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Manufacturing sector hit hard by ransomware, but many refuse to pay out

By Catherine Knowles, Thu 30 Sep 2021

Manufacturing and production companies hit by ransomware are less likely to pay the ransom, according to Sophos’ new report titled The State of Ransomware in Manufacturing and Production 2021.

The report reveals companies in this sector were the least likely (at 19%) to submit to a ransom demand to have encrypted files restored and the most likely (at 68%) to be able to restore data from backups.

The practice of backing up data could be a reason why this sector was also the most affected by extortion-based ransomware attacks, that is a pressure technique where attackers don't encrypt files but rather threaten to leak stolen information online if a ransom demand isn't paid.

The survey studied the extent and impact of ransomware attacks during 2020. The ransomware findings for the manufacturing and production sector include:

  • 36% of the businesses surveyed were hit by ransomware in 2020
  • 9% of ransomware victims were hit with extortion-based ransomware attacks, compared to a global average of 7%
  • The average ransomware recovery cost was $1.52 million, less than the global average of $1.85 million

The findings also show that manufacturing and production companies worry more than any other sector about being attacked with ransomware in the future.

Of those surveyed, 60% said this is because attacks are so sophisticated, they have become harder to stop. 46% believe that since ransomware is so prevalent, it is inevitable they'll get hit by the cybercrime.

Sophos principal research scientist Chester Wisniewski says, “The sector’s high ability to restore data from backups enables many companies to refuse attacker demands for payment in the case of traditional, encryption-based ransomware attacks.

"However, it also means that adversaries are forced to find other approaches to make money from victims, such as stealing data and threatening to leak company information if their financial demands aren't met.

"Backups are vital, but they cannot protect against this risk, so manufacturing and production businesses should not rely on them as an anti-extortion defence.

"Organisations need to extend their anti-ransomware defences by combining technology with human-led threat hunting to neutralise today's advanced human-led cyber attacks.”

In the light of the survey findings, Sophos experts recommend the following best practices for all organisations across all sectors:

Assume the organisation will be hit. Ransomware remains highly prevalent, and no sector, country, or organisation size is immune from the risk. It's better to be prepared and not be hit than the other way round.

Make frequent backups. Routine backups are the number one method organisations used to get their data back after an attack. Even if organisations pay the ransom, attackers rarely return all of the data, so backups are essential either way.

Aim for an approach that involves at least three different copies, using at least two different backup systems, and with at least one copy stored offline and preferably offsite.

Deploy layered protection. In the face of the considerable increase in extortion-based attacks, it is more important than ever to keep the adversaries out of the network in the first place. Use layered protection to block attackers at as many points as possible across an entire estate.

Combine human experts and anti-ransomware technology. The key to stopping ransomware is defence in depth that combines dedicated anti-ransomware technology and human-led threat hunting. Technology provides scale and automation, while human experts are best able to detect the telltale tactics, techniques and procedures that indicate when a skilled attacker is attempting to break in.

Don't pay the ransom, if this is an option. Independent of any ethical considerations, paying the ransom is an ineffective way to get data back. Sophos research shows that after a ransom is paid adversaries will restore, on average, only two-thirds of the encrypted files.

Have a malware recovery plan and continuously test and update it. The best way to stop a cyber attack from turning into a full breach is to prepare in advance. Organisations that fall victim to an attack often realise they could have avoided a lot of cost, pain and disruption, if they had an incident response plan in place, Sophos states.

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