"2016 will be the year ransomware holds America hostage," because those of us trying to defend against ransomware can't get ourselves organized, according to a new report by the Institute for Critical Infrastructure Technology.
"One reason that ransomware is so effective is that the cybersecurity field is not entirely prepared for its resurgence," wrote researchers. Security applications do not quickly recognize ransomware's maliciousness, because, ransomware itself "effectively acts as a security application. It denies access to data or encrypts the data. The only difference is that the owner of the system does not own the control."
"The other reason that anti-ransomware efforts are stunted," according to the report "is that the opposition is not unified in a response procedure." While security companies mostly advise to never pay ransoms, law enforcement has on times advised to simply pay the ransom when the critical systems or data cannot be recovered by any other means; in fact, some law enforcement agencies have, themselves, paid ransomware operators.
Some might simply say that the cost of the ransom is cheaper than the cost of downtime or lost data. Report authors acknowledge that, but also write somewhat wryly: "Ransomware is effective because it restricts access to information from a society that feels entitled to constant access to information. Many users pay the ransom without exploring alternative options simply because accepting the lost revenue is easier than applying effort."
Although ransom requests for individual machines are generally in the $300 to $500 range, some organizations are paying several thousand dollars at a time to recover systems. The details are not always known, because unlike data breaches, ransomware attacks do not need to be disclosed by law.
The biggest payout in the news recently was the $17,000 ransom paid by Hollywood Presbyterian Hospital last month. It was not the only organization to lose thousands to a ransomware threat though. According to the report, "Horry County school district in South Carolina paid $8,500 to decrypt their 25 servers after an FBI investigation yielded no alternative action."
The report also cites attacks last month to another county school district, as well as two churches, but predicts "financial institutions are likely the next major sector to be targeted by
ransomware, if their systems have not been infected already."
Researchers also considered the possibility that the two different types of ransomware -- lockers and cryptoransomware -- could be used in tandem. They wrote, "it will be interesting to see if locker ransomware resurges with cryptoransomware running behind the scenes. Layering the types seems unnecessary now, because victims often pay and because neither security researchers nor law enforcement can break the strong encryption used; however, if either of those cultures change, then locker ransomware, which prevents most user action, may return with controls borrowed from crypto ransomware."