And Ransomware Just Got a Bit Meaner (yes... it is possible)

Published: 2021-05-20
Last Updated: 2021-05-20 19:18:32 UTC
by Johannes Ullrich (Version: 1)
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Ransomware has been evolving, and each evolution appears to be a bit "meaner" than the first. Early ransomware targeted consumers. Encrypting baby pictures, or tax records, motivated users to pay in some cases a few hundred dollars to get their data back. The attacker went for easy targets and with that for easy money. But as most people dealing with consumers can attest to: Customer support is hard! Many consumers do not know how to use crypto currencies. Even the relatively straightforward Bitcoin payment can be too difficult. And forget about currencies like Monero that are often not traded on mainstream exchanges.

Next came ransomware targeting enterprises. Payouts quickly reached millions of dollars. The influx of new money lead to the rapid development of more sophisticated methods to attack enterprise networks to plant ransomware. Attacks lasted weeks or months and not seconds. The attack carefully figured out how to cause the hardest to a particular entity and create sufficient urgency to pay the ransom, even if backups were available but too difficult to retrieve and install.

But attackers didn't stop here. Next, we had "extortion ware". In addition to encrypting the data, attackers exfiltrated the data and threatened to leak it. Companies like Quanta computers are said to have paid tens of millions of dollars to groups deploying this kind of software. Of course, if the organization doesn't pay, the attacker needs to find a method to release the data. This happened now to the Irish Health Services with what may be devastating consequences [1]. The ransomware attacker not only leaked private health information after a ransom payment was category denied. In addition, other miscreants, or the original attackers themselves, are now using this leaked data.

Apparently, individuals in Ireland are receiving calls claiming to come from the Irish Health Service, asking for banking information. The caller is using leaked data (personal information like birthday and address, but also the date and type of recent medical procedures) to authenticate themselves. The victim is then asked for banking information for a "refund". 


Johannes B. Ullrich, Ph.D. , Dean of Research,

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