Image: vchal, iStockphoto

Organizations and their employees can fall victim to a variety of cyberattack methods, including phishing campaigns, viruses, spyware, and trojans. But one particularly problematic and pervasive type of attack is ransomware. A report released Wednesday by security provider Positive Technologies discusses the trends of ransomware attacks during the first quarter of 2020.

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For its “Cybersecurity Threatscape Report for Q1 2020,” Positive Technologies found that more than a third (34%) of malware-based cyberattacks during the quarter were ransomware attacks. Among the most active were ones that used Sodinokibi, Maze, and DoppelPaymer.

Among different sectors, government agencies were the hardest hit by ransomware in the first quarter, accounting for 21% of all such attacks. Other industries heavily targeted by ransomware were science and education, healthcare, and industrial companies.

Ransomware victim categories among organizations.
Image: Positive Technologies

The first quarter of 2020 also saw a rise in ransomware attacks in which criminals demanded payment or else they would release the encrypted data to the public. In these cases, attackers even created their own websites where they publish the stolen information. Criminals groups that operate Maze, Sodinokibi, Nemty, DoppelPaymer, Nefilim, CLOP, and Sekhmet all now have their own sites.

Many ransomware attacks succeed because criminals are able to exploit known vulnerabilities and unpatched systems. As IT and security staffs have strived to support remote workforces, the resources required to secure and patch servers and systems have been strained. As one example cited by Positive Technologies, the British company Finastra was victimized by ransomware in March because it was still running unpatched and unsecure versions of Citrix ADC and the Pulse Secure VPN.

As a result of the coronavirus pandemic, some criminal groups promised not to attack hospitals and healthcare facilities with ransomware. But naturally, criminals can’t be trusted. In one example, the operators behind Maze said they would stop attacking healthcare institutions during the pandemic. However, after making that promise, they published data stolen from Hammersmith Medicines Research, a British company getting ready to test a COVID-19 vaccine.

At the start of 2020, a ransomware known as Snake surfaced. Particularly disruptive to industrial companies, Snake is able to delete shadow copies of data and stop processes related to the operation of industrial control systems. As several examples, Snake can halt the processes of such tools as GE Proficy and GE FANUC Licensing, Honeywell HMIWeb, FLEXNet Licensing Service, Sentinel HASP License Manager, and ThingWorx Industrial Connectivity Suite.

SEE: Ransomware attack: Why a small business paid the $150,000 ransom (TechRepublic)

Seemingly used in targeted attacks, Snake leaves a note on the computer with the encrypted files telling the victim what to do. Using a contact email address of, the attackers may be referencing a campaign against oil company Bapco, which was hit by the Dustman malware in late 2019 as a way to delete data. Both Dustman and Snake popped up around the same time, both of them targeting industrial companies, according to Positive Technologies.

To protect your organization and employees against ransomware and other forms of malware, Positive Technologies offers a few words of advice.

“Web application firewalls (WAFs) can block potential attacks against web applications on the network perimeter, including attacks against remote access systems, such as Citrix Gateway,” the report said. “To prevent infection of computers of the employees with malware, we recommend checking e-mail attachments for malicious activity with sandboxes. We also recommend following the general recommendations for ensuring personal and corporate cybersecurity.”