IoT malware attacks surge 400%

  • November 1, 2023
  • Steve Rogerson
Breakdown of verticals targeted by IoT malware attacks.

There has been a 400 per cent increase in IoT and OT malware attacks in the first six months of this year, according to a report from cloud security firm ZScaler.

The report provides an in-depth look at malware activity over a six-month period, analysing approximately 300,000 blocked attacks on IoT devices secured by the Zscaler Zero Trust Exchange platform.

The high number of attacks on IoT devices represents a 400% increase in malware compared with the previous year. The increasing frequency of malware attacks targeting IoT devices is a significant concern for OT security, as the mobility of malware can facilitate movement across different networks, potentially endangering critical OT infrastructure.

The “Zscaler ThreatLabz 2023 Enterprise IoT and OT Threat Report” can be found at

ThreatLabz focused on understanding IoT device activity and attributes via device fingerprinting and analysing the IoT malware threat landscape. As more industries, organisations and individuals continue to rely on internet-connected devices, the threat from malware and legacy vulnerabilities increases. By adopting a zero-trust architecture, organisations can gain visibility into IoT device traffic and reduce IoT security risks.

“Weak enforcement of security standards for IoT device manufacturers coupled with the proliferation of shadow IoT devices at the enterprise level poses a significant threat to global organisations,” said Deepen Desai, head of security research at Zscaler. “Often, threat actors target unmanaged and unpatched devices to gain an initial foothold into the environment. To address these challenges, I encourage organisations to enforce zero-trust principles when securing IoT and OT devices. Never trust, always verify, and assume breach. Organisations can eliminate lateral movement risk by utilising continuous discovery and monitoring processes to segment these devices.”

With the steady adoption of IoT and personal connected devices, the report found an increase of over 400% in IoT malware attacks year-over-year. The growth in cyber threats demonstrates cyber criminals persistence and ability to adapt to evolving conditions in launching IoT malware attacks.

Additionally, research indicates that cyber criminals are targeting legacy vulnerabilities, with 34 of the 39 most popular IoT exploits specifically directed at vulnerabilities that have existed for over three years. The Mirai and Gafgyt malware families continue to account for 66% of attack payloads, creating botnets from infected IoT devices that are then used to launch denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks against lucrative businesses. Botnet-driven distributed DDoS attacks are responsible for billions of dollars in financial losses across industries around the globe. In addition, DDoS attacks pose a risk to OT by potentially disrupting critical industrial processes and even endangering human lives.

Manufacturing and retail accounted for nearly 52% of IoT device traffic, with 3D printers, geolocation trackers, industrial control devices, automotive multimedia systems, data collection terminals and payment terminals sending most signals over digital networks. However, the quantity of device traffic has created opportunities for cyber criminals, and the manufacturing sector now sees an average of 6000 IoT malware attacks every week.

Moreover, these IoT malware attacks can disrupt critical OT processes, which are integral in many industrial manufacturing plants such as automotive, heavy manufacturing, and plastic and rubber. This creates long-term problems for security teams at manufacturing businesses but also demonstrates that industrial IoT holds a lead in adopting unique IoT devices, nearly three times more than other sectors.

This increase is critical as manufacturing organisations continue adopting IoT tools for automation and digitisation of legacy infrastructure.

Education is another sector that suffered from outsized attention from cyber criminals in 2023, with the propagation of unsecured as well as shadow IoT devices within school networks providing attackers with easier access points. The wealth of personal data stored on their networks has made educational institutions particularly attractive targets, leaving students and administrations vulnerable. In fact, the report found IoT malware attacks in the education sector increased by nearly 1000%.

Findings show that the USA is a top target for IoT malware authors with 96% of all IoT malware distributed from compromised IoT devices in the USA.

In 2023, Mexico experienced the most infections, with 46% of all IoT malware infections. In fact, three of the top four most infected countries – Mexico, Brazil and Colombia – are Latin American countries.

The research methodology for this report includes analysis of device logs from a multitude of sources and industry verticals between January and June 2023. The report uses data derived from user deployments that connect to the Zscaler ( global security cloud, which processes over 500 trillion daily signals and blocks nine billion threats and policy violations per day, with over 250,000 daily security updates.