The True Costs of Recent “Ransomware” Attacks: Mass Business Disruption, Hundreds of Millions Lost

Earlier this summer, the world learned of two global cyberattacks known as WannaCry and NotPetya. From the beginning, it appeared that both of these attacks were classic examples of ransomware, leveraging cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin to extort monies from businesses whose only hope of regaining access to their networks, systems and information was to pay the attackers.

“Companies that were hit by the Wannacry and Petya attacks have lost hundreds of millions in sales and potential revenue.”

In the weeks that followed these attacks and into August of this year, however, more information came to light about both WannaCry and NotPetya, particularly the true costs associated with each.

Typically, when we asses costs of a ransomware attack, we focus on how much cyberattackers were able to extort from their victims. In the case of these attacks, however, the amount of monies paid was small, relatively speaking. In both attacks combined, the bad guys walked away with roughly $140,000 USD, a pretty small haul considering the scope and effort associated with the attacks. (Source: Bloomberg Technology, “Europe’s Cyber Victims Are Racking Up Hundreds of Millions in Costs,” by Aaron Ricadela, August 3, 2017).

The true costs, however, and one of the reasons these attacks have more accurately been described as pseudo-ransomware attacks, are much higher, and speak not to amounts paid to the attackers, but to lost sales, revenues, factory downtime and associated lost profits incurred as a result of system and network outages.

“Maersk was among the hardest hit this year, but it certainly wasn’t alone. Pharmaceutical titan Merck was also hit by NotPetya, as was FedEx.”

According to reports, the following companies were hit the hardest by these cyberattacks, suffering millions of dollars in losses:

In short, the WannaCry and NotPetya cyberattacks were less about cybertheft and more about global business disruption. And experts expect more to come. “Kaspersky Labs’ quarterly report suggests that the trend is likely here to stay for now, as waves of increasingly sophisticated hacks further the veiled aims of shadowy individual actors and governments alike.” (Source: TechCrunch, “More pseudo-ransomware attacks are probably on the way,” by Taylor Hatmaker, August 8, 2017).

As always, be vigilant and invest in preparedness to defend against these types of cyberattacks. Only those leadership teams that are alert and ready will be able to forcefully repel and address the next “wolf in wolf’s clothing” cyberattack.