Security experts flag rise of 'cyber cartels'

Organising themselves along the lines of drug cartels, cyber criminals are ‘changing the rules of ransomware’ attacks to keep ahead of efforts to thwart their activities. So says a new report from the cyber analytics experts at CyberCube.

These new ‘cartels’, formed to execute attack campaigns collaboratively, are expanding the playbook used by hackers to include so-called ‘double-extortion’, data exfiltration and data modification.

Further, the groups behind ransomware payloads will be responsible for the majority of attritional losses in the insurance market, and potentially even aggregation events due to cyber attacks, according to the report.

Darren Thomson, CyberCube’s head of cyber security strategy and one of the report’s authors, said: “Ransomware is now right at the top of the agenda for cyber insurers, reinsurers and brokers. This is because cyber criminals are continuing to adjust and improve their ransomware approaches in response to increasingly sophisticated cyber defence – and to reap as much reward as possible.

“What we’re seeing now is the rise of cyber cartels – loose affiliations of criminal hackers intent on gaining the maximum amount of money possible. They’re doing this by introducing new tactics into their attacks. This keeps them ahead of advances in security and allows them to extort money not once but twice.”

The report warns insurers to expect the criminal cartels to continue to target high-profile organisations including Fortune 500 companies, having researched their ability to pay a ransom prior to the attack. In addition, the techniques used to conduct these attacks are becoming more sophisticated and more targeted in the 2021 period.

In a double extortion attack, hackers both encrypt the victim’s data, and also copy it to one of their own servers. Once the victim has paid the ransom, the cyber cartel still has the data in its possession, which it can use for the purpose of further extortion. Double-extortion first appeared in 2019 and gained popularity in 2020.

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