The boss of the United Kingdom’s leading online safety service has warned organisations not to pay ransomware blackmailers and added: “There’s no guarantee they won’t come back for you again.”
While not one local council we spoke to admitted paying up to hackers, there are cases where businesses have reluctantly paid up.
Our investigation has also been told in confidence that some firms are even stockpiling bitcoins - the viral-only currency of choice of hackers - so that they can conclude transactions as
quickly as possible and regain access to their databases.
Ransomware demands usually accompany malware attacks in which online criminals take over computer systems and infect or encrypt their contents so that they are unreadable or
inaccessable to their rightful owners.
With deposits of money far easier to trace, hackers insist that bitcoins - a legal if controversial currency - are transferred into what turns out to be the first in a succession of “mule”
accounts with the value eventually turned into goods and services via online purchases.
The threats also warn that the stolen data will be permanently scrambled unless payment is made.
Tony Neate, the chief executive of Get Safe Online, a government-back not-for-profit organisation offering digital safety advice, has dealt with victims who have paid demands.
Mr Neate, who was a police officer for 30 years, said: “It is easy for me on the outside to tell a business not to pay ransomware demands.
“I don’t have to worry about a delay potentially costing my business thousands of pounds in delays and lost orders.
“What I will say is that if the hackers can gain access to your computers once then there’s not guarantee they won’t come back for you again.
“Nor is there a guarantee that they will actually do what they say they will do and allow you to unlock the information they have encrypted in the first place.”
Get Safe Online’s website, www.getsafeonline.org, offers a range of advice for businesses and individuals about everyday viral threats such as ransomware, fraud and bullying.
Mr Neate added: “My advice if you are targeted is don’t give in to the pressure and get the IT people to see if they can unlock the data.
“Constantly backing up your information and ensuring regular computer updates are completed will also help.”
As well as highlighting current and emerging trends in cyber crime, our investigation will also reveal how to minimise the threat of becoming a victim.
With Get Safe Online’s help, tomorrow’s paper includes 10 top tips to deter cyber criminals.