Another Accurate 2016 Prediction: The Rise of Ransomware

Sue Marquette Poremba
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5 Security Steps to Protect Users from Ransomware

The increase of ransomware has been discussed in great length over the past year. In my 2016 security predictions round-up, I noted that we should expect to see substantial growth in ransomware attacks, quoting Stu Sjouwerman, founder and CEO of KnowBe4:

Current estimates from the Cyber Threat Alliance put the damage caused by CryptoWall ransomware at $325 million, up 1800 percent since the FBI's report in June 2015.

And I’m not the only one who had ransomware on the mind. Others also were concerned about the rise of ransomware. For example, CSO had this to say:


Ransomware will gain ground on banking Trojans and extend into smart devices like coffee makers, refrigerators, baby monitors, cars, wearables and medical devices, often owned by wealthier and therefore more lucrative targets. Most wearables, which collect personal information, lack even basic security features.

Now that the first four months of 2016 have passed, we’re beginning to see how accurate those predictions were. The recently released Verizon Data Breach Investigations Report found that ransomware is becoming a favored tool of cybercriminals. A new Kaspersky Lab report revealed that a 14 percent increase in ransomware was detected in the first quarter of this year, and, the company’s Securelist blog stated, ransomware has topped targeted attacks as the “main theme of the quarter.” Also, Enigma Software reported that April 2016 was ransomware’s biggest month ever in the United States, with the number of ransomware infections increasing by 158 percent over March.

These numbers make me think now that, while we were correct to add ransomware to our 2016 predictions, I (and I suspect many others) seriously underestimated how much ransomware would take off. After all, ransomware isn’t new; it has evolved, like so many strains of malware and other types of cyber attacks have done over the years.

The evolution of ransomware, according to Enigma Software’s spokesperson Ryan Gerding, is the reason for its recent explosion. Gerding stated in a formal release:

It's not just businesses that are being hit by ransomware. Every day thousands and thousands of people turn on their personal computers only to find their most precious photos and other files have been locked up by bad guys.

Yes, ransomware infections appear to be skyrocketing and it will be interesting to see what Kaspersky Lab’s second quarter numbers reveal. But at the same time, ransomware is also the security issue of the day. We’ve seen this happen before – a particular type of threat catches the attention of the news outlets and it is what everyone starts talking about (remember Zeus? Stuxnet? The Target breach?). It doesn’t mean that the security issue, in this case ransomware, isn’t a serious issue, but, as Newsweek pointed out:

Collecting data from its anti-malware software SpyHunter since 2013, Enigma reports that while ransomware made up the largest percentage of overall malware infections in April, it still makes up less than 1 percent of overall infections, paling in comparison to adware or Trojan horses. For every ransomware attack, there were 133 other infections SpyHunter detected.

Sue Marquette Poremba has been writing about network security since 2008. In addition to her coverage of security issues for IT Business Edge, her security articles have been published at various sites such as Forbes, Midsize Insider and Tom's Guide. You can reach Sue via Twitter: @sueporemba.



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