Cybercrime Gangs Are Stealing Billions as Officials Fail To Fight Against Ransomware

By: Stephanie Bontorin | Published: Jun 10, 2024

A worrying trend has emerged of cyber gangs attacking companies and institutions. The ultimate goal is to disarm payment systems and compromise sensitive data to extort ransom money.

In 2024, experts suggest that a ransomware epidemic will surge, affecting people and institutions worldwide. The U.S. Government fears that the attacks could turn violent soon as well.

Threat Analysts Think That the World Is Losing the Fight Against Ransomware

In an interview with WIRED magazine, Allan Liska, a threat intelligence analyst at Record Future, says, “We’re definitely not winning the fight against ransomware right now.”

Two older men sit in chairs of the lobby of a convention center for an interview

Source: @ISMG_News/X

Ransomware is a type of malicious software designed to block access to a computer system until a (usually large) sum of money is paid out. It’s similar to a ransom, where a kidnapper might take a person or item until a payment is made and the item is returned.

Ransomware Is the Defining Cybercrime of the Past Decade

In the past decade, ransomware has become so common that many have called it a pandemic.

A computer hacker is pictured wearing a black hoodie at his desk

Source: Freepik

Criminal organizations have targeted hospitals, schools, governments, and regular individuals.

How Does Ransomware Work?

Ransomware attackers take control of essential data and cause an organization to stop working entirely.

A silhouette of a person in a hoodie, suggestive of a cyber hacker, with a background of digital code reflecting on the silhouette

Source: freepik

The attackers then leave a ransom note of where the victim can wire money to. Once the money is received, the data or computer system is restored to normal working order.

Recent Cyber Attack Hit the U.S. Health System

A cyber attack in May targeted Ascension, a large healthcare system that operates multiple clinics and hospitals in the U.S.

An Ascension Health hospital in Indiana in the daytime.

Source: Public Domain/Wikimedia Commons

During this attack, sensitive data and patient information were leaked by hackers. The group behind the large breach is suspected to be behind a similar attack that occurred earlier in the same month.

Data From a Third of Americans Compromised

A large company that controls payments for UnitedHealth Group had its operations halted by a cybergang.

The exterior of a large building with glass windows and a large sign

Source: @ai2049life/X

More than a third of all Americans use payment processing companies, and millions are affected. During the attack, thousands of doctors’ offices, hospitals, and urgent care centers could not process payment. The CEO finally put an end to the system delay when he authorized a $22 million payment to the hackers through a wire.


President Biden Has Recently Had to Effect Emergency Measures To Conceal an Attack

In 2021, President Joe Biden had to implement emergency measures to control a ransomware attack on the Colonial Pipeline Company.

President Joe Biden sitting at a table during a meeting, looking intently at papers before him

Source: POTUS/X

The mess caused a severe delay in fuel deliveries to the East Coast. The emergency measure allowed oil distribution to occur by truck as opposed to pipelines controlled by computer systems.


Large Attacks Rarely Make Newspapers

Although cyber attacks extorted more than $1.1 billion in 2023, this news rarely makes headlines.

A man walking around a city street with a backpack and camera.

Source: Mikaala Shackelford/Unsplash

The threats are complicated, hard to contain, and could be perpetrated on anyone. Even the biggest companies with huge cyber security teams have difficulty defending themselves against a hack. Officials often want to avoid frightening the general public by keeping the attacks low profile.


Many Organizations Don't Disclose Attacks

Due to the embarrassing nature of hacks and cyber crimes, many large organizations and even individuals have a hard time accepting that they have been taken advantage of or scammed into sending money as a ransom.

A faceless online hacker wearing black gloves while typing on a laptop

Source: Freepik

For this reason, many cyber attacks go unreported. Essential data and information on these attacks could help investigators understand how they happen.


Criminal Groups Are Unlikely To Disclose Their Methods

Liska added in his interview with WIRED that “criminals are lying bastards” and that it’s extremely difficult, even when caught, to learn from their methods.

Hacker on laptop in the dark

Until more is known about how the hacks take place and common methods of entry into computer systems, they are likely to continue.


Hackers Have Added Shame Sites To Extort Victims

A new method that many criminals are using is called “shame sites,” where attackers leak sensitive data from companies in an attempt to extort money from them.

A hacker in a black hood sitting at a desk with a computer. He is also holding a smartphone and both screens have lots of writing in green and red.

Sora Shimazaki/Pexels

In 2023, there was a 75% jump in posts to data leak sites as compared to 2022. As the digital world expands, attacks and extortion like this will become more common.


Cyber Attacks Could Turn Deadly

In the past month, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the FBI issued an emergency report that China, Russia, or Iran could have potentially disrupted several water filtration systems in the United States.

A digital illustration of the proposed California State Water Project


Even through computer systems, attackers can find a way to poison water systems in large cities, potentially causing death and harm to millions of people.