What is ransomware?
Ransomware is a type of cybersecurity attack that allows threat actors to take control of the assets of a target and demand ransom for the availability and confidentiality of these assets.
What the report covers
This threat landscape report analysed a total of 623 ransomware incidents across the EU, the United Kingdom and the United States for a reporting period from May 2021 to June 2022. The data was gathered from governments’ and security companies’ reports, from the press, verified blogs and in some cases using related sources from the dark web.
The findings and what they tell us
Between May 2021 and June 2022 about 10 terabytes of data were stolen each month by ransomware threat actors. 58.2% of the data stolen included employees’ personal data.
At least 47 unique ransomware threat actors were found.
For 94.2% of incidents, we do not know whether the company paid the ransom or not. However, when the negotiation fails, the attackers usually expose and make the data available on their webpages. This is what happens in general and is a reality for 37,88% of incidents.
We can therefore conclude that the remaining 62,12% of companies either came to an agreement with the attackers or found another solution.
The study also shows that companies of every size and from all sectors are affected.
The above figures can however only portray a part of the overall picture. In reality, the study reveals that the total number of ransomware attacks is much larger. At present this total is impossible to capture since too many organisations still do not make their incidents public or do not report on them to the relevant authorities.
Information about the disclosed incidents is also quite limited since in most cases the affected organisations are unaware of how threat actors managed to get initial access. In the end, organisations might deal with the issue internally (e.g. decide to pay the ransom) to avoid negative publicity and ensure business continuity. However, such an approach does not help fight the cause – on the contrary, it encourages the phenomenon instead, fuelling the ransomware business model in the process.
It is in the context of such challenges that ENISA is exploring ways to improve this reporting of incidents. The revised Network and Information Security Directive (NIS 2) is expected to change the way cybersecurity incidents are notified. The new provisions will aim to support a better mapping and understanding of the relevant incidents.
What can Ransomware do: the lifecycle and the business models
According to the analysis of the report, ransomware attacks can target assets in four different ways: the attack can either Lock, Encrypt, Delete or Steal (LEDS) the target’s assets. Targeted assets can be anything such as documents or tools from files, databases, web services, content management systems, screens, master boot records (MBR), master file tables (MFT), etc.
The life cycle of ransomware remained unchanged until around 2018 when ransomware started to add more functionality and when blackmailing techniques matured. We can identify five stages of a ransomware attack: initial access, execution, action on objectives, blackmail, and ransom negotiation. These stages do not follow a strict sequential path.
5 different ransomware business models emerged from the study:
- A model focused around individual attackers;
- A model focused around group threat actors;
- A ransomware-as-a-service model;
- A data brokerage model; and,
- A model aimed mostly at achieving notoriety as key for a successful ransomware business (ransomware operators need to maintain a certain reputation of notoriety, otherwise, victims will not pay the ransom).
The report recommends the following:
- Strengthen your resilience against ransomware by taking actions such as:
- keep an updated backup of your business files & personal data;
- keep this backup isolated from the network;
- apply the 3-2-1 rule of backup: 3 copies, 2 different storage media, 1 copy offsite;
- run security software designed to detect most ransomware in your endpoint devices;
- restrict administrative privileges; etc.
- If you fall victim of a ransomware attack:
- contact the national cybersecurity authorities or law enforcement for guidance;
- do not pay the ransom and do not negotiate with the threat actors;
- quarantine the affected system;
- visit the No More Ransom Project, a Europol initiative; etc.
It is strongly recommended to share your ransomware incident information with your authorities to be able to alert potential victims, identify threat actors, support the security research and develop means to prevent such attacks or better respond to them.
Find out more in the report: ENISA Threat Landscape for Ransomware Attacks
ENISA’s work on the Cybersecurity Threat Landscape
Ransomware was already classified as a prime threat in ENISA’s Annual Threat Landscape of 2021 and had consistently been considered among the prime threats in previous ETL editions.
This ransomware threat landscape report was developed on the basis of the recently published ENISA Threat Landscape Methodology — ENISA (europa.eu). The new methodology aims to provide a consistent and trusted baseline for the transparent delivery of horizontal, thematic and sectorial cybersecurity threat landscapes using a systematic and transparent process for data collection and analysis.
ENISA is constantly looking for ways to gather feedback and to continually improve and update the methodology applied to the performance of cybersecurity threat landscapes. Please feel free to reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org with suggestions.
- European Commission and European Member States policy makers (including but not limited to European Union institutions (EUIs);
- EU institutions, bodies and agencies (EUIBAs);
- Cybersecurity experts, industry, vendors, solution providers, SMEs;
- Member States and national authorities (e.g. cybersecurity authorities);