Negotiating with criminals is risky, but it is apparently a risk some people are willing to take if it is going to get them their data back.
In a survey from ThreatTrack Security, 30 percent of the 250 organizations polled said they would negotiate with a cyber-criminal to get their data back. Though that means 70 percent would not support negotiating, the survey also found that 86 percent of security pros believe their peers at other organizations have done so.
The percentage of those willing to negotiate was even higher among organizations that had already been hit by a cyber-extortion scheme. Nearly 40 percent of security professionals said they are employed at an organization that has been targeted in that kind of attack, and 55 percent of them are willing to negotiate. Security professionals within the healthcare and financial services sectors were least likely to recommend negotiating with cyber-extortionists with 92 percent and 80 percent, respectively, saying "no."
"The sentiment against negotiating with cyberextortionists was stronger at smaller companies, with 78% of respondents in organizations with less than 1,000 employees saying they wouldn't negotiate," according to the report. "Respondents at companies with 2,000 to 2,500 employees took a softer stance, with 42% saying they would negotiate."
Given the proliferation of ransomware attacks, this issue poses a real question for enterprises. In 2012, Symantec released a report demonstrating how one operation may have raked in $394,000 in a single month.
Assuming the best case scenario, where an organization pays, gets the key to decrypt their data and is able to remove any malware, the dataset will still fail one key piece of security 101 - integrity, Chad Kahl, threat intelligence team lead at Solutionary, told SecurityWeek.
"All of the data has, at a minimum, been touched by a malicious actor," said Kahl. "At worst, it has been modified without your knowledge."
Typically, most security professionals recommend organizations never negotiate with criminals, said Karl Sigler, threat intelligence manager at Trustwave. Paying a ransom, he noted, does not guarantee an attack will stop in the case of a DDoS, and it does not guarantee in the case of ransomware attacks that the organization's data will actually be recovered. It also sends the message to other criminals that the technique will be successful, he added.
"Negotiation is sometimes used as a last ditch effort to halt a DDoS attack or decrypt data held ransom, but there are steps that can be taken to avoid getting into such a rough spot," he said. "Organizations under a DDoS attack should work with their ISPs to mitigate any outage caused. Ransomware and data destruction can often be thwarted with good, clean backups."
*This story was updated to correct the spelling of Chad Kahl's last name.