The Evolving Landscape of Ransomware: A Summary (January 2024)

The year is 2024, and the specter of ransomware continues to loom large over cyber-defense strategies. New variants emerge relentlessly, evolving tactics and ruthlessly targeting specific industries and countries. To navigate this volatile landscape, understanding the current ransomware ecosystem is crucial. This article delves into the technical details of prominent ransomware variants and groups, dissecting their capabilities, preferred targets, and recent activity.

Ransomware 101: A Primer:

Before diving into specifics, let’s establish a common ground. Ransomware is a form of malware that encrypts sensitive data, rendering it inaccessible until a ransom payment is made. Perpetrators typically demand cryptocurrency, making their schemes notoriously challenging to trace and prosecute. Ransomware attacks can be initiated through various avenues, including phishing emails, infected websites, and software vulnerabilities.

The Active Players:

Several ransomware gangs dominate the current scene, each with its unique modus operandi. This list is not a complete list of all ransomware operators out there in the wild, but it is a summary of the most active ones over the last three months:

  • LockBit: LockBit, a reigning ransomware mastermind, has cemented its dominance in the underworld of cybercrime. It’s notorious for its relentless attacks on large corporations and critical infrastructure, demanding exorbitant ransoms for stolen data. LockBit’s arsenal includes formidable encryption techniques, a robust affiliate program that recruits skilled hackers, and a ruthless double extortion strategy that pressures victims to comply. Its developers continuously innovate, releasing new versions like LockBit 2.0 and 3.0 with enhanced features and stealth capabilities, making it a formidable adversary for cybersecurity professionals worldwide. LockBit’s prolific activity and relentless pursuit of high-value targets position it as a top priority for security experts and law enforcement agencies alike.
  • PLAY: Play ransomware, a rising star in the cybercriminal world, emerged in 2022 and quickly climbed the ranks, targeting high-profile businesses and critical infrastructure worldwide. Employing a ruthless “double extortion” strategy, Play encrypts sensitive data and threatens public release unless hefty ransom demands are met. Known for its sophisticated tactics, including exploiting stolen credentials and zero-day vulnerabilities, Play prioritizes large organizations in sectors like healthcare, finance, and manufacturing. With a proven track record of successful attacks and a persistent focus on high-value targets, Play remains a significant threat requiring vigilant cybersecurity measures.
  • BlackCat (ALPHV): BlackCat, also known as ALPHV, entered the ransomware scene in late 2021 with a bang, quickly establishing itself as a potent threat. This Rust-written malware boasts features like robust encryption, double extortion (stealing data before encrypting it), and an affiliate program, making it attractive to cybercriminals of varying skill levels. BlackCat targets high-profile victims across industries, showcasing a preference for healthcare, government agencies, and critical infrastructure. Its affiliation with the FIN7 hacking group and utilization of sophisticated tactics, including custom ransomware strains and exploitation of zero-day vulnerabilities, solidifies BlackCat’s position as a force to be reckoned with in the ever-evolving ransomware landscape.
  • 8BASE: 8Base, a relatively new yet opportunistic ransomware group, has carved its niche in the cybercrime landscape by employing aggressive tactics and targeting diverse industries. Operating since April 2022, 8Base has gained notoriety for its name-and-shame strategy, combining encryption with public data leaks to leverage victims into paying ransoms. It prefers small-to-medium-sized businesses (SMBs) across various sectors, including manufacturing, finance, healthcare, and IT. It suggests a willingness to exploit vulnerabilities in organizations of varying sizes. 8Base’s adaptability and exploitation of stolen credentials and SmokeLoader backdoors for initial access highlight its potential for further disruption. While its full capabilities and long-term goals remain under investigation, 8Base’s rapid rise and indiscriminate targeting strategies warrant close monitoring and proactive cybersecurity measures.
  • BlackBasta: BlackBasta, a rising specter in the cybercrime arena, entered the scene in April 2023, cloaked in an aura of mystery. Emerging from the Conti ransomware lineage, it employs robust encryption tactics and a ruthless “double extortion” approach, stealing sensitive data alongside file locking to exert maximum pressure on victims. This newcomer’s targets range across industries, focusing on high-profile finance, healthcare, and manufacturing organizations. BlackBasta exhibits a meticulous approach, conducting extensive reconnaissance before launching attacks, often leveraging unpatched vulnerabilities and stolen credentials for initial access. While still shrouded in some secrecy, BlackBasta’s rapid rise and association with a notorious lineage raise concerns. Its adoption of the Conti source code indicates proficiency and resourcefulness, while its diverse targeting and sophisticated techniques signal a significant threat to various sectors. However, unlike some of its counterparts, BlackBasta hasn’t engaged in public data leaks or excessive victim shaming. This potentially strategic approach suggests maximizing profit through discreet ransom negotiations. Despite its relative newness, BlackBasta has earned the attention of cybersecurity researchers and law enforcement agencies. Understanding its evolving tactics and implementing robust security measures remain crucial for organizations seeking to stay ahead of this emerging threat. By adopting a proactive stance and maintaining vigilance, we can collectively create a more resilient digital landscape where even shadowy newcomers like BlackBasta struggle to find easy prey.

