UK Faces “Unprecedented” Surge in Ransomware Attacks, Elliptic Report Unveils

Record Number of Ransomware Attacks Target Organizations in the UK

Organizations in the United Kingdom experienced a surge in ransomware attacks last year, according to data published by the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO). The ICO’s data security incident trends revealed that over 700 organizations, compromising data on potentially more than 5.3 million people, fell victim to cybercriminals. Elliptic, a cryptocurrency compliance firm, described ransomware as a form of cybercrime where hackers use malware to encrypt victims’ data or deny them access to critical systems, demanding a ransom in return for restoring access.

Ransomware attacks have been steadily increasing in the UK, accounting for 20% of all cybercrime incidents in 2020, rising to 28% the following year, and reaching 34% in 2022, according to ICO analysis. However, the actual number of incidents remains unknown, as victims are not required to report attacks to UK law enforcement. Darknet extortion sites provide only a partial count of victims who refuse to pay ransoms, raising concerns among enforcement agencies that ransomware incidents are being kept secret.

The ICO and the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) expressed their alarm regarding the undisclosed incidents in a joint blog post in May 2023. They emphasized the need for affected organizations to report such attacks to regulators and law enforcement.

Ransomware attacks are not limited to the UK and are growing in both scope and scale. Elliptic highlighted the role of cryptoassets in the rise of ransomware. Bitcoin is the preferred method of payment for ransomware, as it allows attackers to receive payments into private Bitcoin wallets without regulatory oversight.

After receiving payment in Bitcoin, ransomware attackers often need to convert the funds into fiat currencies, such as Russian rubles or euros, to spend them. Due to the high transparency of the Bitcoin blockchain, the movement of funds from these attacks can be traced as ransomware gangs attempt to launder them through the crypto ecosystem.

To obscure the sanctions nexus associated with their activities, ransomware attackers may utilize decentralized exchanges (DEXs) and cross-chain bridges. DEXs allow for seamless asset swapping, while cross-chain bridges facilitate the transfer of funds across different blockchains.

The increasing prevalence of ransomware attacks and the involvement of cryptocurrencies highlight the need for enhanced security measures and cooperation between law enforcement agencies and organizations. As ransomware attacks continue to evolve and threaten the stability of businesses and individuals, it is crucial for victims to come forward and for regulators to adopt proactive measures to mitigate the risk.

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