The True Cost of a Ransomware Attack

The cost of a ransomware attack is far higher than the amount demanded by cybercriminals to unlock encrypted files. The final cost of a ransomware attack is likely to be many times the cost of the ransom payment, in fact, the ransom payment – if it is made – could be one of the lower costs that must be covered.

Typically, cybercriminals charge between $400 and $1,000 per infected computer to supply the keys to decrypt data. If one member of staff is fooled into clicking on an infected email attachment or downloading ransomware by another means, fast action by the IT team can contain the infection. However, infections can quickly spread to other networked devices and entire networks can have files encrypted, crippling an organization.

Over the past 12 months, ransomware attacks have increased in number and severity. New ransomware variants are constantly being developed. There are now more than 600 separate ransomware families, each containing many different ransomware variants.

Over the past year there has also been an increase in ransomware-as-a-service (RaaS). RaaS involves developing a customizable ransomware which is rented out to affiliates. Any individual, even someone with scant technical ability, can pay for RaaS and conduct ransomware campaigns. Access to the ransomware may be as little as $50, with the affiliate then given a cut of the profits. There has been no shortage of takers.

Figures from FireEye suggest ransomware attacks increased by 35% in 2016. Figures from the FBI released in March 2016 suggested ransomware had already netted cybercriminals $209 million. Herjavec Group estimated that ransomware profits would top $1 billion in 2016; a considerable rise from the $24 million gathered during the previous calendar year. Figures from Action Fraud indicate ransom payments in the United Kingdom topped £4.5 million last year.

While ransom demands for individual infections can be well below $1,000, all too often ransomware spreads to multiple computers and consequently, the ransom increases considerably. Cybercriminals are also able to gather information about a victim and set ransoms based on ability to pay.

In June 2016, the University of Calgary paid $16,000 to recover its email system. In February last year, Hollywood Presbyterian Medical Center (HPMC) paid a ransom payment of $17,000 to unlock its system. A ransom demand in excess of $28,000 was demanded from MIRCORP following an infection in June 2016. The MUNI metro ransomware attack in San Francisco saw a ransom demand of $73,000 issued!

Figures from Malwarebytes suggest globally, almost 40% of businesses experienced a ransomware attack in the previous year. Ransomware is big business and the costs are considerable.

What is the Cost of a Ransomware Attack?

Ransomware infections can cause considerable financial damage. The cost of a ransomware attack extends far beyond the cost of a ransom payment. The Malwarebytes study suggests more than one third of businesses attacked with ransomware had lost revenue as a result, while 20% were forced to stop business completely.

The FBI and law enforcement agencies strongly advise against paying a ransom as this only encourages further criminal activity. Organizations that are unprepared or are unable to recover data from backups may have little choice but to pay the ransom to recover data essential for business.

However, the true cost of a ransomware attack is far higher than any ransom payment. The HMPC ransomware infection resulted in systems being out of action for 10 days, causing considerable disruption to hospital operations.

System downtime is one of the biggest costs.  Even if backup files exist, accessing those files can take time, as can restoring systems and data. Even if a ransom is paid, downtime during recovery is considerable. One study by Intermedia suggests 32% of companies that experienced a ransomware attack suffered system downtime for at least five days.

A study by Imperva on 170 security professionals indicates downtime is the biggest cost of a ransomware attack. 59% of respondents said the inability to access computer systems was the largest cost of a ransomware attack. 29% said the cost of system downtime would be between $5,000 and $20,000 per day, while 27% estimated costs to be in excess of $20,000 per day.

One often forgotten cost of a ransomware attack is notifying affected individuals that their data may have been compromised. Healthcare organizations must also notify individuals if their protected health information (PHI) is encrypted by ransomware under HIPAA Rules.

Major attacks that potentially impact tens of thousands of patients could cost tens of thousands of dollars in mailing and printing costs alone. Credit monitoring and identity theft protection services may also be warranted for all affected individuals.

Many affected individuals may even choose to take their business elsewhere after being notified that their sensitive information may have been accessed by cybercriminals.

Following a ransomware attack, a full system analysis must be conducted to ensure no backdoors have been installed and all traces of malware have been removed. Additional protections then need to be put in place to ensure that future attacks do not occur.

The true cost of a ransomware attack is therefore considerable. The final cost of a ransomware attack could be several hundred thousand dollars or more.

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Elizabeth Hernandez

Elizabeth Hernandez is a news writer on Defensorum. Elizabeth is an experienced journalist who has worked on many publications for several years. Elizabeth writers about compliance and the related areas of IT security breaches. Elizabeth's has a focus data privacy and secure handling of personal information. Elizabeth has a postgraduate degree in journalism. Elizabeth Hernandez is the editor of HIPAAZone. https://twitter.com/ElizabethHzone