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What is ransomware?

The concept behind ransomware, a well-known form of malicious software, is quite simple: Lock and encrypt a victim’s computer data, then demand a ransom to restore access. In many cases, the victim must pay the cybercriminal within a set amount of time or risk losing access forever. And since we’re dealing with criminals here, paying the ransom doesn’t ensure access will be restored.

Ransomware is the online form of the bully’s game of keep-away. The bully could hold your personal files hostage, keeping you from your documents, photos, and financial information. Those files are still on your computer, right in front of you, but they’re encrypted now, making them unreadable. In 2017, the average ransom demand was approximately £500 — a high price to pay for getting your own property back.

Different varieties of ransomware

Ransomware can come in many shapes and sizes. Some variants may be more harmful than others, but they all have one thing in common: a ransom. The five types of ransomware are:

Crypto malware. This is a well-known form of ransomware and can cause a great deal of damage. One of the most familiar examples is the 2017 WannaCry ransomware attack, which targeted thousands of computers around the world and spread itself within corporate networks globally.

Lockers. This kind of ransomware is known for infecting your operating system to completely lock you out of your computer, making it impossible to access any of your files or applications.

Scareware. This is fake software that acts like an antivirus or a cleaning tool. Scareware often claims to have found issues on your computer, demanding money to resolve the issue. Some types of scareware lock your computer, while others flood your screen with annoying alerts and pop-up messages.

Doxware. Commonly referred to as leakware, doxware threatens to publish your stolen information online if you don’t pay the ransom. As more people store sensitive files and personal photos on their computers, it’s understandable that many individuals panic and pay the ransom when their files have been hijacked.

RaaS. Otherwise known as “Ransomware as a Service,” RaaS is a type of malware hosted anonymously by a hacker. These criminals handle everything from distributing the ransomware and collecting payments to managing decryptors — software that restores data access — in exchange for their cut of the ransom.

The number of ransomware attacks targeting the UK has dropped significantly in the last year, according to research by a global cyber security firm. Ransomware is a hugely disruptive and business-crippling form of software, which makes it near-impossible to regain control of data stored on affected devices unless a ransom is paid. One of the most notorious cases to hit the UK was the WannaCry attack in May 2017, impacting parts of the NHS.

In the UK, attacks fell by 59% in 2018 compared to the year before, with London experiencing a sharp 99% drop, from just over four million in 2017 to only 27,630 in 2018, putting the capital’s numbers below that of Manchester, where 168,201 cases were detected.

‘Cybercriminals look for easy targets with rich pickings and they like to focus on future gains’

That doesn’t mean they only attack larger business. Often a volume of compromised small businesses can be just as lucrative!

We help our clients to mitigate the risk of ransomware through our specialist services, take a look in our Solutions section