New ransomware attacks happen every day. Just ask the band Radiohead, who recently released hours’ worth of demos from one of their biggest albums, “OK Computer,” rather than bow to hacker demands to pay $150,000 to recover the stolen data files.
Unfortunately, not all victims feel they are in a position to refuse their hacker’s demands—and it can seriously cost them. Cybersecurity Ventures estimates that global damages related to ransomware attacks will reach $11.5 billion by the end of this year, and that a ransomware attack will affect a business every 14 seconds.
The 5 biggest ransomware attacks
Over the past several years, a growing number of ransomware attacks (see our guide on ransomware) have targeted individuals, businesses, city governments and even famous bands, in the case of Radiohead. The bottom line? No one is safe.
In ransomware attacks, malicious hackers block or encrypt private files and even entire computer systems. They’ll restore access once the victim has paid a high-dollar ransom, usually in the form of a cryptocurrency. Here are five recent examples of detrimental ransomware attacks and their impacts.
Baltimore Ransomware Attack (2019)
In May of this year, hackers took control of nearly 10,000 Baltimore government computers, demanding 13 bitcoins, or $101,145 USD. During the ransomware attack, city employees couldn’t access their business email accounts and residents couldn’t make water bill or property tax payments. Even city real estate transactions ground to a halt during the computer lockdown, leaving both homebuyers and sellers in the dark for weeks.
In May 2017, a worldwide ransomware attack began targeting computers running Microsoft Windows, demanding ransom payment for encrypted data. It spread through an exploit created by the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) for older Windows systems, and it was soon known as the worst ransomware attack in history. Despite lasting only a few days, the attack affected more than 200,000 computers across 150 countries, causing estimated dollar damages in the hundreds of millions
In 2015, TeslaCrypt targeted video game files of games such as Call of Duty and World of Warcraft. These files were crucial to gamers, but often stored locally, making them an easy target to ransomware through an Angler exploit. To access the key to decrypt their files, gamers were prompted to pay $500 worth of bitcoins. After all was said and done, TeslaCrypt made up nearly half of ransomware attacks in 2016.
An Android-based ransomware attack called SimpleLocker spread like wildfire in 2015. It was installed through a trojan downloader, making files inaccessible to people who used infected devices. The attack started in Eastern Europe but impacted mostly Americans. However, it only infected 150,000 Android devices, which is a small number compared to overall users.
From late 2013 to mid-2014, CryptoLocker ransomware was spread through spam emails and encrypted user files via RSA public key encryption. The criminals behind the attack demanded cash in return for decryption keys, setting a deadline and threatening to delete private keys if missed. This attack is often known as the start of the age of ransomware—and rightfully so. While ransomware attacks may have occurred before this time, many variants derived from CryptoLocker’s code and continued the damage long after this attack was stopped. CryptoLocker and its variants infected more than 500,000 machines and cost about $3 million in ransom fees.
How to protect yourself from ransomware attacks
Ransomware hackers do not discriminate. Anyone can become a target, so it’s crucial to familiarize yourself with cybersecurity best practices to reduce your chances of becoming a victim.
Install antivirus software
Remember to update your systems and programs whenever applicable.
Be cautious with email attachments and links
Don’t click or download anything from an unknown sender. Be careful with messages that appear to come from someone you trust, too, as hackers can be exceptionally deceiving.
Back up your data on a regular basis
Conduct regular security audits with antivirus scans to look for unusual patterns or exposures. You can also run a dark web scan to discover whether your information was exposed in a recent data breach.