2024 Cybersecurity Forecast: Ransomware's Evolving Tactics & Targets

With twenty years of expertise, Zakir is an expert in IT and channel sales & management. BD Software's significant position in the Indian IT security market has been greatly aided by his vast industry knowledge and skills in the subject.

The landscape of cyber threats has witnessed a significant shift from the era of cybercriminals operating for sheer amusement to a more profit-driven approach akin to rational business entities. This transformation has facilitated a more predictable understanding of their motives, grounded in strategic objectives for a steady income. As we enter 2024, the ransomware landscape, which is considered to be one of the most notorious threats in terms of cybersecurity, is set to undergo further evolution, marked by new tactics and targets. Significant ones among them are

Acceleration of Opportunistic Ransomware with Zero-Day Exploits

In the coming year, ransomware actors are expected to adopt an even more opportunistic mindset, which involves rapidly exploiting newly discovered vulnerabilities within 24 hours. While automated scanners will compromise numerous networks, attackers will manually assess them to optimize their monetization strategies. Furthermore, another notable shift involves the adoption of genuine zero-day vulnerabilities, eliminating the need to wait for proof-of-concept (PoC) code availability. Additionally, since enterprise software remains a prime target due to its traditional maintenance cycles, traditional lifecycle approach of enterprise software may transform to cope with escalating pressures from threat actors. As companies adapt to these changes, a temporary imbalance between offensive and defensive capabilities is anticipated, prompting a focus on risk management solutions.

Streamlining Victim Assessment & Triage

Led by initial access brokers or ransomware affiliates, opportunistic attacks will rapidly gain access to numerous networks. Following automated initial compromises, a manual triage process occurs, providing defenders with an opportunity to detect and mitigate threats effectively. Triage becomes crucial in determining the maximum ransom potential, considering factors such as industry or company size. While industries such as manufacturing are susceptible to ransomware deployment, sectors like healthcare or law offices may face a higher risk of data theft. Ransomware groups are becoming increasingly adept at understanding industry nuances, which has resulted in a notable rise in attacks targeting gaming studios in 2024. Small or medium-sized businesses with limited ransom potential serve as sources for business connections to escalate attacks, often through VPN/VDI connections or business email compromise, highlighting the value of relationships in these cybercriminal endeavours.

Ransomware groups are becoming increasingly adept at understanding industry nuances, which has resulted in a notable rise in attacks targeting gaming studios in 2024.

Modernization of Ransomware Code

Ransomware developers are increasingly adopting Rust as their primary programming language, prioritizing secure code that is resistant to reverse engineering. This shift enhances code security while making analysis more challenging for security researchers. Additionally, the adoption of intermittent encryption and a gradual transition towards quantum-resilient encryption like NTRU Encryption is anticipated. Further, high-quality ransomware code is becoming a commodity, impacting numerous systems and vast amounts of data. Despite professional development, the recovery of data remains challenging, prompting more ransomware groups to transition to data theft as a strategy.

Continuous Shift towards Data Theft over Ransomware Encryption

While data encryption will persist as a tool for sophisticated ransomware groups, a continuous shift towards data theft and exfiltration is evident. Data exfiltration offers the potential for higher payouts compared to traditional ransomware attacks, presenting victims with the binary decision of keeping the data confidential or allowing threat actors to publish it. Additionally, it also provides a more nuanced approach, avoiding destruction and allowing ransomware groups to position themselves as involuntary penetration testers. Exploiting legislation and compliance knowledge, cybercriminals force victims into meeting increasing ransom demands, with some opting to pay the ransom to evade fines or protect their brand.

To conclude, 2024 is poised to be another year dominated by ransomware, showcasing the evolution of the ransomware business model. Staying informed about the latest trends and prioritizing fundamental strategies like defense-in-depth and multi-layered security is crucial. Acquiring capabilities over tools, covering prevention, protection, detection, and response remains the cornerstone of effective cybersecurity.