What does a ransomware attack cost? Beware the hidden expenses

The ransom is only a tiny portion of the total cost of a ransomware attack. Consider these associated costs when estimating the total damage.

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Projecting the overall cost of a ransomware attack can be tricky for security executives considering the many factors that can come into play when responding to and recovering from one. Information from numerous previous incidents show the costs go well beyond any demanded ransom amount and the costs associated with cleaning infected systems.

Consider the following examples. The Erie County Medical Center (ECMC) in Buffalo, NY, last July estimated it spent $10 million responding to an attack involving a $30,000 ransom demand. About half the amount went toward IT services, software, and other recovery-related costs. The other half stemmed from staff overtime, costs related to lost revenues, and other indirect costs. ECMC officials estimated the medical center would need to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars more on upgrading technology and employee awareness training.

Public records show that the City of Atlanta spent almost $5 million just in procuring emergency IT services following a March 2018 ransomware attack that crippled essential city services for days. The costs included those associated with third-party incident response services, crisis communication, augmenting support staff and subject matter expert consulting services.

In Colorado, Gov. John Hickenlooper had to set aside $2 million from the state disaster emergency fund after ransomware infected some 2,000 Windows systems at CDOT, the state department of transportation, this February. In less than eight weeks, CDOT officials spent more than half that amount just returning systems to normal from the attack.

Not surprisingly, industry estimates relating to ransomware damages have soared recently. Cybersecurity Ventures, which pegged ransomware costs at $325 million in 2015, last year estimated damages at $5 billion in 2017 and predicted it would exceed $11.5 billion in 2019.

For security executives trying to prepare a total ransomware cost estimate, the key is not to get fixated on the ransom amount itself. Even if you end up paying it to recover your data—something that most security analysts advocate against—the actual costs of the attack in most cases will end up being greater.

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