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Wednesday, 25 November 2020 09:10

Ransomware gangs likely to start monetising stolen data: researcher Featured

Brett Callow: "A year ago, attacks were simply costly and disruptive inconveniences in which companies' data was encrypted." Brett Callow: "A year ago, attacks were simply costly and disruptive inconveniences in which companies' data was encrypted." Supplied

Ransomware gangs have shown themselves to be an innovative lot, incorporating more and more tactics as they look to extort money from their victims and this trend will continue into the new year, a veteran researcher of this brand of malware says.

Brett Callow, who works for the security firm Emsisoft that is based in New Zealand, told iTWire in response to queries that the tactics being used by the various groups had become more and more extreme.

"A year ago, attacks were simply costly and disruptive inconveniences in which companies' data was encrypted," he said. "Now, in addition to encrypting data, the groups also exfiltrate it, post it online, do press outreach and run Facebook ads in an attempt to shame companies into paying.

"And, unfortunately, the strategy works. Companies which would not have paid in the past — because they were able to recover their systems from back-ups — now do pay to prevent their data being published."

This year has seen an explosion of attacks on companies big and small, with ransoms demanded rising and many firms at a loss as to how they should cope with the problem, seeing as all ransomware attacks only the most commonly used operating system, Microsoft's Windows, which is more or less the default in the enterprise.

Callow said he expected to see the groups experimenting with new and even more extreme tactics into 2021.

"In particular, I expect to see groups start to put the stolen data to more use – specifically, by using it to attack and scam companies' customers and business partners," he said.

"Their primary objective will not be to monetise that particular set of data, but rather to apply more pressure to their future victims.

"Knowing your data will be posted online is scary, but knowing it'll actually be used against your customers is shit-your-pants scary. It'll cause more reputational damage and increase the probability of customers taking legal action."

One more tactic that some ransomware gangs have adopted is the use of distributed denial of service attacks to cow their victims into paying up.

Callow said another change that could be expected in 2021 was a rise in the ransoms demanded.

"We've gone from an average of US$5000 (A$6792) to more than US$150,000 inside a couple of years, and it seems inevitable that upward trend will continue," he said.

"This is because companies become inured to ransoms that would previously have been unthinkably large, and partly because groups are successfully attacking larger companies which are better placed to pay."

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Sam Varghese

Sam Varghese has been writing for iTWire since 2006, a year after the site came into existence. For nearly a decade thereafter, he wrote mostly about free and open source software, based on his own use of this genre of software. Since May 2016, he has been writing across many areas of technology. He has been a journalist for nearly 40 years in India (Indian Express and Deccan Herald), the UAE (Khaleej Times) and Australia (Daily Commercial News (now defunct) and The Age). His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.

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