In today’s digital age, organizations of all sizes and industries are vulnerable to cyber extortion. At its core, cyber extortion is when someone or some group uses online threats and intimidation to get someone or some group to pay a ransom or do something else they want. It is a crime that can have devastating consequences for those targeted.
For organizations, the stakes are high. If a cyber extortion attack works, sensitive information can be lost, money can be lost, and the organization’s reputation can be hurt. In extreme cases, it can even put the organization out of business.
That is why protecting your organization against cyber extortion is key. By taking proactive steps to secure your systems and data, you can reduce the risk of falling victim to this type of attack and the potentially disastrous consequences that come with it.
What is the meaning of cyber extortion?
Cyber extortion is a crime that entails an attack or threat of an attack coupled with a demand for money or another response in exchange for halting or resolving the attack.
In cyber extortion attacks, hackers get into a company’s computer networks and look for weak spots or valuable targets. The most common type of cyberextortion is called “ransomware.” This is when cybercriminals do destructive things to get money. They also use distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks, steal confidential company data, and threaten to leak it.
In a ransomware attack, a blackmailer encrypts the victim’s files and asks for money in the form of cryptocurrency, like bitcoin, to decrypt them. If payment is not made, the cybercriminal often threatens to launch a DDoS attack. If the ransom is not paid, the DDoS attack will be executed.
Automated ransomware assaults are possible when malware is delivered by email, hacked websites, or ad networks. These assaults typically spread without discrimination, forming networks of infected machines. However, only a small number of victims may pay cyber extortionists as a result. More targeted attacks can cause less damage to other people and give the people trying to get money more valuable targets.
What are the types of cyber extortion?
Cyber extortion refers to the use of online or digital means to extort money or other forms of payment from individuals or organizations. There are several types of cyber extortion, including:
- Ransomware attacks: This is a type of cyber attack in which the attacker encrypts the victim’s data and demands payment in exchange for the decryption key.
- DDoS attacks: A DDoS (Distributed Denial of Service) attack is a type of cyber attack in which the attacker floods a website or other online service with traffic, making it unavailable to users. The attacker may demand payment in exchange for stopping the attack.
- Email extortion: This type of cyber extortion involves the attacker threatening to release sensitive information or damaging the victim’s reputation unless a payment is made.
- Phone extortion: In this type of cyber extortion, the attacker threatens to harm the victim or their loved ones unless a payment is made.
- Website extortion: The attacker threatens to deface or take down a website unless a payment is made.
How does cyber extortion work?
Cyber extortion is a sort of cybercrime in which criminals hold a victim’s data or systems for ransom. This can be a highly effective and lucrative sort of criminal activity, as it targets the most important assets of a victim: their data, reputation, and capacity to conduct business.
There are a variety of strategies commonly employed by cyber extortionists. In phishing, the attacker sends a victim an email that looks to be from a genuine source, such as a bank or government organization. The email may contain a link or file that, when opened, installs malware on the victim’s machine. This infection might then render inaccessible to the victim’s files or systems until a ransom is paid.
Malware injection is another technique in which the attacker infiltrates a victim’s system and installs malware that can encrypt the victim’s data or disrupt the victim’s operations. The offender may then demand a ransom in exchange for the decryption key or help restore the victim’s computers.
In a distributed denial of service (DDoS) assault, the perpetrator overwhelms a victim’s website or network with traffic, making it inaccessible to users. The attacker may then demand a ransom for the attack to cease.
No matter the method, the objective of cyber extortion is always the same: to coerce a victim into paying money by threatening to cause harm or hardship. This can be incredibly effective, as many victims will pay the ransom in order to prevent the potentially catastrophic effects of having their data or systems compromised.
How can an organization deal with cyber extortion?
Cyber extortion can be hard and complicated for an organization to deal with because they have to balance the need to protect valuable assets with the risk of paying a ransom and making it more likely that more attacks will happen. Here are some steps that an organization can take to deal with cyber extortion:
- Implement strong security measures: To reduce the risk of falling victim to cyber extortion, it is important for an organization to implement strong security measures such as using strong passwords, keeping software and security systems up to date, and using firewalls and other security technologies.
- Have a response plan in place: It is essential for an organization to have a plan in place for responding to a cyber extortion attempt. This plan should include procedures for identifying and mitigating the threat, as well as for communicating with stakeholders such as employees, customers, and law enforcement.
- Report the attack to law enforcement: If an organization falls victim to cyber extortion, it is important to report the attack to law enforcement. This can help to investigate the attack and potentially identify and prosecute the perpetrators.
