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Cyber extortion

Cyber extortion definition

Cyber extortion is blackmailing an individual or organization by threatening to release sensitive data or launch a cyberattack.

Cybercriminals usually reach out after gaining access to their victim's data, whether it’s their personal photos in cloud storage or sensitive business information. They then threaten to disclose, delete, or manipulate this data unless the victim pays a ransom. Most recently, cybercriminals started demanding payments in cryptocurrency because of its anonymity.

The most common and well-known form of cyber extortion is ransomware attacks, during which the attackers manage to get malware into the target’s system and encrypt all of their files or lock them out of their accounts. The only way to unencrypt your device is to pay a ransom.

See also: cerber ransomware, sextortion

History of cyber extortion

The concept of extortion dates back centuries, but the digital variant emerged with the advent of the internet. The first recorded ransomware attack occurred in 1989 and was called “AIDS Trojan.” However, they were not as widespread until the rise of cryptocurrencies in the 2010s. The veil of anonymity that cryptocurrencies added to financial transactions significantly fueled the growth of cyber extortion, making the attackers harder to find.

One of the most notable cases of cyber extortion was the WannaCry ransomware attacks that happened in 2017. It affected over 200,000 computers across 150 countries, targeting hospitals, businesses, and other institutions. The attackers demanded payment in Bitcoin to decrypt the affected files.