The Age of Ransomware Has Just Begun

With the rise of governments making military-grade ransomware, and the ransomware market set to jump from 8 to 17 billion, 2017 was the calm before the storm. 

If you’re hoping ransomware is a fad that will fizzle out, think again. Not only is the ransomware market set to double in size between now and 2021, it now looks like governments are getting involved in the ransomware market.

The infamous WannaCry ransomware that struck computers around the globe on May 2017 has now officially been attributed to North Korea. WannaCry, also known as WCry, affected more than 200,000 victims in more than 160 countries. Among the affected were hospital systems in Russia, China and the UK.

What is most disconcerting about the situation is that unlike regular ransomware makers, state-actors—a person or persons acting on behalf of a government—can make much more virulent strains of ransomware than any backyard operation ever could. The funding and resources at their disposal means their creations are what could be called ‘military-grade ransomware’. Much like the divide between civilian and military goods, military-grade ransomware is going to be more devastating than anything you’ll usually see in the wild.

The real threat is civilians and businesses being caught in the crossfire of this hyper-virulent ransomware being deployed against whole countries. This is exactly the sort of threat we saw with WannaCry, where the aim isn’t to destabilize individual pieces of infrastructure (Though that certainly is happening) but to go after entire economies.

The goal could be just as much financial as anything else. Countries with heavy sanctions have a lot to gain from BitCoin, with North Korea also suspected of enacting a bitcoin heist that bankrupted the Youbit exchange in South Korea. The soaring price of BitCoin (and Cryptocurrency in general) gives ample incentive, and there are no effective forms of censure to deter nations like this from committing cyber-crime.

That’s just on the government level. Recently, the FBI estimated hackers had collected one billion dollars in ransom payments in 2016 alone, compared to the year before where just 24 million was paid out. That’s a 4066% increase in a single year. That means either the FBI was woefully uninformed of how things were, or the ransomware threat rode a rocket ship upward in just 12 months.

What this means for businesses and organizations is that putting their heads in the sand and hoping ransomware is just a passing trend isn’t going to work. If anything, another more sophisticated version of WannaCry will soon be in the wild hitting all businesses – including SMBs – indiscriminately. And on an upward parallel trajectory, regular ransomware threats are also going to increase along with the value and interest in Cryptocurrencies.

What is needed now is ransomware defense on both the front-end and back-end for all businesses. Individually, a single solution—firewalls, anti-malware, end-point security or ransomware backup protection— isn’t going to be enough to deal with these new threats. Organizations need a multi-tiered approach against ransomware to provide redundancy and avoid paying a massive ransom when the time comes.

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