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Ransomware ecosystem becoming more diverse for 2023 | #hacking | #cybersecurity | #infosec | #comptia | #pentest | #ransomware


The ransomware ecosystem has changed significantly in 2022, with attackers shifting from large groups that dominated the landscape toward smaller ransomware-as-a-service (RaaS) operations in search of more flexibility and drawing less attention from law enforcement. This democratization of ransomware is bad news for organizations because it also brought in a diversification of tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTPs), more indicators of compromise (IOCs) to track, and potentially more hurdles to jump through when trying to negotiate or pay ransoms.

“We can likely date the accelerated landscape changes back to at least mid-2021, when the Colonial Pipeline DarkSide ransomware attack and subsequent law enforcement takedown of REvil led to the dispersal of several ransomware partnerships,” researchers from Cisco’s Talos group said in their annual report. “Fast forward to this year, when the ransomware scene seems as dynamic as ever, with various groups adapting to increased disruptive efforts by law enforcement and private industry, infighting and insider threats, and a competitive market that has developers and operators shifting their affiliation continuously in search of the most lucrative ransomware operation.”

Large ransomware groups attract too much attention

Since 2019 the ransomware landscape has been dominated by big and professionalized ransomware operations that constantly made the news headlines and even looked for media attention to gain legitimacy with potential victims. We’ve seen ransomware groups with spokespeople who offered interviews to journalists or issued “press releases” on Twitter and their data leak websites in response to big breaches.

The DarkSide attack against Colonial Pipeline that led to a major fuel supply disruption along the US East Coast in 2021 highlighted the risk that ransomware attacks can have against critical infrastructure and led to increased efforts to combat this threat at the highest levels of government. This heightened attention from law enforcement made the owners of underground cybercrime forums reconsider their relationship with ransomware groups, with some forums banning the advertising of such threats. DarkSide ceased operations soon thereafter and was followed later in the year by REvil, also known as Sodinokibi, whose creators were indicted and one was even arrested. REvil was one of the most successful ransomware groups since 2019.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 quickly put a strain on the relationship between many ransomware groups who had members and affiliates in both Russia and Ukraine, or other former USSR countries. Some groups, such as Conti, rushed to take sides in the war, threatening to attack Western infrastructure in support of Russia. This was a departure from the usual business-like apolitical approach in which ransomware gangs had ran their operations and drew criticism from other competing groups.

This was also followed by a leak of internal communications that exposed many of Conti’s operational secrets and caused uneasiness with its affiliates. Following a major attack against the Costa Rican government the US State Department put up a reward of $10 million for information related to the identity or location of Conti’s leaders, which likely contributed to the group’s decision to shut down operations in May.

Copyright © 2023 IDG Communications, Inc.

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