Report: 7 in 10 Aussie organisations fell victim to ransomware in 2022

Sophos, a pioneer in delivering cybersecurity as a service, released its “State of Ransomware 2023” report, which found that the rate of ransomware attacks declined in Australia in 2022 with 70% of firms saying they were a victim to ransomware compared to 80% in 2021.

What were the findings of Sophos’ survey?

In 69% of ransomware attacks against surveyed Australian organisations, adversaries succeeded in encrypting data with 53% of those that had data encrypted paying the ransom, up from last year’s rate of 43% and higher than the 2023 global average of 47%.

On a global scale, the survey shows that when organisations paid a ransom to get their data decrypted, they ended up additionally doubling their recovery costs ($750,000 in recovery costs versus $375,000 for organisations that used backups to get data back). Moreover, paying the ransom usually meant longer recovery times, with 45% of those firms that used backups recovering within a week, compared to 39% of those that paid the ransom.

When analysing the root cause of ransomware attacks on Australian organisations, the most common was an exploited vulnerability (involved in 37% of cases), followed by compromised credentials (involved in 24% of cases). This is in line with recent, in-the-field incident response research findings from Sophos’ 2023 Active Adversary Report for Business Leaders.

Additional key global findings from the report include:

  • In 30% of cases where data was encrypted, data was also stolen, suggesting this “double dip” method (data encryption and data exfiltration) is becoming commonplace
  • The education sector reported the highest level of ransomware attacks, with 79% of higher education organisations surveyed and 80% of lower education organisations surveyed reporting that they were victims of ransomware
  • Overall, 46% of organisations surveyed that had their data encrypted paid the ransom. However, larger organisations were far more likely to pay. In fact, more than half of businesses with revenue of $500 million or more paid the ransom, with the highest rate reported by those with revenue over $5 billion. This could partially be due to the fact that larger companies are more likely to have a standalone cyber insurance policy that covers ransom payments

How can firms effectively defend against attacks?

Sophos recommends the following to help defend against ransomware and other attacks:

  • Strengthen defensive shields with:
    • Security tools that defend against the most common attack vectors, including endpoint protection with strong anti-exploit capabilities to prevent exploitation of vulnerabilities, and Zero Trust Network Access (ZTNA) to thwart the abuse of compromised credentials
    • Adaptive technologies that respond automatically to attacks, disrupting adversaries and buying defenders time to respond
    • 24/7 threat detection, investigation and response, whether delivered in-house or by a specialist Managed Detection and Response (MDR) provider
  • Optimise attack preparation, including making regular backups, practicing recovering data from backups and maintaining an up-to-date incident response plan
  • Maintain good security hygiene, including timely patching and regularly reviewing security tool configurations.

What are Sophos’ thoughts on the survey findings?

“Despite a drop in encryption rates to 69% from 79% the previous year, this is still quite high, which is certainly concerning. Ransomware crews have been refining their methodologies of attack and accelerating their attacks to reduce the time for defenders to disrupt their schemes,” commented Chester Wisniewski, Field Chief Technology Officer at Sophos.

“Incident costs rise significantly when ransoms are paid. Most victims will not be able to recover all their files by simply buying the encryption keys; they must rebuild and recover from backups as well. Paying ransoms not only enriches criminals, but it also slows incident response and adds cost to an already devastatingly expensive situation,” said Wisniewski. 

Chester Wisniewski, Field Chief Technology Officer at Sophos
Chester Wisniewski, Field Chief Technology Officer at Sophos

“While it’s great to see a decline in the number of firms victimised by ransomware in 2022 compared to 2021, there is still a long way to go. The key to further lowering this number is to work to aggressively lower both time to detect and time to respond,” said Wisniewski.

“Human-led threat hunting is very effective at stopping these criminals in their tracks, but alerts must be investigated, and criminals evicted from systems in hours and days, not weeks and months. Experienced analysts can recognise the patterns of an active intrusion in minutes and spring into action. This is likely the difference between the 30% who stay safe and the 70% who do not. Firms must be on alert 24×7 to mount an effective defense.”

Data for the State of Ransomware 2023 report comes from a vendor-agnostic survey of 3,000 cybersecurity/IT leaders conducted between January and March 2023. Respondents were based in 14 countries across the Americas, EMEA and APAC and Japan. Firms surveyed had between 100 and 5,000 employees, and revenue ranged from less than $10m to more than $5bn. Read the State of Ransomware 2023 report for findings and data by sector.