Tuesday, June 25, 2024

Ransomware Group Creation Touched Yearly All Time High

The ransomware landscape is rapidly diversifying in 2024, with a surge in new extortion groups as established attackers continue to target large companies.

A record number of smaller groups are emerging—22 in just five months compared to 22 in a prior 30-month period. 

The growth is attributed to the maturing ransomware market, readily available attack tools, and evolving group structures. The rise in financially motivated ransomware groups coincides with consolidation among politically motivated hacktivist groups. 

The emergence of ransomware groups is at an all-time high in 2024, with over 5.5 new groups identified per month so far, evident from the discovery of public data leak sites (DLSs) used by these groups.

Graph showing ransomware group emergence from January 2018 to April 2024.

Since January 2018, the number of publicly identified ransomware groups with DLSs has reached nearly 200, though some may be inactive or defunct.

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Despite takedowns, the ease of creating new groups and the profit potential keep the threat landscape active, with over 60 groups with DLSs launching attacks in 2024 alone. 

The number of ransomware groups is not directly related to the number of ransomware attacks, as there was a 22% drop in ransomware attacks in Q1 2024 compared to Q4 2023.

However, the increase in ransomware groups means defenders need to be aware of more Tactics, Techniques, and Procedures (TTPs). 

Graph showing ransomware group emergence from January 2018 to April 2024.

There were spikes in September 2022 and April 2024, possibly due to the dissolution of well-known ransomware groups and the leak of a ransomware builder. This demonstrates that the emergence of new ransomware groups is not always linear.

The ransomware market is flourishing for two main reasons. First, there is a natural progression: older groups improve their TTPs and malware, while new groups target smaller businesses with weaker defenses.

Second, the availability of RaaS (Ransomware-as-a-Service) and ransomware strains has lowered the barrier to entry. 

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According to Cyjax, RaaS allows less technical attackers to launch attacks, and some forums even offer free ransomware toolkits. This empowers new threat actors and incentivizes existing ones to splinter off and form new groups. 

Kryptina RaaS toolkit promotion on cybercrime forum

Ransomware threat actors can move between positions within ransomware groups and even create new groups, perpetuating a growth cycle in the ransomware landscape. Law enforcement efforts to disrupt these groups are often ineffective due to difficulties in attribution and extradition. 

Additionally, internal disputes within ransomware groups can lead to new rival groups, and geopolitical factors like the Russia-Ukraine war can limit international cooperation and create safe havens for ransomware actors. 

The ransomware market is booming due to several factors. First, there’s a vast pool of potential targets as new businesses emerge globally.

Second, mandatory attack reporting incentivizes victims to pay ransoms quietly.

Third, cybercrime forums offer tools and recruitment, allowing for specialization within ransomware operations. 

Fourth, developing countries with weaker security postures are used for testing and refining ransomware. Finally, the profit-driven nature of ransomware disincentivizes collaboration between attackers, unlike hacktivists, who can benefit from forming collectives.

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