What is Cyber Extortion? And How Can You Prevent It?
By Christine Margret 6 minutes
Cyber Extortion refers to cybercrime when an attacker access and steals confidential data and threatens a business into paying for ransomware. Keep reading to learn more about Cyber extortion, its types, and prevention.
What is Cyber Extortion?
Cyber extortion is an online crime in which criminals hold someone’s files or data, then threaten to coerce victims into giving them money or other valuable items. The result of a cyber extortion attack will cause the following consequences:
- Data breach
- Financial Theft
- Cyber Espionage
How Does Cyber Extortion Work?
Cyber extortion typically starts with hackers gaining unauthorized access to a victim’s network. Typically, cybercriminals use DDoS attacks, phishing emails, or social engineering to gain unauthorized access.
Once inside, they conduct thorough research to identify weak spots or valuable targets. They then make threats and demands using ransomware messages.
Hackers also threaten to publicly release confidential information or disrupt services. Cyber extortionists sometimes carry out destructive actions like encrypting data with ransomware or launching DDoS attacks.
If the victim decides to comply with the demands, he pays the ransom as requested.
However, paying a ransom is not recommended. After the incident, the victim should report it to authorities and take steps to remediate vulnerabilities.
What Are the Types of Cyber Extortion?
There are several common types of cyber extortion attacks. Here are a few examples:
In a Ransomware attack, the perpetrator encrypts the victim’s files and locks them out of their own system. The criminal then demands a ransom in exchange for restoring access.
The victim is usually given a deadline to pay the ransom, often in cryptocurrency, and failure to do so may result in permanent data loss.
Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks
In a DDoS attack, the hacker floods the victim’s website with traffic from multiple sources. He overwhelms the entire system and makes it unavailable to legitimate users. The attacker then demands payment to stop the attack and restore normal service.
A cyber extortionist may use blackmail, threatening to leak personal data or compromising images unless the victim pays. They may exaggerate their leverage, but the fear of exposure can pressure the victim to pay.
Email-based cyber extortion is common. In this extortion, a hacker pretends to be someone else, such as a business or a friend, to gain the target’s trust. Criminals may then try to convince the target to transfer money or disclose private information, using various tactics like pretending to be a friend in need or requesting login details for a banking app.
How to Spot Cyber Extortion?
Spotting cyber extortion can be challenging. Attackers often use various tactics to intimidate victims and manipulate them into complying with their demands. However, here are some signs that may indicate a potential cyber extortion attempt:
- Demands for payment: If you receive a message demanding payment to stop an attack or restore access to your system, it could be an alarming sign.
- Threats of harm or damage: Cyber extortionists often use threats of harm, such as damaging your reputation, exposing private information, or disrupting your business operations.
- Unusual or unexpected communication: If you receive unsolicited messages, emails, or phone calls from unknown or suspicious sources claiming to have compromised, it could be a red flag.
- Requests for sensitive information: If you are asked to provide sensitive information, such as login credentials, financial data, or personal information, as part of a demand for payment or to prevent harm, it could be a sign of a cyber extortion attempt.
- Urgency and deadlines: Cyber extortionists often create a sense of urgency by setting deadlines for payment or threatening severe consequences if their demands are not met promptly.
- Social engineering tactics: Cyber extortionists use social engineering tactics, such as impersonation or manipulation, to gain your trust or deceive you into complying with their demands.
- Unusual system behavior: If you notice unusual or suspicious activities on your systems or networks, such as files being encrypted, data breaches, or unauthorized access, then it might be a cyber extortion attack.
How to Prevent a Cyber Extortion Attack?
Here are some measures you can take to prevent cyber extortion:
Regularly Back Up Your Data
Regularly back up your data and store it securely offline. By doing so, you can ensure that you have a copy of important information. This will reduce the impact of potential data loss and minimize the leverage of cyber extortionists.
Keep Your Systems and Software Up-to-Date
Ensure that all your operating systems, software, and applications are regularly patched with the latest security patches. This helps to address known vulnerabilities that attackers could exploit.
Use Strong and Unique Passwords
Use strong, and unique passwords for all your accounts. Avoid using default or easily guessable passwords. Enable multi-factor authentication (MFA) wherever possible to provide an additional layer of security.
Be Aware of Suspicious Emails
Be wary of unsolicited emails, especially those with suspicious attachments or links. Avoid clicking on unknown links or downloading attachments. They may contain malware that could facilitate cyber extortion attacks.
Implement Robust Access Controls
Limit access to sensitive information and critical systems only to authorized personnel. Implement least privilege principles, where users are granted the minimum level of access necessary to perform their job duties.
Have An Incident Response Plan in Place
Develop and implement an incident response plan that outlines the steps to take in case of a cyber extortion attempt or any other security incident.
How to Deal with Cyber Extortion
Dealing with cyber extortion requires a careful and strategic approach. Firstly, it’s important not to comply with the extortionist’s demands. Paying the ransom can encourage further attacks and does not guarantee the safe return of lost data.
Next, isolate the affected systems or networks to prevent further damage. Preserve evidence by documenting all communications and activities related to the extortion attempt.
Contact law enforcement agencies and seek assistance from cybersecurity experts to assess the situation. Determine the best course of action with them and potentially involve legal authorities.
Communicate internally and externally, as necessary, to keep stakeholders informed.
Finally, review and enhance your organization’s security measures to prevent future incidents.
Cyber extortion is a serious and growing threat in the digital world. Attackers use various techniques to extort individuals or organizations for financial gain. It can take the form of ransomware attacks and other malicious activities.
However, with proactive measures, it is possible to prevent cyber extortion. Regularly backing up data, keeping systems and software up-to-date, and using strong passwords and multi-factor authentication, are important preventive measures.