Ransomware on the rise: a historical overview and modern challenges


In recent years, ransomware has emerged as one of the most pervasive and damaging cyber threats, impacting organizations across the globe. The evolution of ransomware, from its inception to its current state, is a testament to the ever-changing landscape of cybersecurity.

Historical overview

Early Days: 1989-2006. The origins of ransomware date back to 1989 when a malicious actor distributed floppy disks containing ransomware after the World Health Organization AIDS conference. This attack demanded a payment of $189 under the guise of an HIV survey. Over the years, ransomware continued to evolve. In the mid-2000s, phishing campaigns introduced ransomware that encrypted files on Windows systems, demanding payments for decryption keys.

The Cryptocurrency Era: 2010-2015. The 2010s witnessed the emergence of locker ransomware connected to the rise of cryptocurrencies. Malware like WinLock and Reveton leveraged threats of legal action to extort payments in Bitcoin. CryptoLocker, a crypto variant, made headlines by collecting over $27 million in ransom payments within two months. Ransomware expanded beyond PCs to Android devices with SimpleLocker and LockerPin in 2014 and 2015.

Changing Tactics: 2016-2018. In 2016, Petya malware marked a shift as it locked entire hard drives instead of individual files. The following year, the global WannaCry ransomworm affected hundreds of thousands of machines across industries, highlighting the global reach of ransomware. The NotPetya variant emerged, introducing wiping functions capable of deleting and destroying user files.

The Big Game and Double Extortion: 2018-Present. Over the last five years, ransomware has become more sophisticated and damaging. Attackers embraced double extortion, encrypting, and stealing victims' data. Big game hunting focused on large companies, but attacks on smaller organizations persisted. In 2022, ransomware detections surged by 627%, with Lockbit as one of the most successful ransomware groups. Ransomware-as-a-service (RaaS) gained prominence, offering customization, support, and payment systems. Zero-day exploits became preferred entry vectors.

Modern Challenges and Trends

Ransomware trends now center on RaaS, zero-day exploits, and the use of AI and machine learning to enhance sophistication and evade detection. Automation reduces human error during attacks, especially in the penetration phase. Personalization, where attackers thoroughly study victims' profiles, has also become prevalent.

Defending Against Ransomware

To combat these evolving threats, organizations must adopt advanced security controls and robust business continuity and recovery plans. Unified endpoint security solutions, combining EPP (Endpoint Protection Platform) and EDR (Endpoint Detection and Response) capabilities, offer proactive threat detection and continuous monitoring. WatchGuard's EPDR solution automates prevention, detection, containment, and response, crucial for countering ransomware's ever-advancing tactics.

IBSCY is a partner of WatchGuard in Cyprus and offers excellent professional IT Security services to businesses of all kinds and sizes. Stay protected and stay ahead in the cybersecurity landscape where ransomware remains a persistent threat.


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