Experts at the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) and the National Crime Agency (NCA) have warned that cyber-criminals are increasingly launching ransomware attacks against personal gadgets and devices.
Smartphones, watches, televisions and even fitness trackers could be used by criminals to hold people to ransom over personal data, the report warns. Any device that contains personal data, even in the forms of photographs, could be targeted by cyber-criminals looking for sensitive information.
“In 2017 it is likely that ransomware will target connected devices containing personal data such as photos, emails, and even fitness progress information. This data may not be inherently valuable, and might not be sold on criminal forums but the device and data will be sufficiently valuable to the victim that they will be willing to pay for it,” the report said.
“Ransomware on connected watches, fitness trackers and TVs will present a challenge to manufacturers, and it is not yet known whether customer support will extend to assisting with unlocking devices and providing advice on whether to pay a ransom,” it added.
Overall the threat to UK businesses from cybercrime is “significant and growing,” while the past year has been,“punctuated by cyber-attacks on a scale and boldness not seen before.” These attacks include the Bangladesh Bank heist, the hacking of the Democratic National Committee and the largest DDoS attack ever recorded.
What’s also changing are the methods used by cyber-criminals. According to the report attackers have been known to imitate the way nation states are known to attack in order to avoid detection. This method has mostly been used so far to target financial institutions. Buying-in expertise is also becoming a problem, as is the use of ‘off-the-shelf’ malware, which is lowering the barrier of entry for those wanting to launch cyber-attacks.
“The technical skill required to commit cyber-attacks continues to decrease. Malware and services such as DDoS (distributed denial of service) are easily acquired on the dark web which means the number of individuals capable of launching basic cyber-attacks is increasing,” the report warned.
“Easy access to offensive cyber capabilities, such as ransomware or DDoS, has allowed individuals and groups to have an impact disproportionate to their technical skill,” the report added. “This year has seen attacks carried out against UK-based companies, [which] despite requiring little skill caused considerable disruption.”
Looking ahead, as well as increased attacks on personal devices, the report highlighted a likely increase in attacks on the ‘building blocks’ on the internet. Similar to the Mirai botnet attack on a DNS server, these attacks will be aimed at the internet’s critical infrastructure, such as website hosting, email, database servers, and authentication and authorization technologies. The aim of these attacks will be widespread disruption rather than accessing or stealing data.
The NCSC and the NCA both called for improved collaboration between organizations, vendors and government bodies to help defend UK businesses and consumers from attacks.
“No single organization can defend against the threat on its own and it is vital that we work together to understand the challenges we face. We can only properly protect UK cyberspace by working with others - with the rest of government, with law enforcement, the Armed Forces, our international allies and, crucially, with business and wider society,” said Ciaran Martin, NCSC CEO.
“Cyber attacks will continue to evolve, which is why the public and private sectors must continue to work at pace to deliver real-world outcomes and ground-breaking innovation to reduce the threat to critical services and to deter would-be attackers,” he added.
“To dynamically pursue the criminals, we need industry to report cyber attacks as soon as they know about them. To fully understand the threat landscape, we need access to industry’s threat intelligence. And to take down organized crime groups, we need to work collaboratively with industry partners on attribution and infrastructure mapping,” added Donald Toon, director for economic and cyber crime, National Crime Agency.
The report is the first in what will be an annual report into the state of cybercrime in the UK produced by the NCSC and the NCA. It is being presented at the NCSC's Cyber UK Conference beginning today in Liverpool.