How Ransomware Attacks Have Evolved in 2023 

How ransom attacks have evolved in 2023

As cyber threats continue to evolve, understanding ransomware protection in 2023 is crucial for safeguarding your organization’s digital assets. Ransomware remains a persistent threat, with sophisticated techniques that challenge businesses globally. In this blog post, we will explore some of the key trends and developments in ransomware attacks in 2023, based on the findings of Sophos’ annual State of Ransomware report. 

Ransomware Attacks 2023: Evolving Threats and Defense Strategies

What is Ransomware?

Ransomware is a type of malware that encrypts the victim’s data and demands a ransom for its decryption. It is one of the most prevalent and costly cyber threats facing organizations today. According to Sophos, a global leader in cybersecurity, 66% of organizations surveyed said they were hit by ransomware in the last year. This is the same attack rate as reported in their 2022 study, suggesting that the rate of ransomware attacks has remained steady despite any perceived reduction in attacks. 

The Evolution of Ransomware Encryption and Exfiltration Tactics

One of the most notable changes in ransomware attacks in 2023 is the increase in data encryption. Sophos found that adversaries succeeded in encrypting data in 76% of attacks, up from 54% in 2022. This means that more than three-quarters of ransomware victims had their data locked up by malicious actors, preventing them from accessing or using it. 

Moreover, in 30% of cases where data was encrypted, data was also stolen, suggesting this “double dip” method (data encryption and data exfiltration) is becoming commonplace. This adds another layer of pressure on the victims, as they face not only the loss of their data, but also the risk of data leakage or exposure. Ransomware operators may threaten to publish or sell the stolen data if the ransom is not paid, or use it for further attacks. 

Identifying the Root Causes of Ransomware Attacks

Another important aspect of ransomware attacks is how they are executed. Sophos identified the most common root causes of ransomware attacks in 2023, based on the survey responses of 3,000 IT/cybersecurity professionals across 14 countries. 

The most commonly reported root cause of attacks was an exploited vulnerability (involved in 36% of cases), followed by compromised credentials (involved in 29% of cases). This is in line with recent, in-the-field incident response findings from Sophos’ 2023 Active Adversary Report for Business Leaders, which revealed that attackers often exploit known vulnerabilities or weak passwords to gain initial access to a network. 

Other root causes of ransomware attacks included phishing emails (involved in 23% of cases), remote desktop protocol (RDP) compromise (involved in 18% of cases), and insider threat (involved in 9% of cases). These methods show that ransomware attackers use a variety of techniques to infiltrate and compromise their targets and that human error or negligence can play a significant role. 

Analyzing the Cost and Impact of Ransomware on Organizations

Ransomware attacks can have devastating consequences for organizations, both financially and operationally. Sophos estimated the average cost of a ransomware attack for mid-sized organizations (100-5,000 employees) at $1.85 million. This includes the cost of the ransom payment (if any), as well as the cost of downtime, lost business opportunities, remediation, investigation, and other factors. 

Sophos also found that paying the ransom doubles recovery costs. Overall, 46% of organizations surveyed that had their data encrypted paid the ransom and got data back. However, the survey also shows that when organizations paid a ransom to get their data decrypted, they ended up doubling their non-ransom recovery costs ($750,000 in recovery costs versus $375,000 for organizations that used backups to get data back). Moreover, paying the ransom usually meant longer recovery times, with 45% of those organizations that used backups recovering within a week, compared to 39% of those that paid the ransom. 

Paying ransoms not only enriches criminals but also slows incident response and adds cost to an already devastatingly expensive situation. Furthermore, paying a ransom does not guarantee data recovery or prevent future attacks. In fact, Sophos found that 8% of organizations that paid a ransom did not get their data back at all.

Proactive Measures for Ransomware Protection in 2023

Ransomware attacks are a serious threat to any organization, regardless of size or industry. Therefore, it is essential to adopt a proactive and comprehensive approach to prevent and mitigate ransomware risks. Sophos recommends the following best practices for ransomware protection: 

  1. Keep your systems and software updated with the latest patches and security updates. 
  2. Use strong passwords and multifactor authentication for all accounts and devices. 
  3. Educate your employees and users about the dangers of phishing and other social engineering attacks. 
  4. Implement a robust backup strategy and test your backups regularly. 
  5. Deploy advanced endpoint protection and network security solutions that can detect and block ransomware attacks. 
  6. Monitor your network and systems for any suspicious or anomalous activity. 
  7. Have an incident response plan and team ready to respond to any potential ransomware attack. 


In the landscape of 2023, ransomware protection must be a top priority for businesses seeking to shield their operations from cyber threats. By implementing Sophos’ recommended best practices and staying informed about emerging risks, organizations can fortify their defenses against the sophisticated ransomware tactics of today. For more insights and support in developing a resilient cybersecurity posture, reach out to our team of experts.