The FBI issued a Private Industry Notification on November 2, 2021, warning companies that “ransomware actors are very likely using significant financial events, such as mergers and acquisitions, to target and leverage victim companies for ransomware infections.”

According to the Notification, ransomware actors are researching publicly available information to pick targets they believe may be looking for M&A activity or other “time-sensitive financial events,” and then using Trojan malware to provide reconnaissance to determine “how to best monetize the access.” During the reconnaissance, they have access to non-public information about plans and strategies that would be detrimental to the financial event if publicized. The threat actors then attempt to extort money from the company to not publish the data that could “affect a victim’s stock value.”

The Notification cites examples of how the scheme works, including that three publicly traded U.S. companies  actively involved in mergers and acquisitions “were victims of ransomware during their respective negotiations…two of the three were under private negotiations.”

The FBI’s recommendations include:

  • Back-up critical data offline.
  • Ensure copies of critical data are in the cloud or on an external hard drive or storage device.
  • Secure your back-ups and ensure data are not accessible for modification or deletion from the system in which the original data reside.
  • Install and regularly update anti-virus or anti-malware software on all hosts.
  • Only use secure networks and avoid using public Wi-Fi networks.
  • Use two-factor authentication for user login credentials, use authenticator apps rather than email as actors may be in control of victim email accounts, and do not click on unsolicited attachments or links in emails.
  • Implement “least privilege” status for file, directory, and network share permissions.

 The Notification can be accessed here.