In 2016, ransomware attacks on business increased three-fold: which represents a change from an attack every two minutes in January to one every 40 seconds by October. With more than 62 new families of ransomware introduced during the year, the threat grew so aggressively that Kaspersky Lab has named ransomware its key topic for 2016.
The Story of the Year paper forms part of Kaspersky Lab’s annual Kaspersky Security Bulletin that looks back over the year’s major threats and data and predicts what to expect in 2017.
Among other things, 2016 revealed the extent to which the Ransomware-as-a-Service business model now appeals to criminals who lack the skills, resources or inclination to develop their own. Under the arrangement, code creators offer their malicious product ‘on demand’, selling uniquely modified versions to customers who then distribute it through spam and websites, paying a commission to the creator – the main financial beneficiary.
“The classic ‘affiliate’ business model appears to be working as effectively for ransomware as it does for other types of malware. Victims often pay up so money keeps flowing through the system. Inevitably this has led to us seeing new cryptors appear almost daily,” said Fedor Sinitsyn, senior malware analyst, Kaspersky Lab.
The evolution of ransomware in 2016
In 2016, ransomware became more sophisticated and diverse:
- Attacks on businesses increased significantly. According to Kaspersky Lab research, one in every five businesses worldwide suffered an IT security incident as a result of a ransomware attack and one in every five smaller business never got their files back, even after paying.
- Some industry sectors were harder hit than others, but Kaspersky Lab’s research shows there is no such thing as a low-risk sector: with the highest rate of attack around 23 percent (education) and the lowest 16 percent (retail and leisure).
- 'Educational’ ransomware, developed to give system administrators a tool to simulate ransomware attacks was quickly and ruthlessly exploited by criminals, giving rise to Ded_Cryptor and Fantom, among others.
- New approaches to ransomware attacks seen for the first time in 2016 included disk encryption, where attackers block access to, or encrypt, not just a couple of files, but all of them at once – Petya is one example. Dcryptor, also known as Mamba, went one step further, locking down the entire hard drive, with the attackers brute-forcing passwords for remote access to a victim machine.
- The ransomware Shade demonstrated the ability to change its approach to a victim if an infected computer turned out to belong to financial services, downloading and installing spyware instead of encrypting the victim’s files.
- There was a marked rise in low-quality; unsophisticated ransomware Trojans with software flaws and sloppy errors in the ransom notes – increasing the likelihood of victims never recovering their data.
Fortunately, 2016 also saw the world begin to unite to fight back. The No More Ransom project, launched in July, brings together law enforcement and security vendors to track down and disrupt the big ransomware families, helping individuals to get their data back and undermining the criminals’ lucrative business model.