Managing Cybersecurity Threats in Latin America

A growing problem in Latin America is the prevalence of cyberattacks across the region. 

Latin America faces an outsized threat from cybercrime, with increasing attacks year over year. Cybercrime has impacted businesses, banks, infrastructure, and government agencies.

Businesses and investors in the region must carefully assess the risks associated with cybercrime in the region. This includes evaluating the vulnerability of local partners and employees. This is extremely important for protecting valuable intellectual property. 

Sophisticated Hacking Rings 

Hacking rings are a pervasive problem throughout the region partly due to Latin America’s still developing commitment to cybersecurity, which is not keeping pace with rapid technological innovations. 

Personal data and intellectual property compromised by cyber-attacks are used to exploit governments, companies, and individuals for profit, blackmail, or political reasons and often circulate the dark web as purchasable data for other bad actors

Several high-profile incidents have raised awareness surrounding these issues in recent years. 

Regional Highlights

Costa Rica. In 2022, the government of Costa Rica suffered a weeks-long bombardment of ransomware attacks from a Russian-based hacking group. The attacks led the Costa Rican president to declare a state of emergency after the ransomware crippled the Costa Rican Treasury. 

Brazil. Further south in Brazil, some of the most sophisticated hacking organizations actively attack companies and government institutions. Brazil’s population is particularly vulnerable to cybercrime due to high levels of internet usage, including mobile banking services and e-commerce, without the cybersecurity infrastructure and enforcement to go along with it. 

Most recently, reports of a massive data leak exposed the personal data of over 220 million living and deceased individuals. This data includes names, addresses, phone numbers, tax information, and salaries, among other things, and affects nearly every Brazilian citizen. 

Chile. The Chilean government has fallen victim to significant cyberattacks in recent years, leading to sensitive data and intelligence leaks. The ‘hacktivist’ group Guacamaya was responsible for one such attack, which exposed sensitive information relating to military, defense, and police operations. Local hacktivist groups have also targeted foreign mining firms and other companies for political purposes. 

Mexico. In Mexico, hacker organizations have attacked financial institutions, companies, and government agencies for political or social grievances and profit. Hacker groups in Mexico and throughout Latin America also contribute to the growing levels of organized crime and have been linked to cartels or hired by them for political and monetary gains. 

Venezuela. Venezuela has also become increasingly susceptible to cybercrime due to widespread social and economic grievances and the inability to pursue and prosecute cybercriminals. 

Widespread government censorship of the internet and services has driven demand for black market products. The Venezuelan government has also targeted foreign companies through cyberattacks for geopolitical purposes. 

In fact, Venezuela has been an incubator of tools for cybercriminals in the region. It has also seen an influx of cyber actors from Russia and China who seek to disrupt the United States and its agenda in the Western hemisphere. 

Targets of Cybercrime in Latin America

Virtually every citizen, government, or company in Latin America is at risk of or has fallen victim to cybercrime. However, cybercriminals have been wildly successful in their attacks against the following:

  • Private Citizens. As digital access increases without the proper cybersecurity infrastructure and enforcement mechanisms, ordinary citizens will continue to be victims of identity theft and fraud.
  • Financial institutions have been highly targeted. Online banking is a massive industry in Latin America, with Brazil having more users of digital banking services than the United States and Western Europe. Smaller banks are especially at risk.
  • Government Agencies. There have been several high-profile cases of significant cyberattacks against government institutions, two of which were mentioned earlier. Cyberattacks against governments reveal sensitive data to the national defense and prohibit governments from effectively administrating their duties.
  • Infrastructure, particularly energy infrastructure, has been vulnerable to cyberattacks. For example, Venezuela fell victim to a significant infrastructure cyberattack in 2019, resulting in widespread blackouts. Attacks against energy and other infrastructure can negatively affect the reliability of business operations and the physical safety of employees and citizens alike.
  • Businesses of all sizes are also frequently targeted and fall victim to massive data breaches revealing sensitive personal data and intellectual property. A general lack of training and cybersecurity professionals renders doing business in Latin America or partnering with local firms risky due to cybercrime. 

Underwhelming International Response 

Overall, the lack of cohesion between Latin American governments has led to an underwhelming response to the growing levels of cybercrime. In most countries, the legal framework prohibiting cybercrime is weak, as is the ability to enforce existing law. 

The lack of resources for training and creating cybercrime law enforcement units is a regional trend. Low international cohesion and dialogue levels have also facilitated a sluggish response to the problem. 

What this Means for Businesses and Investors 

The cybersecurity environment in Latin America poses significant risks and opportunities for companies and investors. 

As a result, companies looking to do business in or partner with local firms should conduct deep due diligence investigations including cybersecurity assessments to understand the extent of any hidden risks before investing. 

Along with establishing a robust cybersecurity program that accounts for local country risks, training employees about data security, phishing, and other cybercrime indicators is also essential. 

Finally, there are significant opportunities for cybersecurity firms, tech firms, and companies specializing in educational forums regarding internet safety and norms. As Latin American governments come to terms with the cybercrime problem, there may be increased investment into technology to combat and deter the increasing risks. 


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