What is a Ransomware Attack: Defending Against Digital Extortion

Picture this: your business comes to a screeching halt, your files are encrypted, and a demand for a substantial ransom appears on your screen. This nightmare scenario is a reality for countless small and medium-sized businesses falling victim to ransomware attacks. To protect your business from this growing threat, it is crucial to understand what ransomware attacks are and how they can be prevented. In this article, we will empower you with the knowledge and strategies needed to defend against digital extortion. From implementing robust cybersecurity measures to educating your employees, discover the proactive steps you can take to safeguard your business and ensure its resilience in the face of ransomware attacks.

What is a Ransomware Attack?

A ransomware attack is a type of cyber attack where malicious software is used to encrypt a victim’s files or lock them out of their computer system. The attacker then demands a ransom, usually in the form of cryptocurrency, in exchange for restoring access to the files or system. Ransomware attacks can have devastating consequences for businesses, as they can result in data loss, operational disruptions, financial losses, and damage to the organization’s reputation. Businesses need to understand the nature of ransomware attacks and take proactive measures to defend against them.

The History of Ransomware Attacks

Ransomware attacks have a history that spans several decades, starting in the late 1980s. The first known instance of ransomware called the AIDS Trojans or PC Cyborg, emerged in 1989. Created by Joseph Popp, it targeted MS-DOS systems and encrypted files, demanding a ransom to be sent to a PO box in Panama. However, it wasn’t until the early 2000s that ransomware attacks gained more prominence.

In 2005, the Archiveus ransomware variant emerged, using strong encryption and demanding payment via an online payment service. This marked a shift in the sophistication of ransomware attacks. Over the years, ransomware attacks continued to evolve, becoming more sophisticated and widespread.

One significant milestone was the emergence of CryptoLocker in 2013. CryptoLocker introduced advanced encryption algorithms and demanded payment in Bitcoin. It spread through infected email attachments and infected over 500,000 systems before it was eventually taken down.

In subsequent years, ransomware families like Locky and Cerber gained prominence. They utilized new techniques, such as using macros in Microsoft Office documents and leveraging the Tor network for communication. These ransomware variants spread through malicious email attachments and exploit kits.

The year 2017 saw two major ransomware attacks that caused global disruption. WannaCry and NotPetya exploited vulnerabilities in the Windows operating system and spread rapidly across networks, affecting organizations worldwide and causing significant financial losses.

In recent years, ransomware attacks have continued to evolve. Ransomware families like Ryuk have emerged, targeting organizations, particularly in the healthcare sector. These attacks often follow a targeted approach, infiltrating networks and demanding high ransoms based on the victim’s perceived ability to pay.

More recently, ransomware variants like Maze and Sodinokibi (REvil) have introduced a new tactic of exfiltrating sensitive data before encrypting it. They threaten to publish the stolen data if the ransom is not paid, increasing the pressure on victims.

The rise of cryptocurrencies, such as Bitcoin, has facilitated anonymous ransom payments, making it more challenging to track and apprehend attackers. As a result, businesses must remain vigilant, stay updated on the latest security measures, and implement robust cybersecurity practices to defend against these evolving and increasingly sophisticated ransomware threats.

How Do Ransomware Attacks Work?

Ransomware attacks typically follow a specific process. Here’s how they work:

Infection: Ransomware is usually delivered through malicious email attachments, infected websites, or compromised software. Once a user unknowingly interacts with the infected source, the ransomware gains access to the system.

Encryption: After gaining access, the ransomware starts encrypting files on the victim’s computer or network. This process renders the files inaccessible and unusable without the decryption key.

Ransom Note: Once the encryption is complete, the attacker displays a ransom note on the victim’s screen. This note contains instructions on how to pay the ransom and obtain the decryption key. It often includes threats of permanent data loss or increased ransom amounts if the demands are not met within a specified timeframe.

Payment: The attacker typically demands payment in cryptocurrency, such as Bitcoin, to make it difficult to trace the transaction. They may provide instructions on how to make the payment and communicate with the victim to facilitate the process.

Decryption (or not): If the victim decides to pay the ransom, they may receive the decryption key to unlock their files. However, there is no guarantee that the attacker will uphold their end of the bargain, and some victims may not receive the decryption key even after paying.

It is important to note that paying the ransom does not guarantee the recovery of files or protection against future attacks. Therefore, businesses must focus on prevention, detection, and recovery strategies to defend against ransomware attacks.

What are the Different Types of Ransomware Attacks?

Ransomware attacks come in various forms, each with its characteristics and methods of operation. Here are some of the different types of ransomware attacks:

Encrypting Ransomware

This is the most common type of ransomware attack. It encrypts the victim’s files, making them inaccessible until a ransom is paid. Examples include WannaCry and CryptoLocker.

Locker Ransomware

Unlike encrypting ransomware, locker ransomware does not encrypt files but instead locks the victim out of their device or system. It typically displays a full-screen message or lock screen, demanding a ransom to regain access.


