New Delhi, India–
The security experts of Kaspersky, a global cybersecurity and anti-virus brand, have observed that at least 174 municipal institutions, with more than 3,000 subset organisations, have been targeted by ransomware during the year. This represents a 60 per cent increase at least, from the figure in 2018.
According to the security experts, 2019 has been the “year of ransomware attacks on municipalities.” While threat actors’ demands would sometimes reach up to USD 5,000,000, actual costs and damages sustained during attacks are estimated to be larger. These are among the main findings of Kaspersky’s ‘Security Bulletin: Story of the Year 2019.’
Ransomware is a notorious headache for the corporate sector, affecting businesses around the world for a number of years. The year 2019 has seen the rapid development of an earlier trend, where malware distributors have targeted municipal organisations.
Researchers note that while these targets might be less capable of paying a large ransom, they are more likely to agree to cybercriminals’ demands. Blocking any municipal services directly affects the welfare of citizens and results, not only in financial losses but other socially significant and sensitive consequences.
Judging by publicly available information, the ransom amounts varied greatly, reaching up to USD 5,300,000 and USD 1,032,460 on average. The researchers noted that these figures do not accurately represent the final costs of an attack, as the long-term consequences are far more devastating.
“Paying extortionists is a short-term solution that only encourages criminals and keeps them funded to quite possibly return. In addition, once the city has been attacked, the whole infrastructure is compromised and requires an incident investigation and a thorough audit. This inevitably results in costs that are additional to ransom,” Fedor Sinitsyn, a Security Researcher at Kaspersky, said.
He added: “At the same time, based on our observations, cities might be sometimes inclined to pay because they usually cover the cyber risks with help of insurance and allocating budgets for incident response. However, a better approach would be also investing in proactive measures like proven security and backup solutions as well as a regular security audit.”
“While the trend of attacks on municipalities is only growing, it can be stifled and nipped in the bud by adjusting the approach to cybersecurity and what is more important by the refusal to pay ransoms and broadcasting this decision as an official statement,” Sinitsyn further said.
The malware that was most often cited as a culprit varies too, yet three families were named as the most notorious, by Kaspersky researchers: Ryuk, Purga, and Stop.
Ryuk appeared on the threat landscape more than a year ago and has since been active all over the world, both in public and in the private sector. Its distribution model usually involves delivery via backdoor malware which in turn spreads by the means of phishing with a malicious attachment disguised as a financial document.
Purga malware has been known since 2016, yet only recently municipalities have been discovered to fall victims to this trojan, having various attack vectors – from phishing to brute force attacks.
Stop cryptor is a relative novice as it is only one year old. It propagates by hiding inside software installers. This malware has been popular, number seven in the top 10 most popular cryptors ranking of Q3 2019.
India was attacked by all three groups of ransomware with India being targeted 5.84 per cent by Ryuk, 0.80 per cent by Purga and 10.10 per cent by Stop.
The experts recommended some measures to avoid such malware infiltrating organizations that include installing security updates as soon as they appear, protecting remote access to corporate networks by VPN and use secure passwords for domain accounts, etc.
“It is essential to install all security updates as soon as they appear. Most cyberattacks are possible by exploiting vulnerabilities that have already been reported and addressed, so installing the latest security updates lowers the chances of an attack,” experts said in a release.
They added: “Protect remote access to corporate networks by VPN and use secure passwords for domain accounts and always update the operating system to eliminate recent vulnerabilities and use a robust security solution with updated databases.”
The experts also advised to keep fresh back-up copies of your files so you can replace them in case they are lost (e.g., due to malware or a broken device) and store them not only on the physical object but also in cloud storage for greater reliability.