Malware Drops Dramatically in First Half of 2016, But the Dangers of Malware are Still Very Real

2016 malware rates drop still dangersTampa, St. Louis, and Orlando are on of top the list of the "most infected" cities for the first half of 2016.

Malware infections in the United States have dropped 47.3% in the first six months of 2016, according to ESG research team, but ESG warns that computer users should not be lulled into complacency. ESG also released a list of the cities with the highest malware infection rates in the first half of 2016. Tampa, St. Louis, and Orlando topped the list as the nation's "most malware-infected cities".

Looking at more than 30 million infections in the last 18 months, ESG found that the average number of monthly infections in the first six months of 2016 was 47.3% lower than the average number of monthly infections from all of 2015. In fact, June 2016 had the lowest number of overall infections of any month dating back to April 2013.

"We believe there are a number of factors that are causing a drop in overall infections detected by SpyHunter," said ESG spokesperson Ryan Gerding. "First, people are relying more than ever on their mobile devices to do a growing number of Internet tasks. PCs are still incredibly important, but as more work is done in mobile devices, that reduces time spent on PCs, which reduces infections, but it can lead to mobile infection rates to rise. Second, we believe consumers have become more aware of some of the common mistakes that lead to the more common infections such as: adware, potentially unwanted programs, and toolbars. Each of these types of infections are commonly bundled into other software when computer users download software. We think a growing number of people have become more aware of this practice and are more wary of accidentally installing unwanted software. Third, major browsers (Firefox, Chrome, etc.) and popular apps are releasing security updates regularly to patch vulnerabilities and prevent the installation of malware."

Despite the good news surrounding the drop in overall malware infections, there is still some disconcerting news about the popularity of ransomware. Ransomware is a malicious software that will encrypt and lock up valuable files on a person's computer — files like photos, videos and Word documents — and holds them hostage until a ransom is paid. Ransomware has gotten a lot of attention in recent months as some major businesses have been hit, some of which were forced to pay the ransom to get their valuable data back.

ESG's analysis of 2016 ransomware infections found that the raw number of monthly ransomware infections jumped 7.92% over 2015. When you consider that overall infections dropped 47.3%, the fact that ransomware infections actually rose is disturbing.

"Ransomware infections make up a tiny fraction of all infections," Gerding said. "Our concern is that, while small, their overall share of the infection pie is growing. In fact, if you looked at the percentage of infections made up by ransomware in 2016, you would see a 119% spike from 2015. To us, this means malware makers may be shifting their attention to less common, but much more costly infections like ransomware."

Even reports of a tapering of ransomware infections in the last couple of months may only be a temporary reprieve. While it's true that the raw number of infections in May and June did drop from April's high, ESG believes this may be in part because of a string of arrests of ransomware makers in Russia earlier this Spring. A brief hiccup in ransomware distribution worldwide is likely to be just that... brief.

"We saw something similar happen in 2011 when authorities cracked down on Russian malware makers and the payment processing systems they used to collect their money," Gerding said. "There was a temporary drop in the nastiest of infections, but then they went back up as other crooks stepped in and found other ways to distribute their malware and collect money. As long as it's lucrative, the crooks will find a way. That's why it's always important for consumers to remain vigilant."

Tips to Help Protect Valuable Data Against Ransomware

  1. Regularly back up data to an external device, the cloud, or both. That way if you do get an infection, you can restore your date to the last time you saved it.
  2. Update all software and operating systems, and make sure your operating system and anti-virus/anti-malware programs are set to update automatically.
  3. Think before you click an unknown link. Almost all of the ransomware infections attacking individual computers are a result of someone getting tricked into clicking on a link from a bogus email, a hijacked social media account, or another malicious source over the Internet.
  4. Enable spam email detection.

Despite the drop in overall infections, there still are millions of computers nationwide getting infections every day. We wanted to look at which cities in the U.S. had the most number of infections in the first half of 2016. We looked at the total number of infections in the 150 largest cities in the U.S. As you might expect, the cities with the largest population had the most number of infections. More people means more computers, which means more infections. So cities like New York and Los Angeles and Chicago topped the list. But we wanted to compare the actual infection rate (at least among those who use SpyHunter), so we divided the number of infections detected in each city by its population. That gives a better clue of which cities actually had the highest infection rate. That data showed that Tampa, St.Louis, and Orlando were the most malware infected cities in the U.S., with infection rates that were 800% higher than the national average. Below is a list of the most infected cities, along with how much higher their infection rate was compared to the national average.

Most Malware-Infected Cities of 2016

Note: Percentages are higher than the national average.

  1. Tampa 916%
  2. St. Louis 816%
  3. Orlando 799%
  4. Denver 657%
  5. Atlanta 582%
  6. Cincinnati 524%
  7. Newark 523%
  8. Salt Lake City 460%
  9. Madison 445%
  10. Washington, DC 395%
  11. Cleveland 376%
  12. Little Rock 325%
  13. Minneapolis 234%
  14. Raleigh 231%
  15. Baton Rouge 223%
  16. Irvine, CA 219%
  17. Buffalo 210%
  18. Miami 208%
  19. Des Moines 190%
  20. Las Vegas 187%
  21. Pittsburgh 176%
  22. Richmond 165%
  23. Boise 159%
  24. Greensboro, NC 146%
  25. Seattle 142%
  26. Boston 134%
  27. Worcester 131%
  28. Dallas 121%
  29. Columbus 120%
  30. Phoenix 96%
  31. Spokane 92%
  32. Milwaukee 91%
  33. Ft. Lauderdale 89%
  34. Baltimore 85%
  35. Norfolk 84%
  36. Providence, RI 83%
  37. Overland Park, KS 78%
  38. Austin 72%
  39. Honolulu 70%
  40. Springfield, MO 70%
  41. Sacramento 67%
  42. Birmingham 67%
  43. San Jose, CA 52%
  44. Tallahassee 51%
  45. Reno, NV 48%
  46. Sioux Falls, SD 47%
  47. Plano, TX 45%
  48. Knoxville, TN 42%
  49. Philadelphia 36%
  50. Indianapolis 35%
  51. Omaha 34%
  52. Tulsa 28%
  53. Charlotte 28%
  54. Lincoln 28%
  55. Los Angeles 21%
  56. Riverside, CA 19%
  57. Albuquerque 16%
  58. Wichita 16%
  59. Corpus Christi 14%
  60. San Diego 14%
  61. Tucson 11%
  62. Chattanooga 10%
  63. Lexington, KY 5%
  64. San Antonio 5%

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