Even Hackers Are Getting Laid Off From Organized Crime Groups

As US Department of Justice investigators and companies beef up their oversight of cybersecurity threats, the impact of ransomware attacks — hackers demand ransom payments from targets — has been blunted, according to a Wall Street Journal report.

According to cybersecurity groups who spoke with the WSJ, the increased vigilance has resulted in a reduction in both the number of online ransomware attacks that certain cybersecurity professionals received last year, as well as the size of ransom payments that hackers were attempting to obtain.

The publication reported that one hacker group, Conti, even laid off 45 call-center operators last year who were involved in a ransomware attack scheme but failed to generate profits, according to an executive at Red Sense, an intelligence company.

Ransomware attacks can be very high-risk, particularly when hackers use private information as leverage to extract payments from their targets.

The DOJ has signaled in recent years that it is ramping up its policing of cybercrime. In 2021, the agency created new groups internally, including the National Cryptocurrency Enforcement Team and the Ransomware and Digital Extortion Task Force.

The DOJ stated that these measures have assisted in their investigations and extradition of suspected hackers to the United States. As an example, federal prosecutors declared last year that they had apprehended an individual in Poland and brought him to stand trial in a federal court.

The agency stated that this individual had employed the Sodinokibi/REvil ransomware against numerous companies, including software firm Kaseya.

The agency has also stepped up its oversight amid high-profile attacks on domestic infrastructure, including the Colonial Pipeline hack that affected a 5,000-mile gas pipeline serving the East Coast of the US in 2021.

In its July cybersecurity report, the DOJ stated that it had been investigating more than “100 variations of ransomware” and groups it believed were responsible for causing over $1 billion in damages to their victims.

According to the research and consulting firm Gartner, countries are generally intensifying their efforts to oversee ransomware attacks and enhance privacy regulations.

The firm predicted that almost a third of all nation-states will enact laws governing ransomware by 2025, according to its June report on anticipated cybersecurity trends for the next year. In 2021, that figure was less than 1%, as per the report.

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