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Chainalysis has identified more than $602 million worth of ransomware payments in 2021. But the firm is confident that the figure is still an “underestimate” and that the true total for the year is likely to be much higher.

2021 Ransomeware Payouts

A report from the blockchain analytics firm Chainalysis showed that at least $602 million worth of ransom payouts were identified in 2021. But the figures could be higher considering the fact that ransomware revenue in the first half of 2021 exceeded that of the first half of 2020. This essentially suggested that 2021 will subsequently unfold into an even bigger year for ransomware.

Operators of such attacks typically lock the data of an organization or platform with encryption and request a ransom demand. Over the past few years, they have not only intensified in terms of number but also severity.

The payment size of ransomware payment also continued to grow in 2021. The report stated that the average demand payment was more than $118,000 in 2021 compared to $88,000 in 2020 and $25,000 in 2019.

Ransomware Strains

Conti tops the list of ransomware strains in 2021, extorting $180 million from victims. Leveraging a ransomware-as-a-service (RaaS) model, the operators enabled affiliates to strike with the help of their ransomware program in exchange for a fee. While many strains remain active for a short time before going dormant, Conti was the one that stayed operational throughout last year.

Darkside followed suit, primarily for its role in the infamous attack on the oil pipeline Colonial Pipeline. The attack that made headlines last year serves as an important reminder of the large-scale damage ransomware attacks can trigger.

The US Department of Justice (DOJ) successfully tracking and seizing $2.3 million of the ransom that the American oil pipeline system paid to DarkSide, also evidenced the need to report these attacks to the law enforcement agencies despite paying the requested fee.

What was even more interesting is there were more active individual ransomware strains in 2021 than any other year. Chainlysis revealed that around 140 ransomware attacks raked in payments from victims at any point in 2021, up from 119 in 2020 and 79 in 2019.

“Those numbers are emblematic of the intense growth of ransomware we’ve seen over the last two years. Most ransomware strains come and go in waves, staying active for a short amount of time before becoming dormant.”


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