The psychology of a ransomware attack: A guide to what makes victims click

Cybercrime is very much a psychological game and ransomware is no exception. Psychology plays a major role in almost all aspects of ransomware from the moment an attack is launched to the moment the victim pays, or refuses to pay the ransom.

Most ransomware is distributed through phishing emails, instant messages, and text messages. Distributors use psychological tactics designed to create a sense of urgency and force the victim click a malicious link or attachment quickly. This preys on a person’s emotions, especially fear. Victims are told they might lose access to an account; that an unauthorized payment has been made; or that medical benefits are about to change. These statements scare victims into clicking and, as a result, they get hit with a dose of ransomware.

Ransomware distributors also understand victim’s desires. They know that most people would love an easy path to money, recognition, or free merchandise and they create phony offers to capitalize on this tendency.
Ransomware demands rely primarily on the fear of losing data. Ransomware infections are often noticed when access to data is needed. Suddenly, rather than seeing the files, a ransom message is displayed. Fear is also used in ransom messages that display warnings of illegal or embarrassing behavior. Ransomware also uses tactics that further build anxiety such as assigning deadlines to ransom payments. TruCrypt ransomware, for example, demands a ransom payment within 72 hours cyber attack, after that recovery keys would be unavailable.

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