36% of breached critical infrastructure organizations have paid off ransomware

May 14, 2024
The research findings expose the multiple consequences of a ransomware attack on the US’ critical infrastructure.

Houston, Texas, USA – 14 May 2024 – Over three-in-ten US-based critical infrastructure organizations (36%) that have fallen victim to a ransomware attack have risked legal repercussions by paying a ransom.

The findings are in new research by leading cybersecurity services firm Bridewell, surveying 519 staff responsible for cybersecurity at US critical infrastructure organizations in sectors such as civil aviation, telecommunications, energy, transport, media, financial services and water supply. 

66% of organizations surveyed have experienced at least one ransomware attack over the previous 12 months. More than a third (38%) suffered up to five ransomware attacks, but a small percentage of organizations 32%) experienced more than a hundred attacks.

In certain situations, for example, when an organization has no ability to recover from a successful attack, there may be no choice other than to pay the ransom. However, payment can risk infringing UK and US laws that prohibit dealings with sanctioned individuals or entities. At present, prosecutions are uncommon, however, the UK and US governments have floated the idea of implementing a payment ban.

The research findings expose the multiple consequences of a ransomware attack on the US’ critical infrastructure. Over a third of respondents, for example, cited a psychological impact on employees (36%). Downtime (43%), data loss (43%) and reputational damage (41%) are all repercussions that respondents say their organizations have suffered, along with operational disruption (40%).

But, over a third of organizations (36%) are also facing increased insurance premiums, and 35% have also incurred financial losses from legal fees or fines. The average cost of a ransomware attack on US critical infrastructure organizations is now $509,942, the research reveals.

Impacts are exacerbated by the length of time it takes organizations to respond to ransomware attacks, with the average now being 16 hours. Without a proactive strategy to address this significant challenge of response delays, more organizations risk paying a ransom.  

Over nine-in-ten (91%) US respondents in the research agree that attacks are more sophisticated, with ransomware-as-a-service (RaaS) deployed with greater knowledge and cunning. Threats are on the rise through increasing professionalization in the ransomware world and the entry of organized crime groups from other areas of criminality.

“If you fall victim to a ransomware attack, paying the ransom should always be your last resort. Aside from the risk that cybercriminals may not restore access upon payment, there are also potential legal consequences to consider,” said Anthony Young, CEO at Bridewell. “That being said, there are certain situations where organizations have no choice other than to pay. If the organization has no ability to recover, then paying the ransom may represent the only viable option to resume operations other than rebuilding their systems from scratch. However, this difficult choice is avoidable by having a security strategy to reduce the risk of threat actors gaining access and transversing through your systems without discovery and effective removal. Building a relationship with a trusted security partner who understands your environment and the complex challenges faced by critical infrastructure can help you mitigate this risk by having the right expertise, resources, and support if the worst was to happen.”