Reflect to Improve: Ransomware Trends of 2021

The first recorded ransomware attack took place in 1989, laying the groundwork for one of the most prolific cyber threats that continue to plague us today. From WannaCry to SolarWinds, we’ve seen how cybersecurity attacks have evolved, and one thing is guaranteed: cybercrime is here to stay in one form or another. To protect from future attacks, we must first look back on how cyberattacks have evolved and applied lessons learned to mitigate risk in the years ahead.

Ransomware Trends of 2021

Learning from the Past

According to the FBI Internet Crime Complaint Center’s (IC3) annual 2020 Internet Crime Report, there was a spike of more than 300,000 complaints from the previous year and reported losses of more than $4.2 billion. Cyberattack attempts reached an all-time high towards the end of 2021, with businesses experiencing 50% more attack attempts per week than in 2020. When it comes to ransomware, in particular, the victims of the ten largest attacks in 2021 were hit with ransom demands totaling nearly $320 million

With cybersecurity threats constantly evolving, it can be difficult to maintain awareness of current tactics and their potential impacts. As we look ahead to 2022, we’re taking a moment to look back at the significant ransomware trends, incidents, and changes from 2021 for lessons that can provide guidance in the year ahead. The only way to keep up with the modern cybersecurity landscape is by having a robust, comprehensive program that lessens risks for businesses. 2021 was a big year in cybersecurity, with high-profile attacks dominating headlines, including the Colonial Pipeline attack and, most recently, the Log4j vulnerability. Building off the lessons learned last year, organizations need a comprehensive cybersecurity program that promotes good cyber hygiene and continuous improvement to mitigate attacks in the year ahead.  

Having a comprehensive cybersecurity program doesn’t mean managing multiple single-point cybersecurity solutions – in fact, that may not even be possible due to the strain it can place on the IT team. The potential ramifications of operating without a comprehensive cybersecurity program are concerning. There is the potential for financial and operational downtime, including lost revenue, lost productivity, decreased business reputation, and legal and regulatory fines and fees. Potential clients might choose a different partner to ensure their company and customer data is kept secure. Cybersecurity insurance premiums could rise, or your organization could be outright denied coverage. 

That's not even talking about the direct impact a cybersecurity attack can have on your data. As cybersecurity threats have evolved, the repercussions have grown. Traditional ransomware attacks involve a bad actor encrypting your data and demanding money to release it back to you. Redundant backups were sufficient protection, as you could refuse to pay and restore from backup images. Now, with double extortion techniques, bad actors exfiltrate valuable data and search for important company information – think company revenue or cyber insurance policy coverages. If you refuse to pay the ransom in this case, they will release your data to the dark web, which can result in a more significant cybersecurity breach that involves customer notifications, public relations headaches, possible identity monitoring, and other necessary remediation. Taking it a step further, Ransomware-as-a-Service is booming. Almost anyone can attempt an attack with premade malware kits available for purchase on the dark web for as little as $50. 

Preparing for the Future

Unfortunately, no matter how prepared we are, cyber attackers won’t stop, and they will just continue to evolve their tactics. Ransomware gangs will continue to refine their techniques, leverage zero-day vulnerabilities, evade defensive protections, and encrypt backups. Triple extortion will add one more level where threat actors extort the companies or individuals whose data has been exfiltrated from the original ransom victim. Penalties for ransomware payment will continue to be a heated topic of discussion and debate. The amount for “highest ever ransom demand” will increase— but we’re not beyond hope for a more secure future.

Looking forward to 2022, we must learn from our experiences in the last year and leverage our newfound knowledge to prepare for and address the challenges ahead. Spend some time reviewing your current posture to create a robust program that mitigates risk for your organization now and into the future. By reflecting on the evolution of cyberattacks from the previous year, we can plan for tomorrow, today. 

More resources:

2022 Cybersecurity Health Checkup

Blog: Tackling the Emerging Vulnerability Trends of 2022

Blog: It's Raining Ransomware

Webinar: Becoming Ransomware Resilient

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