In recent years, many corporate networks have been plagued by an insider ransomware attack. This method of cyber-attack involves a threat actor directly paying company employees, including some at the C-level, to intentionally compromise their organization’s networks. This phenomenon poses a significant risk to corporate security, demonstrating a shift in how attackers are leveraging internal access to deploy their malicious endeavors.

According to Forbes, recent studies show that 48% of employees at surveyed organizations had been approached directly to help in planning a ransomware attack against their employer. This number jumped to 55% for directors.

The reason for this varies, but typically comes down to money. An offer of $100,000 or more to introduce an attack may be more than the employee earns in a year or more.

In addition, the rise of a remote workforce makes it easier for compromised employees to conduct an attack since they are no longer in the office, nor do they have the same concerns around being caught.

The Mechanics of an Employee Ransomware Attack

A ransomware attack is exactly what it sounds like: malicious software that locks you out of your computer system or data until a ransom is paid. A ransomware attack is an attempt to spread this malicious software onto your computer system or data files.

The typical approach to an insider attack involves cyber threat actors identifying and contacting employees of target companies through various channels, including social media platforms, professional networking sites like LinkedIn, and even direct messaging platforms. These insiders are then offered financial incentives to deploy ransomware within their company’s IT infrastructure.

The process is straightforward and chillingly effective:

  1. Recruitment: Cybercriminals identify potential insiders based on their access level within the company and any signs of vulnerability, such as dissatisfaction at work or financial woes.
  2. Agreement: Once an employee agrees, they are provided with the ransomware payload and instructions on how to deploy it.
  3. Deployment: The insider introduces the ransomware into the company’s network, often bypassing security measures due to their legitimate access to the system.
  4. Demand: Once the ransomware takes effect, encrypting critical data, the cybercriminals then demand a ransom from the affected organization to decrypt the data.

Employee Ransomware Attack
Manager looking at his own shadow in the shape of monster hand. Crisis and risk concept. Vector illustration.

The Motivations Behind the Betrayal

The reasons why employees agree to betray their employers can vary, but they often include financial incentives, revenge, or coercion. In some cases, employees who feel undervalued or mistreated see this as an opportunity to retaliate against their employer. In others, financial desperation may drive them to participate in these schemes. The amounts offered by cybercriminals can be substantial, sometimes enough to sway those who might not otherwise consider such drastic actions.

The Implications for Business Security

The insider threat is among the most challenging security risks to mitigate because it involves exploiting trusted entities within the organization. The implications of such threats are profound:

  • Severe Financial Impact: Ransomware attacks can lead to significant financial losses, both from the ransom payments (if made) and the downtime and disruption of business operations.
  • Damaged Reputation: A successful attack can tarnish a company’s reputation, affecting customer trust and potentially leading to loss of business.
  • Regulatory and Legal Consequences: Depending on the industry and the nature of the leaked or compromised data, companies may face regulatory fines and legal actions.

Strategies to Combat an Employee Ransomware Attack

Addressing this type of cyber threat requires a multi-faceted approach:

  1. Employee Monitoring and Behavior Analysis Implementing advanced monitoring tools that can detect unusual behavior can help identify potential insider threats.
  2. Robust Access Controls: Limiting access to sensitive systems and data to only those who need it can reduce the potential damage an insider can cause.
  3. Regular Audits and Checks: Periodic reviews of system access logs and data usage can help spot irregular patterns that might indicate insider activities.
  4. Creating a Positive Work Environment: Reducing employee dissatisfaction and fostering loyalty can decrease the likelihood of insider threats. This includes fair treatment, proper recognition, and adequate compensation.
  5. Awareness and Training: Educating employees about the risks and implications of insider threats and how they can be approached by cybercriminals is crucial.
  6. Incident Response Planning: Developing a comprehensive incident response plan that includes scenarios involving insider threats will ensure a swift and effective organizational reaction to such incidents.

The trend of cyber threat actors recruiting company insiders to facilitate ransomware attacks represents a significant evolution in cybercrime tactics. Businesses must recognize the seriousness of the insider threat and implement robust security measures tailored to mitigate these risks. The battle against cybercrime is constantly evolving, requiring ongoing vigilance, adaptation, and commitment to comprehensive security practices.

ThrottleNet is a passionate about making IT safe, simple, and fun. We are a Managed IT Services company that focuses on simplifying technology and protecting businesses from cybercriminals. We hire skilled IT generalists for fast support and focused technology experts for IT strategy and cybersecurity protection. Our people are incentivized to go above and beyond for businesses with our open book management philosophy and continuous training. We take turnkey responsibility to manage and support your IT infrastructure while keeping it secure.

Don’t wait for your next IT crisis. Contact me today for a free on-site consultation & security report to evaluate your business’s IT security needs.

Chris Montgomery - ThrottleNet IT Solutions Consultant

Chris Montgomery
ThrottleNet Sales Director

Russia's Hybrid War: What to Know About Hackers and Ukraine

16 Ways to Protect Your St. Louis Business From Cyberattacks

Free Download
15 Ways to Protect Your Business from Cyberattacks