Companies and organizations worldwide paid out the equivalent of about $620 million in cryptocurrencies in 2021 due to cyberattacks, with hackers based in Russia causing the most damage, a study by a U.S. data and software firm showed Thursday.

According to Chainalysis Inc., the amount paid in such currencies to hackers due to ransomware cyberattacks is likely to increase and reach a record high. Extortion fees have greatly increased over the years rising from $39 million in 2018 to $152 million in 2019 and $692 million in 2020.

File photo shows a danger sign seen behind numbers using a laptop. (Anadolu Agency/Getty/Kyodo)  

Russia-based ransomware gang Conti, which recently expressed support for Moscow's invasion into Ukraine, received $180 million in 2021. The organization is said to have targeted Ukraine to destroy the country's infrastructure systems.

Another Russian criminal hacking group DarkSide, which is known for its ransomware attack on the Colonial Pipeline in the United States in May last year, was also prominent, Chainalysis said.

Cyberattacks in the form of ransomware are often delivered via infected emails, with hackers demanding companies pay up in order to restore encrypted data. Cryptocurrencies are favored by hackers to make it difficult for them to be traced.

Chainalysis calculated the extortion fees by identifying internet bank "addresses" and looking through monetary records.

The study confirmed 140 different types of malware, of which 21 were Iranian and 16 were Russian. Four were Chinese and two were North Korean.

Japan has also been hit by malware attacks, with the National Police Agency receiving 146 such reports last year.

Among those affected was Toyota Motor Corp., which shut all of its plants on March 1 after one of its domestic suppliers suffered a computer system glitch caused by a cyberattack.

Related coverage:

Japan's SDF launches new cyber-defense unit

Toyota to restart all suspended plants in Japan on March 2

Personal info leaks from listed Japan firms hit record high in 2021