Extortion payments from ransomware, a hacking scourge that has crippled hospitals, schools and public infrastructure, fell significantly last year, according to federal officials, cybersecurity analysts and blockchain firms, the Wall Street Journal reports. After ballooning for years, the amount of money being paid to ransomware criminals dropped in 2022, as did the odds that a victim would pay the criminals who installed ransomware. With ransomware, hackers lock up a victim’s computer network, encrypting hard drives until victims pay. Alphabet Inc.’s Mandiant cybersecurity group responded to fewer ransomware intrusions in 2022—a 15 percent decrease from 2021. CrowdStrike Holdings Inc., another U.S. cybersecurity firm, saw a drop in average ransom-demand amounts, from $5.7 million in 2021 to $4.1 million in 2022, a decline the company attributed to disruption of major ransomware gangs, including arrests, and a decline in crypto values.
Ransomware payments are generally made using cryptocurrency. The blockchain-analytics firm Chainalysis Inc. says that payments that it tracked to ransomware groups dropped 40 percent last year, totaling $457 million, $309 million less than 2021’s tally. “It reflects, I think, the pivot that we have made to a posture where we’re on our front foot,” said Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco. “We’re focusing on making sure we’re doing everything to prevent the attacks in the first place.” The hacking groups behind ransomware attacks have been slowed by better company security practices. Federal authorities have also used new tactics to help victims avoid paying ransom demands. Asset seizures have disrupted major ransomware gangs, one of which recently had layoffs, cybersecurity officials say. The evidence of progress reflects just one year of a decline and could amount to an aberration. While certain hacking methods can fall out of favor, the hackers rarely stay quiet for long. Some firms and experts say they saw a worsening outlook in 2022 in certain business sectors as ransomware criminals searched for easier targets.