There are an estimated 3.2+ billion people who use the internet every year, which means the potential targets for hackers continues to grow. Ransomware is a newer form of online attack with potentially devastating (and expensive) outcomes.

What is ransomware

Ransomware is a specific kind of malware, or ‘malicious software’, that encrypts a person’s data and charges a ransom to unlock it. It’s a nasty kind of attack that can be passed from computer to computer, and sometimes even paying the ransom does not ensure the safe return of data.

The popularity of this scam has grown exponentially since it first surfaced in 1989, and has now siphoned millions of dollars away from individuals and businesses. Because the ransom must be paid in digital currency (rather than credit cards or cash) the attacker remains anonymous and is difficult to find and prosecute.

How does ransomware happen?

Ransomware is delivered through vulnerabilities in a network or can be downloaded by posting as software updates or phishing emails.

Typically this is what an attack looks like:

First, the attacker creates a key pair, which is placed in the malware. The malware is released, and is pushed onto a computer or accidentally downloaded by the user.

Once malware hits a computer, it generates a random key code and encrypts a person’s data. The victim receives a message telling them their data has been encrypted, and the cost and method of paying the ransom to get data back.

If the victim pays, the attacker usually sends a decryption program or an unlock code, and the victim’s data is restored. Though there have been cases of data not being returned, ransomware hackers are actually known for having great customer service – that’s what keeps people paying! They want victims to know how to purchase bitcoin and how to transfer it, so they provide links, shortcuts, and information to walk users through the process. Sometimes they even take your financial situation into consideration, using a sliding scale to charge people and businesses different amounts.

How does ransomware affect bitcoin?

Many bitcoin holders were worried that the digital currency would get a bad name as the ‘currency of criminals’ after the outbreak of malware like Jigsaw and WannaCry.

However, after the WannaCry outbreak in May of 2017, the value of bitcoin surged to over $2,500 – a new record! Some hypothesize that the increase is due to a sudden influx of purchasers. Hundreds of people and businesses bought in to pay their ransom and unlock data, and hundreds more purchased their first bitcoin as a precaution, to avoid waiting for the transaction to go through in case of an emergency.

Others believe ‘no press is bad press’, and simply being reminded about bitcoin (and the huge hike in value) caused people to give it a second look. Cryptocurrency has drawn in a whole new wave of investors who are intrigued by the volatility and opportunity it brings. Whatever the reason, ransomware has failed to hurt the ever-climbing value of bitcoin and will hopefully become a thing of the past as cyber security improves.