Kaspersky Lab has named ransomware as one of the key threats of 2017, and one that continues to plague businesses the world over. Ransomware attacks in 2017 are down year on year, but ransomware attacks on businesses are up.
Ransomware attacks in 2016 were bad, but this year there have been three major attacks that have gone global – WannaCry in May, NotPetya in June, and most recently, the Bad Rabbit attacks in October. Many of the ransomware attacks in 2017 have been far more sophisticated than in 2015 and 2016, while attackers are now using a wider variety of tactics to install the malicious code.
At the start of 2016, ransomware was primarily being installed using exploit kits, before attackers switched to spam email as the main method of delivery. Spam email remains one of the most common ways for ransomware to be installed, although each of the above three attacks used exploits for unpatched vulnerabilities.
Those exploits had been leaked online by the hacking group Shadow Brokers, all of which had been developed and used by the NSA. While not severe as WannaCry, NotPetya and BadRabbit, exploits were also used by AES-NI and Uiwix ransomware variants. Threat actors are also using remote desktop protocol to gain access to systems to install ransomware, while the use of exploit kits is once again on the rise.
There has been a noticeable change in targets since 2015 when ransomware started to be favored by cybercriminals. Consumers were the main targets, although cybercriminals soon realized there was more to be made from attacking businesses. In 2016, 22.6% of ransomware attacks were on business users. The Kaspersky Lab report shows that ransomware attacks on businesses are becoming far more common, accounting for 26.2% of all attacks in 2017.
Out of the businesses that experienced a ransomware attack in 2017, 65% said they lost access to a significant amount of data, and in some cases, all of their data. Some businesses have prepared for the worst and have developed ransomware response plans and now have multiple copies of backups, with at least one copy on an unnetworked device. In the event of an attack, data can be recovered.
Others have not been so fortunate and have been left with no alternative other than to pay the ransom demand. As we saw with NotPetya, and many other ransomware and pseudo-ransomware variants, it is not always possible to recover data. The Kaspersky Lab report shows that one in six businesses that paid the ransom demand were unable to recover their data, creating massive business disruption and also potentially privacy and compliance fines. Keys to unlock the encryption were not provided or simply did not work.
There is some good news in the report. Ransomware attacks in 2017 affected 950,000 unique users, which is a considerable reduction from last year when 1.5 million users suffered a ransomware attack. This has been attributed not to a reduction in attacks, but better detection.
Kaspersky reports that the explosion in ransomware families in 2016 did not continue at the same level in 2017. Last year, 62 new families of ransomware were discovered. While there is still a month left of the year, to date, the number of new ransomware families in 2017 has fallen to 38.
While this appears to be good news, it is not an indication that the threat from ransomware is reducing. Kaspersky Lab notes that while the creation of new ransomware families halved in 2017, in 2016 there were 54,000 modifications made to existing ransomware variants, but this year there have been 96,000 modifications detected – Almost double the number of modifications last year. Rather than develop new ransomware families, cybercriminals are tweaking existing ransomware variants.
Kaspersky Lab, McAfee, and a host of security experts predict ransomware attacks will continue to plague businesses in 2018. As long as the attacks remain profitable they will continue, although Kaspersky Lab notes that 2018 is likely to see efforts switch to cryptocurrency miners, which can prove more profitable than ransomware in the long run. Even so, ransomware attacks are likely to continue for the foreseeable future.
To prevent the attacks, businesses need to implement a host of defenses to block and detect ransomware. Anti spam software can be deployed to prevent email-based attacks, web filters can be used to block access to websites hosting exploit kits and prevent drive -by downloads, and endpoint protection systems and network monitoring can detect changes made by ransomware and alert businesses to ransomware attacks in progress. Along with good backup policies and end user training, the threat from ransomware can be reduced to an acceptable level and the majority of attacks can be blocked.