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How Does Ransomware Work and Spread?

Cyber extortion, otherwise known as Ransomware is one of the largest threats that businesses face in today’s world. Its growth has skyrocketed, morphing into a billion-dollar industry. In 2017 alone, Ransomware infected on average 4,000 businesses every single day across the globe. Ransomware is dangerously effective and is continuing to grow at an alarming rate. Small businesses are no longer safe, and it was reported by HealthITSecurity, that in 2018 70% of Ransomware attacks were targeted at small businesses, with an average fee of $116,000.  Plus, attacks on corporate backup files as part of the Ransomware attack has increased 39% since Q3 2018. As a business owner, it is essential to understand exactly how Ransomware works and spreads so that you can take the necessary steps to ensure your business is protected.

Keep reading below to learn the facts about how Ransomware.

Understanding Ransomware

Ransomware is a form of malware that is designed to infect single or multiple computers and encrypt the files. Attackers using Ransomware will usually demand a payment to release files, hence how it received its name.

If ransoms are not paid, files will remain locked and the computer could be rendered unusable. Often, Ransomware is spread via social engineering attacks as cleverly disguised links or messages that appear to come from a trusted user that bait the victim into opening or clicking. Once Ransomware has accessed the victims’ device, it will instantly encrypt all files that are stored on the computer.

Even more problematic for businesses, is that once a single computer is infected, the malware can quickly spread to other devices on the network. A mass infection can be devastating for an organization as not only multiple workstations are rendered useless, but significant amounts of data can be compromised, not to mention the staggering financial strain. When  Maersk, the Danish shipping company was infected with Ransomware, they estimated their losses to be over $378 million dollars.

Financial Impact

Ransom amounts often start at $500 and will quickly increase if not paid by the demanded deadline. Cyber criminals also sometimes threaten to publicly expose victims data or files if the ransom demands are not met. Typically, if a ransom fine is not paid, the attacker will permanently delete all data.

As far as paying cyber criminals, they will usually demand to be paid via an untraceable cryptocurrency that will not leave any type of payment trail.

Because criminals know that the larger the disruption a business faces, the more likely it is that they will receive their payment, the costs can be staggering. Unless an organization has a robust security system in place and properly managed backups, attackers know that they will likely have no choice other than to pay the fines. Just how much can Ransomware cost? When multiple devices have been infected and business has been brought to a halt, fines can easily surpass $10,000. The largest fine recorded paid in 2017 in Canada was $425,000.

How to Protect Your Business

Anti-virus software can often be penetrated by Ransomware. To protect your business, it is essential to know what steps you can take as well as how you can recover from an attack should the unthinkable happen.


  • Discontinue using operating systems that are no longer supported by Microsoft, such as Windows XP.
  • Train all employees on how to detect suspicious emails and links and not to click or open messages from unknown sources.
  • Always ensure that security updates are patches are implemented immediately in addition to running current operating systems.


In addition to using a firewall, run a next-generation, enterprise antivirus software. This will help isolate and block an attack from spreading through your network and infecting multiple devices.

Having a secure and effective backup solution in place is your best chance of being able to quickly recover from an attack. Being able to restore your system to a point almost immediately before the attack took place will enable your organization to resume operations almost painlessly.

Make sure that you perform frequent backups and that your restoration methods have been thoroughly tested. If your last backup was from several months ago or cannot even be located, your business could be faced with significant downtime.

While it is important to understand what steps you can take to protect your business from Ransomware attacks, having a trusted Managed Service Provider to monitor, test and ensure your business isn’t vulnerable to attacks is a worthwhile investment in today’s threatening cyber security environment.

About the Author

Zakary Koch has worked in the IT support field since 2004 and is fascinated by emerging technology trends. Especially keen on cyber-security, he enjoys sharing with others how to keep their information secure in this ever changing online world through informative and easy to understand blogs and advice columns.

Suumit Shah
Suumit Shah
Suumit is the serial entrepreneur, a digital marketing expert with more than 8 years of experience in running a successful digital marketing agency by the name of Risemetric. To know more about him, you can follow him on Twitter


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