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Guest Perspective: Ransomware threats are on the rise in 2024 | #hacking | #cybersecurity | #infosec | #comptia | #pentest | #ransomware


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Following a record number of ransomware attacks in 2023, some forecasters predicted a falloff in ransomware this year. But attacks have increased in 2024, indicating a larger digital security threat. Bad actors are using new tactics, targeting more victims, and have new reasons for committing cybercrimes with ransomware, a harmful software that locks a person’s files and asks for money to unlock them. This threat vector can cause serious harm to businesses, governments, and individuals.

Escalation of Ransomware Attacks

In 2024, the frequency and complexity of ransomware attacks have surged. Several factors contribute to this increase. Ransomware services make it easier for anyone, even those without much technical knowledge, to carry out Cyber Attacks. Platforms offer various services, such as creating and spreading ransomware, handling payments, and delivering decryption keys, allowing even more Cyber Criminals to mount ransomware attacks. And while threat actors continue to favor phishing emails, advances in Artificial Intelligence make it even easier for them to launch highly effective attack campaigns.

The landscape of vulnerable devices is also expanding, thanks to 5G networks that have led to many connected devices. By 2025, more than half of the world’s data is expected to come from the Internet of Things, or IoT devices. While this represents a boon for industry, every IoT device adds another possible entry point for hackers. Similarly, frequently lax security on mobile devices exposes both personal and business data to attack.

Cyber Criminals are also employing more advanced techniques to maximize their impact. Double extortion, for example, is when attackers not only lock up data but also threaten to share sensitive information publicly. This method increases the pressure on victims to pay the ransom, since the consequences of data exposure can be more severe than “simply” losing access to data.

Broader Range of Targets

The scope of ransomware attacks has also expanded beyond traditional targets like large corporations and financial institutions. In 2024, critical infrastructure sectors, including healthcare, energy, and transportation, have seen a notable increase in attacks. These sectors are particularly vulnerable due to their reliance on legacy systems and the potentially catastrophic consequences of operational disruptions. For instance, the recent Change Healthcare ransomware attack created a backlog of unpaid claims, leaving doctors’ offices and hospitals with serious cashflow problems, and threatening patients’ access to care. Reports indicate that, despite receiving a $24 million ransom payment, volumes of patient data were released over the Dark Web.

Educational institutions, local governments, and small- to medium-sized enterprises have also become attractive targets since these organizations often lack robust Cyber Security defenses. Ransomware attacks can have a particularly severe impact on small businesses, which may not have the resources to recover quickly.

Motivations, Implications and Solutions

The motivations behind ransomware attacks have evolved. Financial gain remains the primary driver, but geopolitical factors are increasingly influencing these attacks. State-sponsored actors are using ransomware to destabilize adversaries, disrupt critical infrastructure, and steal sensitive information. Ransomware attacks are more complicated due to their geopolitical implications, which go beyond financial gain to include strategic motives.

The implications of the rise in ransomware are profound. Economically, the costs associated with ransomware, including ransom payments, recovery expenses, and reputational damage, are skyrocketing, with some predictions that global ransomware damages will reach $42 billion by the end of this year.

Addressing the ransomware crisis requires a multi-faceted approach. Businesses that work with an experienced Cyber Security Consultant can take a variety of steps to strengthen their defenses. Some strategies include:

  • Using remote desktop services sparingly —This reduces the risk of unauthorized access by cyber attackers.
  • Update security awareness training — Effective employee training should include teaching users how to recognize signs of advanced social engineering. Phishing simulations and penetration testing will help to cement this knowledge.
  • Segmenting your networks, or dividing the network into separate parts — This will make it harder for attackers to move through your system. Minimizing the number of users and resources that have access to each segment, following the principle of least privilege, will also help to minimize your vulnerability.
  • Strengthen and enforce multi-factor authentication (MFA) — Where possible, implement MFA, a multi-step account login process where users are required to enter additional information beyond just a password. This second form of authentication can help prevent unauthorized account access even if a system password has been compromised.

 

But consider that not all MFA methods offer the same protection. For instance, biometric authentication and phishing-resistant MFA offer more protection than a code sent to a mobile device.

  • Implement a zero-trust architecture. This requires identity verification any time a user, application, or device requests system access.
  • Prioritize patching to address known exploited vulnerabilities. Threat actors have successfully targeted known vulnerabilities in unpatched systems. But organizations that automate patch management — so updates are identified, verified, and installed in a timely manner — can minimize this kind of threat.
  • Deploy EDR solutions to protect endpoints. It is a sure bet that, at some point, your organization will be in the ransomware crosshairs of a bad actor. Endpoint detection and response (EDR) solutions work to identify and remove threats early before they escalate.
  • Check your backup plan periodically. A good ransomware protection plan includes updating and testing backups. When ransomware hits, having a recent backup speeds recovery and reduces downtime.

 

Bring Security Experts to the Table

With a widening Cyber Security skills gap, many organizations find these kinds of security recommendations overwhelming. Small businesses can access high-quality Cyber Security by teaming up with a managed services provider that can tailor a comprehensive solution to your specific environment and budget.

 

 

Carl Mazzanti is president of eMazzanti Technologies in Hoboken, NJ, providing IT Consulting and Cyber Security Services for businesses ranging from home offices to multinational corporations.

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