Despite hype, ransomware accounted for only 1% of malicious programs in 2016, according to report

A new report from AV-Test showed that ransomware attacks on Windows in 2016 were low. Still, attacks like WannaCry and NotPetya caused a significant amount of damage.

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With the recent WannaCry and NotPetya outbreaks, concern over ransomware threats is at an all-time high. And, rightly so: The WannaCry attacks affected more than 300,000 victims around the world, targeting organizations from the UK's National Health Service to the Russian postal service to Chinese government agencies, as reported by ZDNet.

But despite the hype, ransomware--a subset of malware that involves files being held for ransom via encryption software--is not actually that widespread, according to a recent report by AV-Test. The AV-Test Security Report, 2016/17, looked at 640 million malware samples for worldwide trends, and reported some positive news: In 2016, it found a decline in malware programs. The report also said that "traditional viruses," rather than ransomware, dominated the malware market for Windows in 2016.

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And while the damage done by ransomware outbreaks like WannaCry have a great impact, these types of file-encrypting programs are relatively rare. In 2016, they accounted for less than than one percent of 600 million unique malicious Windows programs.

The report also showed that in the first four months of 2017, the rate of malware for macOS doubled--this also translated into an increase in attacks on Linux.

Image: AV-Test

Other highlights showed that for Windows--which accounts for 70% of malware attacks--there was a 15% decrease in malware from 2015 to 2016.

Despite the relative decrease in malware, the new report did highlight an increase in new malicious apps (mainly trojan apps) for Android last year, which hit four million--twice the figure for 2015.

Still, it isn't time to stop worrying about ransomware. The type of software used by WannaCry was a "worm," which means that it can continue to infect systems and spread in networks that were not adequately cleaned out. And ransomware attacks like this are being emailed at a high rate--half a billion emails that include ransomware downloaders are sent to Windows systems every quarter, according to Microsoft's recent report.

The 3 big takeaways for TechRepublic readers

  1. A new report by AV-Test shows that malware attacks decreased in 2016.
  2. Despite the big impact of outbreaks like WannaCry and NotPetya, ransomware attacks--a subset of malware that targets files, held for ransom--made up less than a percent of 600 million unique malicious Windows programs
  3. The report also showed an increase in new malicious apps (mainly trojan apps) for Android last year, which hit four million--twice the figure for 2015.

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