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The 10 Biggest Ransomware Payouts of the 21st Century

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Brian Atkinson

Brian Atkinson

Brian brings a dynamic tech background to the Admin By Request blogging team, adding a unique perspective to the ever-evolving landscape of cybersecurity. Expect his blogs to offer a distinctive blend of insights, informed by his versatile experience across different tech domains.

Step into the high-stakes world of 21st-century cyber warfare, where ransomware attacks have evolved into a digital menace haunting organizations across the spectrum. Picture this: your valuable data held hostage, encrypted into a digital puzzle, and the only way out is a hefty ransom.

Join us as we uncover the 10 most colossal ransom payouts of our time.

Here are the names of some big ransomware attacks you may have heard of where Ransomware payment was avoided:

  • Kaseya (2021). The Kaseya ransomware attack made waves as hackers demanded a historic $70 million ransom to restore data for 1,500 affected businesses.
  • Maesrk (2017). The NotPetya ransomware dealt a heavy blow to shipping giant Maersk, infecting 50,000 endpoints across 130 countries in an unintended attack, triggering a 10-day manual recovery and causing an estimated $300 million in losses.
  • UK National Health Service (2017). A ransomware strike on the UK National Health Service (NHS), targeting software provider Advanced, disrupted crucial healthcare services like patient referrals and emergency prescriptions.
  • Costa Rica (2022). The Conti ransomware gang, believed to operate from Russia, plunged Costa Rica into chaos by infiltrating 27 government institutions and demanding an escalating ransom, reaching a staggering $20 million.
  • Ukraine (2017 and 2022). In 2017, Ukraine battled a widespread cyber onslaught with Petya malware, striking globally from a Ukrainian tax software. Fast forward to 2022, cyberattacks intensified during the Russian invasion’s buildup, prompting the arrest of a Ukrainian ransomware gang leader accused of extracting “several hundred millions of euros” across 71 countries.

10 Biggest Ransom Payouts:

  • CNA Financials. In March 2021, CNA Financial, a major U.S. insurance company, faced a record-breaking ransomware attack, paying hackers $40 million to regain control after being locked out for two weeks.
  • JBS. In a May 2021 cyber showdown, meat mogul JBS S.A. faced a ransomware blitz, mirroring the chaos of the Colonial Pipeline saga (see below). From disrupted U.S. beef hubs to Aussie beef woes, the attack cost JBS a cool $11 million in Bitcoin. Blamed on the infamous REvil group and linked to Russia.
  • CWT. In a high-stakes cyber showdown in July 2020, CWT, a major player in corporate travel, faced a ransomware attack using the notorious Ragnar Locker. The hackers demanded a hefty $4.5 million ransom in Bitcoin, threatening to expose sensitive data from Fortune 500 clients. With 30,000 computers at risk, CWT chose to pay up.
  • Colonial Pipeline. In May 2021, a ransomware attack on the Colonial Pipeline, a critical American oil system, triggered panic buying and fuel shortages along the East Coast. The DarkSide group, believed to operate from Russia, orchestrated the attack, leading to a $4.4 million ransom payment in bitcoins. The Department of Justice recovered 84%.
  • Brenntag. In July 2020, global chemical distributor Brenntag’s North America division was hit by the DarkSide ransomware group, encrypting devices and stealing 150GB of sensitive data. After negotiating, Brenntag paid a $4.4 million ransom in Bitcoin to prevent a data leak. Fortunately, the stolen information wasn’t misused.
  • Travelex. In a 2019 New Year’s Eve cyber showdown, Travelex faced a $6 million ransom from the Sodinokibi gang but paid $2.3 million after negotiation, prompting a swift shutdown of sites across 30 countries. The hackers, armed with six months of sensitive data, threatened auction unless paid promptly. Travelex’s rapid response with law enforcement and IT specialists ensured data security.
  • FatFace. In January 2021, British retailer FatFace faced a ransomware attack triggered by a single phishing email. The audacious Conti gang encrypted systems and snagged 200GB of data, demanding an eye-watering $8 million. After intense negotiations, the ransom dropped to and paid $2 million, revealing sensitive customer and employee information.
  • University of California, San Francisco. In June 2020, the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) grappled with a ransomware attack orchestrated by the Netwalker gang. As IT staff raced to contain the threat, a behind-the-scenes live chat on the dark web exposed the financial strain intensified by the pandemic. With a delicate dance of negotiations UCSF’s ransom payment was $1.14 million.
  • Judson Independent School District. In the summer of 2021, Judson Independent School District faced a disruptive ransomware attack that left them without crucial communication tools. To protect sensitive information, the district reluctantly paid over $547,000. While Superintendent Jeanette Ball acknowledged the ongoing challenges, the decision aimed to secure critical data and maintain operational stability.
  • Glenn County Office of Education. In a May 2021 ransomware saga, Glenn County Office of Education and districts faced a crippling attack on their systems. After a resilient standoff, GlennCOE succumbed, paying $400,000 to Quantum threat actors for a decryption key and assurances. The twist in the negotiation tale exposed Quantum’s miscalculations about the county’s finances. Details about the ransom’s impact and data security remain shrouded.

Honorable Mentions

  • WannaCry. In the WannaCry ransomware saga of May 2017, villains demanded Bitcoin ransoms from $300 to $600 to unlock files on global computers. Using the leaked NSA’s EternalBlue exploit, they struck over 300,000 systems across 150 countries. The chaos subsided when cybersecurity hero Marcus Hutchins found a kill switch. The blame landed on North Korea, who denied involvement in the digital thriller.

It’s important to note that Ransomware attacks continue to this day, 2023 having seen over $1 billion in ransomware payments altogether. Not every attack has been well documented and most attacks targeted small organizations and individuals.

Implications and Lessons Learned:

Organizations’ substantial ransom payments showcase the financial strain and operational disruptions caused by ransomware attacks, emphasizing the need to prioritize cybersecurity. Paying ransoms may offer a quick fix but fuels the ransomware ecosystem. To counter this, robust security measures, regular backups, and employee training in cybersecurity are essential.

Admin By Request: Protecting Against Ransomware Attacks

Admin By Request provides a robust Privileged Access Management (PAM) solution, guarding organizations against ransomware threats. With features like granular access controls and real-time threat detection, it empowers cybersecurity defenses, ensuring secure privileged access and reducing the risk of data breaches.

The 10 largest ransom payouts of the 21st century highlight the escalating threat of ransomware attacks and their severe impact on global organizations. To fortify cybersecurity defenses against such threats, organizations can draw valuable lessons from these incidents and proactively implement solutions like Admin By Request.

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