New research from Columbia-based Tenable revealed that one of the main reasons ransomware has prospered is due to the advent of ransomware-as-a-service, which has catapulted ransomware from a fledgling threat into a worldwide force. 

The service model has significantly lowered the barrier of entry, allowing cybercriminals who lack the technical skills to commoditize ransomware. In 2020, ransomware groups reportedly earned $692 million from their collective attacks, a 380 percent increase from the previous six years combined ($144 million from 2013-2019). 

The success of RaaS has also attracted other players such as affiliates and initial access brokers who play prominent roles within the ransomware ecosystem, oftentimes more than ransomware groups themselves. 

Affiliates who earn between 70-90 percent of the ransom payment are charged with the task of doing the dirty work to gain access to networks through tried-and-true methods such as spearphishing, deploying brute force attacks on remote desktop protocol systems, exploiting unpatched or zero-day vulnerabilities and purchasing stolen credentials from the dark web. 

Affiliates may also work with IABs, which are individuals or groups that have already gained access to networks and are selling access to the highest bidder. Their fees range on average from $303 for control panel access to as much as $9,874 for RDP access.

The research found that ransomware’s current dominance is directly linked to the emergence of a technique known as double extortion. The tactic, pioneered by the Maze ransomware group, involves stealing sensitive data from victims and threatening to publish these files on leak websites, while also encrypting the data so that the victim cannot access it. 

The report is available at www.tenable.com/cyber-exposure/a-lookinside-the-ransomware-ecosystem.