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Cyber Attackers Shift Tactics, Rely Less on Ransomware and More on Social Engineering: UK Official

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Cyber attackers in the UK are shifting away from traditional ransomware tactics and instead relying on social engineering skills to extort money from their victims, according to Paul Chichester, the operations director at the National Cybersecurity Centre (NCSC). Speaking at the 44CON conference in London, Chichester highlighted that while ransomware remains a significant concern for the NCSC and businesses, attackers are finding new ways to exploit their victims. Instead of encrypting data and demanding a ransom, attackers are now stealing data, publishing it on leak sites, and then soliciting payment in exchange for taking it down.

Chichester explained that criminals have evolved from encrypting data to double extortion, where they encrypt data and threaten to leak it, and now to simply threatening to leak the data. He suggests that attackers are becoming more efficient or are trying to make it less painful for victims, as people generally pay to avoid their data being leaked.

Addressing a cyber extortion attack is not as simple as having backups to restore systems and data. Organizations are advised to follow best practices for passwords and multifactor authentication, ensure efficient patch management, and provide security training for employees.

Chichester emphasized that the UK has a policy recommending organizations not to pay ransom because it fuels the criminal ecosystem. However, some companies do pay to reassure their customers that their data is safe. To illustrate the social engineering tactics used by attackers, Chichester shared a story of a company that was attacked and where the ransom payment was set to be lower than a General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) fine. This made it appear as if the company was paying less by giving in to the ransom rather than facing a regulatory fine.

Chichester expressed empathy for companies that fall victim to cyber extortion, as he has witnessed instances where everything is encrypted and the victim feels compelled to pay the ransom. GDPR fines can range from £20 million to £425 million, while ransomware payments have reportedly reached eight figures. In 2023, UK organizations made average payments of $2.1 million.

Chichester praised the collaboration between the UK industry sector and the NCSC, particularly when organizations notify the agency of a ransomware attack. This allows the NCSC to analyze the malware, work with threat intelligence providers and research communities, and assist the victim. Chichester stated that it is preferable to prevent incidents rather than respond to them, but the NCSC is dedicated to supporting all organizations that are affected.

This shift in cyber attacker tactics highlights the ever-evolving nature of cyber threats and the need for organizations to constantly improve their cybersecurity measures. The NCSC’s guidance on best practices, along with collaboration with industry sectors, is crucial in combating these threats and protecting businesses and individuals from falling victim to cyber extortion.

More detail via Dark Reading here… ( Image via Dark Reading )

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