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  • Writer's pictureOhad Zaidenberg

Ransomware Gangs Exploit Regulations for Financial Gain: A Deep Dive into the Growing Trend and Its

Data protection and privacy have never been more critical as ransomware gangs continue to evolve and exploit regulations to gain finances. This blog post will examine the recent trend of ransomware gangs leveraging data privacy concerns and regulations in their extortion schemes. Drawing on case studies from the threat intelligence landscape, I will explore the factors driving this trend and discuss practical steps businesses and individuals can take to protect their data and adhere to regulatory requirements.

The New Face of Ransomware Extortion

Ransomware gangs have traditionally encrypted victims' data and demanded a ransom for its release. However, recent trends show that these groups are increasingly focusing on exfiltrating sensitive data and using the threat of exposure and its regulatory implications to extort victims. This shift in negotiation techniques is driven by several factors, including the growing awareness of the risks and consequences of data breaches, technological advancements that make it more challenging to secure systems against cyber threats, and the increasing importance of adhering to data protection and privacy regulations.

Amongst all other events, the Uber case is an outstanding example of the impact of the combination of regulation and a data breach. In 2016, Uber suffered a massive data breach in which hackers stole the personal information of 57 million users and drivers. Uber paid the hackers $100,000 to delete the data and keep the breach quiet. However, the cover-up led to regulatory fines and significant reputational damage. Fast forward to 2022, Uber faced another cyberattack, forcing the company to investigate the incident and address the potential consequences of a data breach. These incidents highlight the importance of proper data protection and the consequences of not adhering to regulatory requirements, such as the GDPR and CCPA. At the same time, these incidents highlight the potential leverages for a financially motivated actor to use regulation against the ransomed company. These leverages can incentivize victims to comply with their demands.

Use cases

The following case studies illustrate how these factors play out in real-world scenarios.

The BianLian ransomware gang exemplifies the trend of shifting focus from encryption to data exfiltration and extortion. They exfiltrate data from compromised networks and use it to extort their victims, referencing specific legal and regulatory issues the victim would face if the data were leaked. This tactic capitalizes on the fear of regulatory penalties and reputational damage, which has proven to be a stronger payment incentive than encrypted data. The case of BianLian serves as a stark reminder for organizations to prioritize data protection and privacy to avoid falling victim to these increasingly sophisticated cyberattacks.

Another ransomware group, which I will not mention by name, has leveraged the power of regulatory pressure to extract ransoms from its victims. By threatening to open GDPR claims while negotiating with victims, this group uses the fear of hefty fines and reputational damage to exert additional pressure on businesses. This tactic demonstrates the gang's awareness of the potential impact of regulations on businesses. It highlights the importance of adhering to data protection and privacy regulations to avoid such costly and damaging consequences.

In the case of BlackCat, also known as AlphaVM, the group targeted a resort in the US by creating a mimic website of the company's original site. They put pressure on the employees and guests of the resort, hoping that they would help the group get paid by the victim. This case highlights how ransomware groups exploit regulatory fears and use creative methods to increase the likelihood of receiving payment. Another particularly egregious attack by BlackCat involved publishing naked images of breast cancer patients in an attempt to pressure a healthcare provider into paying the ransom. As a founder of the CTI League, I find it particularly shameful that cybercriminals would use such tactics to exploit businesses and individuals. This case study showed how ransomware gangs are willing to exploit Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) regulation to put more pressure on the healthcare provider to pay the ransom. This highlights the potential leverage that cybercriminals can use to exploit regulatory fears and underscores the importance of complying with regulations like HIPAA to protect sensitive data.

Possible Explanations for the Trend

This chapter explores the potential factors driving the trend of ransomware groups leveraging data privacy concerns and regulations. Using the PEST analysis framework, we can better understand the political, economic, social, and technological factors that may contribute to this trend:

Political factors, such as international sanctions and conflicts between countries, can impact how ransomware groups operate and target victims. For example, the sanctions of OFAC against paying Russian-based ransomware gangs have complicated the process of paying ransoms, further driving the shift towards alternative extortion methods.

Economic factors, such as economic downturns and uncertainty, can lead to companies being less willing or able to pay ransoms. This may prompt ransomware groups to shift their tactics towards data exfiltration and extortion. As businesses face financial constraints, cybercriminals adapt their strategies to maximize their profits and exploit the vulnerabilities that these economic conditions may create.

Social factors include a growing culture of not paying the ransom (StopRansomware, for example). The increasing public awareness of the risks and consequences of data breaches contributes to the change in ransomware tactics. As more people become aware of the dangers of paying the ransom and the potential for perpetuating these criminal activities, ransomware gangs must find new ways to pressure their victims into complying with their demands.

Technological factors also play a significant role in the evolving ransomware landscape. As technology advances, it becomes increasingly difficult for organizations to keep their systems secure and protect against cyber threats such as ransomware. This challenge may lead to more ransomware groups exploiting vulnerabilities and targeting sensitive data as a means of extortion.

Summary and Implications

In conclusion, the trend of ransomware groups leveraging data privacy concerns and regulations for financial gain poses a significant challenge to businesses and individuals. The regulations I've mentioned in this blog post prevented many cyber attacks in the last few years and created massive obstacles for the ransomware actors. In the latest Yanluowang group chat leak, the group members complained that since the sanctions against Russia, ransomware activity has become not a profitable business. These actors seek new ways to overcome obstacles and achieve their mission. This evolving threat landscape demands constant vigilance and proactive measures to protect sensitive data and comply with regulatory requirements. Moreover, this threat requires us to create different policy for facing ransomware threats, which is not limited to recovery.

By understanding the factors driving this trend and staying informed about the latest cyber threats, we can better protect ourselves and our customers from ransomware and other cyberattacks.

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