Ransomware is a devastating type of malware with global damage projected to cost organizations $20 billion by 2021. Get the information you need to prevent infections, and find what to do if you are hit.

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What Is Ransomware?

Ransomware is defined as vicious malware that locks users out of their devices or blocks access to files until a sum of money or ransom is paid. Ransomware attacks cause downtime, data loss, possible intellectual property theft, and in certain industries an attack is considered a data breach.

September 2013 is when ransomware went pro. It typically gets installed on a user’s workstation (PC or Mac) using a social engineering attack where the user gets tricked in clicking on a phishing link or opening an attachment. Once the malware is on the machine, it starts to encrypt all data files it can find on the machine itself and on any network shares the PC has access to.

Next, when a user wants to access one of these files they are blocked, and the system admin who gets alerted by the user finds two files in the directory that indicate the files are taken ransom, and how to pay the ransom to decrypt the files. New strains and variants come and go as new cyber mafias muscle into the "business".  Techniques the cybercriminals are using are constantly evolving to get past traditional defenses. Some major strains are WannaCry, GandCrab, Phobos and Cerber. This is a very successful criminal business model. Annual ransomware-induced costs are projected to exceed $20 billion by 2021, according to a Cybersecurity Ventures report. 

Ransomware Nuclear Infographic

Once files are encrypted, the only way to get them back is to restore a backup or pay the ransom. However, cybercriminals are now often corrupting backups before the victims know what hit them.  Storage Magazine reports that over 34% of companies do not test their backups and of those tested 77% found that tape backups failed to restore. According to Microsoft, 42% of attempted recoveries from tape backups in the past year have failed. 

In 2021, a Ransomware Infection is a Data Breach

The emergence of new strains has slowed down, but ransomware has gone nuclear and is getting much more sophisticated. In the early days, hackers mostly targeted consumers, and it would encrypt immediately upon executing. Later on, ransomware gangs realized they would make a lot more money targeting businesses. At first they would spread like a worm through organizations, collecting credentials and encrypting files along the way. Threat actors are now a lot more intelligent in their approach. Once they've gotten in, the malware 'dials home' so that the hacker can do a full analysis on which data is most valuable to their victim, how much they can realistically ask for, and what can they encrypt that will get them a payday sooner. 

Most of the ransomware gangs are now exfiltrating your most valuable data and threaten to expose it on publicly available websites as an additional extortion method. Some of these criminals make you pay twice, once for the decryption key, and again to delete the data they have stolen.  In the U.S. alone, a single cybersecurity insurance consortium said they are paying $1M per day in ransomware payouts to these criminal gangs.

That figure doesn't include recovery and downtime costs, which can far exceed the cost of the ransom. By now, there are tens of thousands of ransomware victims, including school districts, police departments, and entire cities. It is important to understand that it is not just large organizations that are targeted, small and medium organizations are also at risk.

Cyber criminals constantly use social engineering and update their ransomware themes to stay current. Some themes include the FBI variant, the Internal Revenue Service, and even sadly, now COVID-19 pandemic-themed ransomware. In addition to updating themes, cyber criminals are also developing creative new ways to spread the ransomware. These include offering Ransomware-as-a-Service (RaaS) strains such as “Dot” or “Philadelphia”, where they offer your files back for free if you infect two other organizations. There are even marketing videos on YouTube for some ransomware strains.


Since 1989, ransomware has become the number one security risk to businesses and users. Here is a full history and how it has evolved:



The first ever ransomware virus was created in 1989 by Harvard-trained evolutionary biologist Joseph L. Popp (now known as the 'father of ransomware'). It was called the AIDS Trojan, also known as the PC Cyborg. Popp sent 20,000 infected diskettes labeled “AIDS Information – Introductory Diskettes” to attendees of the World Health Organization’s international AIDS conference in Stockholm. The disks contained malicious code that hid file directories, locked file names and demanded victims send $189 to a PO Box in Panama if they wanted their data back. The AIDS Trojan was “generation one” ransomware malware and relatively easy to overcome. The Trojan used simple symmetric cryptography and tools were soon available to decrypt the file names. But the AIDS Trojan set the scene for what was to come. 


In November 1991, Judge Geoffrey Rivlin deemed Joseph L. Popp unfit to stand trial due to increasingly strange behavior, and the case was thrown out. The first form of ransomware used symmetric cryptography that could easily be decrypted, which meant it didn’t pose a serious threat and didn't cause trouble.


In 1996, two cryptographers, Adam L. Young and Moti M. Yung, warned that a new ransomware would eventually  asymmetric cryptography. This would mean its natural file-locking capabilities could be used for massive destruction. The only question was when?


The first contemporary ransomware programs began to show up, using asymmetric encryption (RSA). Symmetric keys did the encrypting, but those keys were protected with RSA so you would need private key to be able to get data back.


17 years later, another strain was released but this time it was much more invasive and difficult to remove than its predecessor. In 2006, the Archiveus Trojan was released, the first ever ransomware virus to use RSA encryption. The Archiveus Trojan encrypted everything in the MyDocuments directory and required victims to purchase items from an online pharmacy to receive the 30-digit password.

GPcode, Krotten and Cryzip were just a few names of new strains which spread via an email attachment purporting to be a job application, used a 660-bit RSA public key that was very difficult to crack at the time.


At the same time GP Code and it’s many variants were infecting victims, other types of ransomware circulated that did not involve encryption, but simply locked out users. WinLock displayed pornographic images until the users sent a $10 premium-rate SMS to receive the unlocking code.


Two years after the initial GP Code virus was created, another variant of the same virus called GPcode.AK was unleashed on the public using a 1024-bit RSA key.

When Bitcoin emerged in 2008, it was a game changer for ransomware. The decentralized cryptocurrency provided a new, mostly anonymous system for transferring money – making it the perfect way for cybercriminals to extort their victims. The widespread adoption of Bitcoin enabled threat actors to carry out much larger ransomware attacks. 


Mid 2011 - The first large scale ransomware outbreak, and ransomware moves into the big time due to the use of anonymous payment services, which made it much easier for authors to collect money from their victims. There were about 30,000 new samples detected in each of the first two quarters of 2011.

July 2011 - During the third quarter of 2011, new ransomware detections doubled to 60,000.


In 2012, Fabian Wosar encountered ransomware for the first time while helping victims get their encrypted files back. He quickly became obsessed with creating free decryption tools that would help other ransomware victims to get their files back. A few years later, computer repair technician Michael Gillespie encountered ransomware while helping a customer who had been hit with TeslaCrypt. Gillespie then began creating decryptors, learning everything he could about ransomware.

Even with the ongoing efforts of Wosar, Gillespie, the No More Ransom project and many others fighting cybercrime, ransomware continued to terrorize victims across the globe. Schools, universities, hospitals, police departments, government agencies and everyday citizens – no one was safe.

January 2012 - The cybercrime ecosystem comes of age with Citadel, a toolkit for distributing malware and managing botnets that first surfaced in January 2012. Citadel makes it simple to produce ransomware and infect systems wholesale with pay-per-install programs allowing cybercriminals to pay a minimal fee to install their ransomware viruses on computers that are already infected by other malware. Due to the introduction of Citadel, total infections surpassed 100,000 in the first quarter of 2012.

Cyber criminals begin buying crime kits like Lyposit—malware that pretends to come from a local law enforcement agency based on the computer’s regional settings, and instructs victims to use payment services in a specific country—for just a share of the profit instead of for a fixed amount.

March 2012 - Citadel and Lyposit lead to the Reveton worm, an attempt to extort money in the form of a fraudulent criminal fine. Reveton first showed up in European countries in early 2012. The exact “crime” and “law enforcement agency” are tailored to the user’s location. The threats are "pirated software" or "child pornography". The user would be locked out of the infected computer and the screen be taken over by a notice informing the user of their "crime" and instructing them that to unlock their computer they must pay the appropriate fine using a service such as Ukash, Paysafe or MoneyPak.

April 2012 - Urausy Police Ransomware Trojans are some of the most recent entries in these attacks and are responsible for Police Ransomware scams that have spread throughout North and South America since April of 2012.

July 2012 - Ransomware detections increase to more than 200,000 samples, or more than 2,000 per day.

November 2012 - Another version of Reveton was released in the wild pretending to be from the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3). Like most malware, Reveton continues to evolve.


July 2013 - A version is released targeting OSX users that runs in Safari and demands a $300 fine. This strain does not lock the computer or encrypt the files, but just opens a large number of iframes (browser windows) that the user would have to close. A version purporting to be from the Department of Homeland Security locked computers and demanded a $300 fine.

July 2013 - Svpeng:  This mobile Trojan targets Android devices. It was discovered by Kaspersky in July 2013 and originally designed to steal payment card information from Russian bank customers. In early 2014, it had evolved into ransomware, locking the phones displaying a message accusing the user of accessing child pornography. By the summer of 2014, a new version was out targeting U.S. users and using a fake FBI message and requiring a $200 payment with variants being used in the UK, Switzerland, India and Russia. According to Jeremy Linden, a senior security product manager for Lookout, a San Francisco-based mobile security firm, 900,000 phones were infected in the first 30 days. 

August 2013 - A version masquerading as fake security software known as Live Security Professional begins infecting systems.

September 2013 - CryptoLocker is released. CryptoLocker is the first cryptographic malware spread by downloads from a compromised website and/or sent to business professionals in the form of email attachments that were made to look like customer complaints controlled through the Gameover ZeuS botnet which had been capturing online banking information since 2011.

Cryptolocker uses a 2048-bit RSA key pair, uploaded to a command-and-control server, and used it to encrypt files with certain file extensions, and delete the originals. It would then threaten to delete the private key if payment was not received within three days. Payments initially could be received in the form of Bitcoins or pre-paid cash vouchers.

With some versions of CryptoLocker, if the payment wasn’t received within three days, the user was given a second opportunity to pay a much higher ransom to get their files back. Ransom prices varied over time and with the particular version being used. The earliest CryptoLocker Payments could be made by CashU, Ukash, Paysafecard, MoneyPak or Bitcoin. Prices were initially set at $100, €100, £100, two Bitcoins or other figures for various currencies.

November 2013 - The ransom changes. The going ransom was 2 Bitcoins or about $460, if they missed the original ransom deadline they could pay 10 Bitcoins ($2300) to use a service that connected to the command and control servers. After paying for that service, the first 1024 bytes of an encrypted file would be uploaded to the server and the server would then search for the associated private key.

Early December 2013 - 250,000 machines infected. Four Bitcoin accounts associated with CryptoLocker found that 41,928 Bitcoins had been moved through those four accounts between October 15 and December 18. Given the then current price of $661, that would represent more than $27 million in payments received, not counting all the other payment methods.

Mid December 2013 - The first CryptoLocker copycat software emerges, Locker, charging users $150 to get the key, with money being sent to a Perfect Money or QIWI Visa Virtual Card number.

Late December 2013 - CryptoLocker 2.0 – Despite the similar name, CryptoLocker 2.0 was written using C# while the original was in C++ so it was likely done by a different programming team. Among other differences, 2.0 would only accept Bitcoins, and it would encrypt image, music and video files which the original skipped. And, while it claimed to use RSA-4096, it actually used RSA-1024. However, the infection methods were the same and the screen image very close to the original.

