Ransomware Attacks Vs. Data Breaches: What’s the Difference?
Ransomware attacks and data breaches appear to be vying for the top spots in news feeds consistently. But what’s the difference between these cyber risks, and which ones should you be most concerned about in the first place?
Follow the links below for a thorough breakdown of each type of cyber attack:
What’s the Difference Between Data Breaches and Ransomware Attacks?
Malicious software (malicious software) is introduced into targeted computer systems by cybercriminals during a ransomware assault, allowing them to capture and encrypt sensitive data. A decryption key is only provided if and when the victim pays the ransom demanded by the attacker.
Because activity on the decentralized payment network is extremely difficult to follow, the ransom demand is typically only payable in bitcoin or a similar cryptocurrency to avoid detection.
The goal of hackers during a data breach is to gain access to and steal sensitive information. Sensitive information includes the following types of information:
There is a significant difference between ransomware attacks and data breaches.
The key distinction between the two cyber events is the speed with which sensitive data was compromised, as well as the extent to which it was compromised. Sensitive data compromise is defined as the malicious use of sensitive data.
Most of the time, critical data is not exposed to the public when a simple ransomware assault is carried out. It is password-protected and inaccessible to anyone who does not have the description key.
The threat actors responsible for the attack have obtained the decryption key, but they are unlikely to examine the seized data because they are motivated by monetary gain rather than the disclosure of company secrets – their time would be better spent looking for new victims rather than thumbing through sensitive files.
Given that ransomware campaigns are most profitable when attacks are carried out promptly, the entire process is typically automated. Rather than having to manually manage each victim’s unique decryption key, they are maintained on separate command and control servers and are automatically distributed to victims when they pay their ransom payment.
If thieves wanted to gain access to each victim’s encrypted data, they’d have to track down and use each decryption key that was generated. This time-consuming procedure wastes valuable resources and reduces profit margins, hence it is often avoided.
However, when double extortion ransomware operations, this helpful limitation is blown to pieces. Ransomware victims who fail to pay the ransom are threatened with having their confiscated data made public on the dark web if they do not pay the ransom by the due date.
Is a Ransomware Attack Classified as a Data Breach?
During a data breach, stolen sensitive data is purposely accessed so that it can be compromised – most often by being sold on dark web forums – to further the attacker’s objectives.
However, monetary gain isn’t always the driving force behind data breaching activities. Hacktivist groups openly distribute stolen data to bring attention to entities that do not support their objectives.
However, in recent years, the distinction between data breaches and ransomware assaults has become increasingly blurred. Cybercriminals have launched an equally strong assault to persuade victims to cooperate with ransom requests in response to the FBI’s active promotion of the message that they should never comply with ransom demands.
When sensitive data is exfiltrated before it is encrypted with ransomware, a tender zone is formed in the computer system. It is gradually becoming a typical element of recent ransomware assaults because this method has been demonstrated to be quite effective.
Exfiltration not only creates a sense of urgency but also equips cybercriminals with the tools they need to garner negative media attention.
Maze ransomware is distinguished by its use of an extortion sequence of this nature. If a victim of Maze ransomware fails to pay the ransom, a prepared press release is immediately circulated to media outlets and shaming websites to broadcast the successful cyber-attack as soon as possible.
Companies that are publicly listed are subjected to more severe punishment, with the Maze ransomware threat actors additionally issuing a full press statement straight to the stock exchange that lists the victim’s stock as a result of the attack.
Notification Requirements for Data Breaches and Ransomware Attacks
Because modern ransomware attacks are encroaching on data breach areas, it is necessary to reconsider data breach notification laws for regulated companies.
Numerous requirements require data breach victims to notify all impacted parties as well as government organizations of each cyber incident they experience.
Currently, all 50 states in the United States, as well as international countries such as the European Union, China, Brazil, and India, have established data breach notification requirements, with the two strictest being the HIPAA and GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) (in the EU).
Patient health information is protected against hackers under the HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) privacy rule, which works to reduce the likelihood of unauthorized access.
HIPAA’s breach notification regulation must be followed by all regulated companies to ensure that continuous improvements in data security are achieved.
Specifically, a notifiable breach is defined as follows by the United States Department of Health and Human Services (HHS.gov):
“An improper use or disclosure of protected health information in violation of the Privacy Rule that jeopardizes the security or privacy of the information.”
A ransomware attack would be considered as a notifiable data breach under this definition if confidential patient data was exfiltrated in addition to being encrypted, as defined by the HITECH Act.
If only operating systems were encrypted and no sensitive data was exfiltrated, the occurrence would not be considered a data breach and, as a result, would not be subject to the HIPAA’s notification rule, which would prevent it from being reported.
Because the sophistication of ransomware assaults is increasing, clandestine exfiltration strategies will only become more effective. To be on the safe side, it’s best to presume that every ransomware attack was followed by data exfiltration.
Even if the assumption proves to be erroneous, making such a bold assumption will help you avoid a potentially substantial fee for failing to comply with the HIPAA notification rule.
Depending on the severity of the infringement, civil penalties can range from $100 to $50,000 for each infraction, with a total cap of $1,500,000 per calendar year.
Is a Ransomware Attack Considered a Data Breach under GDPR?
All cybersecurity legislation stipulates that data breach occurrences must be reported to the appropriate supervisory agencies as soon as they are discovered. Some reporting standards change from state to state based on the likelihood that impacted individuals may experience sensitive data loss and the severity of the breach.
Try to notify supervisory bodies of a breach within 24 hours, and no later than 72 hours after the breach has occurred to avoid regulatory sanctions. Such exceptional reporting practice should comply with the vast majority of regulatory criteria, including the GDPR, in most cases.
To the extent that you are not certain that a ransomware assault did not result in data exfiltration, all such instances should be viewed as data breaches and reported as such.
Is a Ransomware attack considered a Data Breach under the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR)?
Unlike the United States Department of Health and Human Services, the International Commissioner’s Office (ICO) defines a data breach as anything other than the loss or theft of personal data. As a result, there is a wider overlap between ransomware assaults and data breach instances.
According to the Information Commissioner’s Office, a data breach occurs when any of the following conditions are met:
Unauthorized third-party access is permitted.
A controller or processor’s deliberate or unintentional action (or inactivity) is defined as:
The transmission of personal information to an inappropriate recipient.
Personal data is lost or stolen from computers that contain personal information.
Unauthorized alteration of personal data is prohibited.
Personal information is no longer available.
How to Prevent Ransomware Attacks and Data Breaches
If a multiple-extortion ransomware attack is carried out (which is impossible to predict with certainty), sensitive data may be exfiltrated as well.
Even if there is no data exfiltration, encryption results in a reduction in data availability.
Some ransomware variations may be capable of causing unauthorized alteration of personal information in the target’s system.
Because encrypted data is quickly replaced with clean backups, many firms with a reliable backup system continue to believe that they do not need to notify customers about a data breach.
However, because the manipulation of personal data and illegal access are also requirements under the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO), an effective backup strategy may not be sufficient to avoid notification of a data breach under the ICO rules.
If a ransomware attack is judged reportable, the final decision on whether or not it should be reported rests with your authorized Data Protection Officer (DPO).