Palo Alto Networks’ Unit 42 research | #hacking | #cybersecurity | #infosec | #comptia | #pentest | #ransomware

Palo Alto Networks’ Unit 42 recently released the Ransomware Retrospective 2024: Unit 42 Leak Site Analysis and Incident Response report 2024. As part of the Ransomware Retrospective, they studied 3,998 leak site posts from various ransomware groups. Leak sites are platforms where threat actors publicly disclose stolen data as a means of coercing victims into paying ransom.

Key findings from this investigation: Unit 42 saw a 49% YoY increase in multi-extortion ransomware attacks from 2022 – 2023 globally. In India, the manufacturing sector has been the most targeted industry for ransomware extortion in 2023. Of the 3,998 leak site posts from 2023 globally, LockBit ransomware remains the most active, with 928 organizations accounting for 23% of the total. LockBit is also the most active group in APAC and India (note: this was before the recent law enforcement disruption of LockBit). At least 25 new ransomware leak sites were observed in 2023; of which Akira led the way.

Anil Valluri, MD and VP, India and SAARC, Palo Alto Networks, said, “In India, the Manufacturing sector has emerged as the primary target for ransomware attacks over the past year. This unsettling trend underscores the critical vulnerabilities within the Indian manufacturing sector, where limited visibility into operational technology (OT) systems, inadequate network monitoring, and suboptimal cyber-hygiene implementation have left organizations exposed. Organizations must implement enterprise-wide Zero Trust network architecture to create layers of security that limit an attacker from successfully moving laterally around the network.”

“In a rapidly transforming country like India, organizations are constantly grappling with a blend of modern and legacy systems, creating huge cybersecurity gaps. And with attackers increasingly targeting software and API vulnerabilities, our findings come as no surprise. Thus, organizations need to move away from point-solutions that increase time to detect/respond and end up being more costly in the long-term. Fully integrated cybersecurity solutions will also do away with the idea of vendor sprawl, an issue that CISOs shouldn’t concern themselves with during times of duress.”


The 3,998 posts from ransomware leak sites represented a 49% increase compared to 2022, where 2,679 posts were observed globally. This increase can be attributed to zero-day exploits targeting vulnerabilities for MOVEit Transfer SQL Injection and GoAnywhere MFT, among others.

As further evidence, when reviewing the number of compromises reported by ransomware leak sites, sporadic spikes were observed (see figure below). These loosely aligned with periods where ransomware groups began exploiting specific vulnerabilities.

Unit 42 2024 Incident Response Report: Speed of Exfiltration + Vulnerabilities Driving Activity


Unit 42 analyzed more than 600 incidents from 250 organizations for the 2024 Unit 42 Incident Response Report. This investigation went beyond ransomware leaksite posts into the overall casework volume. While phishing has historically been a popular tactic with attackers, the report found that it is declining, but only sort of.

From a one-third share of initial access incidents in 2022, phishing has dropped to just 17% in 2023. This indicates a potential de-prioritization of phishing as cybercriminals adapt to more technologically advanced – and perhaps more efficient – infiltration methods. More advanced threat actors are moving away from traditional and interactive phishing campaigns to less noticeable and possibly automated methods of exploiting system weaknesses and pre-existing credential leaks. Other key findings from the report include:

●      More-Sophisticated Threat Actors Are Gaining Initial Access Differently: There has been a discernible rise in the exploitation of software and API vulnerabilities. Exploiting such vulnerabilities accounted for 38.60% of the initial access points in 2023, up from 28.20% in 2022.

  • Threat Actors Grab Data Indiscriminately: In 93% of incidents, threat actors took data indiscriminately rather than searching for specific data. This is up from 2022, when 81% of cases involved non-targeted data theft. In 2021, it was even lower at 67%. The surge points to a growing trend among cybercriminals who seem to be casting a wider net, gathering any data they can access rather than expending effort to locate and extract particular datasets.
  • Extortion tactics to maximize yields: Interestingly, while the rate of harassment and other extortion tactics w.r.t. Ransomware has remained steady over the past few years, the rate of harassment in cases where payments were made has jumped by 27x since 2021.
  • Higher demands, lower payouts: In 2023, median ransom demands increased from $650,000 to $695,000 (3%↑) but median payouts decreased from $350,000 to $237,500 (32%↓). This can be potentially attributed to organizations calling-in Incident Response teams with negotiation capabilities (which fewer did in the past).

Huzefa Motiwala, Director, Systems Engineering, India and SAARC, said “While the surge in ransomware incidents is concerning, there are glimmers of hope amidst the challenges. The data reveals a promising shift in organizations’ response strategies, with a notable increase in median ransom demands countered by a decrease in median payouts. Since organizations are more willing to call-in Incident Response teams, threat actors are happy to take the path of least resistance. Which, in most scenarios, is to grab what they can get, and move on.”

Click to read more:

Ransomware Retrospective 2024: Unit 42 Leak Site Analysis

Unit 42: Incident Response Report 2024


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