Ransomware Double-Dip: Re-Victimization in Cyber Extortion

In the realm of cyber extortion, re-victimization often stems from a combination of desperation and strategic maneuvering by threat actors. For instance, repeat attacks against victims may exploit persistent vulnerabilities that were not adequately addressed or leverage new entry points, such as phishing campaigns or compromises in third-party services. The recycling of stolen data and access credentials is a common practice within the cybercrime ecosystem, facilitated by underground markets on the dark web. This data circulation enables threat actors to launch multiple extortion attempts against the same victim or resell the data to other malicious actors. Additionally, the role of affiliates in executing attacks is crucial; these affiliates often switch between different operations, bringing along previously obtained data or access credentials. Their actions are primarily motivated by financial gains, driving them to target multiple victims and operations using shared resources and techniques.

The cyber extortion landscape, often referred to as Cy-X or ransomware attacks, has seen significant growth and attention in recent years. A report by Orange Cyberdefense revealed a 46% increase between 2022 and 2023, with updated data showing an even higher rise of nearly 51%. This escalation underscores the urgency of addressing cybersecurity challenges in this domain.

Efforts to disrupt Cy-X operations have been met with varying degrees of success. Law enforcement actions, such as targeting groups like ALPHV and LockBit, have resulted in temporary disruptions but also highlighted the resilience of some threat actors. ALPHV's eventual exit and LockBit's survival illustrate the volatile nature of this ecosystem and the ongoing battle between law enforcement and cybercriminals.

Security Officer Comments:
A critical aspect of Cy-X attacks is the involvement of affiliates, who play a significant role in executing and scaling these operations. The affiliate model allows for flexibility and operational maneuverability for threat actors, contributing to the proliferation of ransomware attacks. Affiliates may reuse stolen data or collaborate across different Cy-X operations, leading to scenarios of re-victimization and increased harm for organizations. Analyzing victim data from Cy-X leak sites reveals patterns of re-victimization, indicating multiple factors such as actual second attacks, reuse of data, or affiliate crossovers between Cy-X operations. This complexity underscores the unpredictability and opportunistic nature of cyber extortion. Understanding these dynamics is crucial for organizations to enhance their cybersecurity posture and mitigate the risks posed by evolving cyber threats.

Suggested Corrections:
Backup your data, system images, and configurations, regularly test them, and keep the backups offline: Ensure that backups are regularly tested and that they are not connected to the business network, as many ransomware variants try to find and encrypt or delete accessible backups. Maintaining current backups offline is critical because if your network data is encrypted with ransomware, your organization can restore systems.

Update and patch systems promptly: This includes maintaining the security of operating systems, applications, and firmware in a timely manner. Consider using a centralized patch management system; use a risk-based assessment strategy to drive your patch management program.

Test your incident response plan: There's nothing that shows the gaps in plans more than testing them. Run through some core questions and use those to build an incident response plan: Are you able to sustain business operations without access to certain systems? For how long? Would you turn off your manufacturing operations if business systems such as billing were offline?

Check Your Security Team's Work: Use a 3rd party pen tester to test the security of your systems and your ability to defend against a sophisticated attack. Many ransomware criminals are aggressive and sophisticated and will find the equivalent of unlocked doors.

Segment your networks: There's been a recent shift in ransomware attacks – from stealing data to disrupting operations. It's critically important that your corporate business functions and manufacturing/production operations are separated and that you carefully filter and limit internet access to operational networks, identify links between these networks and develop workarounds or manual controls to ensure ICS networks can be isolated and continue operating if your corporate network is compromised. Regularly test contingency plans such as manual controls so that safety critical functions can be maintained during a cyber incident.

Train employees: Email remains the most vulnerable attack vector for organizations. Users should be trained how to avoid and spot phishing emails. Multi Factor authentication can help prevent malicious access to sensitive services.