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More than 80% of UK businesses paid ransomware demands in 2021

The figure means UK organisations are twice as likely to pay a ransom demand compared to the global average

The vast majority of UK businesses infected with ransomware ultimately paid the ransom, making it the country most likely to pay cyber criminals in such attacks and twice as likely compared to the global average.

More than three-quarters (78%) of UK businesses were hit with ransomware in 2021, cyber security company Proofpoint said in a report released today, and most of them (82%) paid the hackers to restore access to their data. 

The practice of negotiating with cyber criminals is frowned upon by the industry and especially by governments. The FBI reiterated its stance last year after a spate of attacks on US-based companies, such as JBS Foods and Colonial Pipeline, led to ransom payments being made to criminals.

In October, a joint statement from more than 30 countries was released condemning the practice once again. Among the signatories were the US, UK, EU, Germany, France, and Japan.

The latter two were named in Proofpoint's report as the most and least affected countries by ransomware throughout last year respectively. France was the most successfully targeted country with 81% of businesses in its region being infected with ransomware, while Japan was the least affected with just 50% of businesses being infected in 2021.

Ransomware was the third most common result of a successful phishing attack, according to global figures, behind credential compromise in second place and a data breach in first.

A total of 91% of UK businesses faced bulk, indiscriminate phishing attacks last year and more than 20% experienced 50 or more instances of other forms of social engineering-based attacks such as smishing, social media, and vishing attacks - voice-powered phishing methods via phone calls or voice messages.

Bulk phishing attempts on businesses were up across the board with a 12% increase according to 600 businesses surveyed across the UK, Australia, France, Germany Japan, Spain, and the US. Wider social engineering attacks also rose by more than 20%. 

"A staggering amount of UK businesses experienced a phishing attack in 2021, and 91% of those attacks were successful,” said Adenike Cosgrove, cybersecurity strategist, international at Proofpoint. "Further, security professionals in the UK are the most likely to face high volumes of non-email-based social engineering attacks.

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"This compounds the fact that the UK is facing threats from all angles, however the key to battling these threats starts with employees. All of these attacks require human interaction to be successful, emphasising the need for increased employee security awareness and training. Compared to global counterparts, UK workers had the highest awareness of the term ‘phishing’ which is promising, but at only 62% we still have a way to go to ensure businesses remain secure."

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