GCHQ Boss Says Ransomware Attacks Have Doubled In A Year

Jeremy Fleming, the Director of GCHQ, has said that the number of ransomware attacks on British organisations has doubled in the past 12 months. He also said that these attacks have become increasingly popular among criminals because it was “largely uncontested” and highly profitable for them.

He made his statement on the second day of the Cipher Brief Annual Threat Conference in Sea Island Georgia on October 25th, follow warnings that Russia and China are harbouring criminal gangs that are successfully targeting western governments or firms. 

Ransomware is malware that employs encryption to hold a victim’s information at ransom. Critical data is encrypted so that the organisation cannot access files, databases, or applications. A ransom is then demanded to provide access. It has been used as part of a number of high-profile cyber-attacks in recent years, including the 2017 attack on the NHS and this year of the health service in Ireland

Hackers are using software to lock files on computers before stopping victims from accessing their own data, essentially holding it hostage and demanding money from them. Once they have received ransomware payment, the hackers can then give a decryption key back to the victim so they can regain access. “I think that the reason ransomware is proliferating, we’ve seen twice as many attacks this year as last year in the UK, is because it works. It just pays. Criminals are making very good money from it and are often feeling that that’s largely uncontested,” he told delegates.

GCHQ has declined to give the exact numbers of ransomware attacks recorded in the UK this year or last. However, a recent US Treasury Report disclosed that suspicious ransomware-related transactions in the US over the first six months of this year were worth around $590m. The top 10 hacking groups believed to be behind criminal activity had moved about $5.2bn worth of bitcoin over the past three years, the report said.

Amid growing concerns over China and Russia’s ties to ransomware gangs, Fleming also called for more clarity over the links between criminals and hostile states. “In the shorter term we’ve got to sort out ransomware, and that is no mean feat in itself. We have to be clear on the red lines and behaviours that we want to see, we’ve got to go after those links between criminal actors and state actors”.

“We’ve got to go after those links between criminal actors and state actors, and impose costs where we see that, and beyond that I think we’ve got to make sure that we are doing all we can to de-simplify this and to take as much out of it of the hands of citizens as we can so that they can enjoy living in a safe and secure online world,” Fleming said. He said that it is not “rocket science” to “defend against this sort of stuff...  Back up your data, make sure you’ve got your admin right, sorted out, make sure your passwords are properly protected, work out where your thresholds are, have thought in advance how you would respond if you were approached for ransom, all those sorts of things, it’s just basic stuff,” he said.

Security specialists believe Russian ransomware will continue to expand given the proliferation of cyber hacking tools and crypto-currency payment channels. 

  • In May this year, the then foreign secretary, Dominic Raab, said states such as Russia could not “wave their hands” and say ransomware gangs operating from their territory had nothing to do with them.

Since then, Western nations has sought to increase pressure on Russia. President Biden has raised these issues with Vladimir Putin over the summer and he hinted that the US would be prepared to attack computer servers belonging to the gangs if nothing was done.   

The Cipher Brief:    Standard:    NMAP:      Belfast Telegraph:    Guardian:    Daily Echo:    Verve Times:   

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