Brief: Five facts about ransomware attacks

Security

A ransomware attack on top US fuel pipeline operator Colonial Pipeline has brought attention to the growing area of cybercrime. This article aims to brief you as to what ransomware is; and what is being done to attempt to stop it.

WHAT IS RANSOMWARE?

Ransom software works by encrypting victims’ data; typically hackers will offer the victim a key in return for cryptocurrency payments that can run into the hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollars. If the victim resists, hackers are increasingly threatening to leak confidential data in a bid to pile on the pressure.

The ransomware group DarkSide suspected by US authorities of the Colonial Pipeline attack, said in an unusual statement that it wanted to make money but did not say how much.

HOW WIDESPREAD IS THE PROBLEM?

Ransomware gangs collected almost $350 million last year, up threefold from 2019, according to members of a public-private group called the Ransomware Task Force. While the magnitude of the DarkSide breach is significant, other kinds of attacks have arguably been more destructive.

In 2017 the so-called WannaCry cyberattack crippled hospitals, banks and other companies across the globe. The US government said the attack cost billions and blamed North Korea. NotPetya malware, which struck Ukraine the same year but also did damage worldwide, similarly racked up billions in costs.

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WHAT IS BEING DONE TO STOP THE ATTACKS?

In April the US Department of Justice established a government group on ransomware. Central bank regulators and financial crime investigators worldwide are also debating if and how cryptocurrencies, which are used to pay the ransoms, should be regulated.

WHEN WAS THE LAST (MAJOR) ATTACK ON US INFRASTRUCTURE?

In October 2020 Eastern European criminals targeted dozens of US hospitals with ransomware, including in Oregon, California and New York. The FBI and Homeland Security officials subsequently led a conference for hospital administrators and cybersecurity experts.

WHAT CAN BE DONE TO STOP RANSOMWARE?

Criminals using ransomware to extort money don’t always use the most sophisticated methods. Biden administration official Anne Neuberger said, for example, that the DarkSide ransomware was a “known variant” and said some breaches can be thwarted by making sure computer networks have installed up-to- date patches.

The team at Platform Executive hope you have enjoyed the ‘Brief: Five facts about ransomware attacks‘ article. Automatic translation from English to a growing list of languages via Google AI Cloud Translation. Initial reporting via our official content partners at Thomson Reuters. By Chris Sanders; Editing by Grant McCool. Additional editing by Rob Phillips.

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