McAfee Labs Report ‘Follows the Money’ to Assess Criminal Operations Behind Hospital Ransomware

Investigation Tracks Hospital Ransomware Payments Through Bitcoin Accounts; Ransomware, Mobile, and Macro Malware Threats Surge in Q2 2016

NEWS HIGHLIGHTS

SANTA CLARA, Calif., Sept. 14, 2016 – Intel Security today released its McAfee Labs Threats Report: September 2016, which assesses the growing ransomware threat to the healthcare industry; surveys the “who and how” of data loss; explains the practical application of machine learning in cybersecurity; and details the growth of ransomware, mobile malware, macro malware, and other threats in Q2 2016.

Following a rash of targeted ransomware attacks upon hospitals in early 2016, Intel Security investigated the attacks, the ransomware networks behind them, and the payment structures enabling cybercriminals to monetize their malicious activity. The researchers identified nearly $100,000 in payments from hospital ransomware victims to specific bitcoin accounts. While healthcare is still clearly a small proportion of the overall ransomware ‘business,’ McAfee Labs expects a growing number of new industry sectors to be targeted by the extensive networks launching such attacks.

In the first half of 2016, McAfee researchers identified a ransomware author and distributor who claimed to have received $121 million (BTC 189,813) in payments from ransomware operations targeting a variety of sectors. Dark net discussion board communications with network affiliates suggest that this particular cybercrime actor had accumulated profits of $94 million during the first six months of this year.

The scale of the operation is in line with research McAfee Labs conducted with its Cyber Threat Alliance partners in late October 2015, when the group uncovered a ransomware operation using the CryptoWall ransomware strain to extort nearly $325 million over the course of two months.

The research team attributes the increased focus on hospitals to such organizations’ reliance on legacy IT systems, medical devices with weak or no security, third-party services that may be common across multiple organizations and the need for hospitals to have immediate access to information to deliver the best possible patient care.

“As targets, hospitals represent an attractive combination of relatively weak data security, complex environments and the urgent need for access to data sources, sometimes in life or death situations,” said Vincent Weafer, vice president for Intel Security’s McAfee Labs. “The new revelations around the scale of ransomware networks and the emerging focus on hospitals remind us that the cybercrime economy has the capacity and motivation to exploit new industry sectors.”

Intel Security 2016 Data Loss Prevention Study

The Q2 report also features the results of a primary research study assessing data loss incidents, including the types of data leaking out, the ways data exits organizations, and the steps organizations must take to take to improve the capabilities of data loss prevention.

The survey found that retail and financial services organizations have deployed the most extensive protections against data loss, a finding McAfee Labs attributes to organizational responses to the frequency of cyber-attacks and the value of the data held by companies in these two sectors. Having sustained fewer cyber-attacks historically, healthcare and manufacturing enterprises have made fewer IT security investments and, accordingly, possess the least comprehensive data protection capabilities.

The weaker defenses in these two sectors are particularly disturbing given that cybercriminals continue to shift their focus from easily replaceable payment card numbers to less perishable data such as personally identifiable information, personal health records, intellectual property, and business confidential information.

“Industry sectors such as healthcare and manufacturing present both opportunity and motive for cybercriminals,” Weafer continued. “Their relatively weak defensive capabilities coupled with highly complex environments simplify breaches and subsequent data exfiltration. The cybercriminals’ motive is ease of monetization, with less risk. Corporations and individuals can easily cancel stolen payment cards soon after a breach is discovered. But you can’t change your most personal data or easily replace business plans, contracts, and product designs.”

The research revealed that more than 25 percent of respondents do not monitor the sharing of or access to sensitive employee or customer information, and only 37 percent monitor the usage of both, although this figure rises to almost 50 percent for the largest organizations.

The survey results also show that nearly 40 percent of data losses involve some kind of physical media, such as thumb drives, but only 37 percent of organizations use endpoint monitoring of user activity and physical media connections that could counter such incidents. While 90 percent of respondents claim to have implemented cloud protection strategies, only 12 percent are confident in their visibility into the activity of their data in the cloud.

Weafer concluded: “We will always face challenges as we work to prevent the exfiltration of data, wherever it is stored and however it is handled. But organizations can learn a great deal from this study’s consistent theme of the value of greater visibility into events and incidents across the enterprise, and the longer-term value of the data drawn from this monitoring to construct stronger security postures.”

Q2 2016 Threat Activity

In the second quarter of 2016, McAfee Labs’ global threat intelligence network detected 316 new threats every minute, or more than five every second, and registered notable surges in ransomware, mobile malware, and macro malware growth:

For more information on the financial impact of ransomware attacks on hospitals, please see our blog entitled “Healthcare Organizations Must Consider the Financial Impact of Ransomware Attacks.”

For more information on these focus topics, or more threat landscape statistics for Q2 2016, visit www.mcafee.com for the full report.

For guidance on how organizations can better protect their enterprises from the threats detailed in this quarter’s report, visit Enterprise Blog.

For online safety tips on how consumers can protect themselves from the threats mentioned in this report, visit Consumer Safety Tips Blog.

About McAfee Labs
McAfee Labs is the threat research division of Intel Corporation’s Intel Security Group, and one of the world’s leading sources for threat research, threat intelligence, and cybersecurity thought leadership. The McAfee Labs team of researchers collects threat data from millions of sensors across key threat vectors—file, web, message, and network. It then performs cross-vector threat correlation analysis and delivers real-time threat intelligence to tightly integrated McAfee endpoint, content, and network security products through its cloud-based McAfee Global Threat Intelligence service. McAfee Labs also develops core threat detection technologies—such as application profiling, and graylist management—that are incorporated into the broadest security product portfolio in the industry.

About Intel Security
Intel Security, with its McAfee product line, is dedicated to making the digital world safer and more secure for everyone. Intel Security is a division of Intel Corporation. Learn more at www.intelsecurity.com.

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CONTACTS:
Chris Palm
Intel Security
408-346-3089
chris.palm@intel.com

Janelle Dickerson
Zeno Group, for Intel Security
650-801-0936
janelle.dickerson@zenogroup.com