Scareware tricks victims into believing their system is infected with malware or that they have committed illegal activities. It displays alarming messages and prompts the victim to pay a ransom to remove the supposed threats.

Mobile Ransomware

This type of ransomware targets mobile devices, such as smartphones and tablets. It can lock the device or encrypt files, demanding a ransom for their release. Mobile ransomware often spreads through malicious apps or compromised websites.

Ransomware-as-a-Service (RaaS)

RaaS is a model where cybercriminals develop and distribute ransomware to other attackers, who then carry out the attacks. The original developer receives a portion of the ransom payments as a commission.


Also known as leakware or extortionware, doxware threatens to publish sensitive or confidential data unless a ransom is paid. This type of ransomware is particularly concerning for businesses that handle sensitive customer information.


Ransomworms combine the characteristics of ransomware and worms. They can spread across networks and infect multiple devices, encrypting files and demanding ransoms. Notable examples include WannaCry and NotPetya.

It is important to stay informed about the evolving landscape of ransomware attacks and take appropriate measures to protect your systems and data. Implementing robust cybersecurity practices, staying vigilant, and regularly updating security measures can help defend against these various types of ransomware attacks.

What are the Steps to Prevent a Ransomware Attack?

Preventing a ransomware attack requires a proactive approach and implementing various security measures. Here are the steps you can take to protect your business:

  1. Educate Employees: Train your employees on best practices for cybersecurity, such as identifying phishing emails, avoiding suspicious websites, and not clicking on unknown links or attachments. Regularly remind them about the risks of ransomware attacks and the importance of following security protocols.
  2. Implement Robust Security Software: Install and regularly update reputable antivirus and anti-malware software on all devices. This software can detect and block known ransomware threats, providing an additional layer of protection.
  3. Keep Systems and Software Updated: Regularly update your operating systems, software, and applications with the latest security patches and updates. Vulnerabilities in outdated software can be exploited by ransomware attackers, so staying up to date is crucial.
  4. Backup Data Regularly: Implement a robust backup strategy to regularly backup your critical data. Store backups offline or in a separate location to prevent them from being compromised in case of a ransomware attack. Test the backup restoration process to ensure its effectiveness.
  5. Use Strong Passwords and Enable Multi-Factor Authentication: Encourage the use of strong, unique passwords for all accounts and systems. Enable multi-factor authentication (MFA) whenever possible to add an extra layer of security.
  6. Restrict User Privileges: Limit user privileges to only what is necessary for their roles. This helps minimize the impact of a potential ransomware attack by preventing the malware from spreading to sensitive areas of the network.
  7. Implement Email and Web Filtering: Utilize email and web filtering solutions to block malicious attachments, links, and websites that are commonly used to distribute ransomware. These filters can help prevent users from accessing potentially dangerous content.
  8. Monitor Network Activity: Implement network monitoring tools to detect any unusual or suspicious activity. This can help identify potential ransomware infections early and allow for a prompt response.
  9. Create an Incident Response Plan: Develop a comprehensive incident response plan that outlines the steps to be taken in the event of a ransomware attack. This plan should include procedures for isolating infected systems, notifying appropriate personnel, and engaging with law enforcement if necessary.

By following these preventive measures, you can significantly reduce the risk of falling victim to a ransomware attack and protect your business from the potentially devastating consequences.


In conclusion, ransomware attacks pose a significant threat to businesses of all sizes. As we have explored throughout this article, understanding what ransomware attacks are, how they work, and the steps to prevent them are crucial for protecting your business from the devastating consequences of digital extortion. By implementing robust cybersecurity measures, educating employees, regularly backing up data, and staying vigilant against phishing attempts, businesses can fortify their defenses against ransomware attacks. It is also important to note that ransomware attacks often go hand in hand with other cyber threats, such as spam and data breaches. Therefore, organizations must adopt a comprehensive approach to cybersecurity, addressing all potential vulnerabilities to ensure the safety and continuity of their operations.

Final Thoughts

Protecting your business from cybersecurity threats is paramount, and Buzz Cybersecurity is the leading authority in this field. With our comprehensive range of services, including managed IT services, advanced cloud solutions, proactive managed detection and response, and dependable disaster recovery, we have the expertise and tools to keep your business secure. Our client base spans various industries and sizes, from small businesses to large corporations, not only in California but also in neighboring states. If you’re seeking to strengthen your digital security and mitigate the risk of security incidents, don’t hesitate to contact our dedicated team. We are committed to providing the support you need.


  1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/AIDS_(Trojan_horse)
  2. https://www.cs.bu.edu/~goldbe/teaching/HW55815/cryptolockerEssay.pdf
  3. https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2017/dec/30/wannacry-petya-notpetya-ransomware
  4. https://www.techtarget.com/whatis/definition/ransomware-as-a-service-RaaS

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