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A Short History of Ransomware

The year 2014 may well go down in the history books as the year that extortion attacks went mainstream.” -Brian Krebs, security journalist

“Fueled largely by the emergence of the anonymous online currency Bitcoin, these shakedowns are blurring the lines between online and online fraud, and giving novice computer users a crash course in modern-day cybercrime,” said Krebs. Symantec reported in their August 2014 Intelligence report that crypto-style ransomware has seen a 700 percent-plus increase. These file-encrypting versions of ransomware began the year comprising 1.2 percent of all ransomware detections but made up 31 percent at the end of August.

One of the key methods cybercriminals are using is ransomware, most famously the Cryptolocker malware, and its numerous variants, which encrypts the files on a user’s computer and demands the user pay a
ransom, usually in Bitcoins, in order to receive the key to decrypt the files. But Cryptolocker is just one approach that criminals are taking to demand ransom, and the techniques are evolving on a daily basis. To guard against ransomware, it is not enough to know the malware that is making the rounds that day. It is vital to have a broader understanding of the topic, so one can take effective countermeasures against this evolving threat.

Hacking Generations

Let’s begin by taking a look at how cyber attacks have changed over the years. What we are facing nowadays is a far cry from when people like Kevin Mitnick were breaking into phone company networks to see what they could get away with. It is now a multi-billion global activity being run by organized cybercrime hiring experienced, professional coders and running e-commerce sites and cloud computing services for criminal activities. For the purposes of this article, however, we will ignore nation-state sponsored targeted actions such as the Stuxnet attack on Iran’s uranium enrichment facilities or the cyberespionage specialists of People’s Liberation Army Unit 61398 operating out of a 12-story building near Shanghai.

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