When you’re responsible for protecting your company’s data from ransomware, you don’t need to be convinced of the risks an attack poses. Staying up to date on the latest ransomware trends is probably high on your radar. But sometimes it’s not as easy to convince others in your organization to take the necessary precautions. Protecting your data from ransomware might require operational changes and investments, and that can be hard to advance, especially when headlines report that dire predictions haven’t come true.
To help you stay up to date and inform others in your organization of the latest threats and what you can do about them, we put together five quick, timely, shareable takeaways from our monitoring over Q2 2022.
This post is a part of our ongoing series on ransomware. Take a look at our other posts for more information on how businesses can defend themselves against a ransomware attack, and more.
- “Ransomware: How to Prevent or Recover From an Attack”
- “Introducing the Ransomware Economy”
- “Object Lock 101: Protecting Data From Ransomware”
- “The True Cost of Ransomware”
- 2021 Ransomware Takeaways: Q1, Q2, Q3, Q4
- 2022 Ransomware Takeaways: Q1
1. Sanctions Are Changing the Ransomware Game
Things have been somewhat quieter on the ransomware front, and many security experts point out that the sanctions against Russia have made it harder for cybercriminals to ply their trade. The sanctions make it harder to receive payments, move money around, and provision infrastructure. As such, The Wall Street Journal reported that the ransomware economy in Russia is changing. Groups are reorganizing, splintering off into smaller gangs, and changing up the software they use to avoid detection.
Key Takeaway: Cybercriminals are working harder to avoid revealing their identities, making it challenging for victims to know whether they’re dealing with a sanctioned entity or not. Especially at a time when the federal government is cracking down on companies that violate sanctions, the best fix is to put an ironclad sanctions compliance program in place before you’re asked about it.
2. AI-powered Ransomware Is Coming
The idea of AI-powered ransomware is not new, but we’ve seen predictions in Q2 that it’s closer to reality than we might think. To date, the AI advantage in the ransomware wars has fallen squarely on the defense. Security firms employ top talent to automate ransomware detection and prevention.
Meanwhile, ransomware profits have escalated in recent years. Chainalysis, a firm that analyzes crypto payments, reported ransomware payments in excess of $692 million in 2020 and $602 million in 2021 (which they expect to continue to go up with further analysis), up from just $152 million in 2019. With business booming, some security experts warn that, while cybercrime syndicates haven’t been able to afford developer talent to build AI capabilities yet, that might not be the case for long.
They predict that, in the coming 12 to 24 months, ransomware groups could start employing AI capabilities to get more efficient in their ability to target a broader swath of companies and even individuals—small game for cybercriminals at the moment but not with the power of machine learning and automation on hand.
Key Takeaway: Small to medium-sized enterprises can take simple steps now to prevent future “spray and pray” style attacks. It may seem too easy, but fundamental steps like staying up to date on security patches and implementing multi-factor authentication can make a big difference in keeping your company safe.
3. Conti Ransomware Group Still In Business
In Q1, we reported that the ransomware group Conti suffered a data leak after pledging allegiance to Russia in the wake of the Ukraine invasion. Despite the leak, business seems to be trucking along over at Conti HQ. Despite suffering a leak of its own sensitive data, Conti doesn’t seem to have learned a lesson. The group continues threatening to publish stolen data in return for encryption keys—a hallmark of the group’s tactics.
Key Takeaway: As detailed in ZDnet, Conti tends to exploit unpatched vulnerabilities, so, again, staying up to date on security patches is advised, as is ramping up monitoring of your networks for suspicious activity.
4. Two-thirds of Victims Paid Ransoms Last Year
New analyses that came out in Q2 from CyberEdge group, covering the span of 2021 overall, found that two-thirds of ransomware victims paid ransoms in 2021. The firm surveyed 1,200 IT security professionals, and found three reasons why firms choose to make the payments:
- Concerns about exfiltrated data getting out.
- Increased confidence they’ll be able to recover their data.
- Decreasing cost of recoveries.
When recoveries are easier, more firms are opting just to pay the attackers to go away, avoid downtime, and recover from some mix of backups and unencrypted data.
Key Takeaway: While we certainly don’t advocate for paying ransoms, having a robust disaster recovery plan in place can help you survive an attack and even avoid paying the ransom altogether.
5. Hacktivism Is on the Rise
With as much doom and gloom as we cover in the ransomware space, it seems hacking for a good cause is on the rise. CloudSEK, an AI firm, profiled the hacking group GoodWill’s efforts to force…well, some goodwill. Instead of astronomical payments in return for decryption keys, GoodWill simply asks that victims do some good in the world. One request: “Take any five less fortunate children to Pizza Hut or KFC for a treat, take pictures and videos, and post them on social media.”
Key Takeaway: While the hacktivists seem to have good intentions at heart, is it truly goodwill if it’s coerced with your company’s data held hostage? If you’ve been paying attention, you have a strong disaster recovery plan in place, and you can restore from backups in any situation. Then, consider their efforts a good reminder to revisit your corporate social responsibility program as well.
The Bottom Line: What This Means for You
Ransomware gangs are always changing tactics, and even more so in the wake of stricter sanctions. That, combined with the potential emergence of AI-powered ransomware means a wider range of businesses could be targets in the coming months and years. As noted above, applying good security practices and developing a disaster recovery plan are excellent steps towards becoming more resilient as tactics change. And the good news, at least for now, is that not all hackers are forces for evil even if some of their tactics to spread goodwill are a bit brutish.