Few things elicit terror quite like switching on a computer and viewing a message that all its files and data are locked up and unavailable to access. Yet, as society wades deeper into digital technology, this is an increasingly common scenario. Ransomware, which encrypts data so cybercriminals can extract a payment for its safe return, has become increasingly common—and costly. A 2019 report from security vendor Emisoft pegged the annual cost of ransomware in excess of $7.5 billion in the U.S. alone.1
"Individuals, businesses, hospitals, universities and government have all fallen victim to attacks," says Chris Hinkley, head of the Threat Resistance Unit (TRU) research team for security firm Armor. In a worst-case scenario, ransoms can run into the tens of millions of dollars and close down an organization's operations entirely. It has forced hospitals to redirect patients to other facilities, disrupted emergency services, and shut down businesses.