Jan 03, 2014

How much of a problem is ransomware?

I hear stories about ransomware, where malware essentially takes over a computer and the victim is given a short amount of time to pay hundreds of dollars, or lose everything on the machine. However, I’ve never actually seen it nor do I know anyone that has every experienced a ransomware attack. Is it a real thing, or more of an apocryphal story. Also, assuming it is real, does paying the money actually get your system unlocked?
Ransomware (malware)

"Ransomware is a class of malware which restricts access to the computer system that it infects, and demands a ransom paid to the creator of the malware in order for the restriction to be removed. Some forms of ransomware encrypt files on the system's hard drive (cryptoviral extortion), while some may simply lock the system and display messages intended to coax the user into paying.

While initially popular in Russia, the use of ransomware scams has grown internationally;[1][2][3] in June 2013, security software vendor McAfee released data showing that it had collected over 250,000 unique samples of ransomware in the first quarter of 2013—more than double the number it had obtained in the first quarter of 2012.[4]"

It is a real problem, although probably not particularly common in light of the hundreds of millions of people online. Of course, relative rarity doesn’t mean jack when you are the one that is struck by lightning. Cyrptolocker is the most widely known example of ransomware, and it is estimated to have brought in millions of dollars in “ransom” payments from victims, $300 at a time. It encrypts the contents of the hard drive, as well as files on external drives or network storage systems. In return for the “ransom” payment, the victim is provided the key. If you don’t pay within 72 hours, the window for payment closes, and you are left with a bunch of encrypted garbage.


Ransomware appears to be a real thing. Security vendor Symantec last year infiltrated one ransomware syndicate and estimated that it was generating at least $5 million annually. At $300 a pop -- the standard shakedown price -- that's nearly 17,000 victims a year. And that's one ransomware syndicate.

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