Ransomware Attacks Skyrocketed Last Year, Cyber Insurer Reports

According to Beazley, the two most common forms of attack to deploy ransomware are phishing emails and breaching poorly secured remote desktop protocol (RDP).

NEW YORK — Ransomware attacks climbed sharply last year as an increasing amount of employees worked remotely, data breach insurer Beazley states in a new report.

As the number of staffers working from home due to the coronavirus crisis only swells, employers should take appropriate actions to harden vulnerabilities in their IT infrastructure, the insurer states in its latest Beazley Breach Briefing, an annual update on cybersecurity trends.

Beazley’s in-house team of breach experts, Beazley Breach Response (BBR) Services, reported the number of ransomware attack notifications against clients increased by 131% compared to 2018. With the growth in frequency, the sums demanded by cybercriminals also increased exponentially, sometimes reaching seven or even eight figures.

The report did not detail how many of the affected firms paid.

Cyber criminals’ methods of attack continue to evolve, as well. The two most common forms of attack to deploy ransomware are phishing emails and breaching poorly secured remote desktop protocol (RDP). RDP enables employees to access their work computer desktops or company’s primary server from home with the press of a button, but the convenience also comes with added risks.

“With the convenience of enabling employees to work from home, using RDP can make IT systems more susceptible to attack without the right security measures in place,” says Katherine Keefe, Beazley’s global head of BBR Services. “The coronavirus has forced many more employees to work from home and in this pressured environment it is very important that companies take the right steps to reduce the vulnerability of their IT infrastructure.”

Keefe advises employers to always ensure their staffers can access their computer using a virtual private network (VPN) with multifactor authentication. It is also imperative to whitelist IP addresses that are allowed to connect via RDP, and make sure that unique credentials for remote access are in place, particularly for third parties.

Attacks on IT Managed Services Providers

In 2019 and into 2020, BBR Services recorded an increase in reported attacks by policyholders whose systems were breached via cyber-attacks against its IT managed service providers. In some cases these attacks stopped the operations of hundreds of customers downstream from the IT provider.

“BBR Services handles thousands of breaches every year and our data demonstrates how ransomware has developed into a more serious and complex threat over the past four years. Early on, ransomware was typically used to encrypt data as leverage for a ransom demand,” Keefe says.

However, she adds, more recently attackers have been leveraging ransomware variants in tandem with banking Trojans such as Trickbot and Emotet. This two-pronged attack leaves organizations not only with the debilitating impact of its critical systems and data being encrypted, but with the added risk of data being accessed or stolen.

“Although these attacks can be damaging and complex, some of the most effective preventative measures are relatively simple,” she explains. “More than ever, organizations need to ensure their IT security measures are a top priority and up-to-date, that they have access to authoritative, experienced risk management advice, and, importantly that employees are trained and alert to the potential threats.”

Beazley is the parent company of specialist insurance businesses with operations in the United States, Canada, Europe, Latin America and Asia.

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