Ransomware Attacks: Why They're Growing, Who They Target, and What You Can Do

by JD Supra Perspectives

Ransomware attacks have been surging the past few years and reached a headline-grabbing peak with the recent hijacking of computers in English hospitals, Chinese universities and countless businesses worldwide. This should be the last wake up call for companies, nonprofits and government agencies possessing sensitive, potentially valuable data.

In the world of cyber-espionage, ransomware is playing a huge and growing role. 

Ransomware is aptly named: It’s essentially a way for hackers to hold your files hostage and seek a ransom to release them. A U.S. government interagency report describes it as “the fastest-growing malware threat, targeting users of all types – from the home user to the corporate network.”

The sheer volume of these attacks is staggering. The interagency report says there are thousands of them every day, and last year there was a 300 percent increase compared to the year before. Although the government often does not encourage paying the ransoms, studies have found that more than half of victims do.  

Why Hackers Use Ransomware and Who They Go After

That’s an obvious first reason hackers are favoring this approach – it pays. The hackers rarely ask for astronomical amounts. Instead, they ask for an amount that many people would consider paying. The recent global attack asked for individual ransoms of $300 paid in bitcoin, for example. However, companies should work through their options and consult with law enforcement before making a payment. It can be a slippery slope, with the hackers then asking for more money.

...it’s a one-stop robbery – the hackers sell right back to who they stole from. 

Another reason for ransomware’s increasing use is that, from a cyber-espionage standpoint, it’s relatively easy. Think about other kinds of robbers: After they steal something, there’s additional risk in figuring out how and where to sell their stolen goods. With ransomware, most of the time it’s a one-stop robbery – the hackers sell right back to who they stole from.

There are certain industries that are the biggest targets for this type of attack. The hackers know they can get the best returns on large pools of aggregated, sensitive data. For that reason, they often go after banks, hospital systems and law firms, to name a few.

The ransomware attacks started with what you’d think of as “big fish,” large companies that have the most data. But as those companies are implementing more sophisticated cybersecurity policies, hackers are going after smaller organizations too, including nonprofits. They sometimes see them as low-hanging fruit because the organizations may not have invested in the proper cybersecurity infrastructure.

How Organizations Can Protect Themselves

So what should a company do? The first step is simple: back up your data. That way, no matter what the hackers steal, you have another copy.

In addition, organizations should have detailed cybersecurity and data privacy policies that they regularly train their employees on. Many companies are developing protocols to warn staff about clicking on external links and attachments. Some also do test phishing to see if their employees need more training. There are a variety of compliance-related steps that can help protect your data or at least mitigate some of the damage a breach can cause. Counsel can help you craft policies that are catered to your needs.

In addition, it is essential that organizations understand their legal obligations before and after a breach. Those can vary by state and industry, so it’s important to have a firm grip on your requirements before anything happens. Once a breach does occur, there are legal obligations to navigate as your organization responds. In the health care industry, for example, notification of victims is required when their sensitive health information is taken.

There is also a growing number of lawsuits about these types of breaches, including class action lawsuits. Expect litigation on this to build as ransomware attacks continue.  

I’ll give further analysis on this topic at Cyberhub Charlotte on Thursday, May 18. I’ll join a panel of other cybersecurity experts discussing how business leaders can understand and mitigate risks. If you attend, please say hello. Either way, don’t hesitate to contact me for legal assistance with your cybersecurity needs.  


[A partner at law firm Parker PoeSarah Hutchins is a litigator with experience in commercial litigation and government investigation defense.]

Written by:

JD Supra Perspectives

JD Supra Perspectives on:

Readers' Choice 2017
Reporters on Deadline

"My best business intelligence, in one easy email…"

Your first step to building a free, personalized, morning email brief covering pertinent authors and topics on JD Supra:
Sign up using*

Already signed up? Log in here

*By using the service, you signify your acceptance of JD Supra's Privacy Policy.
Custom Email Digest
Privacy Policy (Updated: October 8, 2015):

JD Supra provides users with access to its legal industry publishing services (the "Service") through its website (the "Website") as well as through other sources. Our policies with regard to data collection and use of personal information of users of the Service, regardless of the manner in which users access the Service, and visitors to the Website are set forth in this statement ("Policy"). By using the Service, you signify your acceptance of this Policy.

