How to Protect Yourself from Cyber Extortion
By Christine Margret 10 minutes
Cyber extortion involves cybercriminals threatening individuals or organizations with harm, disclosure of sensitive information, or disruption of services, demanding a ransom, usually in cryptocurrency, for resolution. Read on to find out how to prevent yourself from Cyber extortion. Also, remember that it is pertinent to use a VPN to protect sensitive online information.
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What Is Cyber Extortion?
In the realm of cybersecurity, cyber extortion stands out as a malicious practice where cyber criminals use threats and pressure to get what they want. This nefarious activity manifests in various forms, such as demanding a ransom or issuing threats to disclose sensitive information acquired through unauthorized access to computer systems.
Consider a scenario where hackers infiltrate a company’s digital infrastructure, gaining unauthorized access to sensitive data like customer information or financial records.
Subsequently, they wield the stolen data as leverage, threatening to expose it publicly or sell it to competitors unless the targeted company complies with their demand for a ransom.
This demand typically comes with a deadline, intensifying the pressure and underscoring the severity of consequences if the ransom isn’t promptly paid.
Another prevalent tactic in cyber extortion involves the use of malware to lock a victim’s computer or mobile device, effectively restricting access. The hackers then issue a demand for payment, presenting the restoration of access as the incentive for compliance. This method exploits the victim’s urgency to regain control over their digital assets.
In essence, cyber extortion operates as a digital form of extortion, where hackers exploit vulnerabilities in cybersecurity defenses, leaving victims with limited options, and force them to accept demands.
It highlights the critical importance of robust cybersecurity measures to thwart such threats and protect individuals and organizations from falling prey to these malicious practices.
How Does Cyber Extortion Work?
Cyber extortion works by threatening to expose sensitive information or disrupt services unless a ransom is paid. Tactics like malware, phishing, and social engineering are used.
Ransomware is a common form that encrypts data and demands payment for decryption. Another method involves threatening to release obtained sensitive information unless a ransom is paid, often through data breaches or tricking victims into revealing it.
The victim is pressured with deadlines and the risk of data release or deletion if the ransom isn’t paid.
How to Handle Cyber Extortion?
Facing cyber extortion is a genuine concern for both individuals and businesses, whether it involves potential data breaches for companies or individuals falling prey to manipulative phishing emails. If you find yourself a victim of cyber extortion, here are some steps to safeguard yourself.
- Stay Informed on Cyber Threats: Stay updated on emerging online threats. Change passwords after a company you’ve shared information with experiences a data breach. Proactively learn about new online scams to minimize the risk of falling victim to cyber extortion.
- Be Cautious with Emails: Exercise caution with unfamiliar emails or unusual messages from known contacts. Verify email authenticity by checking for spelling errors, strange email handles, and pressure tactics. Contact the supposed sender through an alternative means to confirm legitimacy if in doubt. Also, stop spam emails.
- Avoid Malware Sources: Avoid spam, like websites that can harm your computer, questionable email links, or ads that seem suspicious. Use FastestVPN as it adds an extra level of security with end-to-end encryption for your online activities.
- Contact the Authorities: Reach out to the police promptly if you become a victim of cyber extortion. They can guide you on the best response to the threat and may be able to track down the person targeting you. Despite warnings from extortionists, reporting to the police is a crucial step.
How to Prevent Cyber Extortion?
Follow these steps to prevent Cyber extortion:
- Keep Everything Updated:
Regularly update your software and operating systems. This helps fix any weaknesses that cyber attackers could exploit. By staying current, you ensure that your systems have the latest defenses against emerging threats.
- Educate Your Team:
Train your employees on good cybersecurity habits, especially in recognizing phishing attempts. Awareness is a powerful defense. Make sure your team knows the common signs of cyber threats and understands the importance of staying vigilant.
- Fortify Passwords:
Make sure everyone uses strong, unique passwords. Enforce multi-factor authentication for an extra layer of security. Strengthening passwords and adding an extra step to the login process significantly enhances your overall defense against unauthorized access. To better understand about creating secure passwords, refer to this guide.
- Backup Safely:
Regularly back up your data, and ensure those backups are secure and separate from your main network. This way, even if there’s an issue, such as a ransomware attack, your data is safe, and you can restore operations quickly.
- Use Reliable Security Software:
Invest in strong security software, including firewalls, antivirus programs, and VPNs. These tools act as a shield against various cyber threats, providing a robust line of defense for your digital assets.
- Control Access:
Limit access to sensitive information. Implement strict controls on who can access what, reducing the risk of unauthorized entry. By managing access levels, you minimize the chances of cybercriminals gaining access to critical data.
- Monitor Actively:
Keep an eye on your networks for any unusual activities that might signal a breach. Set up automated alerts and make sure to update them regularly for effectiveness. Active monitoring allows for early detection and swift response to potential threats.