Also during this timeframe, CryptorBit surfaced. Unlike CryptoLocker and CryptoDefense which only targets specific file extensions, CryptorBit corrupts the first 212 or 1024 bytes of any data file it finds. It also seems to be able to bypass Group Policy settings put in place to defend against this type of infection. The cyber gang uses social engineering to get the end-user to install the ransomware using such devices as a rogue antivirus product. Then, once the files are encrypted, the user is asked to install the Tor Browser, enter their address and follow the instructions to make the ransom payment – up to $500 in Bitcoin. The software also installs cryptocoin mining software that uses the victim’s computer to mine digital coins such as Bitcoin and deposit them in the malware developer’s digital wallet.


February 2014 - CryptoDefense is released. It used Tor and Bitcoin for anonymity and 2048-bit encryption. However, because it used Windows’ built-in encryption APIs, the private key was stored in plain text on the infected computer. Despite this flaw, the hackers still managed to earn at least $34,000 in the first month, according to Symantec.

April 2014 - The cyber criminals behind CryptoDefense release an improved version called CryptoWall. While largely similar to the earlier edition, CryptoWall doesn’t store the encryption key where the user can get to it. In addition, while CryptoDefense required the user to open an infected attachment, CryptoWall uses a Java vulnerability. Malicious advertisements on domains belonging to Disney, Facebook, The Guardian newspaper and many others led people to sites that were CryptoWall infected and encrypted their drives. According to an August 27 report from Dell SecureWorks Counter Threat Unit (CTU): “CTU researchers consider CryptoWall to be the largest and most destructive ransomware threat on the Internet as of this publication, and they expect this threat to continue growing.” More than 600,000 systems were infected between mid-March and August 24, with 5.25 billion files being encrypted. 1,683 victims (0.27%) paid a total $1,101,900 in ransom. Nearly 2/3 paid $500, but the amounts ranged from $200 to $10,000.

Koler.a: Launched in April, this police ransom Trojan infected around 200,000 Android users, 3⁄4 in the US, who were searching for porn and wound up downloading the software. Since Android requires permission to install any software, it is unknown how many people actually installed it after download. Users were required to pay $100 – $300 to remove it.

May 2014 - A multi-national team composed of government agencies managed to disable the Gameover ZeuS Botnet. The U.S. Department of Justice also issued an indictment against Evgeniy Bogachev who operated the botnet from his base on the Black Sea. 

iDevice users in Australia and the U.S. started seeing a lock screen on their iPhones and iPads saying that it had been locked by “Oleg Pliss” and requiring payment of $50 to $100 to unlock. It is unknown how many people were affected, but in June the Russian police arrested two people responsible and reported how they operated. This didn’t involve installing any malware, but was simply a straight up con using people’s naiveté and features built into iOS. First people were scammed into signing up for a fake video service that required entering their Apple ID. Once they had the Apple ID, the hackers would create iCloud accounts using those ID’s and use the Find My Phone feature, which includes the ability to lock a stolen phone, to lock the owners out of their own devices.

July 2014 - The original Gameover ZeuS/CryptoLocker network resurfaced no longer requiring payment using a MoneyPak key in the GUI, but instead users must install Tor or another layered encryption browser to pay them securely and directly. This allows malware authors to skip money mules and improve their bottom line.

Cryptoblocker – July 2014 Trend Micro reported this new strain that doesn’t encrypt files that are larger than 100MB and will skip anything in the C:\Windows, C:\Program Files and C:\Program Files (x86) folders. It uses AES rather than RSA encryption.

On July 23, Kaspersky reported that Koler had been taken down, but didn’t say by whom.

August 2014 - Symantec reports crypto-style ransomware has seen a 700 percent-plus increase year-over-year.

SynoLocker appeared in August 2014. Unlike the others which targeted end-user devices, this one was designed for Synology network attached storage devices. And unlike most encryption ransomware, SynoLocker encrypts the files one by one. Payment was 0.6 Bitcoins and the user has to go to an address on the Tor network to unlock the files.

This was discovered midsummer 2014 by Fedor Sinitisyn, a security researcher for Kaspersky. Early versions only had an English language GUI, but then Russian was added. The first infections were mainly in Russia, so the developers were likely from an eastern European country, not Russia, because the Russian security services quickly arrest and shut down any Russians hacking others in their own country.

Late 2014 - TorrentLocker – According to iSight Partners, TorrentLocker “uses components of CryptoLockerand CryptoWall but with completely different code from these other two ransomware families.” It spreads through spam and uses the Rijndael algorithm for file encryption rather than RSA-2048. Ransom is paid by purchasing Bitcoins from specific Australian Bitcoin websites.


Early 2015 - CrytoWall takes off, and replaces Cryptolocker as the leading ransomware infection. 

April 2015 - CrytoLocker is now being localized for Asian countries. There are attacks in Korea, Malaysia and Japan.  

May 2015 - It's heeere. Criminal ransomware-as-a-service has arrived. In short, you can now go to this TOR website "for criminals by criminals", roll your own ransomware for free, and the site takes a 20% kickback of every Bitcoin ransom payment.  Also in May 2015 a new strain shows up that is called Locker and has been infecting employee's workstations but sat there silently until midnight May 25, 2015 when it woke up. Locker then started to wreak havoc in a massive way.

May 2015 - New "Breaking Bad-themed ransomware" gets spotted in the wild. Apart from the Breaking Bad theme, CryptoLocker.S is pretty generic. It is surprising how fast ransom Trojans have developed. A year ago every new strain was headline news, now it's on page 3. This version grabs a wide range of data files, encrypts it using a random AES key which then is encrypted using a public key.

June 2015 - SANS InfoSec forum notes that a new version of CryptoWall 3.0 is in the wild, using resumes of young women as a social engineering lure: "resume ransomware".

June 2015 - The FBI, through their Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3), released an alert on June 23, 2015 that between April 2014 and June 2015, the IC3 received  992 CryptoWall-related complaints, with victims reporting losses totaling over  $18 million. Ransomware gives cybercriminals almost 1,500% return on their money. 

July 2015 - An Eastern European cybercrime gang has started a new TorrentLocker campaign where whole websites of energy companies, government organizations and large enterprises are being scraped and rebuilt from scratch to spread ransomware using Google Drive and Yandex Disk.

July 2015 - Security researcher Fedor Sinitsyn reported on the new TeslaCrypt V2.0. This family of ransomware is relatively new, it was first detected in February 2015. It's been dubbed the "curse" of computer gamers because it targets many game-related file types.

September 2015 - An aggressive Android ransomware strain is spreading in America. Security researchers at ESET discovered the first real example of malware that is capable to reset the PIN of your phone to permanently lock you out of your own device.  They called it LockerPinand it changes the infected device's lock screen PIN code and leaves victims with a locked mobile screen, demanding a $500 ransom. 

September 2015 - The criminal gangs that live off ransomware infections are targeting Small Medium Business (SMB) instead of consumers, a new Trend Micro Analysis shows. The reason SMB is being targeted is that they generally do not have the same defenses in place of large enterprises, but are able to afford a 500 to 700 dollar payment to get access to their files back.  

The Miami County Communication Center’s administrative computer network system was compromised with a CryptoWall 3.0 infection which locked down their 911 emergency center. They paid a 700 dollar Bitcoin ransom to unlock their files.

October 2015 - A new strain called LowLevel04 spreads using remote desktop and terminal services attacks. It encrypts data using RSA-2048 encryption and the ransom is double from what is the normal $500, demanding four Bitcoin.  Specifically nasty is how it gets installed: brute force attacks on machines that have Remote Desktop or Terminal Services installed and have weak passwords.

October 2015 - The nation’s top law enforcement agency is warning companies that they may not be able to get their data back from cyber criminals who use Cryptolocker, Cryptowall and other malware without paying a ransom. “The ransomware is that good,” said Joseph Bonavolonta, the Assistant Special Agent in Charge of the FBI’s CYBER and Counterintelligence Program in its Boston office.  “To be honest, we often advise people just to pay the ransom.”

October 2015 - Staggering CryptoWall Damage: 325 Million Dollars. A brand new report from Cyber Threat Alliance showed the damage caused by a single criminal Eastern European cyber mafia. The CTA is an industry group with big-name members like Intel, Palo Alto Networks, Fortinet and Symantec and was created last year to warn about emerging cyber threats. 

November 2015 - CryptoWall v4.0 released and displays a redesigned ransom note, new filenames, and now encrypts a file's name along with its data. In summary, the new v4.0 release now encrypts file names to make it more difficult to determine important files, and has a new HTML ransom note that is even more arrogant than the last one. It also gets delivered with the Nuclear Exploit Kit, which causes drive-by infections without the user having to click a link or open an attachment (sic). 

November 2015 - A new strain is spotted with a very short 24-hour deadline, researchers crack the Linix. Encover strain and British Parliament computers get infected with ransomware. 

December 2015 - Kaspersky reports that ransomware is doubling year over year, and Symantec reports that TeslaCrypt attacks moved from 200 to 1,800 a day.  


January 2016 - First Javascript-only Ransomware-as-a-Service Discovered, Cybercrime has piggybacked on the extremely successful SaaS model and several strains of Ransomware-as-a-Service (RaaS) like TOX, Fakben and Radamant have appeared in 2015. However, a new strain called Ransom32 has a twist: it was fully developed in JavaScript, HTML and CSS which potentially allows for multi-platform infections after repackaging for Linux and MacOS X. Using JavaScript brings us one step closer to the "write-once-infect-all" threat, which is something to be aware of.

January 2016 - A stupid and damaging new strain called 7ev3n encrypts your data and demands 13 bitcoins to decrypt your files. A 13 bitcoin [almost $5,000] ransom demand is the largest we have seen to date for this type of infection, but that is only just one of the problems with 7ev3n. In addition to the large ransom demand, the 7ev3n crypto-ransom malware also does a great job trashing the Windows system that it was installed on. DarkReading reports on a Big Week In Ransomware.

February 2016 - Ransomware criminals infect thousands with a weird WordPress hack. An unexpectedly large number of WordPress websites have been mysteriously compromised and are delivering TeslaCrypt to unwitting end-users. Antivirus is not catching this yet.

February 2016 - It's Here. New Ransomware Hidden In Infected Word Files. It was only a matter of time, but some miscreant finally did it. There is a new strain somewhat amateurishly called "Locky", but this is professional grade malware. The major headache is that this flavor starts out with a Microsoft Word attachment which has malicious macros in it, making it hard to filter out. Over 400,000 workstations were infected in just a few hours, data from Palo Alto Networks showsBehind Locky is the deadly Dridex gang, the 800-pound gorilla in the banking Trojan racket.

March 2016 - MedStar receives a massive ransomware demand. A Baltimore Sun reporter has seen a copy of the cybercriminal's demands.  "The deal is this: Send 3 bitcoins — $1,250 at current exchange rates — for the digital key to unlock a single infected computer, or 45 bitcoins — about $18,500 — for keys to all of them."

April 2016 - News came out about a new strain that does not encrypt files but makes the whole hard disk inaccessible. As if encrypting files and holding them hostage is not enough, cybercriminals who create and spread crypto-ransomware are now resorting to causing blue screen of death (BSoD) and putting their ransom notes at system startup—as in, even before the operating system loads. It's called Petya and clearly Russian.

