Ransomware runs riot: Huge rise in online extortion observed

Locked laptop

It's no secret that ransomware is fast becoming a favourite of cybercriminals, and another report has confirmed the dizzying rise of this strain of malware.

Apparently there are now over 120 different families of ransomware, and a massive 3,500% increase has been witnessed in the scope of the net infrastructure which criminals use to run ransomware stings.

The latter statistic comes from Infoblox which monitors the web domains that cybercriminals use to host sites containing information on their malware and payment instructions – along with the payment systems themselves (which invariably involve extorting a considerable chunk of virtual cash in the form of Bitcoins).

And of course the reason ransomware is so popular with criminals is because threatening people with never seeing their precious photos (or similar) again works very well in terms of coercing a payment, particularly when (as is often the case) time limits are placed on payment with the threat of the sum required being jacked up once that time period expires.

Alarming rise

Raj Samani, Chief Technology Officer, EMEA, Intel Security, said that ransomware samples found by Intel had risen by over a quarter in Q1 of this year, and as the BBC reports he called this upsurge "alarming".

And security researcher Bart Parys told the BBC that ultimately, ransomware was a low-risk, high-reward game, and it was tempting many amateurs into getting a slice of the action. Parys noted: "It's safe to say that certain groups are behind several ransomware programs, but not all. Especially now with Eda and HiddenTear copy and paste ransomware, there are many new, and often unexperienced, cybercriminals."

There is a growing trend of easy-to-use malware kits in general, so it's hardly surprising that ransomware is so strongly on the up-and-up.

Another increasing trend is ransomware criminals setting up helpdesks in order to help victims pay up, with these miscreants effectively operating their scams like legitimate businesses.

As ever, be very careful of any suspicious looking links or emails with attachments, because there is a growing chance that dodgy content will end up locking your files and demanding a payment.

Darren is a freelancer writing news and features for TechRadar (and occasionally T3) across a broad range of computing topics including CPUs, GPUs, various other hardware, VPNs, antivirus and more. He has written about tech for the best part of three decades, and writes books in his spare time (his debut novel - 'I Know What You Did Last Supper' - was published by Hachette UK in 2013).