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