- Have backup systems and procedures in place: To minimize the impact of a cyber extortion attack, it is important for an organization to have backup systems and procedures in place. This can include keeping regular backups of important data and systems, as well as having contingency plans for continuing operations in the event of a cyber attack.
By taking these steps, an organization can be better prepared to deal with cyber extortion and minimize the risk of falling victim to this type of cybercrime.
Real-life cyber extortion examples
Yes, there have been numerous examples of cyber extortion in the real world. Here are a few examples:
- In 2017, the global ransomware attack known as “WannaCry” affected over 200,000 victims in 150 countries, including hospitals, businesses, and government agencies. The attackers demanded a ransom in exchange for decrypting the victims’ data.
- In 2018, the Canadian payment processing company Canadian Tire was hit by a ransomware attack that encrypted some of the company’s systems and resulted in a ransom demand.
- In 2019, the city of Baltimore, Maryland was hit by a ransomware attack that disrupted city services and resulted in a ransom demand of over $100,000.
- In 2020, the travel company Carnival Corporation was hit by a ransomware attack that affected some of its brands, including Princess Cruises and Holland America Line. The attackers demanded a ransom in exchange for decrypting the affected systems.
- In 2020, the law firm DLA Piper was hit by a ransomware attack that affected its email and file-sharing systems. The attackers demanded a ransom in exchange for decrypting the affected systems.
- In 2020, the electric utility company EDP was hit by a ransomware attack that affected its customer billing systems and resulted in a ransom demand.
- In 2021, the US-based health insurance company Premera Blue Cross was hit by a ransomware attack that affected its systems and resulted in a ransom demand. The attack also exposed the personal data of over 10 million individuals.
- In 2021, the Colonial Pipeline, a major US fuel pipeline, was hit by a ransomware attack that resulted in a temporary shutdown of the pipeline and a ransom demand of over $5 million.
These are just a few examples of the many instances of cyber extortion that have occurred in recent years. As cyber threats continue to evolve, it is important for individuals and organizations to take steps to protect themselves and be prepared to deal with cyber extortion if it does occur.
Are there any cyber extortion laws covering the victims?
Yes, there are laws in both the EU and the US that address cyber extortion.
In the EU, the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) sets out provisions for the protection of personal data and provides for fines and other penalties for breaches of data protection law. The GDPR also applies to the processing of personal data in the context of a cyber extortion attack and allows for the imposition of fines of up to 4% of an organization’s annual global turnover or €20 million (whichever is greater).
In the US, the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA) makes it a federal crime to access a computer without authorization or to exceed authorized access and thereby obtain information, including with the intent to extort. The CFAA also allows for the imposition of criminal and civil penalties for violations of the Act.
In addition to these laws, many countries have specific laws and regulations that address cyber extortion and other types of cybercrime. It is important for organizations to be aware of the applicable laws and regulations in their jurisdiction and to take steps to comply with them in order to minimize the risk of legal consequences.
Cyber extortion vs ransomware
Cyber extortion and ransomware are often used interchangeably, but they are not necessarily the same thing. Here are some key differences between the two terms:
- Cyber extortion refers to the use of various tactics, such as phishing, malware injection, and DDoS attacks, to hold a victim’s data or systems hostage until a ransom is paid. It is a broad term that can encompass a variety of different types of cybercrime.
- Ransomware, on the other hand, refers specifically to a type of malware that encrypts a victim’s data or systems and demands a ransom in exchange for the decryption key or assistance in restoring the affected systems. Ransomware is a specific type of cyber extortion that is carried out through the use of malware.
Thus, while ransomware is a form of cyber extortion, not all forms of cyber extortion involve the use of ransomware. For example, a DDoS attack that is used to extort a ransom from a victim is not considered to be ransomware, even though it is a form of cyber extortion.
It is important to be clear about the differences between these terms, as the specific tactics and tools used in a cyber extortion attack can impact the appropriate response and the potential legal consequences.
In conclusion, it is clear that cyber extortion is a serious threat to organizations of all sizes and industries. By understanding the types and motivations behind these attacks, as well as the measures that can be taken to prevent and mitigate their impact, businesses can protect themselves and their customers from the devastating consequences of this crime.
However, it is important to recognize that cyber extortion is just one of many threats facing businesses today. To truly be prepared and protected, organizations must take a comprehensive approach to cybersecurity, including regularly updating and patching systems, implementing robust security protocols, and educating employees on best practices.
By remaining vigilant and proactive in the face of these threats, businesses can protect themselves and their customers and ensure a secure and successful future.