April 2016 - The Ransomware That Knows Where You LiveIt's happening in the UK today, and you can expect it in America tomorrow [correction- it's already happening today]. The bad guys in Eastern Europe are often using the U.K. as their beta test area, and when a scam has been debugged, they go wide in the U.S. So here is what's happening: victims get a phishing email that claims they owe a lot of money, and it has their correct street address in the email. The phishing emails tell recipients that they owe money to British businesses and charities when they do not.  

April 2016 - Hello mass spear phishing, meet ransomware! Ransomware is now one of the greatest threats on the internet.  Also, a new strain called CryptoHost was discovered, which claims that it encrypts your data and then demands a ransom of .33 bitcoins to get your files back (~140 USD at the current exchange rate) . These cybercrims took a shortcut though, your files are not encrypted but copied into a password protected RAR archive .

April 2016 - CryptoWorms: Cisco's Talos Labs researchers had a look into the future and described how ransomware would evolve. It's a nightmare. They created a sophisticated framework for next-gen ransomware that will scare the pants off you. Also, a new strain called Jigsaw starts deleting files if you do not pay the ransom. 

April 2016 - Ransomware On Pace To Be A 2016 $1 Billion Dollar BusinessCNN Money reports about new estimates from the FBI show that the costs from so-called ransomware have reached an all-time high. Cyber-criminals collected $209 million in the first three months of 2016 by extorting businesses and institutions to unlock computer servers. At that rate, ransomware is on pace to be a $1 billion a year crime this year.

Late April 2016 - Scary New CryptXXX Ransomware Also Steals Your Bitcoins. Now here's a new hybrid nasty that does a multitude of nefarious things. A few months ago the 800-pound Dridex cyber gang moved into ransomware with Locky, and now their competitor Reveton follows suit and tries to muscle into the ransomware racket with an even worse criminal malware multitool. At the moment CryptXXX spreads through the Angler Exploit Kit which infects the machine with the Bedep Trojan, which in its turn drops information stealers on the machine, and now ads professional grade encryption adding a .crypt extension to the filename. Here is a graph created by the folks of Proofpoint which illustrates the growth of new strains in Q1, 2016:


Here is a blog post that looks at the first 4 months of 2016 and describes an explosion of new strains

May 2016 - Petya comes loaded with a double-barrel ransomware attack. If the initial overwriting the master boot record does not work, they now have an installer that offers Petya and a backup "conventional" file-encrypting strain called Mischa. ProofPoint Q1-16 threat report confirms that Ransomware and CEO Fraud dominate in 2016.  A new Version 4 of DMA Locker comes out with weapons-grade encryption algorithms, and infects machines through drive-by downloads from compromised websites. In a surprising end to TeslaCrypt, the developers shut down their ransomware and released the master decryption key. 

June 2016 -  CryptXXX becomes UltraCrypter and targets data stored on unmapped network shares along with local HDD volumes, removable drives, and mapped network repositories.  The Jigsaw strain morphs into new branding and now uses an Anonymous skin - asks for a very high $5,000 ransom. The RAA ransomware goes after Russian victims, which is rare considering that most cyber mafia are based there.  A new strain called BART (duh!)  locks files by archiving them, is a Locky spinoff, and gets spread by email attachments.  The hybrid Satana strain both encrypts files and replaces the Master Boot Record (MBR)  as Petya/Misha does.  EduCrypt demonstrates what happens when employees open infected attachments.  Tripwire has a more detailed write-up here. The upshot? Everyone and their cybercrime brother has jumped on the bandwagon.

July 2016 - A new strain dubbed Ranscam simply deletes files when it runs. A ransom note asking the victim for $125 in Bitcoin pops up, but the threat actors actually have no mechanism for restoring files. An update to Locky allows the malware to encrypt machines even when they’re offline. The RaaS (Ransomware-as-a-Service) trend continues with Stampado ($39 for a lifetime license) and Petya/Mischa (the higher the ransom collected, the higher the payout percentage) getting in on the action.

August 2016 - Hitler ransomware continues the recent trend of less skilled cybercriminals simply deleting files hoping to make a quick buck. The wildly popular PokemonGo app unsurprisingly has a ransomware that impersonates it. The developer added a backdoor Windows account, spreading the executable to other drives, and creating network shares. A new report by Check Point researchers showed that Cerber's Ransomware-as-a-Service (RaaS) affiliate program is a success with more than 160 participants at current count, and almost $200K profit with only 0.3% victims paying ransom. Voicemail notifications have become a popular phishing email in at least two campaigns. Hackers are able to target a wider array of people than billing notifications which don’t apply to all users, for example.

September 2016 - Cry is a sophisticated strain that steals and hosts personal information gathered from social networks, locates the victim on Google Maps using wireless SSID’s and deletes Shadow Volume Copies among other nasty features. Mamba, like Petya, continues the trend of full-disk encryption ransomware but unlike Petya encrypts all data on the machine’s hard drive. Fantom ransomware uses file and process names to set the size of the ransom demand, so if the campaign is targeting home users for example the ransom would be lower than if the target was a large enterprise. Ransomware officially became extortion under California law, however we see this as an ‘awareness’ thing than anything else.

October 2016 - Virlock is a two year old strain that spreads like a virus in the cloud. A massive Cerber campaign uses malicious Macros to infect its victims. Another version of Cerber stops SQL so it can encrypt the database. CryPy, a strain written in Python, also had Paypal phishing pages on the server the phishing emails were coming from so expect more to come from this one. As of now, ID Ransomware can detect over 200 different strains!

November 2016 - Locky is very much alive and well. One new campaign starts with a ‘credit card suspended’ phishing email with an attached malicious .JS file, another attacks victims via Facebook messenger. Crysis decryption keys have been made public. A browser locker variant called Ransoc infects victims via malvertising. Karma ransomware pretends to be a Windows optimization program and is distributed via a Pay-per-Install Network.

December 2016 - Osiris is a new Locky strain delivering surprise surprise, Excel docs containing macros that download and install Locky. Goldeneye encrypts the workstation twice: the files and the Master File Table (MFT). The phishing email contains both an Excel file that pulls the malware and a PDF used as a social engineering tool. If a user follows instructions on both documents, you potentially get to pay ransom TWICE. The Sandworm cybercrime gang has gotten their hands on KillDisk malware and added a ransomware feature. They run highly targeted campaigns, asking for 222 Bitcoin (around $200,000) from their victims.


January 2017 - Spora ransomware gives its victims options to just pay for file decryption, or they can pay more for immunity against future attacks. This is a sophisticated strain that collects victim data into a .KEY file, which then must be sent to the attackers who will set the ransom amount based on that data and provide decryption once paid. A new version of Spora uses an innovative way to spread itself via USB sticks.

February 2017 - A new app claims to have login data for leaked Netflix accounts, allowing users to get free access. What you actually get is fake account credentials, while your data is being encrypted in the background. DynA-Crypt ransomware not only encrypts data, it also attempts to steal information and even deletes files without backing them up. CRYSIS is back, mostly targeting US healthcare orgs. using brute force attacks via Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP). Weak passwords make these attacks successful.

March 2017 - Cryptolocker has been pretty quiet the past 6 months but it’s back, jumping from a handful of infections per day to over 400 per day. The original Petya has been hijacked by cybercriminals making it their own. Dubbed PetWrap, this new variant features a special module that patches the original Petya ransomware 'on the fly.’

April 2017 - The IT director for a private school reported that after getting hit with Samas ransomware, their entire Veeam backup repositories were wiped out as a result. The FBI said they had never seen ransomware delete backups. This is a prime example of why offline backups are so important! Cerber has taken over the ransomware market in 2017, its features (robust encryption, offline encryption, etc) and its RaaS (Ransomware-as-a-Service) business model make it very easy for newbie criminals to run their own custom campaigns. Most recently, Cerber gained the ability to evade detection by cybersecurity tools which use machine learning to identify threats. Locky has reappeared on the scene via phishing emails with a PDF that has a Word file hidden within, which executes a macro script when opened by the user.  This scenario allows the phishing email to bypass sandboxes.

May 2017 - Fatboy Raas (ransomware-as-a-service) uses the Big Mac index from The Economist in determining how much ransom to ask for. The WanaCry ransomware worm took the world by storm in mid-May, starting with an attack on vulnerable SMB services railways, telcos, universities, the UK's NHS, and so on. In all the strain infected over 300,000 computers in over 150 countries, making the criminals $90,000 which is really not that much compared to the amount of infections. WanaCry really caused the world to take notice of ransomware. Shadow Brokers, the hackers who leaked the NSA SMB zero-day exploit that powered WanaCry, published a manifesto announcing a subscription offer where they will release more zero-day bugs and exploits for various desktop and mobile platforms, stolen from the NSA. Coming in June 2017, it is set up like a 'wine of month' club with subscribers getting a members only data dump each month.

June 2017 - Microsoft proudly announced that no known ransomware could penetrate the newest Win 10 Creators Update. What’s that saying about things being too good to be true? ZDNet hired a pro hacker who proved that wrong in about 3 hours.

NotPetya was the new worldwide ‘ransomware’ attack following May’s WannaCry outbreak, hitting targets in Spain, France, Ukraine, Russia, and other countries. However NotPetya is not like normal ransomware, it’s more like cyber warfare and does not come from the authors of the original Petya. It does not delete any data but simply makes it unusable by locking the files and then throwing away the key.

South Korean web hosting provider Nayana was hit with Erebus ransomware which infected 153 Linux servers. Nayana paid the largest ransom to date of $1 million. Some of their data was permanently deleted in the process, prompting the hosting company to offer free hosting for life and refunds for affected customers. So aside from the massive million dollar payment, they had additional great financial loss and damage to their reputation.

July 2017 - F-Secure labs uncovered chat sessions in which a ransomware support agent claimed they were hired by a corporation for targeted operations. Later analysis/metadata research confirmed that this tactic was used with another variant, and the follow-up attack targeted IP lawyers that was seemingly aimed at disrupting their business operations.

August 2017 - An update to Cerber lets the Dridex gang steal from three different Bitcoin wallet apps as well as steals passwords from popular web browsers. Cerber is among the most rapidly evolving ransomware families, the criminals are constantly trying new ways to monetize ransomware.

A key ransomware money laundering operation BTC-e taken down and owner, Russian national Alexander Vinnik was arrested in Greece in a multi-national law enforcement effort. FinCEN, the US department of the Treasury Financial Crimes Enforcement Network assessed BTC-e with a $110 million civil money penalty for willfully violating U.S. anti-money laundering laws. Vinnik was assessed $12 million for his role in the violations.

Locky is back with a new Diablo6 variant spread through phishing emails with infected attachments. It’s too soon to tell just how widespread this new variant will be. A new version of an old IRS/FBI phishing scheme asks its recipients to download a questionnaire. SyncCrypt is a new phishing threat that hides ransomware inside an infected JPG. Newly discovered Defray ransomware targets healthcare, education, manufacturing and tech sectors in the US and UK, using customized spear phishing emails and demanding a hefty $5k ransom.

September 2017 New nRansomware demands nudes instead of Bitcoin in an attempt to blackmail victims multiple times. A similar attack spotted in Australia and the US claims that a virus was installed on a porn website which recorded the victim through their webcam. However, scammers are likely bluffing about having compromising information. This led us to believe that these are simply fake extortion emails. We ended up calling it ‘faketortion’.”

