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Ransomware attacks can cause significant damage to business systems and are a growing threat to individuals. Attackers can use many different methods to gain access to a system, including social engineering (phishing emails or malvertising), malware on illegitimate websites, and leveraging security flaws in popular software and operating systems. Once a system has been compromised, attackers can hold data hostage and demand payment in cryptocurrency like Bitcoin.

Cybercriminals use ransomware to steal money by encrypting files on a victim’s computer and then displaying a message that demands a certain amount of cryptocurrency in exchange for the decryption key. Some forms of ransomware also have the ability to spread to other computers on the network by exploiting security flaws, such as NotPetya, SamSam, and ZCryptor.

Some types of ransomware, such as Maze and Ryuk, are known for combining file encryption with stealing sensitive data from the target before encrypting it, which is often sold or published in the dark web. Others, such as Yara and CryptXXX, have targeted healthcare organizations, which are often more willing to pay ransoms because the impact can be felt immediately.

Regardless of the type of ransomware, all of these attacks share common traits: the most successful cybercriminals are relentless and keep improving their techniques to infect as many victims as possible, the most expensive attacks usually result in a large payout, and the best way to protect against them is to prepare a well-thought-out incident response plan and to implement a robust cybersecurity program that includes regularly patching and updating systems. Additionally, companies should consider reporting any ransomware incidents to law enforcement through the IC3 or Secret Service Field Office, which can help them identify and track attackers and provide assistance with available decryptions.