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Ransomware became three times as lucrative in 2020

(Image credit: Pixabay)

Last year was an incredibly lucrative period for ransomware operators, a new report from Palo Alto Networks suggests.

The latest report from the company's cybersecurity unit claims that the average ransom payment almost tripled, while the highest ransom paid was twice as large as the previous record-breaking sum. All of this has emboldened ransomware (opens in new tab)operators to scale up campaigns, and demand larger ransoms.

In 2019, the highest ransom paid was $5 million, but a year later this figure had jumped to $10 million. The average ransom rose 171 percent, from $115,123 in 2019 to $312,493 last year.

These “success stories” prompted ransomware operators to demand even more; the highest demand grew from $15 million in 2019, to $30 million in 2020.

Besides encrypting data on an infected network, ransomware operators also frequently threatened to make the data public if their demands were not met. NetWalker and Ryuk are seen as two of the most devastating and popular ransomware variants in circulation.

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“Attackers are increasingly recognizing how much money that they can make, and there’s relative little barriers to entry,” said Jen Miller-Osborn, Palo Alto Networks. 

“You can get rich by never leaving your house, if this is the kind of thing you feel comfortable doing. Criminals are recognizing that this is a really easy way to potentially make a lot of money, so they’re targeting more organizations and evolving their tactics, and right now ransomware doesn’t really have a lot of negative consequences.”

The report was compiled by Palo Alto with the help of cybersecurity experts from Crypsis and was based on data from 252 ransomware leak websites.

Sead Fadilpašić is a freelance tech writer and journalist with more than 17 years experience writing technology-focussed news, blogs, whitepapers, reviews, and ebooks. And his work has featured in online media outlets from all over the world, including Al Jazeera Balkans (where he was a Multimedia Journalist), Crypto News, TechRadar Pro, and IT Pro Portal, where he has written news and features for over five years. Sead's experience also includes writing for inbound marketing, where he creates technology-based content for clients from London to Singapore. Sead is a HubSpot-certified content creator.