AI automation tools are helping to push a surge in ransomware attacks.
This according to research from Barracuda, whose security team found that from August 2022 to July 2023 the level of recorded ransomware attacks doubled amongst the most popularly-targeted industries.
Barracuda found that the top-five category of ransomware targets (healthcare, municipalities, financial, education, and infrastructure) reported 178 new ransomware attacks over the last 12 months. That figure was more than double the 2022 figures and quadruple the 2021 total.
A big driver of the gain, the researchers believe, is the emergence of AI automation tools that can help the attackers generate more effective attacks at a higher rate with less time.
"Over the last 12 months, that helped drive ransomware to new heights as the frequency of ransomware attacks continues to climb with no sign of slowing down," the Barracuda team writes.
"We believe that despite the enduring success of traditional attack methods throughout 2023 and beyond, attackers will look to generative AI to craft increasingly effective attacks."
The team also believes that despite the growth of attacks amongst some industries outside of the top five (such as software and manufacturing) the unique appeal of the top-targets means those sectors are not likely to lose top billing any time soon.
In addition to their monetary payoff for hackers, Barracuda noted that many of those targets also bring much sought-after infamy for ransomware crews.
"Municipalities and education continue to be soft targets because they are resource constrained, and successful healthcare and infrastructure attacks have an immediate and potentially severe impact on human lives, which cybercriminals try to exploit to increase the likelihood of getting paid," the team explained.
"In many countries, one or more of these sectors may be legally obligated to report cybersecurity incidents, which makes the impact more visible as well."
Barracuda is not the first security vendor to note an uptick in the presence of AI amidst the cybercrime surge.
Earlier this year researchers at BlackBerry reported an increase in malware samples it partially attributed to malware writers figuring out how to better integrate with AI-scripting tools.