The History of Ransomware: Where it Started and Where It’s Going…
by Ladan Nikravan Hayes
Ransomware is one of the largest threats you can face today, both on your own PC at home and at work, too. From humble beginnings, it has become an immense global business that nets millions, sometimes billions, for its creators.
The name ransomware, derived from the two words, ransom and software, is malicious software designed to extort money from a victim, by either holding specific files hostage or by locking the entire computer until a ransom is paid.
Hackers realize that victims are willing to pay to obtain access to their files, specifically ones that hold important, personal content, such as photos, documents or security keys. Additionally, they know that once the ransomware has been developed, the system will remain low maintenance. Because this crime does not involve credit card fraud, which typically requires mules or cloners, making financial transactions is much easier. Whether extorting $300 per user from a small business or $30 million from a multinational enterprise, the level of effort is often similar.
Over the years there have been two distinct varieties of ransomware which remain consistent: crypto and locker based. Crypto-ransomware is ransomware variants that actually encrypt files and folders, hard drives, etc. Whereas locker-ransomware only locks users out of their devices, most often seen with Android based ransomware.
New-age ransomware involves a combination of advanced distribution efforts such as pre-built infrastructures used to easily and widely distribute new strains as well as advanced development techniques such as using crypters to ensure reverse-engineering is extremely difficult.
What’s important to note is that ransomware isn’t new. In fact, it’s nearly 30-years-old. Below is a look at how this threat started and highlights of how it has evolved over time.