Despite the short periods of hiatus that may characterize ransomware activity from time to time, all experts agree that the trend of ransomware attacks is pointing upward, and year-over-year stats reflect this growth.
There are multiple reasons why ransomware has become such a popular profit avenue among cybercriminals, including accessibility, ease of monetization, extensive opportunities for attacks, and relatively low risk of finding trouble with law enforcement.
Here are the five main reasons why ransomware has become so popular, which organizations should keep in mind when building up their defenses.
- It’s one of the easiest (illegal) ways to make money
The primary reason behind the surge in ransomware attacks is that it helps cybercriminals make money easily. Ransomware attacks have devastating effects on targeted systems, rendering files and data inaccessible and taking businesses and services offline.
This operational disruption caused by ransomware infections raises the pressure on the victims to respond to the situation. When the attackers present them with a seemingly quick way out of trouble which is to pay them a ransom in exchange for a working decryptor, many succumb.
- Abundant opportunity for attacks
The second important reason behind ransomware’s spike is the available attack surface, fueled by poor cybersecurity practices, lack of robust peripheral security, the existence of vulnerabilities, and poor configurations.
When remote working, lack of anti-phishing training, and absence of “zero trust” policies are added into the mix, ransomware attackers have plenty of opportunities to compromise valuable networks.
Most importantly, it’s the lack of security updates in software used by companies that give hackers an easy way to perform initial compromise, many times using publicly available exploits for flaws known to exist in specific versions. Attackers can perform mass network scans, find valid targets, and launch automated attacks to plant shellcode.
- Ransomware is a powerful tool
While malware attacks can be damaging, ransomware, in particular, is considered the most potent cyberattack of all kinds.
The aspect of data encryption makes all systems and files unusable, freezes all operations, and puts companies at great functional risk.
The second key aspect is file access which gives ransomware incidents a data breach character, threatening the victim’s reputation with clients and contractors. Depending on where the victim resides, this part can also result in massive fines due to data protection law violations such as the GDPR and the CCPA.
Thirdly, the stolen data can be sold to competitors who might be interested in accessing the corporate secrets of other firms engaging in the same industry.
- Easy access to ransomware tools
There are numerous RaaS (ransomware as a service) programs out there inviting cybercriminals to join them in exchange for a profit cut. These platforms give operators the tools they need to launch devastating cyberattacks, handle communications with victims, and the encryption/decryption key generating system, so affiliates don’t have to possess any technical knowledge.
This lowers the bar for entry and, naturally, acts as a magnet for unskilled cybercriminals who don’t know how to code, yet they are presented with an opportunity to make significant amounts of money by deploying sophisticated malware.
- Low-risk activity
While there have been high-profile arrests of ransomware gang members in the past, the vast majority of those crooks is never identified and prosecuted, so they’re free to enjoy the proceeds of their crimes indefinitely.
Technology offers enough tools to help hackers hide their true identity from law enforcement agencies, and those who avoid hitting critical infrastructure, the military, or government entities, are generally spared from thorough investigations.
Ransomware is a relatively low-risk activity, and the high potential monetary reward of these attacks tilts the scale heavily in favor of carrying them out.