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Wednesday, 22 April 2020 09:50

Ransomware attacks on US public bodies down in 1Q2020: Emsisoft

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Ransomware attacks on US public bodies down in 1Q2020: Emsisoft Pixabay

The coronavirus pandemic and the sharp rise in people working from home appear to have resulted in a significant drop in Windows ransomware attacks on US government agencies, educational establishments and healthcare providers in the first three months of 2020.

But, according to Emsisoft security researcher Brett Callow, attacks on private sector entities were in no way diminished.

"So, it’s a mix of good and not-so-good news," he told iTWire. "On one scrupulously-washed hand, attacks on the public sector are way down and the crims are making less money - booyah!

"On the other scrupulously-washed hand, the private sector is being looted at the same rate as ever - bah!"

Emsisoft tracks ransomware attacks and periodically issues statistics; in its last report, the company looked at attacks in 10 countries, including Australia.

For the first quarter of 2020, Emsisoft recorded 19 attacks on government entities in January, 12 in February and 7 in March; 10 educational institutions were hit in January, 14 in February and 2 in March; and 10 healthcare bodies were attacked in January, 12 in February and 3 in March.

The same downward trend was seen to be continuing into April, with the first 20 days of the month seeing 3 attacks on government entities, and 2 each on educational institutions and health organisations.

The drop in attacks was attributed to two factors:

  • The suspension of non-essential services during the COVID-19 pandemic may have effectively reduced organisations’ attack surface.
  • While work from home had the potential to introduce security weaknesses, it may, paradoxically, have also created challenges for ransomware groups.

But Emsisoft cautioned against any complacency, saying that once things went back to normal, attacks were expected to hit their normal levels.

Examining the attacks on the private sector, the study found that the number was largely unchanged but payment of ransom had dropped.

"Given that the number of successful attacks has remained steady, we believe that this reduction is entirely due to the fact that many companies are financially distressed and unable [to pay] as much they previously did or even [to] pay at all," Emsisoft said.

The company's chief technology officer, Fabian Wosar, commented: "Companies are hurting financially and many are reliant on government support programs for their survival. I fully expect that some of the companies hit by ransomware in the coming weeks will fail; [the] attacks will be the straw that broke the camel’s back."

Like many other things, ransomware attacks also vary with the season, with spikes coming at certain times as shown in the following graphic:

graph emsisoft

Chart based on aggregated data from Emsisoft and the EMPHASIS Ransomware Project.

Emsisoft said it anticipated similar spikes in 2020 and, thus expected an increase in successful attacks in coming weeks.


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Sam Varghese

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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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