Ransomware Attacks Drop Sharply, but Crytojacking Rises

In a world where numerous types of attacks pose as a serious threat to your PC or mobile device, it has always been known that ransomware is among the deadliest.

Sam Bocetta

March 19, 2019

5 Min Read
Ransomware Attacks Drop Sharply, but Crytojacking Rises
(Image: Pixabay)

Ransomware poses a serious concern, and reasonably so, yet if the most recent trends indicate anything, it is that the threat is not quite as lethal as once recognized.

In fact, what would you do if we told you that ransomware is no longer the biggest threat to cyber security? You probably would be skeptical, right?

When the IBM X-Force Threat Intelligence Index was released a few weeks ago, it highlighted a plethora of cyber security threats with the most jaw-dropping revelation being that hackers are no longer using ransomware as the primary attack vector for making money.

The report, which was based on data observed by IBM as they monitored over 70 billion security events a day, found a significant decline in ransomware compared to the past few years. In fact, ransomware attacks were down 45 percent in one quarter of 2018, indicating a massive drop.

For those that still need a little brush up on ransomware, it is a type of malicious software that threatens to publish users’ data or block access to the device until a ransom is paid.

Of course, that sounds alarming and removing ransomware from a PC after the device is taken hostage is furthermore complicated. In order to fully remove the cyber attack, one must eliminate the hostage taker completely from the PC, which is not always straightforward or easy.

Why are ransomware attacks dropping sharply?

It is important to note that while the 2019 IBM X-Force Threat Intelligence Index took many experts in the industry by complete surprise -- celebrating the steep decline in ransomware attacks is a good thing. A really good thing.

 What was more surprising is that ransomware has traditionally been one of the more sophisticated yet effective types of threats for hackers to implement on a victim’s PC, so their sudden attempts to scale back on the number of attacks comes across as peculiar.

However, as cyber-criminals have acted in the past, it rarely does any good for them to dwell on one method of an attack for too long before antivirus software and other systems catch up to combating the threats. Therefore, hackers are always looking to stay ahead of the cyber police, and vice versa. It’s a constant tug of war.

The recent trends do not indicate that ransomware is completely dead, but rather that hackers are embracing new types of threats that security systems have not yet found the best way to combat.

What Is the most recent threat to be worried about?

One word: cryptojacking.

While ransomware witnessed a sharp decrease in the volume of attacks, cryptojacking was the complete opposite. It is very much on the rise.

In fact, the same IBM index reported that cryptojacking attacks were up an incredible 450% over last year, clearly bringing the threat to the forefront of cyber security as systems prepare for new attacks in 2019.

Cryptojacking is described as unauthorized cryptocurrency mining activity. It essentially installs an unknown program onto a device and then secretly accesses your personal information. It can mine cryptocurrency and has proven to be more effective than ransomware from the perspective of hackers.

Therefore, security teams and antivirus software must remain active in handling this growing issue as cyber-criminals develop new ways to use crypto mining tools without being detected by web browsers. As was the case in January, when security researchers found that nearly 25% of all free VPNs for Android contained some form of malware. To see if you’ve been cryptojacked, try the “Cryptojacking Test.” Additionally, utilize endpoint protection in your antivirus software that can detect crypto miners.

What other attacks can we anticipate for 2019?

Ransomware is down, cryptojacking is up. There is no debate about it according to the discoveries from IBM. But there are other threats that you need to keep an eye on.

Have you heard about Business Email Compromise, or BEC? If not, now is the time to get familiar with the latest cyber threat. BEC seeks to trick online users into paying for a fraudulent invoice that claims they owe certain services.

According to IBM, the type of cyber attack is becoming increasingly popular because it has proven to be very lucrative. Last year, BEC scams accounted for 45% of phishing attacks. It is definitely becoming noteworthy.

Overall, are cyber threats up or down?

Due to our increased reliance on technology the ultimate optimism is that we will one day have a firm grasp on discouraging cyber-criminal activity of all kinds and not have any serious risks for online users. That’s obviously a very ideal world.

The problem is that vulnerabilities are actually on the rise, and not the opposite. For example, did you know that 96% of firms have experienced at least one severe exploit last year?

The IBM X-Force also notes there were 140,000 known vulnerabilities that were tracked last year. Of those, 42,000 were reported in just the past three years. It’s a significant percentage of new threats that have surfaced online.

What is even more alarming is that IBM estimates of that number of vulnerabilities, one-third of them do not currently have patches. Therefore, the attack surface is increasing not decreasing.

How does the united states rank in security?

Since the IBM X-Force conducted studies throughout the world, one may wonder if the threats are nearly as dangerous in the United States as they are in other, perhaps lesser informed parts of the world.

The answer is the United States ranks number one when it comes to malware command and control (C&C), which is indeed very good news for those in America. Canada is also performing well including the number of reliable hosts they provide.

The United States ranked best for number of C&C servers, an important feature for controlling malware.

The bottom line

The latest findings from the IBM X-Force committee proved that malware and ransomware attacks are being replaced by other, more recent forms of attacks like cryptojacking and BEC.

While the two remain active, the majority of breaches found in the report from last year (57% in all) did not involve the use of malicious files. It is time to reexamine our security priorities.

About the Author(s)

Sam Bocetta

Sam Bocetta is a freelance journalist specializing in U.S. diplomacy and national security, with emphases on technology trends in cyberwarfare, cyberdefense, and cryptography.

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