Information Collection and Use by JD Supra

JD Supra collects users' names, companies, titles, e-mail address and industry. JD Supra also tracks the pages that users visit, logs IP addresses and aggregates non-personally identifiable user data and browser type. This data is gathered using cookies and other technologies.

The information and data collected is used to authenticate users and to send notifications relating to the Service, including email alerts to which users have subscribed; to manage the Service and Website, to improve the Service and to customize the user's experience. This information is also provided to the authors of the content to give them insight into their readership and help them to improve their content, so that it is most useful for our users.

JD Supra does not sell, rent or otherwise provide your details to third parties, other than to the authors of the content on JD Supra.

If you prefer not to enable cookies, you may change your browser settings to disable cookies; however, please note that rejecting cookies while visiting the Website may result in certain parts of the Website not operating correctly or as efficiently as if cookies were allowed.

Email Choice/Opt-out

Users who opt in to receive emails may choose to no longer receive e-mail updates and newsletters by selecting the "opt-out of future email" option in the email they receive from JD Supra or in their JD Supra account management screen.


JD Supra takes reasonable precautions to insure that user information is kept private. We restrict access to user information to those individuals who reasonably need access to perform their job functions, such as our third party email service, customer service personnel and technical staff. However, please note that no method of transmitting or storing data is completely secure and we cannot guarantee the security of user information. Unauthorized entry or use, hardware or software failure, and other factors may compromise the security of user information at any time.

If you have reason to believe that your interaction with us is no longer secure, you must immediately notify us of the problem by contacting us at info@jdsupra.com. In the unlikely event that we believe that the security of your user information in our possession or control may have been compromised, we may seek to notify you of that development and, if so, will endeavor to do so as promptly as practicable under the circumstances.

Sharing and Disclosure of Information JD Supra Collects

Except as otherwise described in this privacy statement, JD Supra will not disclose personal information to any third party unless we believe that disclosure is necessary to: (1) comply with applicable laws; (2) respond to governmental inquiries or requests; (3) comply with valid legal process; (4) protect the rights, privacy, safety or property of JD Supra, users of the Service, Website visitors or the public; (5) permit us to pursue available remedies or limit the damages that we may sustain; and (6) enforce our Terms & Conditions of Use.

In the event there is a change in the corporate structure of JD Supra such as, but not limited to, merger, consolidation, sale, liquidation or transfer of substantial assets, JD Supra may, in its sole discretion, transfer, sell or assign information collected on and through the Service to one or more affiliated or unaffiliated third parties.

Links to Other Websites

This Website and the Service may contain links to other websites. The operator of such other websites may collect information about you, including through cookies or other technologies. If you are using the Service through the Website and link to another site, you will leave the Website and this Policy will not apply to your use of and activity on those other sites. We encourage you to read the legal notices posted on those sites, including their privacy policies. We shall have no responsibility or liability for your visitation to, and the data collection and use practices of, such other sites. This Policy applies solely to the information collected in connection with your use of this Website and does not apply to any practices conducted offline or in connection with any other websites.

Changes in Our Privacy Policy

We reserve the right to change this Policy at any time. Please refer to the date at the top of this page to determine when this Policy was last revised. Any changes to our privacy policy will become effective upon posting of the revised policy on the Website. By continuing to use the Service or Website following such changes, you will be deemed to have agreed to such changes. If you do not agree with the terms of this Policy, as it may be amended from time to time, in whole or part, please do not continue using the Service or the Website.

Contacting JD Supra

If you have any questions about this privacy statement, the practices of this site, your dealings with this Web site, or if you would like to change any of the information you have provided to us, please contact us at: info@jdsupra.com.

- hide
*With LinkedIn, you don't need to create a separate login to manage your free JD Supra account, and we can make suggestions based on your needs and interests. We will not post anything on LinkedIn in your name. Or, sign up using your email address.