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30% Of Companies Would Pay Ransoms To Cybercriminals

Factor in under-reporting and the growing sophistication of ransomware -- like PacMan's social engineering scheme -- and the number might be higher.

If you're an organization that's been stung by ransomware before, you're more likely to pay up again, and you probably won't tell a soul, according to a study released today by ThreatTrack.

Overall, 30 percent of the organizations surveyed said they would negotiate with cybercriminals for the safe recovery of stolen or encrypted data; but that number jumped to 55 percent when asked of organizations who'd been victims of cyber-extortionists before.

The big splashy cyber-extortion example from recent history is the attack at Sony Pictures and Entertainment in late 2014. Just last week, ransomware held a New Jersey school district hostage, demanding 500 Bitcoins (roughly $123,000). Instead of paying up, the state is conducting an investigation and restored what they could from backups.

But these incidents might be more common than any news reports or official figures will tell us, because companies are less likely to report these incidents -- not to the public, and not to law enforcement, says Stuart Itkin, senior vice president of ThreatTrack.

It isn't that organizations don't fully appreciate the fact that these cyber-extortionists are real criminals who merit real law enforcement. On the contrary, the attack on Sony showed the general public how hackers can more personally, directly "influence the company, extorting it for payment or otherwise impeding the organization's ability to function," Itkin says.

While they have some distaste for negotiating with the people pulling the strings, Itkin says organizations unfortunately do not have "faith or trust in government either to preempt or respond to such attacks."

"Organizations are less likely to report this," he says, "so we'll never know." 

The Threat Track survey hints that the issue is, indeed, more widespread. When asked if they believe other organizations have negotiated with cybercriminals, 86 percent of all survey respondents said "Yes." 

Some even went so far as to suggest that organizations start preparing now. Twenty-three percent of all survey respondents, and 43 percent of those who'd already been cyber-extortion victims, said organizations should set money aside for the purpose of paying ransoms. Fifty-nine percent of all respondents and 74 percent of respondents who were prior ransomware victims say that cyber insurance providers should hire professional negotiators to act as the liaison between victim organizations and the criminals.

Opinions varied by industry. Most opposed to the idea of paying ransoms were members of the healthcare (92 percent against) and financial services (80 percent against) industries. Respondents in the retail and telecom sectors were most concerned about what customers would think -- if, for example, the company chose not to pay a ransom, causing the attacker to publish customer data.

The problem will only get worse, as the attackers who use ransomware continue to up their game. Last week, CSIS reported a new impressively clever and rather nasty ransomware campaign called PacMan.

CSIS has categorized PacMan as high-risk, "partly due to the degree of social engineering that underlies the attack and partly to the destructive code that attempts to be installed on the victim's machine."

The campaign went after a very, very specific cohort: Danish chiropractors. An email, written in what CSIS describes as "flawless Danish" purports to come from a person with neck and back problems who has just moved into the area and is looking for a new chiropractor. The email contains links to Dropbox files, which the sender says are MRI and CT scan images, but are actually ransomware.

PacMan encrypts the files on the local hard disk of any Windows machine with .NET installed. It is also equipped with "'kill process' capabilities that shut down Windows operating system functions like taskmgr, cmd, regedit and more which makes it very hard to remove this malware,” according to KnowBe4. Once installed, it also starts a countdown clock, giving the victim only 24 hours to pay up in Bitcoins or their files will be encrypted forever. 

Sara Peters is Senior Editor at Dark Reading and formerly the editor-in-chief of Enterprise Efficiency. Prior that she was senior editor for the Computer Security Institute, writing and speaking about virtualization, identity management, cybersecurity law, and a myriad ... View Full Bio

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Dr.T
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Dr.T,
User Rank: Ninja
4/21/2015 | 9:04:50 PM
Re: Cost of Doing Business?
There are write-offs and other expenses that companies spend without real explanation around them. Nothing needs to be explained to the board, they are mainly on board anyway. :--))
Dr.T
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Dr.T,
User Rank: Ninja
4/21/2015 | 9:01:30 PM
Re: Cost of Doing Business?
I agree. At the same time it is not only CIO's responsibility. He/she does not really have any budget to cover all vulnerabilities.
Dr.T
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50%
Dr.T,
User Rank: Ninja
4/21/2015 | 8:58:49 PM
Re: Cost of Doing Business?
I agree companies put themselves to an hostage situation by not taking proper backup and require security measures. They wound pay ransoms to cover that fact.
Dr.T
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50%
Dr.T,
User Rank: Ninja
4/21/2015 | 8:56:18 PM
Only 30%?
I would think more companies would pay to recover their data. Data is very expensive when we need it. Companies would most likely do anything to get it back because of needs, regulations and laws.
Technocrati
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Technocrati,
User Rank: Ninja
4/1/2015 | 7:06:12 PM
Re: Cost of Doing Business?

"...Sad to see this, and still curious why these criminals remain out of reach."

 

@geriatric    I agree.  And it is my firm belief companies do not want to spend the amount of money it will take to train and proactively monitor.  As you probably know - security based solutions are extremely expensive and if these companies go open source then they have a whole new set of conditions that they are ill-prepaired to deal with.

 

It really is disheartening, because companies are apparently more than willing to expose our personal information to the hands of hackers.   The system is so compromised now - how can any information be trusted ?

As far as catching the crimminals, who are usually outside the country acting under serveral networking layers just makes the issue of catching them nearly impossible.

So get ready for companies to start passing the cost of their ineptness onto consumers.   

Technocrati
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Technocrati,
User Rank: Ninja
4/1/2015 | 6:56:48 PM
Re: Cost of Doing Business?

Overall, 30 percent of the organizations surveyed said they would negotiate with cybercriminals for the safe recovery of stolen or encrypted data;

 

This bizzare fact really does little to promote the recruitment of White Hat Hackers. In essence, it probably pays more to extort. 

I wonder how does the company classify this expense ?   How does one explain this to the board ?    Is this another reason for layoffs ?    

 

Probably.

Thomas Claburn
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Thomas Claburn,
User Rank: Ninja
4/1/2015 | 6:12:27 PM
Re: Cost of Doing Business?
If you're paying a ransom to unlock corporate data, the money would be better spent firing your CIO or CSO and paying a recruiter to find someone who knows how to maintain secure, redundant backups.
geriatric
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50%
geriatric,
User Rank: Strategist
4/1/2015 | 6:48:39 AM
Cost of Doing Business?
It seems as if at least some have resigned themselves to what they believe is an inevitable hostage situation. This reminds me of kidnap insurance for individuals in some countries. You get kidnapped, you contact your insurance provider, they pay the kidnappers, you're home for dinner (so to speak). Sad to see this, and still curious why these criminals remain out of reach.
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The cybersecurity profession struggles to retain women (figures range from 10 to 20 percent). It's particularly worrisome for an industry with a rapidly growing number of vacant positions.

So why does the shortage of women continue to be worse in security than in other IT sectors? How can men in infosec be better allies for women; and how can women be better allies for one another? What is the industry doing to fix the problem -- what's working, and what isn't?

Is this really a problem at all? Are the low numbers simply an indication that women do not want to be in cybersecurity, and is it possible that more women will never want to be in cybersecurity? How many women would we need to see in the industry to declare success?

Join Dark Reading senior editor Sara Peters and guests Angela Knox of Cloudmark, Barrett Sellers of Arbor Networks, Regina Wallace-Jones of Facebook, Steve Christey Coley of MITRE, and Chris Roosenraad of M3AAWG on Wednesday, July 13 at 1 p.m. Eastern Time to discuss all this and more.