Two new massive Locky campaigns were reported this month; one pushing a new variant that encrypts files with the .ykcol extension and demanding 0.5 Bitcoin (~$1800) , the other sneaks malicious code into an attachment that looks like a printer output to its victims.

October 2017 - Bitdefender released its new Ransomware Recognition Tool. This tool analyzes both the ransom note and the encrypted file samples to identify the strain of ransomware and suggest a decryption tool for the identified family, if one is available.

Bad Rabbit ransomware hit organizations in Russia, Ukraine and the U.S. This is basically a new, improved NotPetya version 2 that starts with social engineering. In this release, encrypted data is recoverable after buying the key, meaning BadRabbit attack is not as destructive as NotPetya. They fixed a lot of bugs in the file encryption process.

November 2017 - The Bad Rabbit attack from last month was found to be a cover for an insidious spear phishing campaign, targeting Ukranian officials in an attempt to get their financial and confidential information. Ransomware attacks are becoming more and more sophisticated and are not always what they look like on the surface.

A new strain called Ordinypt ransomware targeted victims in Germany only. Instead of encrypting users' documents, the ransomware rewrites files with random data.

The Scarab strain was updated and spread via the Necurs botnet. In a massive 12.5 million campaign targeting .com domains, The current campaign prevents users from using third-party recovery tools, deletes Shadow Volume Copies and other default Windows recovery features.

December 2017 - Scarab ransomware first seen in November, comes with the option for infected victims to negotiate a price for retrieving their encrypted files.

According to Carbon Black's 2017 Threat Report, ransomware attacks have grown in volume and amount per attack and is now a $5 billion industry.


January 2018 - Interesting research by Enterprise Strategy Group: 63% of organizations experienced an attempted ransomware attack in 2017, with 22% reporting these incidents occurred on a weekly basis.

A white hat hacker developed a working 'ransomcloud' strain, which encrypts cloud email accounts like Office 365 in real-time. If a white hat can do this, so can a black hat. Watch out for this attack in the near future.

We’re seeing cybercriminals shift away from Bitcoin due to its current high profile and high value, which mean small fluctuations dramatically alter the cost, and worries that the anonymity it offers isn't all it's cracked up to be. While not yet a widespread payment method for distributors of ransomware, there are a number of examples of ransomware demanding their fee for unlocking be paid in Monero, such as Kirk ransomware.

February 2018 - Recently, cryptomining related attacks have become more popular than ransomware for many attackers. They don't need to actually engage the victim to make a lot of money, but we don’t think ransomware will be going away any time soon.

A new variant called Annabelle has been discovered, which seems to have been designed to ‘show off the skills’ of the developer who created it, by being as difficult to deal with as possible. It terminates numerous security programs, disables Windows Defender, turning off the firewall, encrypting your files, trying to spread through USB drives, making it so you can’t run a variety of programs, and overwriting the master boot record of the infected computer with a boot loader. The good news is Bleeping Computer has encryption instructions.

March 2018A massive survey of nearly 1,200 IT security practitioners and decision makers across 17 countries reveals that half the people who fell victim to ransomware infections and chose to pay in 2017 were able to recover their files. This is why backups are so important, there is never a guarantee your files will be recovered even if you pay the ransom. When asked what’s inhibiting them from defending their respective organizations against cyberthreats,  “low security awareness among employees” remains one of the top 3 reasons. In other words, get your users trained yesterday!

A new ransomware-as-a-service dubbed GandCrab showed up mid-month. This is the most prominent ransomware of 2018, infecting approximately 50,000 computers, most of them in Europe, in less than a month asking each victim for ransoms between $400 and $700,000 in DASH cryptocurrency. Yaniv Balmas, a security researcher at Check Point compares GandCrab to the notorious Cerber family, and the expert also added that GandCrab authors are adopting a full fledged agile software development approach, the first time in ransomware history. More technical details at the Security Affairs blog.

Zenis ransomware discovered by the MalwareHunterTeam not only not encrypts your files, but also purposely deletes your backups. The latest version utilizes AES encryption to encrypt the files, unfortunately at this time there is no way to decrypt them. If you are infected with Zenis, DO NOT PAY THE RANSOM. Instead you can receive help or discuss this ransomware in Bleeping Computer's  dedicated Zenis Ransomware help & support topic

The City of Atlanta was infected with SamSam ransomware, and had a bitcoin demand of $51,000 to unlock the entire system. The infection affected several internal and customer-facing applications, such as the online systems that residents used to pay city bills or access court documents. A total of $2.6 million has been set aside for emergency recovery efforts, and that doesn't include the ransom. This strain is believed to have the ability to get access to systems and wait weeks before an attack, making it easier to strike twice. That's exactly what happened when the Colorado DOT was infected with SamSam at the beginning of the month. 

AVCrypt ransomware, discovered by BleepingComputer, tries to uninstall your existing security software (such as AV) before it encrypts files. However, it looks like no encryption key is sent to a remote server so it's unclear whether this is true ransomware or a wiper. 

A new report from SentinelOne found that ransomware is now something that more than half (56%) of companies have faced in the past two months. That's up from 48% who said the same thing in the firm's 2017 report.

April 2018 - Hackers are working hard at making ransomware less predictable in order to avoid detection. Changes to the encryption process, the code itself, and even delivery methods are just a few of the 11 ways ransomware is evolving.

Verizon's 2018 Data Breach Incident Report lists ransomware as the most common type of malware carried by phishing attacks. It's used in 56% of such incidents. Here is the full report: https://www.verizonenterprise.com/resources/reports/rp_DBIR_2018_Report_en_xg.pdf

Healthcare has always been targeted as an industry by hackers trying to get their hands on valuable PII. The HHS' Healthcare Cybersecurity and Communications Integration Center released a report on SamSam, a strain that has targeted the healthcare and government sectors since 2016. A few weeks later, the Center for Orthopaedic Specialists (COS) in California was hit and had to notify 85,000 patients. This is just another indicator that a ransomware infection is seen as a HIPAA data breach and needs to be reported.

May 2018 - A new strain called Blackheart drops its payload alongside the perfectly legitimate AnyDesk remote desktop tool, highly likely as a way to evade detection. If that sounds familiar, similar tool TeamViewer was infected with malware in a similar way in 2016.

BitKangoroo is another new strain using AES-256 encryption that deletes your files if you do not pay. Once it deletes a file, it will reset the timer back to 60 minutes. Fortunately, it can be decrypted for free using Michael Gillespie's BitKangarooDecrypter.

The European Union's General Data Protection Regulation will affect how U.S. companies deal with the rising threat of ransomware attacks, according to a leading privacy lawyer, by requiring the reporting of incidents even if the impact on data or systems is minimal.

 June 2018 - Satan Ransomware was seen using the EternalBlue exploit to spread across compromised environments (BartBlaze’s blog). This is the same exploit associated with a previous WannaCry Ransomware campaign. 

SamSam, the ransomware strain that crippled several cities and school districts in the U.S. earlier this year came back. This strain has three new ways to avoid detection: It decrypts the payload only at run-time, making it nearly impossible to identify and analyze. It’s loader, payload, and logs are wiped, leaving very few traces behind for any forensics or scanning tools. It requires a password to be entered by the threat actor to run in the first place. This new strain of SamSam is designed for targeted attacks.

SonicWall's latest report on cyberattack volumes shows that in 2018 year to date, there have been 2 million Ransomware attacks - a 299% increase – that’s TRIPLE over last year!

July 2018 - GandCrab v4 – a more dangerous and invasive newly released strain of the notorious ransomware is back with more power in its pincers: it no longer needs a C2 server, it functions without Internet access, can spread via the SMB exploit EternalBlue and it appears to hunt for unpatched machines. Still, there are easy ways to avoid an attack. 

SonicWall released a mid-year update to their 2018 Cyber Threat Report with some sobering statistics about the state of ransomware this year:

  • A 229% increase in ransomware attacks year-to-date over 2017
  • 12 new variants of ransomware 
  • 181.5 MILLION attacks this year alone (that’s nearly 100K attacks daily!)

Bottom line? Ransomware is alive and well!

SamSam is in the news again, earlier this year EHR vendor Allscripts was a victim of the strain which caused over 1,500 doctor’s offices to be unable to access patient records. Now one of those offices has filed a class-action suit against the firm, claiming they failed “to secure its systems and data from cyberattacks, including ransomware attacks".

Also this month LabCorp, one of the largest clinical labs in the U.S., was hit with SamSam. The attack was contained quickly and didn't result in a data breach. However, before the attack was fully contained, 7,000 systems and 1,900 servers were impacted. Of those 1,900 servers, 350 were production servers. If you're in health care SamSam is definitely something to watch out for and it can have devastating consequences. A new literature review from Marshall University describes the problem as well as prevention methods in great detail.  

September 2018 - KnowBe4 released a new version of our popular Ransomware Simulator tool that now tests against 13 ransomware scenarios and 1 cryptomining scenario. Cryptomining is just another means to a financial end for cybercriminals. Just like ransomware, remote access trojans (RATs), and other types of malware, the cybercriminal needs to somehow infect a machine. This kind of attack isn't going anywhere. If you have any kind of security strategy around malware and ransomware, you need to be adding cryptojacking/cryptomining to the list and act accordingly; you’ll be seeing a lot more of this attack vector.

October 2018 - An announcement from the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) identified a number of cyber actors and attacks likely carried out by the GRU, the Russian military intelligence service. Here is a full list of attributions that the British National Cyber Security Centre has compiled about the GRU.

Proofpoint’s Wombat Security division published their 2018 User Risk Report, which surveyed 6,000 working adults. The results show 64 percent of respondents do not know what ransomware is. In times like this you really need to step your users through new-school security awareness training to prevent such attacks.

November 2018 - New variant CommonRansom asks for RDP access to the victim’s computer in order to decrypt files. This is the latest attempt to extend the ransomware attack beyond the simple act of extortion. It is likely that the group is more interested in the credentials than ransom payments. 

Four new strains of Dharma ransomware were discovered that evade detection by all but one antivirus solutions on the market. Researchers observed a malicious executable dropped through a .NET file and another associated HTML Application (HTA) file. There is no decryption available, even if ransom is paid an encryption key is generated locally so it's a fake key. 

There should be no question by now that Mac and iOS devices are targets for attacks. New data from Datto, a backup provider, shows that MSPs have seen a 500% increase in ransomware on both MacOS and iOS devices over last year. Most organizations have a group of users that use Macs, usually the creative types. So, it’s official – all users, regardless of operating system, are potential targets of ransomware.

December 2018 - New sextortion attacks take a dark turn and infect people with GandCrab ransomware. The email claims cybercriminals have a video of you watching an inappropriate website, and that you can download that video and see it for yourself. 

A server outage at a major newspaper publishing company prevented the distribution of many leading U.S. newspapers, including the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune and Baltimore Sun. It looks like this was a targeted ransomware attack using the specialized Ryuk ransomware familyThis strain is the latest incarnation of the earlier HERMES ransomware which is attributed to the capable and active Lazarus Group that operates out of a Chinese city just north from North Korea and reportedly controlled by the N.K. Unit 180 spy agency.


