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Ransomware is a type of malware that encrypts files on a victim’s PC and attached file shares. After encrypting files, the attackers display a message on the victim’s device explaining what happened and demanding a payment in cryptocurrencies, such as Bitcoin, to decrypt the data. While experts advise against paying the ransom, victims often have no other choice.

Attackers typically spread ransomware via emails or other methods, including by exploiting software bugs in operating systems, downloading from malicious websites, or delivering as payloads on compromised systems. Once a computer is infected, the malware begins scanning for critical files and encrypting them. Some variants can even encrypt network drives and cloud storage, making recovery more difficult.

Most attacks are financially motivated, with attackers requiring payments that are nearly impossible to trace to remain anonymous. The payments can range from a few hundred dollars to tens of thousands of dollars. Attackers also offer victims a limited window of time to make the payment or face losing their files forever.

Ransomware attacks can lead to costly business interruptions, remediation expenses and lost revenue. In addition, the public can suffer from disruptions to critical infrastructure such as hospitals, utilities and transportation.

While it’s possible to mitigate the impact of ransomware by implementing good security hygiene, such as patching and updating operating systems, the FBI recommends that organizations develop a response plan. This should include steps such as isolating the infected machine, powering down aspects of the system to prevent spread and creating a backup of encrypted files.