01 Feb 2017

You know that annoying little kid who hits a growth spurt and then seemingly overnight transforms from a nuisance into a menacing bully?

That bully is ransomware, the growth spurt was 2016, and it doesn’t appear that 2017 will be any easier.

Ransomware was not kind as a child; in the beginning, the strategy involved locking down victims’ computer files, and refusing to unlock the imprisoned data until a ransom was paid. Many victims, however, started to catch on and came prepared with countermeasures that allow victims to restore the information on their computer without having to pay a ransom. And like any great villain who wishes to remain relevant, necessity is the mother of all inventions.

Criminal programmers have now created ransomware/malware hybrids that work in tandem to not just lock down files (which can be restored) but to also syphon personal data from the computer. As if that wasn’t enough, the newest ransomware is coded to boot the system into a lock screen displaying the ransom note, and nothing else. This means that, regardless of the safety measures taken, the target will be left with only two options:

  1. Pay
  2.  Lose access to your entire system

With these new, souped-up versions, ransomware is not going anywhere. In fact, ransomware, that accounted for only one-fifth of all malware payouts just 12 short months ago, has apparently been working out and beefing up by increasing nearly 270% and becoming the reason for nearly ⅔ of all payouts. Because unlike other malware, all it takes to effectively execute ransomware is the ability to purchase it.

In fact, any criminal looking to cash in on this trend in 2016 most likely contacted one of three programming families: TeslaCrypt, Locky, and Cerber.

TeslaCrypt was the undisputed leader of the pack until June, when its master decryption key was released, rendering the ransomware effectively useless. No matter, Cerber and Locky were more than happy to fill the void. Cerber became popular for its ease of use, and Locky for its more complicated, nefarious uses, and seems to be taking the market share lead after a slight dip in use over Christmas.

It should come as no surprise that Western, developed countries are the main targets, especially with the drama that was 2016’s US presidential race. The most targeted countries were (in order):

  1. The US
  2. Germany
  3. Italy
  4. UK
  5. France

Conspicuously absent is Russia, whose citizens are believed to be the main perpetrators of this crime. Their absence from this list seems to be just one more bit of proof, as they most likely do not wish to harm their own people.

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