January 2019 - A new malware attack was detected in the wild that combines two known pieces of malware: the Vidar data harvesting malware followed by GandCrab ransomware. Running an infostealer before deploying the ransomware ensures some money for the adversary even if the victim does not pay the ransom. See how the attack works here.

CryptoMix ransomware has resurfaced, according to a recent blog at Ransomware Incident Response vendor CoveWare. With each infection, the message goes beyond just asking for bitcoin, but instead attempts to compel victims to pay the ransom with the claim that the money will go to a fictitious charity.

Ransomware is using a variety of methods to reduce or nullify the effectiveness of data backups such as attacking shared network drives, Windows shadow copies, and any files that have backup file extensions. Some ransomware variants can even sync with the victim’s cloud service and encrypt files stored there. some new variants are also making it harder for organizations to know which backup to restore from

North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein released a report on Thursday that highlights the impact of data breaches on the state in 2018, and paired the report with a bipartisan bill to strengthen breach notifications to include ransomware attacks.

A new strain dubbed Anatova was discovered in a private peer-to-peer (p2p) network and targets consumers by using the icon of a game or application to trick the user into downloading it. Anatova is packed with functionality that is also difficult to analyze, a telling sign this was created by experienced bad actors. It has the ability to morph quickly, adding new evasion tactics and spreading mechanisms, has some similarities to GandCrab and once downloaded, encrypts all or many files on an infected system and demands ransom in cryptocurrency in order to unlock it - 10 DASH – currently valued at around $700 USD.

February 2019 - According to Coveware’s Q4 2018 Global Ransomware Marketplace Report, cybercriminals are just getting started with this impactful form of malicious attack. Average numbers of paid ransom and downtime resulting from an attack backups compromised are all up over the previous quarter.

A new report produced by the Cyber Risk Management (CyRiM) project led by Nanyang Technological University  - ‘Bashe attack: Global infection by contagious malware’ – models a ransomware attack scenario on a global scale where hundreds of thousands of companies worldwide are infected and offers a look into what the aftermath would look like. The estimated damages worldwide range from $85-193 billion, with global cyber insurance losses ranging from $10-27 billion.

Torrent sites are banning CracksNow, a popular source of torrent uploads, after discovering that the uploader of cracks and keygens was distributing GandCrab ransomware.  CracksNow was labeled as “trusted” before a number of users started noticing bad things happening to their computers. 

March 2019 - A new strain called LockerGoga infects aluminum producer Norsk Hydro, and Hexion and Momentive chemical plants,  effectively shutting them down for days and go on manual operation, causing them to buy hundreds of new computers. 

In an interview at the 2019 RSA Conference, Josh Zelonis, senior analyst at Forrester Research, discusses the next great security threats to enterprises. According to Zelonis, a new trend of victims paying off the ransoms could reverse the wane in ransomware attacks that has been seen in the last year or so.

Matrix ransomware has been around since 2016, but according to a new report from Sophos, the malware has undergone major recent improvements that allow it to perform a wide range of attack tasks. It uses RDP-based brute force attacks to gain an initial foothold. The malware contains several payload executables including some legitimate admin tools – each used to either infect the initial endpoint, or connect to remote machines via RDP and spread within the network. Their code even includes efforts to disable AV software on endpoints. Once infected, the victim is required to contact the attacker, submit some encrypted files (presumably to prove they are, indeed, the victim) and then are provided with the bitcoin ransom amount equivalent to $2500.

According to Coveware’s recently released 2018 Q4 Ransomware Marketplace Report, we’re seeing some very disturbing – and yet revealing – trends in ransomware attacks:

  • Ransoms have increased by an average of 13% over Q3 in 2018 to $6733
  • Attacks on backups as part of the ransomware attack have increased by 39% over Q3 2018
  • The average victim company size has risen from 38 to 71 employees

The attack on backups to decrease an organization's ability to recover instead of paying the ransom mixed with the ransom increase shows that cybercriminals know they have victims painted into a corner.

Jackson County in Georgia paid $400,000 after a Ryuk ransomware attack forced most of their systems offline. The infection forced most of the local government's IT systems offline, with the exception of its website and 911 emergency system.

April 2019 - vxCrypter ransomware is possibly the first strain to delete duplicate files. Discovered by Lawrence Abrams at Bleeping Computer, this strain was keeping tracking of the SHA256 hashes of each file it encrypted. As the ransomware encrypted other files, if it encountered the same SHA256 hash, it would delete the file instead of decrypting it. 

An email extortion scam threatening victims with DDoS attacks and WannaCry ransomware according to researchers at Avast. The scammers claim to have hacked the victim’s network and found evidence of tax evasion. They demand two bitcoins, or around $10,000, in exchange for keeping quiet about the illegal activity. If the victim doesn’t pay up, the scammer will deploy ransomware and launch DDoS attacks against their systems, in addition to notifying law enforcement about the alleged tax evasion.

The latest data from Coveware shows increases across the board in ransoms, downtime, and average cost of an attack. According to the report, three strains (Ryuk, Bitpaymer, and Iencrypt) have caused the rise in the cost from Q4 2018 to Q1 2019 - Ransoms increased by 89%, average number of days to address an attack have risen from 6.2 to 7.3 days and downtime has risen 47%, resulting in an average downtime cost of $64,645.

PayPal received a patent for ransomware detection technology. According to US patent number 10262138, issued on April 16, PayPal believes it can detect the early stages of a ransomware infection, and take one of two actions --to stop the encryption process, or to save a copy of the untainted original file to a remote server, before it gets encrypted, as a backup, so it can be restored later on.

The City of Stratford in Ontario, Canada was hit with a ransomware attack that encrypted six physical and two virtual servers, prompting the city to pay the ransom of $71,000.They did attempt to recover their data, however the security company they worked with was only involved in forensics and couldn't recover the data.

May 2019 - Sophos discovered a scary new strain of very sophisticated ransomware called MegaCortex. It was purpose-built to target corporate networks, and once penetrated, the attackers infect your entire network by rolling out the ransomware to all servers and workstations, using your own Windows domain controllers. Sophos have detected infections in the United States, Italy, Canada, France, the Netherlands, and Ireland.

The latest data from AppRiver shows SMBs simply aren’t prepared to respond to ransomware attacks, and will instead pay up. According to their 2019 Cyberthreat Index for Business Survey Report, three-quarters of SMBs believe a successful attack would be harmful to their business with only 36% believing they can actually survive a successful attack without sustaining short- and long-term business losses. Rather than prepare with a strong defense and response plan, the data shows the cybercriminals have the upper hand - 55% of all SMBs said they would pay ransom to recover encrypted data or to prevent it from being shared. Of larger SMB’s with 150-250 employees, 74% are willing to pay ransom with 39% of larger SMBs saying they “definitely would pay ransom at almost any price.”

Ransomware attacks skyrocketed in the first quarter of 2019, according to the Beazley Breach Response (BBR) Services team, which reports a 105% increase in the number of ransomware attack notifications against clients compared to Q1 2018.  Not only has the frequency of attacks increased, but attackers are shifting focus, targeting larger organizations and demanding higher ransom payments.

Riviera Beach City in Florida was hit with an attack after an employee clicked on a phishing email, and council members ended up paying $600,000 to recover their data. The attack locked up all of the city's data, and the ransom was paid just weeks after they agreed to spend around $1 million to replace the compromised computer equipment.

June 2019 - According to security vendor Recorded Future’s latest Review of State and Local Government Ransomware Attacks report, attacks against state and local governments rose 39% in 2018, and are finding surprising similar trends in 2019. The latest estimate of this attack tops off at just about $18 million – dwarfing the 13-bitcoin ransom demand equaling about $103,000.

Security researchers have been finding that attackers use ransomware as an exit strategy to cover up more serious incidents like data breaches. Although the attacks mostly look like regular ransomware delivered via phishing emails containing either malicious links or files, their goal is to delete potential forensic breadcrumbs and hope organizations don’t investigate further after recovering from the ransomware infection.

A month after Baltimore's devastating ransomware attack, Maryland Governor Larry Hogan (R) signed an executive order aimed at strengthening the state’s cybersecurity capabilities. The executive order formally establishes the “Maryland Cyber Defense Initiative” and creates the position of state chief information security officer (SCISO), who will be charged with giving cybersecurity recommendations to the governor.

Park DuValle Community Health Center paid a $70,000 ransom when the medical records of almost 20,000 patients encrypted by ransomware. The attack locked providers out of their system for almost two months, impacting their medical records system and appointment scheduling tool. It wasn't the first time the health center had been hit, back in April another attack left their computer systems locked for about three weeks. After the first attack, they rebuilt their systems by using offsite backups and didn't pay the ransom, the second time they weren't so lucky. Four clinics resorted to writing down all patient information and storing it in boxes, operating as walk-in clinics, and asking patients for medical history from memory for seven weeks. Officials say this attack has cost the provider upwards of $1 million.

Another victim of a Ryuk ransomware attack, Lake City, Florida, paid $500,000 to decrypt over 100 years' worth of city records. IT staff disconnected their systems within 10 minutes of infection, however the malware affected almost their entire network. The county's IT Director was blamed for failing to secure the network and taking too long to recover the data, he lost his job.

July 2019 - New eCh0raix ransomware uses a brute-force credential attack to gain access to data stored in QNAP NAS devices. According to Anomali, the threat detection vendor that discovered it, eCh0raix targets QNAP network-attached storage devices. It scans the internet for publicly accessible QNAP devices and tries to break in via a brute-force credential attack, bypassing weak login credentials. This strain encrypts specifically targeted file extensions on the NAS using AES encryption and appends an “.encrypt” extension to the encrypted files. The ransom note directs victims to pay a ransom in bitcoin via a website accessible with a Tor browser.

The latest data from ransomware recovery vendor, Coveware, outlines the current state of the cost, duration, and recovery rate of ransomware attacks today. According to their Q2 Ransomware Marketplace Report, the average ransom payment nearly tripled this year from $12.8k to $36.3k, the average downtime from an attack is 9.6 days and on average, 8% of decrypted data is lost. These details paint a pretty exact picture of what to expect should your organization be hit by ransomware.

A new ransomware strain referred to as Android/Filecoder.C was discovered by ESET researchers. It uses the victim's contact list to spread further using SMS messages that have malicious links. The new strain was distributed on adult content-related topics on Reddit and for a short time via the “XDA developers” forum. The hacker behind the malicious code has been posting links to a "sex simulator" app, telling users to try it out. But in reality, the links will download the ransomware to the victim's phone.

When La Porte County, Indiana was hit with Ryuk they paid the $130,000 ransom to recover their impacted data. They did have backup servers, but the malware infected them as well. IT staff were able to confine the attack to only 7% of machines, however two domain controllers were impacted so network services became unavailable.

August 2019 - New GermanWiper ransomware doesn't encrypt files but instead it rewrites their content with zeroes, permanently destroying users' data.

In light of the recent string of attacks that seem to be targeting government agencies and municipalities, a new multi-agency press release led by the U.S. Government’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency provides guidance on how to be resilient and proactively take steps to reduce the likelihood of successful ransomware attack.

The long-standing argument over whether or not victims should pay ransom to cybercriminals may have come to an end, with a resolution from the U.S. Conference of Mayors calling on cities to not pay up. 

