Projecting the overall cost of a ransomware attack can be tricky for security executives considering the many factors that can come into play when responding to and recovering from one. Information from numerous previous incidents show the costs go well beyond any demanded ransom amount and the costs associated with cleaning infected systems.
Ransomware is defined as a form of malicious software that is designed to restrict users from accessing their computers or files stored on computers till they pay a ransom to cybercriminals. Ransomware typically operates via the crypto virology mechanism, using symmetric as well as asymmetric encryption to prevent users from performing managed file transfer or accessing particular files or directories. Cybercriminals use ransomware to lock files from being used assuming that those files have extremely crucial information stored in them and the users are compelled to pay the ransom in order to regain access.
It’s been said that Ransomware was introduced as an AIDS Trojan in 1989 when Harvard-educated biologist Joseph L. Popp sent 20,000 compromised diskettes named “AIDS Information – Introductory Diskettes” to attendees of the internal AIDS conference organized by the World Health Organization. The Trojan worked by encrypting the file names on the customers’ computer and hiding directories. The victims were asked to pay $189 to PC Cyborg Corp. at a mailbox in Panama.
From 2006 and on, cybercriminals have become more active and started using asymmetric RSA encryption. They launched the Archiveus Trojan that encrypted the files of the My Documents directory. Victims were promised access to the 30-digit password only if they decided to purchase from an online pharmacy.
After 2012, ransomware started spreading worldwide, infecting systems and transforming into more sophisticated forms to promote easier attack delivery as the years rolled by. In Q3, about 60,000 new ransomware was discovered, which doubled to over 200,000 in Q3 of 2012.
The first version of CryptoLocker appeared in September 2013 and the first copycat software called Locker was introduced in December of that year.
Ransomware has been creatively defined by the U.S. Department of Justice as a new model of cybercrime with a potential to cause impacts on a global scale. Stats indicate that the use of ransomware is on a steady rise and according to Veeam, businesses had to pay $11.7 on average in 2017 due to ransomware attacks. Alarmingly, the annual ransomware-induced costs, including the ransom and the damages caused by ransomware attacks, are most likely to shoot beyond $11.5 billion by 2019.
Ransomware Business Impacts Can Be Worrisome
Ransomware can cause tremendous impacts that can disrupt business operations and lead to data loss. The impacts of ransomware attacks include:
Loss or destruction of crucial information
Business disruption in the post-attack period
Damage of hostage systems, data, and files
Loss of reputation of the victimized company
You will be surprised to know that apart from the ransom, the cost of downtime due to restricted system access can bring major consequences. As a matter of fact, losses due to downtime may cost tens of thousands of dollars daily.
As ransomware continues to become more and more widespread, companies will need to revise their annual cybersecurity goals and focus on the appropriate implementation of ransomware resilience and recovery plans and commit adequate funds for cybersecurity resources in their IT budgets.
Consider the following examples. The Erie County Medical Center (ECMC) in Buffalo, NY, last July estimated it spent $10 million responding to an attack involving a $30,000 ransom demand. About half the amount went toward IT services, software, and other recovery-related costs. The other half stemmed from staff overtime, costs related to lost revenues, and other indirect costs. ECMC officials estimated the medical center would need to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars more on upgrading technology and employee awareness training.
Public records show that the City of Atlanta spent almost $5 million just in procuring emergency IT services following a March 2018 ransomware attack that crippled essential city services for days. The costs included those associated with third-party incident response services, crisis communication, augmenting support staff and subject matter expert consulting services.
In Colorado, Gov. John Hickenlooper had to set aside $2 million from the state disaster emergency fund after ransomware infected some 2,000 Windows systems at CDOT, the state department of transportation, this February. In less than eight weeks, CDOT officials spent more than half that amount just returning systems to normal from the attack.
Not surprisingly, industry estimates relating to ransomware damages have soared recently. Cybersecurity Ventures, which pegged ransomware costs at $325 million in 2015, last year estimated damages at $5 billion in 2017 and predicted it would exceed $11.5 billion in 2019.
For security executives trying to prepare a total ransomware cost estimate, the key is not to get fixated on the ransom amount itself. Even if you end up paying it to recover your data—something that most security analysts advocate against—the actual costs of the attack in most cases will end up being greater.