Ransomware threat actors have followed certain plans of action since the beginning of ransomware attacks, including declaring their identity in ransom notes. But recently, GroupSense ransomware negotiators noticed an interesting trend: threat actors are becoming anonymous. In his most recent byline, GroupSense CEO Kurtis Minder was featured in BetaNews discussing the new development in ransomware. See below for a snippet of the article.
Why are Attackers Going Anonymous?
A few ransomware attacks wind up in the headlines, but many more occur in lower profile organizations that don’t have the resources to resolve their situations. For them, anonymity is a particularly vexing problem. This raises the question: why have the bad guys chosen to go anonymous? There are a few reasons behind why they do:
- The ransomware-as-a-service trend lets virtually anyone become a ransomware operator. This has enabled new, inexperienced operators to enter the fray who may just be looking to make a quick buck and don’t care about following any playbook. These "affiliates" are often acting more tactically than the traditional ransomware groups.
- It’s harder not to pay when the ransomware request is anonymous. If you don’t know who is attacking you, often the easiest thing to do to make them go away is pay. The problem organizations run into with this approach is there’s no guarantee they’ll get their data back if they pay ransom. There is no track record because of the attacker’s concealed identity, so there’s no way to know if other victims of the attacker were able to get their data back by paying.
- Avoiding U.S Treasury Department sanctions. The U.S. Treasury tracks individual actors and groups that you cannot legally engage with due to international sanctions. If the attacker has no name, it makes it difficult to attribute who is attacking you and whether you fall under these sanctions.
- The attackers may not care about their brand. The goal of any ransomware actor is to make money. First-generation attack groups would want to establish a good reputation for having good encryptors and restoring data, so victims would be more likely to pay. They cared about their "brands," because they helped them make money. Many current attackers hide their identities because they don’t care about their brands and opt to make money faster.
- Attackers are repurposing leaked or stolen ransomware code. A number of the larger ransomware organizations have had their source code leaked or stolen. As a result, mildly technical individual actors can use this code to execute tactical attacks to make a quick buck, with no intention of continuing operation. Therefore there is no need for a brand. They want to buy that car at the dealership, pay off debt, take care of a sick family member, and move on.