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Ransomware is a type of cyber attack in which criminals encrypt or steal data and then demand money to unlock it or refrain from leaking it. It is a profitable crime that was once considered a “niche” threat and attracted little attention from government agencies. That changed about five to ten years ago when ransomware started to evolve as a business model. Gangs of criminals began to advertise their services and improve the malware they used.

The first ransomware attacks were relatively simple, infecting random users and encrypting personal files and demanding payment to regain access. But as the threat evolved, cybercriminals developed more sophisticated extortion techniques to target businesses and governments.

Often, ransomware attacks are automated, spreading like a virus or using methods like email phishing to infect devices and systems. However, some attacks are human-operated and involve cybercriminals infiltrating an organization’s on-premise or cloud IT infrastructure and elevating their privileges to deploy ransomware to critical data.

As with any cyber attack, ransomware prevention requires multiple layers of defense. This includes an endpoint security solution that offers a combination of antivirus and antimalware protection, patch management, and vulnerability detection. It’s also essential to have backups of digital data that are stored in a separate environment from your centralized network.

Small business owners can use CrowdStrike’s free Small Business Cybersecurity Survival Guide to learn how to protect against threats and mitigate downtime in the event of a ransomware attack. The guide outlines the best practices for protecting against a ransomware attack, including recommendations for an incident response plan.