DarkReading reported: "Ransomware masquerading as game "cheats" is hitting Fortnite players. Fortunately, there are ways to recover without paying a ransom." Similar to phishing attacks on STEAM, gamers are being targeted. 

The MegaCortex strain, first reported in May of 2019, has a new version upgrading it from a manual, targeted form of ransomware, to one that can be spread and do damage enterprise-wide. Completely automated, the latest version has proven to be ready for wide-scale attacks, according to new research from Accenture’s iDefense team. A need for manual password entry has been removed, and it’s been beefed up with an ability to kill a number of security products, and now loads and runs its’ main payload directly from memory.

According to Malwarebyte’s latest Cybercrime Tactics and Techniques: Ransomware Retrospective report, businesses are at risk of ransomware attack now more than ever with detections growing by 365% from Q2 2018 to Q2 2019. Material declines in consumer ransomware detections occurred around the same time as very material increases in detected business ransomware attacks.

McAfee Labs saw an average of 504 new threats per minute in Q1 2019, and a resurgence of ransomware along with changes in campaign execution and code. New ransomware increased by 118%, while the most prevalent strains were Dharma (aka Crysis), GandCrab and Ryuk. HelpNet Security has a good summary of the whole report.

September 2019 - A new strain called Lilocked (or Lilu) ransomware has infected thousands of webservers and appears to target Linux-based systems only. The way the Lilocked gang breaches servers and encrypts their content is currently unknown. A thread on a Russian-speaking forum puts forward the theory that crooks might be targeting systems running outdated Exim (email) software. It also mentions that the ransomware managed to get root access to servers by unknown means.

Nemty ransomware is now being delivered via a PayPal phishing site that offers users a 3-5% return on PayPal transactions if they download an official PayPal browser extension. The attackers use Unicode characters from different alphabets to make their URL look like PayPal’s legitimate domain. Users who click the download button will receive a file named “cashback.exe.” Running this executable will infect the user’s system with the ransomware.

The coordinated ransomware attacks on 23 Texas municipalities last month demonstrate the lengths cybercriminals are willing to go to in order to attain their demanded ransom (in the case of the Texas cities, $2.5 USD). This has prompted the Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) to release a new document, entitled Strategic Intent , which highlights how CISA will work to address the ever-growing threat of cyberattack by defining its mission and a high-level framework that will be used – a framework that includes the sharing of information between state and local agencies.

A new proposed law, the “DHS Cyber Hunt and Incident Response Teams Act,” authorizes the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to invest in and develop “incident response teams” to help organizations battle ransomware attacks, was approved by the U.S. Senate. A similar bill has already passed in the House of Representatives in 2018, called the “DHS Cyber Incident Response Teams Act of 2018.” Senators said that the two pieces of legislation will now begin a reconciliation process. 

October 2019 - The FBI issued a warning that healthcare organizations, industrial companies, and the transportation sector are being targeted with ransomware. The attack methodologies continue to evolve, with cyber-criminals doing all they can to avoid detection. The FBI highlights three current attack techniques: phishing campaigns, Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP) vulnerabilities and exploits of software vulnerabilities.

Ransomware is living its best life in 2019. A rash of successful attacks against municipalities, state and local government, and school districts is bad for organizations and great for cybercriminals. With ransomware estimated to have a global damage cost to organizations $11.5 billion in 2019, according to analyst firm Cybersecurity Ventures, this is a problem that will continue to plague any organization that does not have ample security in place.

recent article at AlienVault covered the results of a survey they took at this year’s Black Hat conference around ransomware and other security concerns. While there’s no ability to cross-check the raw data, it’s concerning that over two-thirds of organizations saying they’re “ready” and yet nearly one-fifth have been the victim of an attack. Respondents cited security solutions and backups as the two methods of ransomware preparation, with one-third of organizations having over twenty security solutions in place! At a high level, this sounds like organizations are taking the right steps to stop an attack, but it appears that ransomware attacks – which primarily start with phishing attacks – are still happening.

Datto, a leading global provider of IT solutions delivered through managed service providers (MSPs), announced its fourth annual Global State of the Channel Ransomware Report. Highlights include: 85% of MSPs reported attacks against SMBs over the last two years, only 28% of MSPs report SMBs are very concerned about ransomware, and average cost of downtime is $141,000.

November 2019 - PureLocker, a previously undetected server-encrypting malware, gives hackers an advantage as it is written in the PureBasic programming language. Security vendors often struggle to generate reliable detection signatures for malicious software written in this language. PureBasic is also transferable between Windows, Linux, and OS-X, meaning attackers can more easily target different platforms.

After a deadline was missed for receiving a ransom payment, the group behind Maze Ransomware has published almost 700 MB worth of data and files stolen from a security staffing firm. With this escalated attack, ransomware victims now need to not only be concerned about recovering their encrypted files, but what would happen if their stolen unencrypted files were leaked to the public, and the fact that ransomware infections by now probably should be disclosed as a data breach with all related consequences. 

According to cyber insurer Chubb's Cyber 2019 Adapting to the New Realities of Cyber Risks InFocus Report, ransomware attacks are up 50% in 2019 with attacks outpacing the previous five years. Despite Chubb seeing increases in attacks, , they are still experiencing an increase in the percentage of cyber claims resulting from ransomware attacks. It’s indicative that organizations simply aren’t prepared.

December 2019 - The latest version of Snatch ransomware installs a Windows service SuperBackupMan that is configured to run in Safe Mode. Once a forced restart is complete, and the system is in Safe Mode, those AV solutions not configured to run leave the system exposed and able to be encrypted. Researchers at Sophos also found it uses RDP as the initial attack vector, can exfiltrate, system information, monitor network traffic, install surveillance software and install remote access trojans (RATs). The payload for Snatch uses the open-source packer UPX to help obfuscate detection of its malicious code. This is very powerful and dangerous stuff here that has attack ramifications both immediately  and in the future, depending on how patient the attacker is.

Threat actors behind REvil Ransomware are now threatening to release data if victims don't pay the ransom isn't paid. According to Bleeping Computer: “ In a new post to a Russian malware and hacker forum shared with us by security researcher Damian, the public-facing representative of the REvil ransomware known as UNKN states that a new "division" has been created for large operations. REvil goes on to say that if a company does not pay the ransom, the ransomware actors will publicly release the stolen data or sell it to competitors. It is in their opinion that this would be more costly to the victim than paying the ransom."  

The Maze ransomware gang just outed 8 victims and a limited amount of selected data on a public website. According to Brian Krebs, the information released publicly so far is “ initial date of infection, several stolen Microsoft Office, text and PDF files, the total volume of files allegedly exfiltrated from victims (measured in Gigabytes), as well as the IP addresses and machine names of the servers infected by Maze. “ Criminals behind MAZE are likely hoping that by increasing psychological extortion pressure they will squeeze current victims who are still undecided to pay the ransom.

A report released by Armor, a global security solutions provider, noted a substantial rise in ransomware attacks against schools (and school districts) since October 2019. 11 new U.S. school districts (comprised of 226 schools) have been hit by ransomware since late October. According to the report, 269 publicly announced ransomware victim organizations in the U.S. since January 1, 2019. Municipalities continue to lead the victim list at 82, followed closely by school districts and/or educational institutions at 72, followed by 44 healthcare organizations and 18 Managed Service Providers (MSPs) and/or Cloud-Based Service Providers.

As of December 2019, ransomware is 30 years old, but few will be celebrating the occasion. Instead, many are wondering what will come next. Experts predict that ransomware will continue to grow and evolve, armed with tools like keyloggers, backdoors and droppers to cause further destruction. At the same time, it’s expected that ransomware will become increasingly more targeted in choosing victims, eschewing small-time marks in favor of targets with a bigger potential payoff. And as daily life becomes increasingly connected through the IoT, organizations will have to work even harder to keep ransomware out of their systems.

Here are some shocking ransomware statistics just from the year 2019, from Heimdal Security.

  • Two-thirds of ransomware attacks targeted state and local governments.
  • 55% of SMBs from the US would pay hackers to recover their stolen data in ransomware attacks.
  • Over 500 US schools were affected by ransomware attacks in 2019.
  • Almost 70 US government organizations were infected with ransomware since January 2019.
  • A total of 140 US local governments, police stations, and hospitals have been infected with ransomware.
  • In the third quarter of 2019, the average ransomware payout increased to $41,000.


January 2020 - Maze ransomware has gotten the attention of the FBI. A warning to U.S. companies about this attack in which the perpetrator steals data and then encrypts it to extort victims was issued. “From its initial observation, Maze used multiple methods for intrusion, including the creation of malicious look-a-like cryptocurrency sites and malspam campaigns impersonating government agencies and well-known security vendors,” states the advisory obtained by CyberScoop. The warning provides technical indicators to detect Maze ransomware and asks victims to give them information that could help find the hackers. The bureau requests things like bitcoin wallets used by the hackers and the complete phishing email they sent to the victim. 

New "leakware" attacks differ from traditional ransomware attacks by threatening to steal and publish data online unless a ransom is paid. The problem is if you don't pay, you're risking continued attacks on those whose personal data was included in the breach. If you do pay, of course there's no guarantee the attackers won't sell the data to a third party and launch their own attacks. The City of Johannesburg and the State of Virginia are two victims of these types of attacks.

In the beginning, ransomware used to only look for office files. Then backups became a secondary victim. Now, according to researchers at Kaspersky, attackers are looking for ways to directly target the NAS devices that host an organization's backups. It makes sense to cybercriminals, their goal is to make an organization feel their only option is to pay the ransom.

Encryption isn't the only problem when it comes to ransomware, there are many other nasty issues. Ransomware threat actors are doing more analysis, taking the time to maximize the potential damage and payoff. First, they discover which resources are organization’s crown jewels. What if suddenly encrypted would cause the most panic, pain, and operational disruption? Second, they find out how that data is backed up and what they can do to interfere with that process. They also know how many days of backup corruption they need, meaning they are getting better at encrypting backup data while it's online before it gets moved offline. Hackers are now stealing the crown jewel data and threatening to leak it unless  the ransom is paid, so even if you do get it back it's still in their hands. Data-stealing ransomware has become so common that it has its own subclass known as data-theft ransomware. See more about how ransomware has become much worse!

Travelex, a foreign-currency exchange company, was hit by the REvil/Sodinokibi actors on New Year's Eve. Its network data was encrypted and their customers were unable to take orders. REVil is said to exfiltrate data before encrypting the network as an added extortion incentive for victims to either pay or have the possibility of their data going public. A resulting cascade of nasty consequences for the victims include disclosure of PII, thus triggering data breach reporting requirements and the resulting governmental and third party legal headaches, potential crashing stock prices, fines, and the consequences of disclosure of confidential or proprietary information. REVil knows that large data breaches have sometimes resulted in crashing stock prices of up to 6%. Travelex later had to warn its customers to be on the lookout for phishing scams in an update on its corporate holdings website.

Phobos ransomware has been around since late 2017 and has morphed into a few strains, always targeting large organizations in hopes of getting a bigger payoff. It works to kill processes that may pose a threat, deletes Volume Shadow copies, disables Windows firewall, and prevents systems from booting into recovery mode. The real threat is on hw it's distributed as a Ransomware-as-a-Service business model. Threat actors using Phobos today are less experienced and therefore there are delays when negotiating ransom, and there is potential for issues around decryption since they themselves have no control over the malware used in attacks.

