As many have learned over the last several years, ransomware is a type of malware that denies affected users access to critical data by encrypting it. Attackers profit handsomely by requiring victims to pay substantial sums, typically tendered in a cryptocurrency such as Bitcoin. A look at some of the numbers over the past two years is troubling. And, perhaps even more troubling, as in all “industries,” products evolve and there are new entrants to the marketplace.

MAZE and Sodinokibi

A comprehensive report by Coveware analyzing ransomware developments during the first quarter of 2020 highlights several interesting trends. In addition to calling attention to the uptick following the coronavirus COVID-19 outbreak, the report explains the rise in average ransom payments and the most common attack types and vectors. It also points to a disturbing new trend – data exfiltration.

For some time, the general view of ransomware has been that attackers encrypt their victims’ systems and files believing that many will be without good backups, increasing pressure to pay the ransom in order to recover critical business information, despite the risks that come with such transactions. That view is shifting. According to the Coveware report, and what we are seeing in our own experience:

Data exfiltration, where data is downloaded from victim computers and is threatened to be released publicly, became a prevalent tactic during ransomware attacks in [the first quarter of 2020]. This was a big change from the previous quarter where it was virtually non-existent.

Two popular variants driving this new trend in ransomware attacks are MAZE and Sodinokibi. Tactics include auctioning off stolen data and/or publicly shaming victims into paying the ransom. (This Krebsonsecurity post includes a snapshot showing such an auction on the dark web by the REvil ransomware group). The expectation is that these kinds of attacks will continue.


As part of managing the data breach response services we provide to our clients around the country, we maintain relationships with forensic experts, such as Arete Advisors, LLC. These experts work with us to support our clients’ incident response needs, while tracking emerging threats. Arete recently reported on a new variant, “WASTED,” that appears to have certain features to be aware of:

  • Ransom demands have been nonnegotiable, and have been in the range of 40 BTC to 1,000 BTC. As of this writing, that means between approximately $360,000 to over $900,000, and the attackers threaten to increase the ransom every 24 hours.
  • The attackers sometimes enter through VPN with compromised credentials. As Arete suggests, using multifactor authentication on VPN connections can help prevent these and other attacks.
  • Ransomware payloads are customized to the victim’s environment. The file extension will have 3 characters that represent the victim’s company name along with a reference to the variant, e.g., “abcwasted.”
  • The attackers can be slow to respond, 12+ hours in some cases.

Organizations may not be able to prevent all attacks, but it is important to remain vigilant and be aware of emerging trends. There also are several steps organizations can take to minimize the chance and impact of a successful attack.

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Photo of Joseph J. Lazzarotti Joseph J. Lazzarotti

Joseph J. Lazzarotti is a principal in the Berkeley Heights, New Jersey, office of Jackson Lewis P.C. He founded and currently co-leads the firm’s Privacy, Data and Cybersecurity practice group, edits the firm’s Privacy Blog, and is a Certified Information Privacy Professional (CIPP)…

Joseph J. Lazzarotti is a principal in the Berkeley Heights, New Jersey, office of Jackson Lewis P.C. He founded and currently co-leads the firm’s Privacy, Data and Cybersecurity practice group, edits the firm’s Privacy Blog, and is a Certified Information Privacy Professional (CIPP) with the International Association of Privacy Professionals. Trained as an employee benefits lawyer, focused on compliance, Joe also is a member of the firm’s Employee Benefits practice group.

In short, his practice focuses on the matrix of laws governing the privacy, security, and management of data, as well as the impact and regulation of social media. He also counsels companies on compliance, fiduciary, taxation, and administrative matters with respect to employee benefit plans.

Privacy and cybersecurity experience – Joe counsels multinational, national and regional companies in all industries on the broad array of laws, regulations, best practices, and preventive safeguards. The following are examples of areas of focus in his practice:

  • Advising health care providers, business associates, and group health plan sponsors concerning HIPAA/HITECH compliance, including risk assessments, policies and procedures, incident response plan development, vendor assessment and management programs, and training.
  • Coached hundreds of companies through the investigation, remediation, notification, and overall response to data breaches of all kinds – PHI, PII, payment card, etc.
  • Helping organizations address questions about the application, implementation, and overall compliance with European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and, in particular, its implications in the U.S., together with preparing for the California Consumer Privacy Act.
  • Working with organizations to develop and implement video, audio, and data-driven monitoring and surveillance programs. For instance, in the transportation and related industries, Joe has worked with numerous clients on fleet management programs involving the use of telematics, dash-cams, event data recorders (EDR), and related technologies. He also has advised many clients in the use of biometrics including with regard to consent, data security, and retention issues under BIPA and other laws.
  • Assisting clients with growing state data security mandates to safeguard personal information, including steering clients through detailed risk assessments and converting those assessments into practical “best practice” risk management solutions, including written information security programs (WISPs). Related work includes compliance advice concerning FTC Act, Regulation S-P, GLBA, and New York Reg. 500.
  • Advising clients about best practices for electronic communications, including in social media, as well as when communicating under a “bring your own device” (BYOD) or “company owned personally enabled device” (COPE) environment.
  • Conducting various levels of privacy and data security training for executives and employees
  • Supports organizations through mergers, acquisitions, and reorganizations with regard to the handling of employee and customer data, and the safeguarding of that data during the transaction.
  • Representing organizations in matters involving inquiries into privacy and data security compliance before federal and state agencies including the HHS Office of Civil Rights, Federal Trade Commission, and various state Attorneys General.

Benefits counseling experience – Joe’s work in the benefits counseling area covers many areas of employee benefits law. Below are some examples of that work:

  • As part of the Firm’s Health Care Reform Team, he advises employers and plan sponsors regarding the establishment, administration and operation of fully insured and self-funded health and welfare plans to comply with ERISA, IRC, ACA/PPACA, HIPAA, COBRA, ADA, GINA, and other related laws.
  • Guiding clients through the selection of plan service providers, along with negotiating service agreements with vendors to address plan compliance and operations, while leveraging data security experience to ensure plan data is safeguarded.
  • Counsels plan sponsors on day-to-day compliance and administrative issues affecting plans.
  • Assists in the design and drafting of benefit plan documents, including severance and fringe benefit plans.
  • Advises plan sponsors concerning employee benefit plan operation, administration and correcting errors in operation.

Joe speaks and writes regularly on current employee benefits and data privacy and cybersecurity topics and his work has been published in leading business and legal journals and media outlets, such as The Washington Post, Inside Counsel, Bloomberg, The National Law Journal, Financial Times, Business Insurance, HR Magazine and NPR, as well as the ABA Journal, The American Lawyer, Law360, Bender’s Labor and Employment Bulletin, the Australian Privacy Law Bulletin and the Privacy, and Data Security Law Journal.

Joe served as a judicial law clerk for the Honorable Laura Denvir Stith on the Missouri Court of Appeals.