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Report Finds that Ransomware Attacks and Demands are on the Rise

July 20, 2016
by Rajiv Leventhal
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The latest research paper on ransomware from the Mountain View, Calif.-based Symantec finds that the disturbing trend has now grown into one of the biggest dangers facing businesses and consumers today.

In its annual “Ransomware and Businesses” report, Symantec found that across various industries, 2015 was a record year, with 100 new ransomware families discovered. The vast majority of new ransomware discovered is now the more dangerous form of the threat: crypto-ransomware, which is capable of locking away the victim’s files with strong encryption.

 The average ransom demand has more than doubled and is now $679, up from $294 at the end of 2015. This year has also seen a new record in terms of ransom demand, with a threat known as “7ev3n-HONE$T” requesting a ransom of 13 Bitcoins per computer ($5,083 at the time of discovery in January 2016), according to the report’s findings.

With 31 percent of global infections, the U.S. continues to be the country most affected by ransomware. The “services” sector, with 38 percent of organizational infections, was by far the most affected business sector, according to the report. Symantec said that healthcare "does not appear among the most frequently infected sectors," according to Bloomberg. However, within healthcare, ransomware is among the most concerning cyber threats to organizations, as revealed in the sixth annual survey of healthcare organizations by the Ponemon Institute. Across all industries, ransomware attacks have been growing every year, with the FBI receiving more than 2,400 complaints in 2015 for $24 million in losses—up from more than 1,800 complaints in 2014, per the Symantec report.

“These kinds of attacks are still relatively rare, but now that they have been proven possible, the potential opportunity to hold well financed organizations for ransom may motivate more attacks,” the report states. To this point, a recent Radware 2016 Executive Application and Network Security Survey found that 84 percent of U.S. and U.K. information technology (IT) executives at firms that had not faced ransom attacks said they would never pay a ransom, but among firms that had been attacked, almost half (43 percent) paid the ransom.

The report concludes by advising that adopting a multi-layered approach to security minimizes the chance of infection. Symantec’s strategy that protects against ransomware is outlined in three stages: prevent, contain, and respond.

Healthcare Informatics recently tackled the industry’s ransomware crisis in a two-part feature series. Part 1 looked at what the phenomenon means for patient care leaders today and what more can be done, while in Part 2, industry experts offer practical advice on how to address the ransomware threat right now.

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