Nemty ransomware creators are now extorting victims by threatening to publish data to a blog if they don't pay. While the idea of publicizing sensitive information is nothing new, the use of a blog could add credibility to their claim of being willing to post the data (prospective victims can simply navigate to it to see previous victim’s data).

More new features have been added to the Ryuk strain, it now uses the Wake-on-Lan feature to turn on powered-off devices on a large compromised network to have greater success in encrypting them. In conversations with BleepingComputer, Vitali Kremez, Head of SentinelLabs, stated that this evolution in Ryuk's tactics allow a better reach in a compromised network from a single device and shows the Ryuk operator's skill traversing a corporate network. It's also now able to hack Active Directory and infect a larger number of machines. Ryuk Stealer, another version of this malware, uses new keywords and filetypes to automatically find an organization's most valuable data that they can extort and get their ransom.

Microsoft end-of-support for Windows 7 means systems will remain unpatched, creating an opportunity for future ransomware attacks to wreak havoc. If you remember 2017's WannaCry, it was successful because of unpatched systems. So three things you can do to protect against this possibility are: update your OS, ensure continual updates, and educate your employees to avoid becoming victims by clicking on phishing emails.

The FDIC issued a warning about heightened cybersecurity risks, urging banks to immediately shore up cybersecurity controls and technology safeguards against ransomware due to increased geopolitical tension. potential attacks that can only be assumed to be the result of relations between the U.S. and Iran. According to the FDIC, two specific attack vectors were mentioned: the use of malware-infected storage devices like USB drives and phishing/spear phishing attacks against users.

New EFS ransomware uses the Windows Encrypting File System (EFS) built-in encryption abilities against itself, not needing to download a payload executable that performs the encryption. SafeLabs researchers tested out three major AV solutions against EFS ransomware and found all three to failed to stop an attack. The news of this evolved tactic has antivirus vendors scrambling to provide updates to stop this ransomware in its tracks.

In Coveware's recently released  Q4 Ransomware Marketplace Report, they found average cost of a ransom jumped from around $41K in Q3 of 2019 to just above $84K in Q4! Ransomware threat actors are targeting larger enterprise organizations in hopes of getting bigger payouts using sophisticated strains like Ryuk and Sodinokibi, while Ransomware-as-a-Service strains like Dharma, Snatch, and Netwalker are going after the small business sector.

Two senators of New York state recently proposed bills that would ban government agencies and local municipalities from using public money to pay cybercriminals ransom to get their files back. The first bill, proposed by Republican NY Senator Phil Boyle, and the second bill, proposed by Democrat NY Senator David Carlucci, are currently in committee. Several industry experts stated that this is the first time state authorities have proposed a law that outright bans paying the ransom all together.

Updates to FTCode ransomware targets the IDs and passwords on individual endpoints. Zscaler threat researchers have discovered new PowerShell code has been added to decrypt stored credentials from the following web browsers and email clients on Windows machines: Internet Explorer,  Mozilla Firefox, Mozilla Thunderbird, Google Chrome and Microsoft Outlook. The repercussions are significant: In addition to holding data for ransom, attackers could lock users out of cloud-based applications, could use the newfound credentials to island hop, could provide access to Office 3656 via OAuth API access, commit CEO fraud scams, identity theft, and much, much more.

Anti-malware vendor Emisoft recently warned both private and public sector businesses that ransomware poses a real threat to the upcoming 2020 election - from campaign fundraising to promoting stories about candidates, the possibilities are endless. And, given the heightened political tensions that exist in the U.S., potential victims are already emotionally charged enough to respond to phishing and web-based attacks.

February 2020 - Having good backups in place may no longer completely save you from an attack. A new trend, exemplified by Maze ransomware, is for threat actors to exfiltrate an organization's data and use it to extort them. What this could mean for you is that your current cyber insurance may not cover you as well as you may think.

Threat actors behind Sodinokibi are promising black hat hackers an opportunity to "work with" the creators of REvil ransomware under "mutually beneficial conditions” in a hacking contest with a $15,000 prize. While competitions like this aren’t entirely new, this latest one boasting a five-figure prize is big news. The danger lies in the ability to foster ingenuity, spawn creativity, and encourage the sharing of ideas to make ransomware and other forms of malware more powerful amongst cybercriminals.

DoppelPaymer ransomware makes money from its victims, whether they choose to pay the ransom or not. While it's not the first strain to publicize a victim's stolen data if they don't pay, it goes a step further to work to sell the data stolen. This has turned ransomware attacks from a nuisance and an attack on operational productivity into a full-blown data breach, complete with remediation, legal, PR, etc. This extra step turns up the heat on organizations to simply pay the ransom.

EKANS ransomware is a relatively new variant that focuses on wreaking havoc on industrial control systems (ICS) and businesses that rely on it. EKANS attempts to disrupt operations by killing processes, then encrypting data, effectively holding both the organization’s production and data for ransom.

Is your network effective in blocking ransomware when employees fall for social engineering attacks?

KnowBe4’s Ransomware Simulator "RanSim" gives you a quick look at the effectiveness of your existing network protection. RanSim will simulate 20 ransomware infection scenarios and 1 cryptomining infection scenario and show you if a workstation is vulnerable.


Run RanSim and test your network now, get your results in minutes!

Find out how vulnerable your network is against ransomware and cryptomining attacks.

A Master Class on IT Security:
Roger Grimes Teaches Ransomware Mitigation

Cyber-criminals have become thoughtful about ransomware attacks; taking time to maximize your organization’s potential damage and their payoff. Protecting your network from this growing threat is more important than ever. Join Roger for this thought-provoking webinar to learn what you can do to prevent, detect, and mitigate ransomware.

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Ransomware Strains and Families Knowledge Base

We've put together the background, history and inner-workings of all widespread ransomware strains and families that have appeared over the last few years. Criminal malware continues to grow at an explosive rate, and employees need to be given effective security awareness training so that they know before they click.

Click here to access our complete and expansive up-to-date ransomware strains knowledge base

Free Ransomware Simulator Tool

Is your network effective in blocking ransomware attacks?

Bad guys are constantly coming out with new strains to evade detection. Is your network effective in blocking all of them when employees fall for social engineering attacks?

KnowBe4’s RanSim gives you a quick look at the effectiveness of your existing network protection. RanSim simulates 20 ransomware infection scenarios and 1 cryptomining scenario and will show you if your workstation is vulnerable.

Test Your Network


Frequently Asked Questions

Email Vector By far the most common scenario involves an email attachment disguised as an innocuous file. Many times hackers will send a file with multiple extensions to try to hide the true type of file you are receiving. If a user receives a phishing email with an attachment or even a link to a software download, and they install or open that attachment without verifying its authenticity and the sender’s intention, this can lead directly to a ransomware infection. This is the most common way ransomware is installed on a user’s machine.

Drive-by-Download Increasingly, infections happen through drive-by downloads, where visiting a compromised website with an old browser or software plug-in or an unpatched third party application can infect a machine. The compromised website runs an exploit kit (EK) which checks for known vulnerabilities. Often, a hacker will discover a bug in a piece of software that can be exploited to allow the execution of malicious code. Once discovered, these are usually quickly caught and patched by the software vendor, but there is always a period of time where the software user is vulnerable.

Free Software Vector Another common way to infect a user’s machine is to offer a free version of a piece of software. This can come in many flavors such as “cracked” versions of expensive games or software, free games, game “mods”, adult content, screensavers or bogus software advertised as a way to cheat in online games or get around a website’s paywall. By preying on the user in this way, the hackers can bypass any firewall or email filter. After all, the user downloaded the file directly themselves! An example is a ransomware attack which exploited the popularity of the game Minecraft by offering a “mod” to players of Minecraft. When they installed it, the software also installed a sleeper version of ransomware that activated weeks later.

One method cybercriminals will use to install malicious software on a machine is to exploit one of these unpatched vulnerabilities. Examples of exploits can range from vulnerabilities in an unpatched version of Adobe Flash, a bug in Java or an old web browser all the way to an unpatched, outdated operating system.

The main event that created the fifth and current generation of cybercrime was the formation of an active underground economy, where stolen goods and illegal services are bought and sold in a ‘professional’ manner, if there is such a thing as honor among thieves. Note that because of this, cybercrime has recently been developing at a much faster rate. All the tools of the trade are now for sale. This has opened the ‘industry’ to relatively inexperienced criminals who can learn the trade and get to work quickly.

Some examples of this specialization are:
• Cybercrime has its own social networks with escrow services
• Malware can be licensed and receive tech support
• You can rent botnets by the hour, for your own crime spree
• Pay-for-play malware infection services have appeared that quickly create botnets
• A lively market for zero-day exploits (unknown software vulnerabilities) has been established

The problem with this is that it provides unfortunate economies of scale. The advent of Generation Five increases malware quality, speeds up the criminal ‘supply chain’ and effectively spreads risk among these thieves, meaning it becomes much harder to apprehend the culprits, not to mention jurisdiction problems.

Due to these factors, it is clear that we are in this for the long haul. We need to step up our game, just like the miscreants have done over the last 10 years.

There is a website called ID Ransomware that allows you to upload your ransom note and a sample encrypted file. The tool will identify the particular strain you are dealing with and if available, download decryption tools to recover your files and/or whole network shares if your backups have failed. It's a good idea to know which type you have as there is no 'one-size-fits-all' method to get rid of ransomware.

Bitcoin is an untraceable crypto-currency network that uses peer-to-peer technology to handle transactions with no central authority - that means no banks or government agencies either. All transactions are public, however the people holding these digital wallets remains completely anonymous. This makes Bitcoin very attractive to cybercriminals and is therefore the payment method most often requested to get files decrypted.

We have seen certain actors demand ransom in things like Amazon and iTunes gift cards, but the vast majority ask for Bitcoin.

It is important to note that just because a person pays to unlock the computer; it doesn’t mean that the malware is gone. Once the ransom is paid, the Citadel software continues to operate and the computer can still be used to commit bank or credit card fraud. Reveton, for instance, included the Papras family of malware, which includes password stealers and which can also disable security software.

If you are infected you should always report it to the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3). You will need to provide all relevant information including the e-mail with header information and Bitcoin address if available.

Since most ransomware is delivered via malware found in phishing emails, users need to be trained to not click on those emails. We have seen the percentage of 'phish-prone users' decrease from an average 15.9% to 1.2% over the course of a year of using our training platform.

We are so confident our method works, we are willing to bet our own money on it. KnowBe4's Kevin Mitnick Security Awareness Training comes with a crypto-ransom guarantee. If an employee who has taken our training and received at least one phishing security test per month clicks on a link and infects their workstation, KnowBe4 pays your crypto-ransom.

Am I Infected?


It’s fairly straightforward to find out if you are affected by a ransomware virus. The symptoms are as follows:

  • You suddenly cannot open normal files and get errors such as the file is corrupted or has the wrong extension.
  • An alarming message has been set to your desktop background with instructions on how to pay to unlock your files.
  • The ransomware program or a related website warns you that there is a countdown until the ransom increases or you will not be able to decrypt your files.
  • A window has opened to a ransomware program and you cannot close it.
  • You see files in all directories with names such as HOW TO DECRYPT FILES.TXT or DECRYPT_INSTRUCTIONS.HTML.

