Never pay ransoms. That’s the official advice from Europol when it comes to ransomware. They argue that making the payment helps support the cybercriminals’ business, and there is anyway no guarantee that paying the fine will get back the data.
Ransomware are computer programmes designed to extort money from users whose systems they infect. They first came to prominence around 2013, when the CryptoLocker ransomware was released into the wild. Victims are locked out of their systems, with a message promising that they can recover their data if they send money using Bitcoin or some other (difficult to trace) cryptocurrency. There is normally a deadline attached, beyond which the price is either increased or the data is deleted.
In May 2017, the WannaCry / WannaCrypt attack infected more than 230,000 computers. Major corporations, government networks, and private individuals were all affected. Often, the value of the data being held hostage by criminals far exceeded the ransom demand. No doubt many organisations discretely paid off the criminals rather than face the reputational damage of admitting they were victims.
Does paying ransoms just make the problem worse? The latest high-profile attack involves ransomware known as “NotPetya”, and has affected computers primarily in Ukraine, Poland, and Russia (as well as others in Europe and across the globe). The actual ransom part of NotPetra has apparently collapsed after the criminals’ email account was closed down, leaving victims no way to confirm payment. Either the criminals were incompetent, or this may be an even more malicious cyberattack masquerading as ransomware to provide cover. Either way, NotPetya has caused chaos in the countries affected.
Is it wrong to pay to unlock your data from ransomware? Does it encourage criminals to spread malware, making everybody less safe? Or is it better to pay a ransom than losing even more valuable data? Let us know your thoughts and comments in the form below and we’ll take them to policymakers and experts for their reactions!