Ransomware cases surge in Singapore as attackers go bullies

Ransomware and extortion cases in Singapore increased by 63% in 2022 with 18 reported cases across key sectors, according to findings of Palo Alto Networks.

Threat actors are using more aggressive tactics to pressure organisations, with harassment being involved 20 times more often than in 2021, according to Unit 42 incident response cases.

This harassment is typically carried out via phone calls and emails targeting a specific individual, often in the C-suite, or even customers, to pressure them into paying a ransom demand. 

The 2023 Unit 42 Ransomware and Extortion Report is based on findings from Unit 42’s incident response work from about 1,000 cases throughout the past 18 months.

Results show that Singapore took up the 2nd spot in Southeast Asia, accounting for almost 20% of the attacks in the region.

High technology, manufacturing, professional and legal services and state and Local Governments remained the most targeted sectors in Singapore.

Singapore ranked only behind Thailand (28), and ahead of Indonesia (14), Malaysia (11), the Philippines (11) and Vietnam (nine).

In the Asia-Pacific region, the total number of ransomware attacks increased by 35.4% to 302. 

Globally, ransomware demands continued to be a pain point for organisations this past year, with payments as high as US$7 million in cases that Unit 42 observed.

The global median demand was $650,000 while the median payment was $350,000, indicating that effective negotiation can drive down actual payments.

Ransomware groups have been observed layering extortion techniques for greater impact, with the goal of applying more pressure on organisations to pay the ransom. Some of these tactics include encryption, data theft, distributed denial of service (DDoS) and harassment. 

Data theft, which is often associated with dark web leak sites, was the most common of the extortion tactics, with 70% of groups using it by late 2022. This was a 30-percentage-point increase from the year prior.

Unit 42 researchers see a daily average of seven new ransomware victims posted on leak sites — one new victim every four hours. In 53% of Unit 42’s ransomware incidents involving negotiation, ransomware groups have threatened to leak data stolen from organisations on their leak site websites. 

This activity has been seen from a mix of new and legacy groups, indicating that new actors are entering the landscape to cash in as legacy groups have done. Established groups like BlackCat, LockBit and others contributed to 57% of the leaks, with new groups trailing close behind with 43%.

There have been many notable attacks in the past year from ransomware groups, with a particular spike in attacks on schools and hospitals, demonstrating how low these actors are willing to stoop in their attacks. 

This includes the attacks from Vice Society, which was responsible for the data leaks from several major school systems in 2022. The group continues to be active in 2023, with nearly half of the incidents posted to their leak site impacting educational institutions.

In 2022, 30 organisations on the Forbes Global 2000 list were publicly impacted by extortion attempts. Since 2019, at least 96 of these organisations have had confidential files publicly exposed to some degree as part of attempted extortion. 

At least 75% of ransomware attacks fielded by Unit 42’s Incident Response team resulted from attack surface exposures.