In 2017, it was reported by software company Symantec that the U.S. was the preferred target for cybercriminals and their ransomware attacks. Why? More often than not, U.S. victims gave in to the hacker’s demands. According to Symantec’s report, around 64% of Americans paid the ransom to get back their data. Here are four reasons why paying ransomware hackers is a big mistake.
1. It might just be a ruse
Ransomware is a type of malicious software that is designed to lock you out of your system and restrict access to your data. Internet users who do not have a lot of technical know-how tend to be the most easily exploitable; hackers may attempt to trick them by sending messages that falsely claim their system has been infected by ransomware, and that they will lose their data unless a ransom is paid. You’d be surprised by how often it works. In many cases, people pay the ransom despite their data actually being safe and sound. Scare tactics are all that a hacker needs to get paid.
2. Perpetrators will demand additional ransom
Often, however, it isn’t a trick. And in this case, your willingness to pay up is the only reason ransomware hackers will demand additional payments. What they’ll do is unlock a small portion of your data and require more ransoms to be paid if you want access to the rest. If you pay again, they will just repeat the process. It becomes a lose-lose situation.
Such is the case with Kansas Heart Hospital in Wichita. In May of 2016, the healthcare provider got hit with ransomware. They paid the first ransom, but they didn’t get full access back because the cybercriminals wanted a second ransom to be paid. The hospital decided not to pay because they realized it was no longer a strategic move.
“Ransomware is a classic technique for attackers to get a persistent hold on a system—why would they just simply allow you to go Scott-free?” said HIMSS North America Director of Privacy and Security Lee Kim. “You’ve given them what they wanted. And they think… maybe I can come back to you later to attack you guys again.”
3. You can’t guarantee that you’ll get your data back
This is in line with the previous reason. When you pay a ransom, whether it’s the initial or the secondary one, there is no guarantee that you’ll regain access to your data. You are, after all, dealing with cybercriminals—people of questionable moral character who would rather cheat to get money than do honest work. You need to keep in mind that they don’t care about whether you get your data back. It’s a bit like the U.S. government’s decision never to negotiate with terrorists; if you do it once, you’re opening the door for countless attacks in the future.
4. Authorities and cyber experts advise against it
The exponential increase in the number of ransomware attacks has already forced law enforcement officials to take notice. In the wake of the WannaCry and NotPetya attacks in 2016, the FBI released an official statement imploring victims to not pay any ransom, no matter how much it is. It seems, though, that this advice was not heeded since people still continue to pay ransomware hackers today.
It isn’t just law enforcement giving this recommendation, either—cybersecurity professionals suggest not paying the ramson as well. In fact, you simply won’t find any expert that will tell victims to pay ransomware hackers. According to Mark Gregory, a professor at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology in Australia, giving in to ransom demands should be the very last resort.
So what should you do?
Well, firstly check that you have indeed had your data stolen. As mentioned above, often it’s just a trick trying to scare you into paying. If you’ve determined that you have been hacked and that your personal files have been taken, contact law enforcement immediately and use their experts to help you navigate the situation.
But perhaps the most important thing you can do is to ensure you’re taking all the steps necessary to protect your devices. As always, be wary of suspicious emails and never click random links without fully vetting the sender. Also protect your computers and cellular devices by using a VPN, especially when connected to an unsecured WiFi network. A VPN such as Hotspot Shield provides a secure “tunnel” for your data to travel through, preventing hackers from being able to access your information.
And if they can’t access it, they can’t steal it. And if they can’t steal it, you can’t be held for ransom. As we all know, prevention is the best cure.