There has been an alarming surge in ransomware attacks in 2021. Attacks have been conducted on businesses of all sizes, from large international enterprises with multi-million-dollar cybersecurity budgets to small businesses with just a handful of employees. The attacks have shown that no business is to large or small to be targeted.

Ransomware is a form of malware that is used to encrypt files to prevent them from being accessed. The attacker holds the keys to allow data to be decrypted, and those keys will only be provided if a ransom is paid. Ransom demands can range from a few thousand dollars for individual devices up to tens of millions of dollars for large companies.

900% Increase in Ransomware Attacks in 2021

This year has seen ransomware attacks conducted at an alarming level. CybSafe‘s data has revealed a 900% increase in ransomware attacks in the first 6 months of 2021 compared to the corresponding period last year. In addition to the increase in number, the cost of mitigating the attacks has increased and the ransom demands have been growing. This week, for example, Europe’s largest consumer electronics retailer – MediaMarkt – confirmed it was the victim of a Hive ransomware attack. The attackers reportedly demanded a payment of $240 million for the keys to decrypt files.

2021 has shown no company is off limits with multiple attacks conducted on critical infrastructure firms. One attack on Colonial Pipeline in the United States resulted in the shutdown of a fuel pipeline serving the Eastern Seaboard of the United States for a week. A ransom payment of $4.4 million was paid to the attackers to recover data.

The U.S. software company Kaseya, which provides a range of software solutions to businesses and managed service providers, suffered a major ransomware attack involving REvil ransomware. The REvil gang demanded a payment of $70 million for the keys to decrypt files. The attack affected around 40 managed service providers and an estimated 1,500 downstream businesses.

Attacks have also been conducted on many healthcare providers, with those attacks disrupting healthcare services and putting patient safety at risk. In May 2021, Ireland’s Health Service Executive (HSE) suffered a ransomware attack which is believed to have started with a phishing email. The response gave the Conti ransomware gang the access needed to encrypt files. A $20 million ransom demand was issued, although the attackers provided the keys free of charge in the end. Even so, the HSE took months to recover from the attack at considerable cost.

Ransomware Gangs Targeted by Law Enforcement

The above attacks represent just a tiny percentage of the ransomware attacks that have been publicly disclosed this year and it is clear that the threat of attack is unlikely to wane any time soon.

There has been some good news, however. The attacks on critical infrastructure firms have forced the U.S. government to step up its efforts to target ransomware-related crime. Following the attacks, ransomware attacks were elevated to a level akin to terrorist attacks, and with that comes additional resources.

Already the United States and law enforcement partners around the worked have succeeded in disrupting the activities of several ransomware gangs. The REvil ransomware infrastructure taken down and arrests have been made, the Darkside operation shut down and its suspected successor BlackMatter also. Suspected members of the Clop ransomware operation have been arrested, and Europol has arrested 12 individuals in connection with LockerGoga, MegaCortex, and Dharma ransomware attacks.

While the arrests and infrastructure takedowns will have a short-term effect, ransomware threat actors are likely to regroup, set up new operations, and recommence their attacks as they have done in the past.

An Easy Step to Take to Improve Ransomware Defenses

Businesses need to take steps to combat the ransomware threat, but since many different methods are used to gain access to networks, this can be a challenge. The best place to start is to make sure defenses against phishing emails are put in place. Most ransomware attacks start with a phishing email, which either delivers malware or gives attackers credentials that provide them with the foothold in networks that they need to conduct their attacks.

Email security solutions such as SpamTitan filter out malicious messages and prevent them from reaching inboxes where they can fool employees. Technical solutions such as email security gateways are far more effective than end user training at blocking threats, although it is also important to make sure employees are aware of cybersecurity best practices and are taught how to identify a phishing email.

Email filtering solutions such as SpamTitan perform an in-depth analysis of all email content and can detect malicious links and email attachments. When emails fail the checks, they are sent to the quarantine folder where they can be reviewed. This allows security teams to gain a better understanding of the threats that are targeting their organization and also allows false positives to be identified so filtering rules can be updated.

SpamTitan incorporates dual antivirus engines, sandboxing that allows suspicious attachments to be analyzed to identify new malware variants, and machine learning technology to ensure that spam filtering improves over time.

A huge array of checks and controls ensure malicious messages are blocked, but that all happens behind the scenes. Administrators benefit from a clean, easy-to-use interface that requires no technical skills to navigate and use. All information and controls are intuitive.

If you would like to find out more about improving your defenses against ransomware, malware, phishing, and other email and web-based threats, give the TitanHQ team a call. All TitanHQ cybersecurity solutions are available on a free trial, allowing you to put them to the test in your own environment before making a decision about a purchase.