What is ransomware? Definition and examples

Ransomware is a type of malware, i.e., malicious software, that enters a computer or computer system and infects it. The system, which could be a website, database, or program ceases to work because of the malware. The person responsible for placing the ransomware demands a ransom for the system to work again. A ransom is a sum of money that kidnappers demand for the release of their prisoner, i.e., the person they kidnapped.

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Unlike a kidnapping, ransomware does not involve running off with a computer, website, or system. However, it is held to ransom in the sense that the owner must pay a fee to free it.

In most cases, the perpetrator uses a trojan that the receiver either opens or downloads. A trojan is any type of malware that looks like an genuine file.

Kaspersky.com makes the following comment regarding ransomware:

“This class of malware is a criminal moneymaking scheme that can be installed through deceptive links in an email message, instant message or website. It has the ability to lock a computer screen or encrypt important, predetermined files with a password.”

How common is ransomware?

Comparitech.com quotes a study by The Beazley Group which reported that 2020 saw a 130% increase in this type of malicious software attack compared to 2019. Every year, the amount of money demanded by the cybercriminals grows. Companies at greatest risk are SMEs (small and medium-sized enterprises).

From 2018 to 2019, the number of companies, government departments, and individual people who became victims increased significantly.

2020 coronavirus pandemic – hospitals

In 2020, hospitals in the USA and other advanced economies have been aggressively targeted by cybercriminals. Given that they have been desperately trying to cope during the coronavirus pandemic, they are not in a position to hold out for long. The FBI (Federal Bureau of Investigation) urges against paying up.

Regarding one major ransomware attack, Sam Cook wrote the following in an article published by comparitech.com:

“The biggest news-maker for 2019, was the ransomware attack on Baltimore City government. The city’s computer system was infected in May 2019 and kept the city’s government crippled for over a month.”

“Estimates put the cost to recover at over $18 million dollars, although the cybercriminal behind the malware only demanded $76,000 worth of Bitcoin. The attack reportedly impacted vaccine production, ATMs, airports, and hospitals.”

Defend yourself or your business against ransomware

The following tips may help minimize exposure or subsequent damage if you do become a victim of a cyber attack:

Back up

Makes sure that you have backed up all your data. Then, even if the cybercriminal locks you out, you have not lost important information. Backups do not reduce the risk of ransomware, but they can help make the consequences less disastrous.

Security software

All computers in your home, office, or organization must have security software. It needs to be comprehensive and up-to-date. Most packages today update themselves automatically. You need to make sure that the updates take place.

Safe surfing

According to mcafee.com:

Be careful where you click. Don’t respond to emails and text messages from people you don’t know, and only download applications from trusted sources. This is important since malware authors often use social engineering to try to get you to install dangerous files.”

Secure networks are better

Beware of public Wi-Fi networks – some of them are not secure. Install a VPN (virtual private network), which gives you total protection regardless of where you are.

Make everybody aware

Make sure all employees are aware of what ransomware is, what the risks are, and what safety measures to take. Regular training is important as well as simulation drills.


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