Ransomware Growing as Top Security Threat to UK Businesses

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Researchers at top security companies such as Kaspersky Lab and FireEye have recently confirmed that ransomware is emerging as a top cybersecurity threat to businesses of all sizes. Malware which encrypts data and then demands a ransom for its release is becoming increasingly more common, with the latest report from Kaspersky Lab revealing that the first quarter of this year saw a worrying spike in the use of ransomware attacks, which many researchers believe could well become one of the worst cybersecurity problems of 2016.

According to the security company, around 15,000 ransomware modifications are included in their database, and the number is only continuing to grow in size. In the first quarter, an average of around 350,000 ransomware attacks were blocked, with 17% of these targeting the corporate sector. Mobile ransomware attacks are also on the increase, with the numbers for this quarter up 46%, compared to the previous quarter.

 

Ransomware and Technological Innovation

The security firms believe that ransomware is becoming a more popular choice with hackers and cybercriminals due to a range of technological innovations. One such ransomware, known as Petya, was technologically interesting as not only does it encrypt any data stored on the computer, but it is also able to overwrite the master boot record on the hard disk drive, leaving infected computers unable to boot into their operating system. According to the chief security expert at Kaspersky Labs, one of the main reasons why ransomware has become a popular choice is because the majority of cybercriminals use a very simple business model.

Once ransomware is in a user’s system, there is usually almost no way to get rid of it without losing out, either by losing personal data or money. The ability to demand payment of the ransom via Bitcoin also makes the payment process completely anonymous, making it more difficult for businesses and users to understand where the threat has derived from – just one of the reasons making ransomware so attractive to fraudsters.

 

Ransomware Threats and Trends

According to Kaspersky Lab, another of the main reasons for the increase in ransomware threats is that those targeted by them often believe that the threat is completely unbeatable. Many businesses and individuals are unaware that there are technological countermeasures that can be put in place in order to prevent computer infection and stop files from being locked up. In many cases, cybercriminals are able to make a profit from ransomware due to the fact that business employees have not been given adequate training on the issue of cybersecurity and how to deal with a range of threats.

The ransomware-as-a-service business model is one of the most threatening trends, where cybercriminals pay for malware propagation or even offer a percentage of the ransom paid back to the user, making it easier than ever before to carry out this kind of attack. Services also exist which work the other way around, offering a full set of tools to the hacker who then takes full responsibility for carrying out the attack and retains a percentage of the ransom as commission. According to the Kaspersky Lab report, there have been instances of well-known attack groups increasingly using ransomware.

 

Threat of Ransomware to UK Businesses

According to FireEye and Kaspersky Labs, the UK remains one of the most highly targeted countries for advanced ransomware attacks. In the UK, the most targeted businesses are in the financial, education and energy/utilities industries, which account for around two-thirds of ransomware attacks carried out or attempted last year.

Richard Turner, regional president at FireEye, says that it is time for organisations to get to know and understand their enemy. Along with a significant rise in ransomware detection, the second half of 2015 saw a high increase of alerts in almost all industries across the UK. However, the good news is that the UK has recently dropped from number five in the first half of 2015 to number six, on a level with Israel, Germany and Belgium. So far, nine percent of all advanced targeted threats have been detected.

What Can Your Business Do?

With ransomware on the rise as the attack of choice by cybercriminals and hackers, it’s time for businesses to get to know more about this potential threat and understand how to deal with it. Whilst a lot of effort is often funnelled into businesses regarding phishing and other social engineering attacks, what happens when a member of your staff is faced with a message to pay up before files are destroyed? Adequate training and education on ransomware is becoming more and more necessary for businesses.

Understanding how ransomware works and how it can be dealt with is vital to ensuring that any potential attacks have the best chance of being prevented.

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