Gary Hibberd


Never before in mankind’s history have so many people across the world been subjected to extortion on the scale they are today.  Depending on the statistics you read, there are anywhere from 50,000 to one million forms of computer virus in the world today and the most virulent and damaging of them all is ‘ransomware’. But before we get into the detail, it’s worth taking a look at where this all started.

It wasn’t that long ago that the idea of a computer virus was merely a theory: a theory that a ‘mechanical organism’ could ‘infect machines and technology’ just as a biological virus does.  The idea was first discussed back in the 1940s, but it wasn’t until 1971 when the first real computer virus was created.

‘I’m the creeper: catch me if you can!’

The Creeper virus was actually designed as a security test(!) to see if self-replication was possible. And of course it was, and it was hugely successful at it. Copying itself from one system to the next, leaving behind the message… ‘Catch me if you can’ as it replicated itself across systems.

Brain Power

But it was the first PC virus, in 1986, that really got things moving. That virus was known as ‘Brain’.  Brain was the invention of two brothers, Basit and Amjad Farooq. Their software was being increasingly stolen by people who were illegally copying it, so they created a copyright message which was hidden within their software. The message could only be disabled if someone entered the correct code, and that code could only be obtained from them.

Back to the future

This blog isn’t intended to be a detailed exploration of the history of computer viruses, but rather a look at the few steps we have taken in little more than sixty years. In that time we have come from a place where a computer virus was a theoretical idea, which turned into a security test that evolved into a copyright protection tool, which has now become weaponised and is the tool of choice for criminals and state sponsored cyber terrorism.


According to the website No More Ransom, the first known software tool created with the intention of exploiting victims and extorting money from them was created in 2005. That’s just 14 years ago. But in that time hundreds of thousands of computers have been affected and infected with malicious software intended to extort money.  Once again, according to the No More Ransom site, over 718,000 individual users were infected between April 2015 and March 2016.  And the statistics show that this number is on the rise, with businesses seeing a 500 percent increase in ransomware attacks from Q1 2018 to Q1 2019.

This can lead us only to one conclusion.  Cybercriminals have recognised that our systems are flawed and we can be exploited. This is Crime 2.0

No more Mr Nice Guy

We know that cybercriminals are using automated tools to deliver their ‘products’ to us, and when we get infected, the price can be high. I have seen individuals’ home PCs hit by ransomware which has encrypted all their family photos, videos and personal records.  Losing money in business is one thing, but losing the video of your child’s first steps, or the last dance you took with your now departed father is quite another.

The Bad Guys are out there, and they really don’t care who they hit or what the impact is: human or business.  This can be seen by the WannaCry ransomware virus which impacted over 150 countries, and over 200,000 computer systems. In the UK, many of the WannaCry ransomware attacks were against National Health Service (NHS) trusts.  Hospital computer systems ground to a halt. Operations had to be cancelled and disruption across the NHS ensued for days.  The real, human impact of that attack might never be truly known.

But whilst the Bad Guys are out there, so are the Good Guys.  Of course Cyberfort would place ourselves on this side of the fence, and whilst we do offer services to help Advise our clients on how to protect themselves, Detect where there might be vulnerable and Defend against attack, we know we’re not alone in this fight.

There are organisations like No More Ransom who offer specialist tools and services to help those infected by malicious software. is an initiative by the National High Tech Crime Unit of the Netherlands’ police, Europol’s European Cybercrime Centre and McAfee with the goal of helping victims of ransomware retrieve their encrypted data without having to pay the criminals.  They offer tools that can potentially get your files back should they become infected.  Are they always successful? No. Unfortunately new strains of ransomware are created every day and it’s just not possible to cover every variation, but they are working on it.

Prevention is better than cure

Tools like No More Ransom can offer support should you become infected, and may be able to help. But prevention is better than cure, so you should look to protect yourself as best you can from the effects of becoming a victim of cybercrime via a ransomware attack.

Here are three steps you should take today:

  •  Install anti-malware software onto your company and personal computers and devices
  •  Keep software up to date. Ransomware exploits holes in your systems – so patch them!
  •  Ensure you back up your important files (and test the backup is working)

The last action above (backing up files) is vitally important.  The first place to go should you become infected is your ‘last known good backup’.  If your IT service provider is doing these things for you, have a conversation with them and ask how they are protecting you against cybercriminals, and what actions and support they would provide should the worst happen.


Ransomware is big business. It makes cybercriminals a lot of money and there are no signs of this form of attack slowing down.

Take action today to protect yourself today, and you won’t become a statistic tomorrow. As we often say to organisations: ‘Put security on the agenda, before it becomes the agenda.’

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