Ransomware’s evolution away from encryption continues, according to this article from The Register. To be clear, ransoms are still being demanded and paid. But instead of being forced to pay to recover access to encrypted files, victims are shelling out to keep stolen, sensitive data from being publicly leaked.
Ransomware gangs like Karakurt put pressure on victims by “harassing their employees, business partners, and customers with emails and phone calls that aim to pressure the company into paying the ransom,” according to another article from The Register. And the tactic is spreading, reports Bleeping Computer.
After allegedly hacking a hotel and spa in Oregon, the AlphV/BlackCat ransomware operators created a site so that customers and employees could see if their personal information—such as Social Security numbers—was stolen in the hack. This will presumably encourage them to add to pressure on the original victim to pay.
Why are gangs moving away from encryption? The most likely explanation is that pure extortion is less work for the same payout. Another possible explanation is that ransomware operators are considering a longer-term strategy. There’s a technological incentive to eventually shift away from encryption: quantum computing is on the horizon, reports Ars Technica.
It will take a while for quantum supremacy can be demonstrated, and more time still for that capability to become generally available—but once it does, everything about encryption changes. Encryption ransomware written for the pre-quantum-computing era will become abruptly obsolete. This won’t be a problem for gangs that have already moved to a pure extortion model.
Will quantum computing kill ransomware? It’s unlikely, since ransomware operators have proven that encryption isn’t necessary to achieve a payout from victims. But the general availability of quantum decryption—and, perhaps, even just the threat of the general availability—will change the specifics of how extortionists threaten their victims.