2016 was the year of ransomware, with hackers focusing their attentions on exploiting Internet users and businesses around the world for profit. According to the FBI, cyber-extortion losses have skyrocketed, and ransomware was on track to become a $1 billion a year crime in 2016.
Our research shows no sign of this security nightmare slowing down in 2017. Hackers are becoming more advanced, and ransomware remains an incredibly easy, lucrative way for them to make money. Unfortunately, the security community has only started to develop defenses that can protect Internet users from ransomware.
With the new year around the corner, security researchers at Malwarebytes Labs have compiled a list of predictions for new ransomware threats, developments, and opportunities that they expect consumers and businesses will face in 2017. Here are two of the key findings:
Ransomware will become personal. Most ransomware attacks today are indiscriminant. For the most part, cyber-criminals issue ransomware at random, hitting anyone and everyone they can. However, it’s increasingly likely that targeted ransomware attacks will become the new norm. If an attacker can recognize the difference between an enterprise and a consumer target, they will be able to adapt their ransom demands to match their victims.
The intentions of attacks are also likely to become more personal. In addition to encrypting files, ransomware attackers will soon be threatening to post data or information on social media, or to expose it in an equally destructive way. As with most cyberattacks, ransomware will grow to take advantage of more human vulnerabilities.
Ransomware protection will become a priority. Until this past year, companies and consumers had few solutions available to them to help detect and fight ransomware. Security researchers have been working hard to find decryptors of specific ransomware types so that they can effectively protect against them in the near future. However, once a ransomware descriptor is recognized, ransomware authors often tweak their attacks to avoid detection.
As this cat-and-mouse game between security researchers and ransomware creators continues, more security vendors will debut anti-ransomware protection offerings. In fact, we predict that by the end of 2017, at least 50% of security companies will release some sort of ransomware detection and/or prevention software. Companies and consumers will find themselves investing in new anti-ransomware security software in 2017.
Anyone and everyone is at risk of becoming a ransomware victim. A recent study we conducted showed that the US was the country most victimized by ransomware globally by far, with more than one-quarter of all ransomware detected. Specifically, Rust Belt America and smaller towns made up a substantial number of US ransomware victims.
But the issue is a global one, with ransomware detections showing up in countries around the world. And although cyber-criminal gangs have already saturated many subsets of the global population with ransomware, they are constantly improving their tactics, execution, and business models and will continue to be successful in 2017. It is imperative for businesses, consumers, and security professionals to face this reality and take the necessary steps to educate each other and protect their networks.