A ransomware is a malicious program that infects a target device and gains control. The program encrypts files and blocks the user access to the infected data (or system) until the targeted organization pays the ransom to the attackers. Although the instances of ransomware attacks have gained momentum lately, it is actually a primitive cybersecurity threat.
Here is a brief account of history of ransomware:
- First Ransomware: The first known ransomware attack was recorded in 1989. The attack was carried out by Joseph Popp, an AIDS researcher. He distributed 20,000 floppy disks containing a malicious program to AIDS researchers across 90 countries. He made pretence that the floppy disks contained a survey program. It was a basic ransomware attack and since then ransomware attacks have evolved and have acquired an array of advanced features.
- Locker Ransomware: In 2007, a new category of ransomware malware appeared. It was known as Locker Ransomware. This type of ransomware did not encrypt files; instead it locked the victim out of the device preventing him from using it. Another ransomware that operated on this technique is known as WinLock. The ransomware employed worms such as Citadel, Lyposit, and Reveton for displaying a fine message from a law enforcement agency. The ransomware demanded $10 as ransom in exchange for the unlocking code.
- Scareware: After a few years, the attackers changed their strategy. They started capitalizing on the fear of ransomware by spreading fake applications and antivirus programs. In these types of ransomware attacks, the malicious applications attack a target device and display a pop up message saying that the device has been infected with viruses. The message encourages the victim to visit a website and pay for antivirus software for fixing the problem. The link mentioned in the message redirects the user to a malicious website designed to look authentic and legitimate. After a few years, cyber criminals understood that they can compromise any website instead of designing fake websites. They switched to automated ransomware attacks the included phishing emails as vectors.
- Crypto Ransomware: In 2013, first cryptographic ransomware emerged. It was known as CryptoLocker. It was launched by Gameover ZeuS bot and was sent as an email attachment. Once downloaded, the ransomware encrypted the files on the device and demanded a bitcoin payment for unlocking the files.
- Ransomware-As-A-Service: It is the latest step in the evolution of ransomware. It first appeared in 2015 with the Tox toolkit launch. This gave beginner cybercriminals a chance to develop custom ransomware tools with advanced capabilities.
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