Ransomware has been around for almost 30 years, so why does it feel like it's getting worse?

A laptop displays a message after being infected by a ransomware as part of a worldwide cyberattack on June 27, 2017 in Geldrop.
PHOTO: AFP

Ransomware is not new. The malware, which encrypts data and demands payment in exchange for decryption keys, has been with us for almost 30 years.

So why does it feel like it's getting worse? Well, that's because it is getting worse.

In seemingly no time at all, ransomware has gone from an obscure threat faced by a select few to a plague crippling hospitals, banks, public transportation systems, and even video games. Frustratingly, the explosive growth of ransomware shows no signs of abating - leaving victims wondering why them, and why now?

The answer to both of those questions involves cryptocurrency and the National Security Agency.

But first, a little history

The first known ransomware attack hit the healthcare industry way back in 1989. According to the cybersecurity blog Practically Unhackable, a biologist by the name of Joseph Popp sent close to 20,000 floppy disks to researchers claiming they contained a survey which would help scientists determine a patient's risk for contracting HIV.

What was left unmentioned in the promotional material was that the disks also encrypted file names on infected computers - rendering them practically unusable. Instead of their typical boot screens, victims were shown a message demanding a $189 payment in order to unlock the system.

The message displayed by PC Cyborg. PHOTO:  Palo Alto Networks

Popp, who had a PhD from Harvard, was an evolutionary biologist and fell outside of what we think of today as a stereotypical hacker.

According to The Atlantic, after he was arrested and charged with blackmail, Popp insisted that he intended to donate the proceeds from his scheme to HIV-related research.

Read the full article here

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