Ecuador joins Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Mexico, and Peru among the Latin American countries hardest hit by cybercrime, and more specifically malware attacks. According to the latest Global Cybersecurity Index of the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), a United Nations agency, Ecuador ranks 119th out of 182 countries for vulnerability to cyberattacks.
In October 2021, Ecuador’s largest private bank, Banco Pichincha, suffered a cyberattack, which disrupted its operations and knocked out its ATM and online banking portal. The attack was considered one of the largest attacks in the world that year. This was the second time in just months that the bank was affected: In February, the bank was hit by an another cyberattack that also affected Ecuador’s Ministry of Finance, reported Welivesecurity news site of internet security company ESET.
As such, Ecuador has been seeking to strengthen its cybersecurity through a new cybersecurity policy, which will integrate the government, private companies, academia, and civil society. The South American country has had a Cybersecurity Committee since 2017, which brings together the ministries of Defense, Security, Telecommunications, and Foreign Affairs, as well as the Strategic Intelligence Center (CIES).
“We work with the OAS [Organization of American States], the World Bank, the U.S. State Department, and CICTE [Inter-American Committee against Terrorism], to catch up,” Telecommunications Minister Vianna Maino told Ecuadorian newspaper Primicias.
The new policy, which would be implemented starting in 2023, according to news site El Periódico USA, will prioritize the protection of critical digital infrastructure and essential services, while promoting cooperation between the public and private sectors. “It seeks to enhance the capacity to detect, foresee, manage, and prevent cyber incidents in Ecuador,” the news outlet reported.
With the arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic, millions of people around the world relied on online platforms to carry out most of their activities and operations, whether for work, education, business, entertainment, etc. Cybercriminals took advantage of the situation to commit all kinds of criminal activities. Remote access attacks, theft of personal data, and malware distribution increased alarmingly, becoming a nightmare for many regional companies, Primicias reported.
In 2022, ransomware attacks in Latin America increased by 25 percent over the previous year, Forbes reported. In mid-May, Costa Rica declared a national emergency following cyberattacks by Russian group Conti Ransomware that paralyzed the computer networks of multiple government agencies. Following the attack, the U.S. State Department announced a $10 million reward for information on the Conti leadership. The same group claimed an attack, also in mid-May, against the Intelligence Directorate of Peru’s Interior Ministry.
Cyberattacks in Ecuador
On April 16, the Ecuadorian municipality of Quito’s IT infrastructure was hit by the BlackCat ransomware strain linked to Russia. Franz Enríquez, director of Technology and Information Technology at the Quito municipality, said that by the time they were able to stop the spread of the virus, 20 percent of the municipality’s central administration database content had been affected, El Comercio reported.
On March 10, the CIES’ computer platform suffered an attack, compromising the information processed by this institution, as well as the Police and Armed Forces’ intelligence subsystems, Ecuavisa news site reported. “The situation is under control, believe me it is under control and under competent authority, and the systems are being rebuilt as well,” CIES director Fausto Cobo told Ecuavisa.
Cybercriminals have perfected their negotiation techniques with victims during the extortion process, in order to obtain the maximum possible payment for the information held for ransom. This payment is estimated to range from 0.7 percent to 5 percent of the victim’s annual income, providing huge profits for criminal gangs, and making ransomware attacks among the most lucrative type of cybercrime, U.S.-Israeli IT security company Check Point said.
“Attacks are inevitable,” Ecuadorian Minister Maino told Primicias. “Containing them, stopping them, and being alert, how to recover information, that’s what we are going to work on.”