IT assurance 1 May, 2020

Ethical dilemma: pay ransom or go under

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Crowe Peak/ Knowledge Hub/ IT assurance/

Ethical dilemma: pay ransom or go under

On 22 April 2020, Justice and Security Minister Ferd Grapperhaus called on insurance companies not to reimburse ransoms demanded by cyber criminals as a result of a successful ransomware attack.

What is ransomware

Ransomware has been a huge problem in digital society for several years. Not only large enterprises are victims, but SMEs are also targeted and even individuals do not escape ransomware. Ransomware is a form of malware spread by cyber criminals. Some forms of ransomware are also capable of spreading themselves, creating a snowball effect. Ransomware attacks the computer and encrypts the entire computer, certain applications and/or files. A ransom is then demanded to provide the wronged party with the key that can decrypt the encrypted objects again.

There has been a debate for some time about whether or not to pay the demanded ransom. In the Netherlands, for now, it is not forbidden to meet the ransom demand. In other countries, this does not differ much. In America, for example, paying a ransom is also allowed unless the cybercriminals are classified as a terrorist group. Indeed, in the latter case, paying a ransom is equivalent to (financially) supporting a terrorist group.

Ransom demand: save company or suffer loss?

The big dilemma regarding paying ransom is the trade-off between ethical responsibilities. As a company/individual, do you want to participate in perpetuating cybercrime by paying? But what if it can save your files and even your business? This is a trade-off that Minister Grapperhaus is comfortable with: “By paying ransoms, criminal activity is rewarded and encouraged. In addition, the police expect that paying ransoms will lead to more ransomware attacks,” Grapperhaus said. “It is my preference that the insurer does not reimburse the ransom that ends up in the hands of criminals, but rather the damage suffered by not paying this ransom.”

Still, it remains a difficult choice for business people. By not paying the ransom, the ability to quickly access your files again is forfeited. Now, it is sometimes suggested that it remains to be seen whether the key actually makes the encrypted objects available again, but – more often than not – it turns out that the criminals keep their word. Ransomware has now grown into such a large revenue stream that entire help desks have been made available by cybercriminals whose sole purpose is to support ransomware victims. On top of that, paying the ransom sometimes even contributes to both business continuity (instead of waiting and/or trying to decrypt the objects on your own) and in some cases it also turns out to be cheaper.

Prevent a ransomware infection

The ethical dilemma will rage on for some time to come, but to play this dilemma off completely, the biggest contributing factor is security. With preventive and reactive measures, the chances of a ransomware infection can even be avoided. If your business does fall victim, reactive measures can ensure that the damage is limited and you are back up and running in no time.

Want to prevent your organisation from becoming a victim of ransomware? Then contact Crowe Peak’s IT security experts. They can help avoid an ethical dilemma.

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