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In a ransomware attack, cybercriminals lock and encrypt a victim’s data, files or devices, rendering them inaccessible until the attacker receives payment. Victims are often notified of this on a screen locker or encryptor, and then prompted to purchase cryptocurrencies, such as Bitcoin, to decrypt their systems. Many victims who pay the demanded amount never receive decryption keys.

The first ransomware variants simply locked computers, but over time they started to encrypt files and demanded payments from victims in return for their data. This made ransomware attacks more lucrative for malicious actors. They also began to add extortion tactics and threats to blackmail their victims into paying the ransoms. Additionally, they targeted backups to prevent victims from restoring their data after an infection. Veeam’s 2023 Ransomware Trends Report found that more than 93% of attacks targeted backup data in some way.

Threat actors continue to improve their ransomware capabilities. They have become more adept at targeting a wider range of file types and gaining access to networks through various methods such as phishing emails, drive-by downloading, exploit kits or web-based instant messaging applications.

The best protection against ransomware is to keep backups in place and to use a secure system that prevents direct access to them. Additionally, make sure to regularly update software and systems to reduce vulnerabilities. When an attack does occur, organizations should immediately contact local and federal law enforcement to help ensure that their systems aren’t compromised in other ways.