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Ransomware is a type of malware that encrypts files and demands payment to decrypt and redeliver them. Once cybercriminals have these files, no security software or system restore can recover them unless the victim pays the demanded ransom.

In the past, ransomware attacks were relatively opportunistic, often perpetrated by hobbyist hackers who targeted a particular person or organization for a quick payday. In recent years, however, the scope of ransomware attacks has expanded dramatically as cybercriminals seek large financial gains. High-profile victims include the Colonial Pipeline, JBS USA, the government of Costa Rica, a major hospital in Albuquerque and many others.

Cybercriminals gain access to systems through phishing, exploit kits and other attack methods, and once inside the network, they begin encrypting files and blocking users from their devices. This enables them to demand a ransom payment, which may be paid through cryptocurrency such as Bitcoin. Once paid, victims hope to receive a key to unlock the encrypted files. Unfortunately, paying a ransom is no guarantee that cybercriminals will release the key.

To mitigate the risk of ransomware attacks, organizations should follow a number of best practices. First, it is important to have a solid incident response plan that includes steps for mitigating an attack and recovering from it. In addition, it is crucial to create and update secure backups on a frequent basis. This should be done to external hard drives and cloud storage systems that utilize high levels of encryption and multi-factor authentication. Finally, consider conducting tabletop exercises to identify gaps in your preparedness for a ransomware attack.