Here is an example of a ransomware screen, the infamous Sodinokibi:SODINOKIBI-Ransomware-virus

Here is an example of a ransomware webpage, threatening data exposure:



Infection Vectors

Email Vector

By far the most common scenario involves an email attachment disguised as an innocuous file. Many times hackers will send a file with multiple extensions to try to hide the true type of file you are receiving. If a user receives a phishing email with an attachment or even a link to a software download, and they install or open that attachment without verifying its authenticity and the sender’s intention, this can lead directly to a ransomware infection. This is the most common way ransomware is installed on a user’s machine.

Drive-by Download

Increasingly, infections happen through drive-by downloads, where visiting a compromised website with an old browser or software plug-in or an unpatched third-party application can infect a machine. The compromised website runs an exploit kit (EK) which checks for known vulnerabilities. Often, a hacker will discover a bug in a piece of software that can be exploited to allow the execution of malicious code. Once discovered, these are usually quickly caught and patched by the software vendor, but there is always a period of time where the software user is vulnerable.

Free Software Vector

Another common way to infect a user’s machine is to offer a free version of a piece of software. This can come in many flavors such as “cracked” versions of expensive games or software, free games, game “mods”, adult content, screensavers or bogus software advertised as a way to cheat in online games or get around a website’s paywall. By preying on the user in this way, the hackers can bypass any firewall or email filter. After all, the user downloaded the file directly themselves! An example is a ransomware attack which exploited the popularity of the game Minecraft by offering a “mod” to players of Minecraft. When they installed it, the software also installed a sleeper version of ransomware that activated weeks later.

One method cyber criminals will use to install malicious software on a machine is to exploit one of these unpatched vulnerabilities. Examples of exploits can range from vulnerabilities in an unpatched version of Adobe Flash, a bug in Java or an old web browser all the way to an unpatched, outdated operating system.

Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP)

Internet-exposed Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP) sessions are another very common means of infecting networks. RDP sessions are used to remotely log in to Windows computers and allow the user to control that computer as if they were sitting in front of it. The technology typically uses port 3389 to communicate, and many organizations allow traffic from the internet through their firewall, so people can remotely access the computer. Hackers have become increasingly skilled at attacking these exposed computers and using them to spread malware within a network. RDP is exploited either due to an unpatched vulnerability or due to password guessing because the victims chose very weak passwords and/or did not enable account lockout protections.


The best way to prevent an infection is to not rely on just one solution, but to use multiple, layered solutions for the best possible protection.

1. Security Awareness Training
It’s easier to prevent malware infections if you know what to look for. If you understand the latest techniques cybercriminals are using, the easier it will be to avoid. Know your enemy! Take an active approach to educating yourself by taking a security awareness training course.

2. Internet Security Products
There are many commercial products that will help you avoid all malware infections, but understand that none of them are 100% effective. The cyber criminals are always looking for weaknesses in security products and promptly take advantage of them.

3. Antivirus Software
While antivirus is highly recommended, you should have multiple layers of protection in place. It is not wise to solely rely on antivirus software to keep your PC secure, as it cannot prevent infections from zero-day or newly emerging threats.

The list of antivirus products below was proven the most effective at preventing malware from AV-Test.org 

Avira Antivirus Pro
Kaspersky Internet Security
Bitdefender Internet Security
Norton Security
Trend Micro Internet Security

4. AntiMalware Software
Most anti-malware software like MalwareBytes is designed to run alongside Antivirus products, and it’s recommended you have both in place.

5. Whitelisting Software
Whitelisting offers the best protection against malware and virus attacks. Whitelisting software allows only known good software that you approve to run or execute on your system. All other applications are prevented from running or executing.

6. Backup Solutions
In the event of a catastrophic attack or complete system failure, it’s essential to have your data backed up. Many have been able to quickly and fully recover from an attack because their data was backed up and safe. We recommend using one of the following online storage services and an external hard drive (that you disconnect after the backup) at the same time as the best possible backup solutions like:

5 Ways to Prevent a Ransomware Attack in 2021

It’s a given that ransomware is here to stay for the foreseeable future. It’s not new, so organizations should be pretty well-versed in how to stave an attack, as well as how to remediate one should it successfully encrypt the organization’s data and/or systems. However, ransomware claims are up 50% in 2019 with attacks outpacing the previous five years. This is indicative that organizations are largely unprepared for an attack. The best time to get serious about prevention is before an attack, not after. Shawn Taylor at Dark Reading lays out 5 excellent cybersecurity resolutions to consider:

  1. Basic Cybersecurity Hygiene. Improving basic cybersecurity hygiene is the No. 1 defense against any type of attack, including ransomware. This is the cybersecurity version of many people's New Year's resolution to "get healthy." Cybersecurity hygiene can mean a lot of different things, but a good place for companies to start is by making sure they have strong vulnerability management practices in place and that their devices have the latest security patches. They can also make sure they are taking basic security precautions that are often also important for regulatory compliance, like running up-to-date antivirus software or restricting access to systems that can't be made compliant. Ultimately, however, for most organizations, starting with CIS Control 1, Inventory and Control of Hardware Assets, will establish a good foundation upon which to build.
  2. Penetration Testing. Companies that already have much of the basic hygiene in place can take the additional step of engaging pen testers to further ensure that anything Internet-facing in their organization is protected. By finding what means or mechanisms attackers could hack or brute-force an attack to gain access to applications or internal systems by bypassing other protections such as firewalls, security leaders can fix those areas before bad actors find them. 
  3. Board Discussions. Cybersecurity is increasingly becoming a board of directors-level issue. That's because an attack can have a significant impact on a company's revenue, brand, reputation, and ongoing operations. However, it's worth having a specific board-level conversation about ransomware to ensure they understand the specific risks it could pose to the business, and that there is budget made available to prevent or limit the damage of an attack. That discussion will prove critical if the company wants to implement added protections, such as improved cyber hygiene, or put in place automated reactive technologies to limit the spread of an attack. If the CIO or CISO is not already regularly having these conversations about cybersecurity or ransomware in particular, that's definitely a good place to start for 2020.
  4. Tailored Training. There is one vulnerability that has proven effective again and again as an entry point for attack: people. You can buy all the latest and greatest cybersecurity technology, but if you aren't training your employees in basic cybersecurity or how to respond during an attack, then you're leaving yourself vulnerable. Training to prevent ransomware starts by teaching employees to recognize phishing attacks and what to do if they suspect one. This is important because — even though many users have gotten better — phishing remains one of the most effective ways for an attacker to breach an organization. Teaching users to validate URLs or avoid clicking on links or attachments altogether can go a long way toward protecting against all types of attacks. This is a good practice to start or revisit in 2020.
    In addition to preventing an attack, security leaders can also think about adding specific training for ransomware response. It's pretty easy for an employee to know when they've been hit with ransomware — their work screen may go away and they may get a pop-up directing you to a URL to pay the ransomware (likely in bitcoin). Training employees in what steps they can take in response or giving them an emergency point of contact on the security team can make them feel more in control in the panic of an attack.
  5. Limit the Scope of an Attack. Ransomware resolutions should include not only preventing an attack but also taking steps to minimize the damage of a successful one. That starts with having tools in place, such as SIEM systems that can identify the behavior patterns and heuristics of an attack and begin to automatically isolate and remediate those systems when indicators are flagged. It also means embracing tools such as network segmentation that can prevent the lateral movement of an attack across the network



Hostage Rescue Manual

This free manual is packed with actionable info that you need to prevent infections, and what to do when you get hit.

You will also receive an Attack Response Checklist and a Prevention Checklist. You will learn more about:

  • What is Ransomware?
  • Am I Infected?
  • I’m Infected, Now What?
  • Protecting Yourself in the Future
  • Resources

Don’t be taken hostage. Download your 20-page rescue manual now.

Get Your Manual

Removal Instructions

Because all strains are different, there isn’t one set of removal instructions that works across the board. Below are steps to take to begin the removal process from a Windows PC, which may work completely for some but not all if you have a really nasty infection. However, if you don't remove it, you will be unable to decrypt your encrypted files so they will be gone forever!

1. Malware Scan. It’s recommended to use MalwareBytes to detect and remove the malware. First download the free version of MalwareBytes. If you are unable to run a MalwareBytes scan, restart your PC in safe mode and try to run the MalwareBytes scan this way.

To enter safe mode: as your computer restarts but before Windows launches, press F8. Use the arrow keys to highlight the appropriate safe mode option, then press ENTER.

2. System Restore. Some strains will prevent you from entering Windows or running programs, if this is the case you can try to use System Restore to roll Windows back in time before the infection. Restore your system using the System Restore settings by restarting your PC and hitting the F8 key when the PC begins to boot up.

3. Recovery Disk. Use your Windows disc to access recovery tools by selecting “Repair your Computer” on the main menu. If you don’t have your Windows disc, you can create one from another PC running the same version of Windows.

4. Antivirus Rescue Disc. If a system restore doesn’t help and you still can’t access Windows, try running a virus scan from a bootable disc or USB drive. You could try using creating a Bitdefender Rescue CD.

5. Factory Restore. If the above steps have not worked, the last resort is a Factory Restore. PC World has comprehensive instructions for performing a factory restore.
If you manage to remove the infection from your PC using any of the steps above (except the factory restore) your next task will be to recover your files.

Unhiding Files
If you are lucky, hopefully your data didn't get encrypted but instead hid your icons, shortcuts, and files, you can easily show hidden files: Open Computer, navigate to C:\Users\, and open the folder of your Windows account name. Then right-click each folder that’s hidden, open Properties, uncheck the Hidden attribute, and click OK. You should be good to go from here.

Encrypted Files
If you followed the steps above to unhide your files and this didn’t work and you still can’t find any of your data, this means that your files have been malware-encrypted. This is not good. Unfortunately it isn’t possible to decrypt or unlock your hostage files, because the decryption key is typically stored on the cybercriminal’s server. From here you have 2 options:

Option 1: Restore your files from a backup. If you have a backup system in place, and they haven’t been encrypted as well, you should be able to restore all your files this way. If you don’t have a backup system in place, you might be able to recover some of your files from Shadow Volume Copies, but most definitely not all your personal files. To use shadow volume copies, right-click Select files/folders and open Properties to view the Previous Versions list, or use a program called Shadow Explorer.

Option 2: Pay the Ransom. Most authors will deliver the decryption key and return your files once you pay, but keep in mind, there is no guarantee. You may pay the ransom and get nothing in return, after all you are dealing with thieves.

Free Decryptors List

Ransomware decryption is an uphill battle for security professionals. As new strains are discovered, decryptors are created, then cybercriminals update their malware to get past decryption methods. It's a never-ending cycle!

Click here to see our list of known free ransomware decryptors.

Hostage Rescue Checklist

Ransomware attacks cause downtime, data loss, possible intellectual property theft, and in certain industries an attack is considered a data breach.

Wouldn’t it be great to have an actionable checklist of what to do when you get hit and how to prevent it in the future? Now you do! Included in this download:

  • Attack Response Checklist
  • Prevention Checklist

Download your rescue checklist now.

Ransomware Hostage Rescue Checklist




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