Science

Ransomware Business "highly profitable"; victims pay over $25mn in ransoms

29 Jul 2017 | By Ramya Patelkhana

The recent wave of ransomware threats across the world has escalated into a global crisis.

Google conducted a study to take a closer look at the reason behind mounting cyber-attacks.

It found ransomware is a highly profitable business; victims of such attacks paid over $25mn in ransoms over the last two years.

Also, the business is no longer limited to "tech-savvy criminals".

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In context: Google's study on ransomware attacks

29 Jul 2017Ransomware Business "highly profitable"; victims pay over $25mn in ransoms

StudyThousands of virtual victims of ransomware created by researchers

While governments and cyber-security experts are redoubling their efforts to fight against malware attacks, newer variants are starting to emerge.

The research conducted by Google, Chainalysis, UC San Diego, and the NYU Tandom School of Engineering found that two types of ransomware made most of the money in 2016.

The researchers created virtual ransomware victims to expose the payment system surrounding the malware types.

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‎Malware is here to stay: Google's Elie Bursztein

Ransomware‎Malware is here to stay: Google's Elie Bursztein

Ransomware, the malicious software, infects computers and encrypts the files so that users can no longer access them.

They are decrypted only when victims pay a ransom.

Google's Anti-fraud and Abuse Research Team Lead, Elie Bursztein, said ransomware became "a very, very profitable market and is here to stay."

The research was conducted by Bursztein and his colleagues Kylie McRoberts and Luca Invernizzi.

ProcessHow was the research carried out?

Bursztein said the research team used various methods to see how much money was paid to malware creators and where it was transferred.

They gathered reports from victims who made payments and created several synthetic victims.

Researchers also collected the files used to infect computers and ran them on virtual machines.

They found 300,000 such files; 34 virtual victims were attacked.

Ransomware MarketRansomware is a fast-moving market: Bursztein

Bursztein warned the global ransomware gangs are unlikely to stop soon.

He added the established strains (ransomware types) are facing aggressive competition from latest variants like SamSam and Spora.

He stated: "It's no longer a game reserved for tech-savvy criminals. It's for almost anyone."

The fast-expanding newer strains are encouraging affiliates to place malicious software on huge numbers of computers by paying them more.

RansomsPayments made using the Bitcoin virtual currency

Ransomware creators made the most money in 2016 after realizing how "lucrative" it was.

Locky and Cerber were two such popular strains; researchers analyzed the Bitcoin blockchain (transaction data) to find these two types collected the most ransoms last year.

Locky received $7.8mn while Cerber $6.9mn.

Also, 95% of the payments made and Bitcoins accumulated were converted into cash through Russia's BTC-e exchange.

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Facebook Chief Security Officer Alex Stamos scolds cybersecurity industry

At the 2017 Black Hat Conference, Stamos said: "We have perfected the art of finding problems without fixing real world issues. The things that cause people to lose control of their information are not that advanced. We focus too much on complexity, not harm."