Ransomware attacks have risen drastically in the past several years, and their costs — both in terms of damage to businesses and actual ransoms paid — are poised to continue to escalate. This form of cyberattack poses real risks to any organization that relies on computer systems for its essential operations. For many organizations, the loss of the use of such systems for days or even hours can be devastating. So being prepared in advance to handle such attacks is a prudent part of risk management.
Ransomware is malicious computer software used to render data unusable. In its most common form, ransomware encrypts files on a victim’s computer or computer systems. After a cybercriminal has infected a victim’s computer files, they will contact the victim and demand a ransom payment. In return for payment, the perpetrator promises to provide the victim a digital “key,” allowing them to decrypt their files, rendering them usable again. In some cases, the perpetrator may also make their own copy of the affected files and threaten to sell them or release them publicly unless their ransom demand is met.
This extortionate practice is one of the most profitable business models in cybercrime today, with a cumulative price tag in the billions of dollars. According to the FBI, there was a 225% increase in losses due to ransomware attacks from 2019 to 2020. Estimated ransomware attacks have continued to rise, with more than 300 million estimated global attacks in the first half of 2021. Some attacks make headline news, such as the Colonial Pipeline ransomware attack that caused fuel shortages along the East Coast in 2021, or the widely reported attacks on hospitals, which can place lives at risk. But many attacks target smaller organizations and may never be reported in the press. All in all, no organization that relies on computer systems to conduct its essential operations can afford to be complacent about the risk of ransomware attacks.
If your organization is targeted with a ransomware attack, being prepared to respond quickly is critical. It is prudent to plan your first steps in advance so as to make best use of time to mitigate the damage and facilitate a quick recovery.