emails that look like they are coming from online retailers. After the first of the year, they will send fake messages that look like they are updates on income tax filings because they know a lot of people might be expecting to get notices/updates/emails about their taxes at that time of year.

So, why are sophisticated phishing attacks appearing to be particularly strong this season versus in the past?

Gerding said, “We think it’s mostly just a matter of evolution. The crooks realize that sending spam emails with poor graphics and typos aren’t fooling anyone any more. They have to take the time to create a fake email that looks legitimate.”

Amanda G. Ciccatelli is a Freelance Journalist for Corporate Counsel and InsideCounsel, where she covers intellectual property, legal technology, patent litigation, cybersecurity, innovation, and more.