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What is Ransomware?

What is Ransomware?
Highlights

Ransomware is computer malware that installs covertly on a victim-'s computer, executes a crypto-virology attack that adversely affects it, and...

Ransomware is computer malware that installs covertly on a victim's computer, executes a crypto-virology attack that adversely affects it, and demands a ransom payment to decrypt it or not publish it. Simple ransomware may lock the system in a way which is not difficult for a knowledgeable person to reverse, and display a message requesting payment to unlock it.

More advanced malware encrypts the victim's files, making them inaccessible, and demands a ransom payment to decrypt them. The ransomware may also encrypt the computer's Master File Table (MFT) or the entire hard drive. Thus, ransomware is a denial-of-access attack that prevents computer users from accessing files since it is intractable to decrypt the files without the decryption key. Ransomware attacks are typically carried out using a Trojan that has a payload disguised as a legitimate file.

While initially popular in Russia, the use of ransomware scams has grown internationally; 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.

Wide-ranging attacks involving encryption-based ransomware began to increase through Trojans such as CryptoLocker, which had procured an estimated US$3 million before it was taken down by authorities, and CryptoWall, which was estimated by the US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) to have accrued over $18m by June 2015 The first known ransomware was "AIDS" (also known as "PC Cyborg"), written in 1989 by Joseph Popp.

Its payload hid the files on the hard drive and encrypted their names, and displayed a message claiming that the user's license to use a certain piece of software had expired. The user was asked to pay $189 to "PC Cyborg Corporation" in order to obtain a repair tool. Popp was declared mentally unfit to stand trial for his actions, but he promised to donate the profits from the malware to fund AIDS research.

With the increased popularity of ransomware on PCs, there has also been a significant increase in the volume of ransomware affecting smartphones, particularly Android devices. To protect a phone from ransomware, one can scan for malware on the phone regularly, and avoid suspicious links and applications. Some of the significant innovations in this regard include Reveton, CryptoLocker, CryptoLocker F, TorrentLocker, CryptoWall and Fusob.

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