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Ransomware groups will target smaller businesses in 2022 - report

Scrutiny from law enforcement is causing groups to change tack, says analyst

A splash screen on a PC showing ransomware demanding a payment from an infected user

Small businesses are being warned to prepare for a potential surge in ransomware attacks in 2022 as cyber criminals turn to campaigns that are less likely to draw coordinated action from law enforcement.

Cyber criminals are said to be adapting to increased pressure from police agencies that have launched a number of successful operations to dismantle criminal networks, according to an analysis by threat intelligence firm Analyst1, published today.

"Instead of going after the high-profile attacks, since the activity brings unwanted attention from the federal government, they will likely target smaller companies that will allow them to stay under the radar," said Chris Fiormonti, former intelligence community threat analyst and researcher with the company.

In a review of big-ticket ransomware activities for the year, Fiormonti noted increased scrutiny and efforts by western law enforcement to quash the more egregious groups.

This includes warnings from CISA and the FBI, including last month's advisories that ransomware attacks were likely to increase during the holiday season.

The US Treasury, which now treats ransomware with the same severity as terrorism, offered a $10m reward for information leading to the arrest of the BlackMatter group. Federal agencies also issued a joint alert that it had targeted critical infrastructure groups.

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Law enforcement has scored some significant wins, Fiormonti added, pointing to the disappearance of the BlackMatter group in November, and the disappearance of the REvil group in July, and again in October, following a multi-state effort. Europol also captured several REvil members last month.

Citing a paper by the company's chief security strategist, Fiormonti noted several direct links between ransomware groups and the Russian government, including the Business Club, Evilcorp, Silverfish, and Wizard Spider groups. While these groups primarily attack for profit, a change in targets from previous years fits Russian government targets, he said. A recent New York Times report said that some groups operate out of Moscow's Federation Tower East, a prestigious business address, with apparent impunity.

While the attacks might change direction, there is no sign that they will cease, Fiormonti added.

"Ransomware attacks will continue as long as they are profitable or until the core group of individuals that take safe haven in Russia are taken down or disrupted," he said.

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