Application Security

10% of Ransomware Attacks on SMBs Targeted IoT Devices

IoT ransomware attacks are expected to ramp up in the coming years, a new survey shows.

Some cybercriminals are leveraging the growing base of IoT devices in enterprises that come with little or no security as targets for their ransomware attacks, a report released today by Arctic Wolf found.

IoT devices were the targets of 10% of all ransomware attacks on small-to midsized businesses, according to the survey of 300 IT and security executives of companies with between 200 to 3,000 employees.

"[That] was a lot higher than I was expecting," says Young-Sae Song, vice president at Arctic Wolf. "I was expecting something less than 5% because IoT is still an emerging technology."

According to the survey, one-fourth of all cyberattacks the SMBs suffered involved ransomware. And of this ransomware group, IoT devices comprised a significant portion, Song says. "Anything 10% or more is getting into a significant amount."

The collision of ransomware and IoT attacks is expected to increase for a number of reasons, Song says, pointing to the rapid adoption of IoT devices by small and mid-sized businesses and their continued use of rudimentary cybersecurity such as only firewalls and antivirus software

"It's not hard to combine a ransomware campaign with an IoT attack," Song says. "At the end of the day, they are often both attacking the same operating system and software."

It doesn't take much extra work to attack IoT devices as part of a ransomware campaign, he notes. That's because in many cases, IoT devices ultimately connect to a Windows or Linux server to share information and data and these servers can be locked down as well by ransomware once an IoT device has been compromised. IoT attacks accounted for 13% of the all security breaches listed by survey respondents, compared to 25% for ransomware, the survey found.

But in the next year or two, Song predicts IoT ransomware attacks are likely to increase to around 25% to 30% of all ransomware cases.

Ransom for Function, Not Data

The notion of IoT ransomware attacks have clearly moved beyond the theoretical and into real-life scenarios. Earlier this year, according to a New York Times report, the swanky Romantik Seehotel Jaegerwirt hotel in Austria fell victim to an IoT ransomware attack.

Cyberthieves took control of the hotel's electronic key system, locking guests out of their rooms. In order to regain control of the hotel rooms, Romantik's management agreed to pay the ransom demand of approximately $1,800 in bitcoins, according to the Times.

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IoT ransomware cases are markedly different than traditional ransomware attacks, which lock down access to important documents and data and usually are accompanied with a ransom demand. IoT ransomware cases, in contrast, target devices that serve a functional purpose but may or may not store data within the device, security experts say.

One security professional, Javvad Malik, a security advocate at AlienVault, noted in a Dark Reading post that IoT device hijackers not only need to "compromise the data collected through a device's sensors, but [would also need to] render a critical device's physical functions inaccessible," in order to up the odds that a victim will pay the ransom.

So ransomware attackers would likely target mission-critical IoT devices like automated robotic arms used on a manufacturer's production plant floor, rather than a consumer device like a talking Barbie.

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Dawn Kawamoto is an Associate Editor for Dark Reading, where she covers cybersecurity news and trends. She is an award-winning journalist who has written and edited technology, management, leadership, career, finance, and innovation stories for such publications as CNET's ... View Full Bio

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