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The Bombardier Transport office in St-Bruno-de-Montarville, Que.

Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press

North American manufacturing companies are increasingly targets for cybercriminal gangs that use malicious software to shut down businesses if they don’t pay a ransom, according to a report published Wednesday.

Research from Waterloo, Ont.-based cybersecurity consultancy eSentire says six known criminal gangs hit at least 292 new victim organizations globally in 2021 so far, including Bombardier Inc.

Other Canadian organizations known to have been directly or indirectly affected by ransomware include Molson Coors, B.C. equipment maker Sierra Wireless, and retailer Home Hardware.

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The eSentire report says the criminal groups it tracks continue to hit governments, health care providers and school districts, but several have increased their attacks on the manufacturing sector this year.

That includes DarkSide, which the FBI has said is behind this month’s shutdown of the Colonial pipeline system in the United States, and the Ryuk-Conti crime group, which eSentire says had six Canadian manufacturer victims so far this year.

Manufacturers are targets because the technical nature of their business means they can be shut down, and they are under pressure to react quickly, eSentire vice-president Mark Sangster said in an interview.

“Which of course then means you’ve got leverage over that company, and those companies tend to pay,” Sangster added.

“When an assembly line is down, it’s either extremely expensive to restart or causes delays in the supply chain and those delays lead to secondary economic penalties like lost revenue, lost customers.”

The manufacturing sector also has many private companies that are under less obligation to reveal that they’ve been attacked, giving their peers a false impression that they’re not likely targets, he said.

“If they don’t see themselves as a victim, they’re sure as heck not going to invest what they need to protect their business,” he added.

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“And they don’t know what to do, frankly, to protect themselves. That’s why it’s open season for these criminals.”

eSentire says it doesn’t know how many of the victim companies that it has identified have paid ransoms but notes some recent targets, such as Taiwan-based Quanta Computers and India-based Tata Steel, refused.

Because of the risk to their reputations, Sangster said, private companies often don’t reveal when they’ve been shut down by a ransom attack or if they paid a ransom.

In the United States, the government requires victim organizations to report when a ransom is paid. And it could be a crime to make payments, if the receiver is listed by the U.S. Office of Foreign Assets Control.

“We don’t have any equivalency in Canada yet,” Sangster said.

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