Some of tech's biggest names are banding together to tackle one of 2020's most prevalent and costly malware types — ransomware.
The Ransomware Taskforce (RTF), launched by the Institute for Security and Technology aims to shine a light on the issue of hackers locking up data and refusing to release it until payment is made. It's a problem that has increased in this pandemic year, affecting both individuals, as well as corporations and governments.
The newly formed taskforce is composed of companies including Microsoft and McAfee, as well as non-profit organizations such as The Cyber Threat Alliance.
What are the Aims of the Ransomware Taskforce?
The alliance has been put together to tackle the threat of ransomware head-on. With cases having seen a drastic upturn in 2020, there is still plenty to do in this field, starting with a consistent approach on how best to first protect against ransomware, as well as what to do should you be unlucky enough to be on the receiving end of the malicious software.
Advice from the US government tells victims not to pay any monies demanded. In fact, paying any ransom could be deemed a criminal activity, should it fall under the International Emergency Economic Powers act or Trading with the Enemies act. Many ransomware threats are orchestrated from outside the US and come from countries such as North Korea and Iran.
Of course, we know that companies are ignoring this advice, and paying demands when corporate secrets or customer data are at risk. In the last year alone, companies such as Garmin and even local governments have allegedly forked over huge sums of money to hackers.
In its statement, the RTF states that it “will assess existing solutions at varying levels of the ransomware kill chain, identify gaps in solution application, and create a roadmap of concrete objectives and actionable milestones for high-level decision-makers.” The group is also expecting to commission papers and involve industry stakeholders to help tackle the issue.
Who is in the Ransomware Taskforce?
The RTF is made an industry-wide collective of 19 companies and groups, ranging from huge multi-national corporations, such as Microsoft, to cybersecurity risk assessment companies, such as SecurityScorecard.
The full list of current participants:
- Aspen Digital
- The Cyber Threat Alliance
- The CyberPeace Institute
- The Cybersecurity Coalition
- The Global Cyber Alliance
- Shadowserver Foundation
- Stratigos Security
- Team Cymru
- Third Way
- UT Austin Stauss Center
- Venable LLP
The RTF states that it will announce full membership details and leadership roles in January 2021, as well as publishing its website.
‘The RTF’s founding members understand that ransomware is too large of a threat for any one entity to address, and have come together to provide clear recommendations for both public and private action that will significantly reduce the threat posed by this criminal enterprise.' – RTF statement
How Big of a Threat is Ransomware?
Ransomware isn't new — it's officially been around for over 30 years, but today's hyper-connected online world, and alternative payment methods, such as Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies, mean that it's more prevalent than ever.
As it turns out, 2020 has been something of a banner year for ransomware. The closure of office spaces and the increase in homeworking has been fortuitous for cybercriminals, as it has opened up potentially millions of tiny holes in company security systems. Those holes, of course, are us, everyday staff that are using our own unsecured devices, failing to instigate VPNs, sharing equipment with people outside our companies — each of these represents a new opportunity to infect company systems with malware.
According to a report from BitDefender, instances of ransomware are up 715% this year, and those are just the ones we know about. Understandably, many companies choose to keep ransomware attacks quiet, fearful of losing trust or compromising their security further.
The RTF has a huge mountain to climb, but anything that can address the imbalance of power that ransomware holds over individuals, companies and even governments, should be welcomed with open arms.