US Ransomware Attacks Quadrupled in 2016

According to a new report from data breach insurance provider Beazley, US ransomware attacks on enterprises quadrupled in 2016. There is no sign that these attacks will slow, in fact they are likely to continue to increase in 2017. Beazley predicts that US ransomware attacks will double in 2017.

Half of US Ransomware Attacks Affected Healthcare Organizations

The sophisticated nature of the latest ransomware variants, the broad range of vectors used to install malicious code, and poor user awareness of the ransomware threat are making it harder for organizations to prevent the attacks.

For its latest report, Beazley analyzed almost 2,000 data breaches experienced by its clients. That analysis revealed not only that US ransomware attacks had increased, but also malware infections and accidental disclosures of data. While ransomware is clearly a major threat to enterprises, Beazley warned that unintended disclosures of data by employees is actually a far more dangerous threat. Accidental data breaches increased by a third in 2016.

US ransomware attacks and malware incidents increased in the education sector, which registered a 10% rise year on year. 45% of data breaches experienced by educational institutions were the result of hacking or malware and 40% of data breaches suffered by companies in the financial services. However, it was the healthcare industry that experienced the most ransomware attacks. Nearly half of 2016 US ransomware attacks affected healthcare organizations.

The report provides some insight into when organizations are most at risk. US ransomware attacks spiked at the end of financial quarters and also during busy online shopping periods. It is at these times of year when employees most commonly let their guard down. Attackers also step up their efforts at these times. Beazley also points out that ransomware attacks are more likely to occur during IT system freezes.

Ransomware Attacks on Police Departments Have Increased

Even Police departments are not immune to ransomware attacks. Over the past two years there have been numerous ransomware attacks on police departments in the United States. In January, last year, the Midlothian Police Department in Chicago was attacked with ransomware and paid a $500 ransom to regain access to its files.

The Dickson County Sheriff’s Office in Tennessee paid $572 to unlock a ransomware infection last year, and the Tewksbury police department in Massachusetts similarly paid for a key to decrypt its files. In 2015, five police departments in Maine (Lincoln, Wiscasset, Boothbay Harbor, Waldboro and Damariscotta) were attacked with ransomware and in December 2016, the Cockrell Hill Police Department in Texas experienced a ransomware infection. The attack resulted in video evidence dating back to 2009 being encrypted. However, since much of that information was stored in backup files, the Cockrell Hill Police Department avoided paying the ransom.

Defending Against Ransomware

Unfortunately, there is no silver bullet to protect organizations from ransomware attacks. Ransomware defenses should consist of a host of technologies to prevent ransomware from being downloaded or installed, but also to ensure that infections are rapidly detected when they do occur.

Ransomware prevention requires technologies to be employed to block the main attack vectors. Email remains one of the most common mediums used by cybercriminals and hackers. An advanced spam filtering solution should therefore be used to prevent malicious emails from being delivered to end users. However, not all malicious attachments can be blocked. It is therefore essential to not only provide employees with security awareness training, but also to conduct dummy ransomware and phishing exercises to ensure training has been effective.

Many US ransomware attacks in 2016 occurred as a result of employees visiting – or being redirected to – malicious websites containing exploit kits. Drive-by ransomware downloads are possible if browsers and plugins are left unpatched. Organizations should ensure that patch management policies are put in place to ensure that all systems and software are patched promptly when updates are released.

Given the broad range of web-based threats, it is now becoming increasingly important for enterprises to implement a web filtering solution. A web filter can be configured to prevent employees from visiting malicious websites and to block malvertising-related web redirects. Web filters can also be configured to prevent employees from downloading malicious files and engaging in risky online behavior.

The outlook for 2017 may be bleak, but it is possible to prevent ransomware and malware attacks. However, the failure to take adequate preventative steps to mitigate risk is likely to prove costly.

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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