A blockchain analysis firm, Chainanalysis, reported that ransomware attacks hit record levels in 2023, with ransom payments nearly doubling to a total of $1.1 billion. The firm noted that hackers are increasingly using a “big game hunting” strategy to target global corporations and large companies in search of larger payouts.
The increased ransomware payment volume involved payments of $1 million or more, with hospitals, schools, and government agencies also frequently targeted. Chainanalysis researchers described 2023 as a major comeback for ransomware, with record-breaking payments and a substantial increase in the scope and complexity of attacks.
The gambling industry has been a prime target for ransomware attacks, particularly online gaming sites. However, hackers are now increasingly targeting land-based casino operators, including major players in the industry.
One notable hacking group, known as “Scattered Spider” or “Octo Tempest,” launched devastating ransomware attacks on MGM Resorts International and Caesars Entertainment in September 2023. MGM refused to pay the ransom, resulting in disruptions that lasted for days and caused an estimated $100 million in damage. In contrast, Caesars paid the hackers around $15 million to have normal operations restored.
Scattered Spider is characterized as an amorphous group of English-speaking hackers that has engaged in various crimes, including ransomware, sextortion, and phone scams. The group’s shift to “big game hunting” represents a diversification of cybercrime threats, which have traditionally been associated with East European criminal gangs or state-sponsored hackers.
Despite the increasing ransomware attacks, the report also acknowledged the progress made by law enforcement in combatting such crimes. The FBI, in particular, infiltrated a group known as “Hive” in 2022, which contributed to a significant reduction in attacks that year. The agency provided decryption keys to over 1,300 of Hive’s victims, preventing the need for ransom payments and ultimately preventing approximately $130 million in payments in 2022.