Ransom may seem like a concept from a bygone era: Rich heiresses held for a bag of money. An outdated concept that happens infrequently today, right? Wrong. The reality is ransom has gone high-tech, and it’s more lucrative than ever. The new targets? Businesses, organizations, even school districts.
Ransomware, as it’s called by insiders in the tech industry, is when malware is covertly installed on a network system — often through phishing emails that aim to get system users to unwittingly give up their password and thereby access to the system — and the malware then freezes the data stored in that system, making it unretrievable by network administrators. The cybercriminals then demand large sums of money to restore the data. If the administration doesn’t pay, the criminals delete or sell the sensitive information to the highest bidder.
According to a recent article by CNNMoney, the FBI has stated that the use of ransomware has reached an all-time high. In the first three months of 2016 alone, cybercriminals have collected $209 million by extorting businesses and institutions to unlock computer servers. At that rate, ransomware will be a $1 billion a year criminal industry this year, with total losses being even higher once related business costs are factored in.
And criminals aren’t only targeting large, wealthy, multinational corporations but also local organizations, like schools and even hospitals. CNNMoney reported on a case of ransomware being used to target a school district in South Carolina. Ultimately, the Horry County School District agreed to pay $10,000 to release the information, calling it a “business decision” that got their systems back online.
The cost of ransomware may be even higher when you factor in how many businesses don’t even report the incidents, fearing that it will undermine customer confidence in their services. Seems the cybercriminals are ahead on this one, if only for the moment.