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By Gad Elkin, Information Security Director in F5

In the film “Ransom”, Mel Gibson plays the role of a father who is trying to save his son kidnapped by a villain, and eventually leads an FBI team in a courageous rescue operation. However, nowadays the tactic of modern criminals is much more sophisticated. Instead of human hostages – the villain now holds hostage the business information.

Hospitals, government organizations and banks were target to ransomware, and confronting this challenge can be traumatic. Ransomware is a type of malware, that prevents the access to a user’s files unless a ransom is paid. The number of such attacks has risen by 16% during the last year.

The first ransom attacks were on a low level, they were operated by email and included DDoS attack threats, or encryption of devices by force, while demanding payment for access renewal. Financial organizations have been a constant target.

Later the hackers tactic changed. While the number of attacks has increased dramatically, hackers groups chose to launch  attacks of very specific intensity, in order to showcase the victims their capability of precision. Another trend has been the public humiliation of victims, as in the attack on Ashley Madison online dating website. In such cases, the hackers already possess access to information and the victims pay the ransom just to assure that their information does not leak to the public sphere.

Hackers also perpetrated advertizing malware campaigns, in which innocent users visit legitimate websites. The widespread use of cloud services has made the service suppliers a target as well. This trend might have a devastating influence that could potentially cause a domino effect by indirectly contaminate  the customer of the service providers.

Despite the increasing prevalence of cyber attacks, it seems that organizations are unaware of the best practice of responding to ransom demands. In fact, a research found that only 28% of the cyber extortion cases are actually reported to the authorities, i.e. the victims prefer to pay ransom on risking in the publication of  sensitive information.

The FBI recently published a recommendation saying that “paying ransom does not only encourage cyber criminals to be involved in this illegal activity… By paying ransom, organizations inevitably supply funding to other illegal activities of the criminals”. Moreover, the criminals are encouraged to attack the same target again if as it was willing to pay.

Organizations have started to educate their employees about the ransomware risks and the right response. However, first they have to assure that the applications incorporated in the information systems are secure. The first milestone should be a full evaluation of the business’ present infrastructure in order to evaluate if it can sustain a hacker attack. Then, the incorporation of on premise and cloud services can help during an attack and prove effective in accordance to the volume and magnitude of the attack.

Another element should be the assurance that the business in 24/7 secured. Today, a rapid access to experts, reports and analysis have become a critical demand in order to secure the business and is end customers. with the widening scope of ransomware threats, businesses today prefer more managed security services with high level expertise.

During recent years, the trend has changed – businesses react immediately to hackers’ ransom demands instead of taking them serious only when the price tag appears. Although it is a positive evolution, other organizations turn to the other extremity and pay hackers without checking in depth the situation, a sort of  conduct that might only intensify the problem.

Taking the adequate measures for securing applications will lower the prospects to cyber extortion.