Ransomware has long been a scourge. Since at least 2012, ransomware has grown dramatically. Ransoms have increased — the average ransom payout is now more than $40,000. Organizations most hit are public sector, software services, professional services, and healthcare. Healthcare, in particular, is a soft target because of the need to get systems back and running quickly. According to a McAfee report, ransomware attacks more than doubled in 2019. An FBI warning from fall 2019 didn’t indicate an increase in the number of attacks but did show an increase in the targeting and severity of the attacks: “Ransomware attacks are becoming more targeted, sophisticated, and costly, even as the overall frequency of attacks remains consistent. Since early 2018, the incidence of broad, indiscriminant ransomware campaigns has sharply declined, but the losses from ransomware attacks have increased significantly, according to complaints received by IC3 and FBI case information.”
For a long time, a debate has raged about whether to pay the ransom. Some argue that the ransom should never be paid, but organizations facing the loss of their data might not have much of a choice. But if organizations back up their data, then they can they can avoid paying the ransoms and restore their data. But now there’s a new development in ransomware that is particularly troubling and that makes paying the ransoms a necessity even when data is backed up. Ransomware groups are now threatening to release an organization’s data online if the ransom isn’t paid.
This year, five law firms were hit with Maze Ransomware. Instead of just encrypting the data, the ransomware group exfiltrated it first and then posted a small amount of it online. The group threatened to post the remainder of the data online unless the ransom was paid. According to one article: “Recent reports have shown the hacking group behind Maze ransomware has been steadily posting the data of its victims online after the organizations fail to pay the ransom demand. A compiled list of victims shows the data of several healthcare organizations are included in those postings, despite a lack of public reporting of those incidents.”
Recently, HBO suffered a massive data breach. The hackers stole unreleased episodes of Game of Thrones and have been leaking them before they are broadcast. Episodes of other shows were also stolen. The hackers grabbed 1.5 terabytes of data including sensitive internal documents.
As the FBI warned, ransomware has proven to be a formidable threat costing businesses over $1 billion in 2016, averaging 4,000 attacks per day. Ransomware forces victims to choose between losing access to their files or paying a fee that can range between hundreds and thousands of dollars. Ransomware has already made headlines in the first quarter of 2017.
I have good news and bad news about ransomware. First, the good news — here’s a cartoon I created. I hope you enjoy it, because that’s the only good news i have. Now, for the bad news . . .
The Bad News: Be Afraid, Very Afraid
Everyone seems to be afraid of ransomware these days, but is the fear justified? Is ransomware more about hype than harm? Unfortunately, a recent study of international companies conducted by Malwarebytes provides some startling statistics to back up the fears. According to the study, 40% of companies worldwide and more than 50% of the US companies surveyed experienced a ransomware incident in the last year.
A few weeks ago, HHS responded to these calls with a detailed fact sheet to explain ransomware and provide advice. Although most of the document outlines what should be obvious for an organization that already has a solid data security plan (including reliable back-ups, workforce training, and contingency plans), the major headline is HHS’s verdict on whether or not a ransomware attack qualifies as a data breach under HIPAA.