Symantec Says As Victims Keep Paying There Is A Surge In Cyber Extortion

As cyber criminals seek to maximize profits from large numbers of victims willing to pay up, according to cyber security firm Symantec Corp, hackers are demanding increasingly hefty ransoms to free computers paralyzed with viruses.

According to Symantec, the pricing has continued to rise in 2017 and last year the average demand embedded in such malicious software, which is known as ransomware, more than tripled to reach $1,077 from $294.

“The bad guys haven’t found the top end of what people will pay,” Symantec Director of Security Response Kevin Haley said.

Consumer computers were hit by 69 percent of ransomware infections in 2016 while the remainder targeting businesses and other organizations, Symantec said.

According to Symantec, in order to regain access to their data, more than a third of consumer ransomware victims around the globe pay cyber criminals. 64 percent pay in the United States where such attacks are most prevalent.

“If six out of ten people will pay your ransom when it’s three hundred bucks, you’re thinking ‘What if I raise it to four hundred? What if I raise to five hundred?'” Haley said.

According to Symantec, for wannabe cyber crooks wanting to get in the business has become easier as the sale of ransomware kits, which sell for $10 to $1,800 on underground markets, has become rampant and this is to be blamed in part for fueling the surge in cyber extortion.

The demand is allowed to be made, ransom from the victims are collected and the money is then passed on to the attackers, minus a 20 percent commission which is kept by the creators of one such ransom ware kit which is known as Shark.

With criminals targeting hospitals, police departments and other providers of critical services in the United States and Europe, ransomware attacks have increased sharply over the past year.

The attacks have interrupted critical public services in some cases.

When ransomware paralyzed computer systems, U.S. and European hospitals have been forced to divert patients to other facilities.

These claims were confirmed in a separate news report by BBC earlier in April which claimed that NHS hospital trusts in England reported 55 cyber attacks in 2016.

An increase on 16 attacks in 2015 is shown by the figures which come from NHS Digital, which oversees cyber security.

The figures showed a “rise in reporting, not necessarily a rise in cyber attacks”, NHS Digital said.

But ransomware attacks had become more common, said Oliver Farnan, from the Oxford Cyber Security Centre.

Ransomware is software that is used to demands a ransom from a victim after it is used ot lock the computer, to unlock the data.

Five ransomware attacks in 2016 were repelled by Oxford University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust (OUH).

“That is something a number of hospitals have seen and is potentially quite worrying,” said Dr Chris Bunch from OUH.

He added: “Across the health service we are still to a very large extent paper-based… and as we move increasingly towards digital records the risk is going to increase.”

(Adapted from Reuters & BBC)

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