It's more than just money: The real-world harms from ransomware attacks

by   Nandita Pattnaik, et al.

As cyber-attacks continue to increase in frequency and sophistication, organisations must be better prepared to face the reality of an incident. Any organisational plan that intends to be successful at managing security risks must clearly understand the harm (i.e., negative impact) and the various parties affected in the aftermath of an attack. To this end, this article conducts a novel exploration into the multitude of real-world harms that can arise from cyber-attacks, with a particular focus on ransomware incidents given their current prominence. This exploration also leads to the proposal of a new, robust methodology for modelling harms from such incidents. We draw on publicly-available case data on high-profile ransomware incidents to examine the types of harm that emerge at various stages after a ransomware attack and how harms (e.g., an offline enterprise server) may trigger other negative, potentially more substantial impacts for stakeholders (e.g., the inability for a customer to access their social welfare benefits or bank account). Prominent findings from our analysis include the identification of a notable set of social/human harms beyond the business itself (and beyond the financial payment of a ransom) and a complex web of harms that emerge after attacks regardless of the industry sector. We also observed that deciphering the full extent and sequence of harms can be a challenging undertaking because of the lack of complete data available. This paper consequently argues for more transparency on ransomware harms, as it would lead to a better understanding of the realities of these incidents to the benefit of organisations and society more generally.


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