Paying a malware ransom is bad, but telling people never to do it is unhelpful advice

Posted by   Martijn Grooten on   Apr 26, 2016

I'm not usually one to spread panic about security issues, but in the case of the current ransomware plague, I believe that at the very least a sense of great concern is justified. And the threat is unlikely to disappear any time soon.

While there are certainly many things we can do to significantly reduce the risk of us getting infected — from applying all necessary patches and keeping offline backups, to running software that alerts us when files are suddenly being modified en masse — ultimately, ransomware does what we all should be doing: encrypting our files. The subtle but essential difference is that it does so with a key we don't have.

One reason why ransomware is so successful is that the ransom demanded is usually only a few hundred dollars — affordable to most people (ransomware tends to target users in Western countries) and often cheaper than the (perceived) value of the data that would otherwise be lost. However, security experts regularly tell affected individuals and organizations never to pay the ransom.

I think this is unhelpful advice.

For sure, paying the ransom should always be the last resort. We should help victims, and the jack-of-all-trades sysadmins who are likely going to assist them, find other ways to recover the data. Maybe backups have been kept. Maybe this particular ransomware is one for which a decryption tool is available. And maybe losing the data — which could also have happened because of a physical failure of the hard drive — is an expensive but valuable lesson on the importance of keeping backups.

But sometimes, none of this helps and the only sensible business decision left is to pay the criminals, much as it is bad and much as there is never a 100% guarantee that this will work. Crooks will be crooks, after all.

Of course, if everyone followed the advice never to pay a ransom, ransomware authors would come to find that it wasn't worth their effort, and the threat would eventually disappear. But this wouldn't happen instantly, and it really would depend on almost everyone not paying the ransom.

And if security experts suddenly had the power to make everyone follow their advice, maybe we should just tell people to patch instead.

locky_16mar.png

twitter.png
fb.png
linkedin.png
hackernews.png
reddit.png

 

Latest posts:

VB2018 video: The Big Bang Theory by APT-C-23

Today, we release the video of the VB2018 presentation by Check Point researcher Aseel Kayal, who connected the various dots relating to campaigns by the APT-C-23 threat group.

VB2019 London - join us for the most international threat intelligence conference!

VB calls on organisations and individuals involved in threat intelligence from around the world to participate in next year's Virus Bulletin conference.

VB2018 paper: Tracking Mirai variants

Today, we publish the VB2018 paper by Qihoo 360 researchers Ya Liu and Hui Wang, on extracting data from variants of the Mirai botnet to classify and track variants.

VB2018 paper: Hide'n'Seek: an adaptive peer-to-peer IoT botnet

2018 has seen an increase in the variety of botnets living on the Internet of Things - such as Hide'N'Seek, which is notable for its use of peer-to-peer for command-and-control communication. Today, we publish the VB2018 paper by Bitdefender…

New paper: Botception: botnet distributes script with bot capabilities

In a new paper, Avast researchers Jan Sirmer and Adolf Streda look at how a spam campaign sent via the Necurs botnet was delivering the Flawed Ammyy RAT. As well as publishing the paper, we have also released the video of the reseachers' VB2018…

We have placed cookies on your device in order to improve the functionality of this site, as outlined in our cookies policy. However, you may delete and block all cookies from this site and your use of the site will be unaffected. By continuing to browse this site, you are agreeing to Virus Bulletin's use of data as outlined in our privacy policy.