Over the past couple of years, widespread ransomware attacks – where criminals use malware to encrypt your data and hold it for ransom – have been replaced by more targeted attacks against specific companies and industries.

In these more targeted campaigns, attackers don’t only threaten to encrypt data but publish confidential information online.

This trend was observed by Kaspersky researchers in an analysis of two notable ransomware families: Ragnar Locker and Egregor.

Ransomware attacks, in general, are considered one of the more serious types of threats facing companies. Not only can they disrupt critical business operations, but they can also lead to massive financial losses and, in some cases, even bankruptcy due to fines and lawsuits incurred as a result of violating laws and regulations. For example, the WannaCry attacks are estimated to have caused more than $4 billion in financial losses.

However, newer ransomware campaigns are modifying their modus operandi: they’re threatening to take stolen company information public.

Ragnar Locker and Egregor are two well-known ransomware families practicing this new method of extortion.

Ragnar Locker was first discovered in 2019, but it didn’t become well-known until the first half of 2020 when it was seen attacking large organisations.

Attacks are highly targeted with each sample specifically tailored to the intended victim, and those who refuse to pay have their confidential data published in the “Wall of Shame” section of their leaks site. If the victim chats with the attackers and then refuses to pay, this chat is also published.

The primary targets are companies in the United States across different industries.

This past July, Ragnar Locker stated that it had joined the Maze ransomware cartel, meaning the two will share stolen information and collaborate.

Maze has become one of the most notorious ransomware families in 2020.

Egregor is much newer than Ragnar Locker – it was first discovered this past September. However, it uses many of the same tactics, and it also shares code similarities with Maze.

The malware is typically dropped by breaching the network, and then gives the victim 72 hours to pay the ransom before the stolen information goes public. If the victims refuse to pay, the attackers publish the names of the victims and links to download the confidential company data on their leaks site.

Egregor’s attack radius is much more extensive than Ragnar Locker’s. It’s been seen targeting victims across North America, Europe, and parts of the APAC region.

“What we’re seeing right now is the rise of ransomware 2.0. By that I mean, attacks are becoming highly targeted and the focus isn’t just on encryption; instead, the extortion process is based around publishing confidential data online. Doing so puts not just companies’ reputations at risk, but also opens them up to lawsuits if the published data violates regulations like HIPAA or GDPR. There’s more at stake than just financial losses,” comments Dmitry Bestuzhev, head of the Latin American Global Research and Analysis Team (GReAT) at Kaspersky.

“This means organisations need to think about the ransomware threat as more than just a type of malware. In fact, often times, the ransomware is only the final stage of a network breach. By the time the ransomware is actually deployed, the attacker has already carried out a network reconnaissance, identified the confidential data and exfiltrated it. It’s important that organisations implement the whole range of cybersecurity best practices. Identifying the attack at an early stage, before attackers reach their final goal, can save a lot of money,” adds Fedor Sinitsyn, security expert at Kaspersky.