- Have a Plan:
Develop a plan for potential cyber extortion incidents. This plan should cover crisis management, business continuity, and recovery. Being prepared ensures a more effective response if an unfortunate situation arises. Regularly update and test this plan to adapt to evolving cyber threats and technology changes. Having a well-thought-out strategy can minimize the impact of an incident and facilitate a quicker recovery process.
How Should I Respond to Cyber Extortion?
If you ever encounter cyber extortion, follow these steps to respond to it:
- Stay Calm: If you’re a victim of cyber extortion, it’s crucial to remain calm and avoid making impulsive decisions.
- Don’t Pay the Ransom: Resist the urge to pay the ransom. This action only fuels the cyber extortionist’s behavior and doesn’t guarantee the safe release of your data.
- Document Everything: Record all communication and gather evidence related to the extortion attempt, including threats, demands, and payment requests. This documentation is valuable if you need to report the incident to law enforcement or seek legal assistance.
- Contact Authorities: Report the cyber extortion to law enforcement, treating it as the crime that it is. Authorities can guide you on the best course of action and may have the means to track down the extortionist.
- Seek Legal Guidance: Consult with a lawyer to understand your options and navigate any legal issues linked to the extortion attempt.
- Engage Cybersecurity Professionals: Get advice from cybersecurity experts who can assess the situation and recommend the best course of action for recovery.
- Develop a Backup Plan: Prepare for potential data compromise by regularly backing up your data and having a disaster recovery plan in place.
- Strengthen Cybersecurity: Take proactive measures to enhance your cybersecurity defenses. Implement strong passwords, keep software and applications updated, enable two-factor authentication, and educate employees about cyber threats. These steps make it harder for hackers to access your systems in the future.
Examples Of Cyber Extortion
These are the most common examples of Cyber extortion:
1. WannaCry Ransomware Attack (2017)
This global attack infected over 300,000 devices in 150 countries, affecting hospitals, businesses, and government agencies. Cybercriminals demanded ransoms ranging from $300 to $600 for decrypting victims’ data. The overall damage is estimated to be in the range of hundreds of millions to billions of dollars.
2. Baltimore Ransomware Attack (2019)
The city of Baltimore fell victim to a ransomware cyber attack in 2019, disrupting government computer systems. The attack, using the RobbinHood ransomware variant, demanded 13 bitcoins (approximately $76,280) for restoring access. The ransom note threatened increased demands within four days and deletion of all data after ten days. Baltimore spent around $18 million for the prolonged and costly recovery process to restore services.
3. The Karakurt Group (Ongoing since June 2021)
Unlike traditional ransomware, the Karakurt group utilizes various malicious software to steal data and then extorts victims for its return. Operating since June 2021, they claimed over 40 victims between September and November 2021, targeting diverse industries such as healthcare, industrial, entertainment, and technology.
Types of Cyber Extortion
These are the most popular types of Cyber extortion:
- Email-Based Extortion: Hackers adopt false identities, pretending to be businesses or friends to deceive targets. After building trust, they attempt to convince victims to transfer money or disclose private information, such as banking app login details.
- Ransomware Attacks: Cybercriminals frequently target businesses and government agencies using ransomware. This involves infecting a device with malware that encrypts data, rendering essential files inaccessible. The hackers demand a ransom for a digital key to decrypt the files, threatening to leak stolen data on the dark web if payment is not made.
- Cyber Blackmail: Extortionists may resort to blackmail, threatening to release personal data or compromising images unless a payment is made. The fear of exposure or public embarrassment often compels victims to pay the requested fee. While young people are particularly vulnerable to sextortion, cyber blackmail can impact individuals of any age.
- DDoS Attacks (Distributed Denial of Service): DDoS attacks aim to make websites, apps, or online services unavailable by flooding them with an artificially inflated volume of traffic. Cyber extortionists orchestrate these attacks and offer to cease the assault upon payment of a specified amount.
How to Report Cyber Extortion?
To report a cyber extortion incident, follow these essential steps. First, recognize the importance of reporting to specialized security agencies, as they can trace cyber attackers’ traces. Reporting is crucial for authorities to protect you and potential victims, building evidence over time.
Begin by documenting all incidents leading to extortion, including emails and phone calls. Retain this correspondence until after reporting to provide critical evidence for further investigation. Gathering forensic evidence is vital; for instance, tracking Bitcoin payments on the blockchain can reveal the attacker’s identity.
Avoid paying the ransom, but if paid, report it to the relevant authorities, as it still constitutes a crime. Report digital extortion attacks to local authorities and specialized organizations like the National Cyber Security Center, FBI, and Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3). These agencies have dedicated teams to investigate cybercrime and offer insights to aid in data recovery.
Protecting yourself from cyber extortion means staying alert, updating your computer regularly, and learning about online dangers. If faced with an extortion attempt, don’t give in, report it to the police, and seek legal advice. Always have a backup plan for your data and focus on strengthening your online security. Being aware of potential risks and taking simple steps can go a long way in keeping you safe from cyber threats.
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