Ransomware is a type of malicious software from cryptovirology that threatens to publish the victim’s data or perpetually block access to it unless a ransom is paid. While some simple ransomware may lock the system in a way which is not difficult for a knowledgeable person to reverse, more advanced malware uses a technique called cryptoviral extortion, in which it encrypts the victim’s files, making them inaccessible, and demands a ransom payment to decrypt them. In a properly implemented cryptoviral extortion attack, recovering the files without the decryption key is an intractable problem – and difficult to trace digital currencies such as Ukash and Bitcoin are used for the ransoms, making tracing and prosecuting the perpetrators difficult.
Ransomware attacks are typically carried out using a Trojan that is disguised as a legitimate file that the user is tricked into downloading or opening when it arrives as an email attachment. However, one high-profile example, the “WannaCry worm”, traveled automatically between computers without user interaction.
Starting from around 2012 the use of ransomware scams has grown internationally. In June 2013, vendor McAfee released data showing that it had collected more than double the number of samples of ransomware that quarter than it had in the same quarter of the previous year. CryptoLocker was particularly successful, procuring an estimated US $3 million before it was taken down by authorities, and CryptoWall was estimated by the US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) to have accrued over US $18m by June 2015. But every day newer and more sophisticated software are being written, which is why its imperative you keep your data back ups secure so even if you fall victim to one of these malware attacks, hopefully you can recover everything from that backup.