Targeting Trends: Industries and Countries in the Crosshairs:

Ransomware gangs are becoming increasingly selective, tailoring their attacks to specific industries and countries with the highest return on investment. Here’s a snapshot of the current targeting trends:


Healthcare, education, manufacturing, energy, and critical infrastructure remain top targets due to their dependence on sensitive data and the potential for operational disruption. Here are some sources with further information per industry/sector.


The United States, United Kingdom, Germany, France, and Italy remain prime targets due to their large economies and tech-savvy populations. However, emerging economies like India, Brazil, and the Philippines are witnessing a rise in ransomware activity.

Technical Nuances: Encryption Algorithms, Tools, and Tactics:

Modern ransomware strains utilize advanced encryption algorithms like RSA-2048 and AES-256, making decryption virtually impossible without the attacker’s key. They also leverage sophisticated tools and tactics to gain initial access, spread laterally within networks, and evade detection:

  • Phishing Campaigns: Spear phishing emails with malicious attachments or compromised websites remain a prevalent entry point.
  • Exploit Kits: Utilizing zero-day vulnerabilities or known exploits in popular software enables attackers to bypass security controls.
  • Lateral Movement: Once inside a network, ransomware leverages stolen credentials and network vulnerabilities to compromise additional systems and maximize impact.
  • Data Theft: Attackers increasingly steal sensitive data before encryption, adding an extra layer of pressure to victims who face data loss and public exposure. Often, we see these data sets posted on the ransomware groups' PR sites, blogs, or other forums, sometimes on darkweb sites, but also clear web presences.

Some further sources of information can be found here:

Staying Ahead of the Curve: Mitigation Strategies and Future Trends:

The arms race against ransomware is a continuous battle. Here are some effective mitigation strategies:

  • Security Awareness Training: Educating employees about phishing scams and social engineering techniques can significantly reduce the risk of initial compromise.
  • Patching and Vulnerability Management: Regularly patching software vulnerabilities and hardening system configurations drastically narrow the attack surface. This should be one of the no-brainers in any Cybersecurity Strategy.
  • Multi-factor Authentication (MFA): Implementing MFA across all systems adds an extra layer of security for user accounts. However, remember that MFA is not the silver bullet nor a guarantee for security; more MFA bypass attacks are seen than ever.
  • Data Backups and Recovery Plans: Maintaining regular backups and having a tested recovery plan ensures business continuity in case of an attack. There are innovative backup solutions today that can make the difference between your business going out of business or not after a ransomware attack.
  • Threat Intelligence and Advanced Detection: Leveraging threat intelligence and security tools with advanced detection capabilities can help identify and thwart attacks before significant damage occurs. For Cyber Threat Intelligence, Dark Web Intelligence gathering, and related topics, feel free to contact us at

Additional sources:

Emerging trends in the ransomware landscape are worth noting:

Ransomware-as-a-Service (RaaS): Easy-to-use RaaS platforms allow less-skilled actors to participate in ransomware attacks, lowering the barrier to entry for malicious activity.

Further interesting reading on the subject of emerging trends:



Sigmund Brandstaetter CISSP, CCSP, CISM, OSCP, CEH

With a total of 30 years in the IT Industry, I have focused on Cybersecurity (Services) and related skills over the past 15 years,