What is Ransomware?

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Did you know that the first ever ransomware virus was created in 1989 by Harvard-trained evolutionary biologist Joseph L. Popp?

30 years later and ransomware is still a common cyber threat – one that businesses of all shapes and sizes should continue to be wary of.

At the beginning of 2020, it was revealed that 65 NHS trusts have suffered a ‘successful’ ransomware attack since 2014.

The research, which was compiled by Comparitech, found that 34% of NHS trusts had been affected. The statistics show that the intrusion caused a shocking 4943 hours (or 206 days) of downtime – none of the trusts involved paid the ransom.

We delve into this area of cyber crime and answer “What is Ransomware?” below.


What is a ransomware attack?

Ransomware is a form of malware (malicious software). It can be incredibly dangerous as it can make data unusable until the victim pays a ransom to the perpetrator/hacker to regain control of their data.

In recent years, the UK has seen significant growth in cyber criminality. This is not a localised problem as countries across the world have been targeted by cyber attacks such as high-profile ransomware campaigns, where personal data has been leaked on a massive scale.


How to prevent a ransomware attack?

A basic way your organisation can protect itself from cyber threats is through implementing a firewall.

A firewall can protect against malware, as it prohibits traffic that does not meet a predetermined set of criteria from accessing your data.

The Cyber Essentials Scheme requires all devices connected to the internet to be protected with a firewall. Cyber Essentials encourages organisations to adopt good practice in information security and is recognised by the UK National Cyber Security Centre.

To pay or not to pay?

To eliminate ransomware and fight against cyber crime, victims should avoid paying their attackers.

The NCSC supports the National Crime Agency (NCA) recommendations. The NCA generally advises victims of such attacks not to pay the ransom, as there is no guarantee that you will get access to your device (or data).

The best way to avoid payment is by having a ransomware remediation plan, so if an attack on your business occurs, you can resume business operations quickly, without paying a penny.

If your business has already been affected by a ransomware attack, contact the National Cyber Security Centre. The NCSC has set up the Cyber Incident Response (CIR), a scheme which can help organisations that have been the victim of a significant cyber attack.


Planning ahead

When it comes to cyber security, always prepare for the worst. Cyber attackers are clever, but as we mentioned above, it is vital that your business is always one step ahead.

Backing up your devices is vital. This is a simple and easy way to ensure that your business can run as normal if it has been targeted by hackers. Make sure that you are copying or archiving files to a separate location -this is important as cyber attacks can leave systems, files and data corrupted or organisations? may be held to ransom. Having your data and files backed up means you will be able to restore any important systems or files after the event.

Bear in mind that it is essential that at least one of your backups is off-site or isolated from your network so it cannot be attacked or deleted during a cyber attack.



If you think about the amount of personal data your organisation holds on employees and customers, the loss of this data would be devastating as well as destructive to relationships.

One of the most famous ransomware attacks was WannaCry.

The 2017 attack caused , and the NHS was one of the worst-affected organisations targeted. NHS England identified 6912 appointments that had been cancelled and estimated over 19,000 appointments would have been cancelled in total.

Cyber criminals involved took advantage of basic cyber security flaws and used ransomware to infect computers operating Microsoft Windows. This caused many NHS trusts’ files to be ‘held hostage’, with a Bitcoin ransom demanded for their return – causing major disruption throughout the organisations affected.

Since the attack, the NHS has continued to invest in cyber security, however, due to the extent of the attack it has made itself a popular target for ransomware attackers. A report released by the NAO post-WannaCry has warned that “there are more sophisticated cyber threats out there” and that the attack “could have been prevented by the NHS following basic IT security best practice.”

The NHS still has a long way to go. In April 2020, the cyber security community cautioned that hackers will exploit COVD-19 for their own gain after Europol warned about pandemic profiteering.

The National Cyber Security Centre has reported that there were an “increasing number of malicious cyber actors exploiting the current COVID-19 pandemic for their own objectives” as the virus began to spread.


Stay cyber safe with Cyber Essentials

As we have mentioned above, vulnerability to simple attacks can mark you out as an easy target for cyber criminals.

Cyber Essentials certification can support your cyber security strategy and guard your business against the most common cyber threats. In fact, our self-assessment option gives you protection against 80% of cyber attacks.

If you would like to see the Cyber Essentials Online questionnaire, contact us to get your sample copy now.

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