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Oscar Williams

News editor

Rise of Mafia-style cyber gangs leads to 2,000 per cent increase in ransomware attacks

A new breed of Mafia-style cyber gangs are to blame for a dramatic spike in ransomware attacks, according to fresh research from Malwarebytes.

The security firm’s researchers observed a near 2,000 per cent rise in ransomware detections since 2015 and a 94 per cent rise in monthly detections since 2016.

The firm says in a report published today that the new generation of criminals resemble the Mafia in both their coordination and willingness to intimidate victims.

It outlines four distinct groups of cyber criminals – traditional gangs, state-sponsored hackers, ideological hackers and hackers for hire – and calls for businesses to fight back.

“Through greater vigilance and a comprehensive understanding of the cyber crime landscape, businesses can support the efforts of legislators and law enforcement, while also taking matters into their own hands,” said Malwarebytes CEO Marcin Kleczynski.

The profile of ransomware has risen since the start of the year, with attacks such as WannaCry paralysing the NHS and NotPetya targeting national infrastructure. Despite this, Kleczynski said many business executives still have knowledge gaps to fill.

“CEOs will soon have little choice but to elevate cybercrime from a technology issue to a business-critical consideration,” he said.

The president of Germany’s cyber agency revealed in July that the NotPetya virus had caused millions of euros of damage in the country, with some factories forced to stall production for more than a week.

The strike came just weeks after WannaCry ransomware forced doctors to cancel thousands of operations in the NHS. Both viruses relied on Windows exploits developed by the NSA and later leaked by hackers. Microsoft had already released updates to fix the flaws.

The National Audit Office reported last month that the WannaCry strike could have been stopped if NHS trusts had implemented the patches. The attack prompted the government to pledge an extra £50m for improving cyber security and patient data in the NHS.

But David Evans, the Chartered Institute for IT’s policy director, questioned the logic in providing extra cyber security funding for major trauma centres and not for the rest of the NHS’s 240 trusts.

He warned: “The additional funding will be welcomed by NHS CIOs at major trauma sites, but the rest will have to consider cuts to other areas of budgets to shore up cyber security.”