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Ransomware was the most prevalent form of malware in 2017

Ransomware was the most prevalent form of malware in 2017, according to one of the biggest annual analyses of cyber attacks.

Verizon’s latest Data Breach Investigations Report, released ahead of RSA Conference next week, identified ransomware in 39 per cent of malware-related breaches, twice as many as last year.

The research also indicates that ransomware is increasingly used to target business critical systems such as file servers and databases, allowing hackers to charge higher ransom fees.

“Ransomware remains a significant threat for companies of all sizes,” says Bryan Sartin, executive director of security professional services at Verizon. “It is now the most prevalent form of malware, and its use has increased significantly over recent years.”

The report’s authors note that despite a sharp increase in ransomware attacks, businesses are still not investing in appropriate security measures and as such are being forced to pay out.

“Ongoing training and education programs are essential,” added Sartin. “It only takes one person to click on a phishing email to expose an entire organisation.”

Research released by US security firm SonicWall this week indicates that the UK in particular is facing an intensifying barrage of attacks. In the first quarter of 2018, attempted ransomware attacks in the UK were up 300 per cent compared to the same period last year, double the global average, according to SonicWall.

Asked whether the UK spike may indicate that companies in the UK are more likely to pay out, SonicWall CEO Bill Conner told NS Tech: “It has to be. There’s a reason it’s going up here faster than the average.”

The cost of ransomware was laid bare last year when NotPetya and WannaCry spread through critical infrastructure around the world. NotPetya crippled national infrastructure across Ukraine in June, before hitting the advertising giant WPP, the shipping container firm Maersk and several German manufacturers. WannaCry, meanwhile, forced doctors to cancel thousands of operations and appointments in the NHS.

In February, the UK government pinned the blame for the NotPetya attack on Russia and vowed to make it pay. The defence secretary Gavin Williamson accused the Russian government of “ripping up the rulebook” by “undermining democracy” and “wrecking livelihoods” by targeting critical service providers.

Lord Tariq Ahmad, the Foreign Office minister for cyber security, added: “The United Kingdom is identifying, pursuing and responding to malicious cyber activity regardless of where it originates, imposing costs on those who would seek to do us harm.”