Lightning may not strike twice, but cybercrime certainly does. The latest example: A year after the major hack of the U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM), cyber criminals are again targeting individuals impacted by the OPM breach with ransomware attacks.

In the new attack, a phishing email impersonates an OPM official, warning victims of possible fraud and asking them to review an attached document—which, of course, launches the ransomware.

OPM attack part of bigger trends in ransomware
The new round of attacks could come from two sources—both are part of trends in ransomware.

  • The long con: The first scenario is that the same individuals that executed the original OPM hack are now launching these ransomware attacks. If this is the case, it at least alleviates some concerns that the OPM hack was state-sponsored cyberterrorism and/or a sign of a new kind of “cold war.” But the trend toward this type of “long con” is scary in its own right. Users are already more likely than ever to “click the link”—now patient cyber criminals are using hacked data to deploy extremely authentic phishing scams.
  • The “kick ‘em while they’re down” attack: It’s more likely that the OPM ransomware attack is just an example of enterprising cybercriminals seeing vulnerability in the already-victimized. This is another unsettlingly effective trend—like “ambulance chasing” for cybercriminals: Follow the headlines to find organizations that have recently been hit with a cyberattack (of any kind), then swoop in posing as official “help” in investigating or preventing further damage. Clever cybercriminals know they can prey on the anxiety, fear and uncertainty of users in this position.

How can you get ahead of evolving ransomware?

Though we’ve said it a thousand times, it’s more true than ever: Ransomware is evolving at an incredible rate and it is overwhelming traditional data security tools. Paying the ransom becomes an appealing option to unprepared businesses, and this steady cash flow only fuels the problem.

Want to see where ransomware is headed next and understand how you can snuff out this threat? Read our new report, The ransomware roadmap for CXOs: where cybercriminals will attack next.

(About the author: Jeremy Zoss is managing editor of Code42 and a member of the Cloud Security Alliance. This post originally appeared on his CSA blog, which can be viewed here).

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