In 2018, Ransomware Pivots to New Targets with New Objectives: McAfee Labs

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We are in the generation of cyber world with highly volatile stage of cybersecurity, with new malwares, new ransomwares, and new threats appearing every day. According to the Indian Computer Emergency Response Team over 27,000 cyber security incidents were reported in the first half of the year alone-at least one cybercrime reported every 10 minutes.

McAfee Labs one of the world’s leading standalone cybersecurity companies 2018 Threats Predictions Report says the nature and application of ransomware is going to continue through 2018 and beyond as cybercriminals are advancing to machine learning and analytics. In further their success may force attackers to pivot to high-value ransomware targets.

The recent WannaCry and NotPetya ransomware outbreaks foreshadow a trend of ransomware being applied in new ways, in pursuit of new objectives.

McAfee Labs saw total ransomware grow 56% over the past four quarters, but the good news is number of ransomware payments have declined over the last year because of improvised backup efforts, free decryption tools, greater user and organizational awareness.

Steve Grobman, Chief Technology Officer for McAfee in an interview said “The evolution of ransomware in 2017 should remind us of how aggressively a threat can reinvent itself as attackers dramatically innovate and adjust to the successful efforts of defenders.”

McAfee lab researcher says cyber criminals are going to target higher net-worth victims and the trend will continue toward attacks that are more personal, using more sophisticated exploitation of social engineering techniques that deliver ransomware via spear phishing messages. These high-value targets will be attacked at their high-value endpoints, such as their increasingly expensive personal devices, including the latest generation of smart phones.

Cloud backups on these devices have made them relatively free from traditional ransomware attacks. McAfee predicts that attackers will instead try to “brick” the phones, making them unusable unless a ransom payment is sent to restore them.

The researchers foresee digital attacks impacting the physical world. Every year, we read predictions about threats to our physical safety from security breaches of industrial systems in transportation, water, and power. We are also perennially entertained with creative depictions of physical threats brought about by the imminent hacking rampage of consumer devices, from the car to the coffeemaker.  

The traditional WannaCry and NotPetya campaigns quickly infected large numbers of systems with ransomware, but without the payment or decryption capabilities necessary to unlock impacted systems. Although the exact objectives are still unclear, the company believes the attackers could have sought to blatantly disrupt or destroy huge networks of computers, or disrupt and distract IT security teams from identifying other attacks, in much the same way DDoS attacks have been used to obscure other real aspects of attacks.

In 2018, Ransomware-as-a-service providers will make such attacks available to countries, corporations, and other nonstate actors seeking to paralyze national, political, and business rivals in much the same way that NotPetya attackers knocked global IT systems out of commission at corporations around the world.

So, 2018 could be a pivotal year both in terms of customers waking up to risk and in terms of governments moving to protect them



Jahnavi M

Vulnerability analyst, Technical Writer, Security Blogger, Co-founder—SecKurity

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