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Mediant Feb 26, 2020 2 min read

Ransomware Attacks are Rising and Have Emerged into an Industry

According to a recent article in The New York Times, new data from security companies shows a dramatic escalation in the number of recent ransomware attacks that are crippling businesses and cities. While these types of online attacks used to mainly target individuals, they are now taking down entire computer networks and holding systems hostage until payments are made.

It’s difficult to pinpoint statistics on ransomware attacks because many victims quietly pay off their attackers without notifying the authorities. However, information provided to The New York Times by a cybersecurity firm shows that last year, 205,280 organizations submitted files that had been hacked in a ransomware attack, which is a 41 percent increase from the prior year.

Also, the average payment to release files increased to $84,116 in the last quarter of 2019, which is more than double the previous quarter, according to data shared from another security firm with The New York Times. In December 2019, that jumped to $190,946, with several organizations facing ransom demands in the millions of dollars.

What is even more frightening is that security experts say ransomware has evolved into an industry, with hundreds of gangs vying for the most lucrative victims. According to the article, “Some hackers have specialized in ‘ransomware as a service,’ writing the victim-facing software and selling it to others through the so-called dark web. They have even built out customer-service centers to deal with victims and their payments.”

FBI Cybersection Chief Herbert Stapleton said, “What we find most concerning is that it causes not just direct costs, but also indirect costs of lost operations. We certainly view it as one of the most serious cybercriminal problems we face right now.”

A few examples included in the article: 

  • Barclays and several other banks are still unable to make foreign currency conversions for customers more than a month after Travelex, the company that provides them with cash, was targeted by ransomware. The BBC reported that the hackers demanded $6 million.
  • In December 2019, the Coast Guard said that ransomware had forced a cargo transfer facility to shut down for more than 30 hours after attackers took control of “the industrial control systems that monitor and control cargo transfer and encrypted files critical to process operations.”
  • The city of New Orleans, one of dozens of cities hit by ransomware during the last year, was attacked with similar ransomware late last year and is still conducting many operations on paper, with police officers recording incidents manually.

Identifying cyber criminals who are carrying out ransomware attacks is difficult because they are using payment technology like Bitcoin and anonymous messaging platforms to communicate and transact with victims, The New York Times article reports. Many of them are also based in countries outside of the U.S. so it’s difficult to prosecute them.