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Canada has emerged as a popular hunting ground for cyberattackers, according to a new report by NordLocker, a cybersecurity firm.

Canadian corporations were the third biggest victims of ransomware attacks in 2020 and 2021, behind only U.S. and U.K. based entities, the encrypted cloud service provider said in a report published recently.

Ransomware is a malware that holds a company’s system hostage until a ransom is paid to the attackers. But these attacks often go beyond extortion of money, as the hackers likely steal sensitive corporate information and often work in tandem with intelligence agencies of countries hostile to Canada.

“The latest statistics indicate that a worrying 37 per cent of companies worldwide became victims of ransomware in 2020,” said Oliver Noble, a cybersecurity expert at NordLocker, in the report. “From Manitoulin transport in the logistics industry to the Royal Military College of Canada, cyberattacks wreak havoc on organizations of all sizes and across industries.”

The report echoes the Canadian Centre for Cyber Security’s own assessment that warned that the number of cyber threat actors is rising, and they are becoming more sophisticated.

“We assess that, almost certainly, over the next two years, Canadians and Canadian organizations will continue to face online fraud and attempts to steal personal, financial, and corporate information,” the CCCS said in a 2020 report.

Average demand for ransom had risen to just under $150,000 in Canada by the first quarter of 2020, according to the latest available data from the CCCS.

“We expect that ransomware directed against Canada in the next two years will almost certainly continue to target large enterprises and critical infrastructure providers,” CCCS, which leads the federal government’s response to cybersecurity events, noted in its report. “Since late 2019, multiple Canadian businesses and provincial governments have had their data publicly leaked by ransomware operators for refusing payment, including a construction company and a consortium of Canadian agricultural companies.”

Nordlocker’s own global ransomware fee average stood at $1.85 million in 2021, which was nearly double the fee extorted last year.

“To avoid a doomsday, i.e. business operations put to a standstill, damaged reputation, loss of clients, tiresome legal battles, and huge fines, some organizations are left with no choice but to pay the ransom to get the decryption key,” Noble noted.

In Canada, the construction sector was the top ransomware target (93 victimized companies), followed by manufacturing (86). Finance (69 ransomware cases), healthcare (65), education (63), technology & IT (62), logistics & transportation (59), automotive (56), municipal services (52), and legal (49) were the 10 industries most targeted by ransomware gangs, according to Nordlocker, which analyzed 1,200 attacks.

Earlier this month, a cyberattack knocked out Newfoundland and Labrador’s health system data centres, which compromised  personal information of medical patients and left the system paralyzed for more than two weeks.

“The healthcare industry is the most significant employer in Canada by a big margin,” Nordlock’s Noble said. “In the midst of a pandemic, it got hit by a different kind of trouble when a cyberattack crippled the health system in the province of Newfoundland. The attack… only goes to show the fragile nature of data systems and the lack of attention and resources dedicated to cybersecurity.”

This content was originally published here.