What is Ransomware?

Why Ransomware's on the Rise and How to Stay Safe?

Ransomware, the shadowy digital extortioner, has become a formidable risk. Its ever-evolving tactics and far-reaching impact have made it a top concern for individuals and businesses.

What is Ransomware?

Ransomware is a digital criminal's most potent weapon, crafted to infiltrate and lock data on a victim's computer or network. The attacker then demands a ransom, typically in cryptocurrency, in exchange for the decryption key that would restore access to the seized data.

The chilling aspect is that the attacker can potentially exfiltrate sensitive information, leaving victims vulnerable to extortion even after paying the ransom.

Why Are Ransomware Attacks Emerging?

Cybercriminals find these attacks highly profitable, as victims often comply with the demands out of desperation to regain access to their data.

And cryptocurrencies provide a veil of anonymity for both attackers and victims, making it challenging for law enforcement agencies to trace the money flow.

These attackers leverage software vulnerabilities, phishing emails, malicious attachments, and compromised websites to infiltrate systems. So, as the world becomes increasingly interconnected, the attack surface for threat widens, providing more opportunities for cybercriminals to strike.

How Does Ransomware Work?

Ransomware operates like a digital blackmailer, following nefarious tactics.

  1. Infiltration: Cybercriminals use various techniques to gain entry, such as spear-phishing, social engineering, or exploiting unpatched software vulnerabilities.
  2. Encryption: Once inside the victim's system, ransomware swiftly encrypts essential files and data, rendering them inaccessible.
  3. Ransom Demand: The attacker presents the victim with a ransom demand, usually in the form of a message on the compromised system, demanding payment in cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin.
  4. Payment and Decryption: If the victim pays the ransom, the attacker may (but not always) provide the decryption key to restore the data.

Potential Target for Ransomware

No one is truly safe. Cybercriminals cast their net wide, targeting individuals, small businesses, large corporations, hospitals, government agencies, and educational institutions. They exploit vulnerabilities in both personal and organizational networks, leaving countless victims in their wake.

Ransomware Examples

Let's take a closer look at some infamous ransomware attacks:

  1. In February 2022, Nvidia announced that it was investigating an incident that compromised its systems for two days. The Lapsus$ gang claimed responsibility for leaking password hashes for Nvidia's employees and threatened to leak 1TB of additional stolen data.
  2. The Conti ransomware operation gained access to the Costa Rican government's network in April 2022, conducting reconnaissance activity, exfiltrating 672GB of data, and executing the attack.
  3. A supplier of plastic parts and electronic components was hit by a ransomware attack in early 2022, forcing Toyota to suspend operations of 14 plants in Japan, accounting for approximately one-third of Toyota's global production and causing a loss in output of about 13,000 vehicles.
  4. The second-largest insurance brokerage in the world, Aon Plc, was hit by a ransomware attack in February 2022. 
  5. Durham Johnston School, located in Durham in the UK, suffered a ransomware attack. The attackers published personal information about students and teachers on the dark web. 

How to Protect Against Ransomware?

  1. Regular Backups & Software Updates: Frequently update your operating system, antivirus software, and applications to patch any known vulnerabilities.
  2. Beware of Phishing: Educate yourself and your employees about phishing attacks and how to identify suspicious emails or websites.
  3. Network Segmentation: Segment your network to limit the impact of a potential attack. This can prevent the rapid spread of malware across the entire infrastructure.
  4. Security Awareness Training: Regularly conduct security awareness training to keep employees informed about the latest threats and cybersecurity best practices.
  5. Security Software: Invest in a reputable cybersecurity solution that includes protection against ransomware and other sophisticated attacks.

Ransomware Removal

If your system falls prey to ransomware, the following steps might help you attempt to recover from the attack:

  1. Isolate the Infected System: Disconnect the infected system from the network to prevent the malware from spreading.
  2. Identify: Try to identify the ransomware variant using online resources or ransomware identification tools, which can assist in understanding the attacker's motives and whether decryption keys are available.
  3. Report the Attack: Inform law enforcement agencies and relevant cybersecurity authorities about the attack.
  4. Avoid Paying the Ransom: Paying the ransom doesn't guarantee the safe return of your data, and it perpetuates the ransomware industry. Consider other options before resorting to payment.
  5. Restore from Backups: If you have backups, wipe the infected system clean and restore your files from the most recent backup.

Types of Ransomware

  1. Crypto Ransomware: The most common type that encrypts files and demands payment for decryption.
  2. Locker Ransomware: Locks the victim out of their system entirely, denying access until the ransom is paid.
  3. Scareware: Falsely claims to have locked the system, though no actual encryption occurs. It aims to scare victims into paying.
  4. Doxware/Leakware: Threatens to publish sensitive data unless the ransom is paid.
  5. Mobile Ransomware: Targets mobile devices, primarily Android, to lock or encrypt data and demand a ransom.

What is Modern Ransomware?

Modern ransomware has evolved significantly, incorporating sophisticated techniques such as:

  1. Ransomware-as-a-Service (RaaS): Cybercriminals now offer RaaS platforms, allowing less technically skilled attackers to access and distribute ransomware, expanding its reach.
  2. Double Extortion: Ransomware gangs increasingly engage in double extortion, threatening to leak sensitive data if the ransom is not paid, amplifying the pressure on victims.
  3. Living off the Land (LoL): Ransomware operators use legitimate system tools and processes to evade detection, complicating prevention efforts.

How does Ransomware Affect a Business?

The impact of a ransomware attack on a business can be catastrophic:

  • Financial Losses
  • Reputation Damage
  • Operational Disruption
  • Legal Consequences

Future of Ransomware & How to Stay Safe?

Pre-empt rather than prevent. Rapidly growing ransomware might be hiding in blindspots - in your emails, social media, or websites. One typical inlet for criminals is system vulnerability, and emails are a second close. No matter hard-to-crack your two-factor authentications and strong passwords, email communication will not be as secure as you might imagine. 

That's why you need to invest in a robust email security solution that keeps your organization from coming under the radar of possible cybercriminal hooks. There are advanced tools that use and implement AI technology to keep your online communications safe before a cybercriminal can map out their plans.


Q: Can paying the ransom guarantee the return of my data?

Paying the ransom does not guarantee that the attacker will provide the decryption key or that your data won't be leaked.

Q: Should I report a ransomware attack to authorities?

Yes, reporting the attack is crucial as it can aid law enforcement efforts and help prevent future attacks.

Q: How can I identify a phishing email?

Look for suspicious sender address, grammatical errors, and unexpected attachments or links. When in doubt, verify with the sender through a different communication channel.