The retail sector became a top target for ransomware and data-theft extortion attacks during the pandemic in 2020, according to Sophos research.
The Sophos State of Ransomware in Retail report revealed that retail organisations were particularly vulnerable to a small but growing new trend: extortion-only attacks, where the ransomware operators don’t encrypt files but threaten to leak stolen information if a ransom demand isn’t paid.
More than one in ten (12%) retail ransomware victims experienced this, nearly double the cross-sector average of 7% with only central government more affected at 13%.
Retail, together with education, faced the highest level of ransomware attacks during 2020, with 44% of organisations hit (compared to 37% across all industry sectors).
The total bill for rectifying a ransomware attack in the retail sector, considering downtime, people time, device cost, network cost, lost opportunity, ransom paid, and more, was US$1.97 million (A$2.69 million) on average – compared to a cross-sector average of US$1.85 million (A$2.52 million).
According to Sophos principal research scientist, Chester Wisniewski, the retail sector has always been an attractive target for cyberattacks, with its complex, distributed IT environments, including a multitude of connected point-of-sale devices, a relatively transient and non-technical workforce, and access to a wide range of personal and financial customer data.
“The impact of the pandemic introduced additional security challenges that cybercriminals were quick to exploit,” he said.
“The comparatively high percentage of targets hit with data-theft based extortion attacks is not entirely surprising. Service industries such as retail hold information that is often subject to strict data protection laws, and attackers are only too willing to exploit a victim’s fear of fallout from a data breach in terms of fines and damage to brand reputation, sales and customer trust.
“It’s not all bad news for retail IT managers, however. While enabling, managing, and securing IT during the pandemic increased the overall IT workload for three quarters of retailers – the sector was also the most likely (at 77%) to see a positive return in terms of enhanced cybersecurity skills and knowledge.
“To secure retail IT networks against ransomware and other cyberattacks, we advise IT teams to focus resources on three critical areas: building stronger defenses against cyberthreats, introducing security skills training for users including part time and temporary staff, and, where possible, investing in more resilient infrastructure.”