It’s a pretty scary thing to boot up your computer one morning only to find a ransom message claiming that you’ve been locked out of all your files until you pay a fee to a cybercriminal. That’s what ransomware does – it encrypts your data before trying to extort a ransom from victims who desperately need access to their files for work.
Although 2017 was the year when ransomware first started making headlines around the world with the WannaCry and Petya attacks, organized cybercrime has seen to it that the threat persists with new and terrifying tactics. The fact that over a third of victims elect to pay the ransom doesn’t help.
No matter how important your data is, paying a ransom is a terrible idea for various reasons, and here’s why:
Losing your data and your money
Cybercriminals aren’t honest people. Why would you trust the word of someone who infected your network with ransomware? In many cases, the hackers simply run off with the money, which is pretty easy to do if you pay them with untraceable cryptocurrency, as they often require. In fact, according to Kaspersky Labs, a fifth of ransomware victims who did pay never regained access to their data.
Indeed, most ransomware criminals do provide working decryption keys to victims who pay up. It’s in their interest to do so since a bad reputation means other victims won’t pay. But hackers prefer revisiting previous victims over new ones, since they’ve already shown a willingness to pay. Many cybercriminals have the audacity to describe their paying victims as “loyal customers.”
Funding the future of cybercrime
One of the most horrific ransomware developments is how organized it has become. Even people with almost no IT knowledge can get involved by purchasing plug-and-plan ransomware-as-a-service packages on the dark web. They simply need to provide information for new targets and share a portion of the proceeds with the ransomware developer. With at least a third of people paying to regain access to their files, there’s plenty of money to build an organized industry.
It’s the effectiveness of ransomware, as well as its ubiquity in dark-web markets, that have seen it become one of the fastest-growing areas of cybercrime. In 2016, the ransomware economy was worth a paltry $250,000. One year later, it had risen 2,500% to $6.24 million. Paying the ransom funds the growth of cybercrime, which is why its revenue will keep rising in the coming years.
There’s usually another way
Paying a ransom should always be an absolute last resort, as has been the case in healthcare organizations where access to data can literally become a matter of life and death. For organizations with less urgency, there’s usually a better option. Shoddy ransomware is easily cracked by security experts, as was the case with WannaCry. Once a specific strain is cracked, a solution can be posted online, sometimes for free.
In a few notable cases, ransomware was nothing more than a ruse propagated by social engineering scammers who hadn’t actually deployed any malware. Since a lot of people simply don’t have the technical knowledge to know better, they may be easily scared into paying a ransom even if their files haven’t been encrypted at all.
You need proactive cybersecurity
Naturally, the best way to deal with ransomware is to avoid getting an infection in the first place or, if you do, having a plan in place to mitigate the damage. Every business should have multiple layers of protection in place to proactively guard against the increasing multitude of cyberthreats. Even then, if ransomware does make it through, you should have cloud-hosted backups to fall back on.
At Zeta Sky, we provide organizations with the tools and expertise needed for them to stay clear of ransomware and other security threats. Contact us today to schedule your complimentary cybersecurity consultation.