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Attack Types & VectorsSecurity

The Origin of Ransomware and Its Impact on Businesses

October 4, 2018 — by Fabio Palozza4

In previous articles we’ve mentioned how Ransomware has wreaked havoc, invading systems and putting organizations’ reputation and stability at stake. In this article, we’ll start with the basics and describe what ransomware is and how it is used by cybercriminals to attack tens of thousands of systems by taking advantage of system-vulnerabilities.

[You might also like: Top Cryptomining Malware. Top Ransomware]

Ransomware is defined as a form of malicious software that is designed to restrict users from accessing their computers or files stored on computers till they pay a ransom to cybercriminals. Ransomware typically operates via the crypto virology mechanism, using symmetric as well as asymmetric encryption to prevent users from performing managed file transfer or accessing particular files or directories. Cybercriminals use ransomware to lock files from being used assuming that those files have extremely crucial information stored in them and the users are compelled to pay the ransom in order to regain access.

The History

It’s been said that Ransomware was introduced as an AIDS Trojan in 1989 when Harvard-educated biologist Joseph L. Popp sent 20,000 compromised diskettes named “AIDS Information – Introductory Diskettes” to attendees of the internal AIDS conference organized by the World Health Organization. The Trojan worked by encrypting the file names on the customers’ computer and hiding directories. The victims were asked to pay $189 to PC Cyborg Corp. at a mailbox in Panama.

From 2006 and on, cybercriminals have become more active and started using asymmetric RSA encryption. They launched the Archiveus Trojan that encrypted the files of the My Documents directory. Victims were promised access to the 30-digit password only if they decided to purchase from an online pharmacy.

After 2012, ransomware started spreading worldwide, infecting systems and transforming into more sophisticated forms to promote easier attack delivery as the years rolled by. In Q3, about 60,000 new ransomware was discovered, which doubled to over 200,000 in Q3 of 2012.

The first version of CryptoLocker appeared in September 2013 and the first copycat software called Locker was introduced in December of that year.

Ransomware has been creatively defined by the U.S. Department of Justice as a new model of cybercrime with a potential to cause impacts on a global scale. Stats indicate that the use of ransomware is on a steady rise and according to Veeam, businesses had to pay $11.7 on average in 2017 due to ransomware attacks. Alarmingly, the annual ransomware-induced costs, including the ransom and the damages caused by ransomware attacks, are most likely to shoot beyond $11.5 billion by 2019.

The Business Impacts can be worrisome

Ransomware can cause tremendous impacts that can disrupt business operations and lead to data loss. The impacts of ransomware attacks include:

  • Loss or destruction of crucial information
  • Business downtime
  • Productivity loss
  • Business disruption in the post-attack period
  • Damage of hostage systems, data, and files
  • Loss of reputation of the victimized company

You will be surprised to know that apart from the ransom, the cost of downtime due to restricted system access can bring major consequences. As a matter of fact, losses due to downtime may cost tens of thousands of dollars daily.

As ransomware continues to become more and more widespread, companies will need to revise their annual cybersecurity goals and focus on the appropriate implementation of ransomware resilience and recovery plans and commit adequate funds for cybersecurity resources in their IT budgets.

Read “Consumer Sentiments: Cybersecurity, Personal Data and The Impact on Customer Loyalty” to learn more.

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Fabio Palozza

Fabio is Technical Director EMEA-CALA, responsible for Systems Engineering in the theater. With a long experience, he began his career in software development for aerospace systems before getting into IT vendor ecosystem with Bay Networks/Nortel and Juniper Networks, up to being Technical Director EMEA for the Telecom, Cloud and Content businesses. Fabio writes about technology strategy, trends and implementation.

4 comments

  • Comet

    October 5, 2018 at 4:55 pm

    I think ransomeware should be defined as “malware that is designed to restrict users from accessing files stored on their computers until they negotiate access with the people holding the data hostage.”

    The Pakistani brain virus, released in 1986, is the first ransomware. It encrypted the boot sector, and gave address and phone numbers to contact. Effects were slowing down diskette accesses and causes time-outs, making some diskette drives unusable.
    http://materiaislamica.com/index.php/Pakistani_Brain_(IBM_MS-DOS_PC_Computer_Virus)

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