Blog Post December 28, 2023

Unmasking the Top Ransomware Groups of 2023

Over the past year, the digital landscape has been a battleground for attacks cybersecurity threats, creating a sense of vulnerability and urgency for organizations. Adlumin’s dedicated threat research and Managed Detection and Response (MDR) teams have been at the forefront of detecting and combating these threats, witnessing firsthand the havoc they have wreaked across countless sectors.  

With ransomware groups and adversaries still on the rise and continually refining their techniques, organizations must remain vigilant and prepared for the malicious activities that lie ahead.  

As we enter the new year, we are shedding light on the top ransomware groups and emerging threats that demand our attention and resilience. 

Ransomware Group Spotlights 


BianLian is a versatile cybercriminal group that has expanded its tactics beyond ransomware attacks. They employ advanced techniques such as customized malware, targeted phishing, and zero-day exploit usage. The group’s expertise is in evading antivirus systems and exploiting unknown software vulnerabilities. 

The BianLian group is a serious threat and is an example of a ransomware group targeting organizations hoping to receive big payouts. 

Read Adlumin’s latest Threat Insights 2023: Volume IV to learn more about two emerging threat actors and three critical vulnerabilities.  


Cl0p, also known as Clop, TA505, and FIN11, is a notorious ransomware group that is known for its advanced tactics and operations. They employ a ransomware-as-a-service (RaaS) model and utilize the double-extortion data disclosure tactic. Their motivation is financial gain through extorting organizations by encrypting their data and demanding ransom payments in exchange for its release. 

Cl0p first emerged in 2019 as a variant of CryptoMix malware distributed through a large-scale phishing campaign. Over time, they have evolved into one of the most sophisticated and effective ransomware groups, frequently exploiting zero-day vulnerabilities to target and compromise numerous systems across the globe. 

Read more about the CL0P ransomware group, trends, and developments in Adlumin’s Threat Insights 2023: Volume II


LockBit is a ransomware group that operates as a Ransomware-as-a-Service (RaaS) model. They provide other cybercriminals, known as “affiliates,” with their ransomware tools to spread and infect victims’ systems. LockBit’s main motivation is financial gain through extortion. They target organizations, particularly in professional services like manufacturing, construction, and technology, by accessing their networks and encrypting their data.  

A ransom payment is demanded in exchange for the decryption key, threatening to leak the stolen data if the ransom is not paid. LockBit’s focus is mainly on small to medium-sized companies. However, they have also targeted larger organizations with victims in North and South America, with no clear regional pattern in targeting.  

Adlumin’s Threat Insights: Volume I give an in-depth analysis of the latest trends and an overview of the effects and recovery from recent ransomware attacks.  

Akira Ransomware 

Akira ransomware is a relatively new malware that emerged in March 2023. The threat actors behind Akira ransomware employ various tactics, such as phishing campaigns and exploiting vulnerabilities in remote monitoring and management software, remote desktop protocol, and other remote access tools. They have also been reported to exploit vulnerabilities and compromised credentials in Cisco virtual private network (VPN) products. 

The motivation of Akira ransomware threat actors is believed to be financial gain. Like most ransomware groups, they encrypt the victim’s files and demand ransom. These ransom payments are typically made in cryptocurrencies, making tracing and identifying the perpetrators harder. 

Read more about Akira Ransomware and the examination from Adlumin’s threat research team in A Threat Actor’s Playbook: Behind the Scenes of Akira Ransomware


Play ransomware has been a significant threat since its emergence in 2022, targeting numerous companies and government entities worldwide. This development of PlayCrypt being sold as a service means that PlayCrypt is now accessible to affiliates, essentially allowing a wider range of actors to launch highly effective attacks using this Russia-linked ransomware.  

Affiliates could include skilled cybercriminals, less experienced “script kiddies,” and individuals with varying levels of expertise. This expansion may lead to a substantial increase in the frequency of attacks using Play ransomware. 

Learn more about how Adlumin uncovered evidence that Play ransomware (PlayCrypt) is also being sold “as a service” in PlayCrypt Ransomware-as-a-Service Expands Threat from Script Kiddies and Sophisticated Attackers

Top Industry-Specific Threat Spotlights   

Legal Industry: Phishing 

Phishing attacks have emerged as one of the legal industry’s top cybersecurity threats. These attacks target lawyers and law firms by deceiving individuals into revealing sensitive information such as usernames, passwords, and financial details. Given the substantial amount of valuable and confidential data law firms handle, they have become prime targets for cybercriminals. 

Phishing attacks in the legal industry often take the form of scam emails, mimicking trusted sources like IT service providers, law enforcement agencies, or other professionals with whom lawyers regularly interact. These emails typically employ social engineering tactics to create urgency or manipulate emotions, tricking recipients into clicking on malicious links or downloading malware-infected attachments. 

Adlumin’s latest Threat Insights Legal Edition report details top threats and access methods the legal industry faces.  

Financial Industry: Credential Harvesting 

Financial institutions are particularly vulnerable to credential harvesting attacks because they deal with large volumes of sensitive customer information and transactions. If cybercriminals successfully harvest credentials from bank customers, they can gain direct access to their accounts, potentially leading to financial losses for the customers and the institution.  

These attacks typically start with creating fake websites that closely resemble legitimate banking or investment websites. These fake websites often utilize convincing branding, formatting, and domain names almost identical to the targeted companies. This mimicry is intended to deceive users into thinking they are logging into their actual financial accounts. 

Read more about top threats and access methods the financial industry faces in Adlumin’s latest Threat Insights Financial Edition report.  

 Education Industry: Double Extortion 

Double extortion ransomware has emerged as one of the biggest cybersecurity threats to the education sector. Cybercriminals employ this dangerous tactic to maximize their chances of profiting from malicious activities. Double extortion takes the already damaging effects of ransomware attacks to a whole new level. 

In a traditional ransomware attack, cybercriminals encrypt the victim’s data, rendering it inaccessible until a ransom is paid. However, double extortion ransomware goes a step further. Instead of relying solely on encryption to extort money, cybercriminals also threaten to publicly expose or release the stolen data unless the ransom is paid. 

Read more about how double extortion affects the education industry and mitigation strategies in Adlumin’s latest Threat Insights Education Edition report.  

How Can You Stay Protected? 

Organizations must prioritize their cybersecurity and take proactive measures to protect their sensitive data and networks. Adlumin’s Managed Detection and Response (MDR) service provides a solution to address the growing threat of ransomware and other cyber attacks.  

Here are a few recommendations from Adlumin’s Threat Research Team 

  • Third-party risk management programs should be implemented to assess and monitor the security of vendors and suppliers, and to ensure they are adhering to the same security standards as the financial institution. 
  • Implement application controls to manage and control the execution of software, including allowlisting access programs. 
  • Adopting Zero Trust Architecture, developing and implementing a Zero Trust security architecture and model for your organization can dramatically reduce the risk of unauthorized access and lateral movement within networks. This involves verifying every user and device, regardless of location.  
  • Multi-factor authentication should be implemented where possible to prevent unauthorized access if credentials are stolen. 
  • All employees should be regularly trained in essential cybersecurity best practices, including social engineering identification, phishing, password security, re-use threats, and good browsing hygiene.   

Adlumin’s Managed Detection and Response (MDR) Services combines advanced threat detection capabilities with a team of dedicated experts who monitor and respond to suspicious activities around-the-clock. By incorporating machine learning and AI, Adlumin can quickly detect and respond to potential threats before they cause significant damage. In addition to consistently monitoring ransomware groups’ latest trends and tactics, enabling organizations to stay ahead of their attackers. 

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