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.