Is ransomware attack a cyber crime?

What is ransomware?

Ransomware is a type of malicious software that blocks access to a computer system or data, usually by encrypting files or the system’s hard drive, until the victim pays a ransom demand. Ransomware attackers often demand payment in cryptocurrency, such as Bitcoin, to avoid detection. Once installed, ransomware will prevent the victim from accessing their system or files until the ransom is paid. Some common ransomware variants include CryptoLocker, WannaCry, and Ryuk.

How does ransomware infect systems?

Ransomware typically spreads through phishing emails containing malicious attachments or links. The attacker sends an email that appears legitimate, often spoofing a real company or organization. If the user clicks on an infected link or opens the attachment, the ransomware installer is downloaded. Ransomware can also spread through unpatched software vulnerabilities, infected software apps, and compromised websites. Once installed, it will encrypt files and deny system access.

What are the consequences of a ransomware attack?

The impacts of a successful ransomware attack can be severe:

– Loss of access to critical data and systems
– Disruption to business operations and productivity
– Financial loss due to ransom payments
– Remediation and recovery costs
– Reputational damage and loss of customer trust

On average, an organization infected with ransomware will have more than 4,000 infected files. Around 46% of ransomware attacks interrupt operations for at least two days. The estimated total cost of recovery can be over $850,000 per incident.

Are ransomware attacks considered a cybercrime?

Yes, ransomware attacks are absolutely a form of cybercrime. Here’s why:

– Ransomware is an unauthorized intrusion into a protected system with intent to extort funds.
– Attackers access systems without permission to install malware.
– Ransomware attempts to deprive rightful owners of access and usage of their systems.
– Demanding ransom payments is financial extortion and blackmail.
– Ransomware attacks involve theft of critical data and information.

All of these malicious actions are violations of cybercrime laws and many legislative jurisdictions globally. Developing and distributing ransomware is illegal in many countries now.

What are the penalties for ransomware crimes?

Like other cybercrimes, ransomware attacks can incur serious legal penalties. However, penalties depend on the jurisdiction where charges are filed.

In the United States federal system, ransomware crimes may include:

– Computer intrusion charges with up to 10 years prison time
– Financial extortion punishable by up to 2 years in prison
– Fraud charges up to 20 years imprisonment
– Money laundering charges up to 20 years jail time

Depending on scale, some ransomware attacks may also incur charges of:

– Criminal conspiracy
– Violations of cyber crime and anti-hacking laws
– Racketeering and organized crime laws

At the state level, ransomware attackers may face additional charges related to damage caused. Overall harsher penalties are associated with attacks on critical infrastructure sectors.

Have there been any major arrests related to ransomware?

Yes, law enforcement agencies around the world have ramped up efforts to apprehend and prosecute cybercriminals behind ransomware attacks:

– In 2021, Ukrainian police arrested members of the infamous Cl0p ransomware gang.
– Europol arrested 12 suspects associated with LockerGoga and Dharma ransomware in 2022.
– South Korean police arrested further LockerGoga ransomware affiliates in 2022.
– The DOJ charged a Canadian citizen for NetWalker ransomware attacks in 2020.
– Six suspects tied to REvil and GandCrab ransomware were arrested in South Korea.
– A Russian-Canadian was detained in Poland for distribution of the Djvu ransomware.

These arrests build on years of law enforcement operations to dismantle major ransomware groups like Ryuk, Egregor, and Sodinokibi. However, many key ransomware players remain at large.

What are some notable ransomware attacks?

Some high-profile ransomware incidents over the past decade include:

Attack Date Victim(s)
WannaCry 2017 200,000+ computers across 150 countries
NotPetya 2017 Companies worldwide including Maersk, FedEx, Merck
Bad Rabbit 2017 Russia, Ukraine, Germany, Turkey, U.S.
SamSam 2018-2019 Healthcare, Government, Education sectors
Ryuk 2018-2020 Large enterprises, hospitals, newspapers
Maze 2019-2020 LG, Xerox, Canon, universities
NetWalker 2020 Hospitals, universities
DarkSide 2021 Colonial Pipeline, JBS Foods, Apple
REvil 2021 JBS Foods, Kaseya Limited

These incidents highlight how ransomware continues to cause massive disruption. The extent of damage reflects the increasing technical sophistication of major ransomware groups.

What can organizations do to prevent ransomware attacks?

The most effective ransomware defenses involve layered security measures, including:

– Security awareness training for staff to recognize phishing lures
– Keeping all software patched and up-to-date
– Using strong, unique passwords and multi-factor authentication
– Restricting user permissions and internet access where possible
– Deploying specialized anti-ransomware endpoint protection tools
– Maintaining validated backups offline to enable recovery
– Regularly testing incident response plans for ransomware scenarios

Staying vigilant is key, as ransomware groups rapidly evolve their tactics, targets, and malware code.

Should ransom payments be made if attacked?

Most law enforcement agencies advise against paying ransoms. Reasons include:

– Paying does not guarantee files will be decrypted properly
– It encourages and funds further cybercrime activity
– There are alternative ways to recover encrypted data
– Ransom demands may continue to increase after initial payment
– It violates laws prohibiting support of criminal acts

However, some organizations calculate that paying a ransom to obtain decryption keys is more cost effective than losing data and productivity. It’s a complex decision that depends on the specific circumstances.

How can ransomware attacks be reported?

If your organization suffers a ransomware attack, report it immediately to:

– Your country’s cybercrime agency
– Regional FBI or Secret Service field offices
– The IC3 (Internet Crime Complaint Center)
– Europol for Europe-based victims

Reporting allows law enforcement to combine your incident with other cases to support investigations. It also helps authorities gain insights into new malware and ransomware trends.


Ransomware is unequivocally a serious cybercrime that can inflict tremendous costs upon individuals, businesses, and infrastructure. The steep rise of ransomware attacks over the last decade prompted new cybercrime laws and enforcement efforts globally. However, ransomware threat actors continue to operate worldwide, exploiting vulnerabilities for financial gain. Bolstering defenses through cybersecurity awareness, system protections, and immediate reporting of incidents remains vital in combating ransomware’s severe impacts. Going forward, cyber law enforcement cooperation and continued arrests of ransomware affiliates may help deter future attacks. But for now, ransomware remains one of the most severe cybercrime risks facing organizations across sectors.