Ransomware is emerging as the go-to tool that cyber criminals are arming themselves with by encrypting files and holding the encryption key hostage until a ransom is paid.
Obtaining files with the threat of destroying it or attempting to disrupt an organization's operations will be a harmful tool and could become more mainstream and widespread in the near term. This strategy is setting a dangerous precedent, because some of these criminals or activists are no longer motivated by money and could seek even more damaging outcomes because they are driven by political or ideological issues.
The possibility that ransomware could stop the operations of a company is now a real fear, especially when Hollywood Presbyterian Medical Center in Los Angeles became a victim this year and was unable to function for over a week.
Ransomware is the "perfect digital weapon for a saboteur" since it is extremely destructive and difficult to remove, however hackers can deploy it easily and an entire network can be compromised from merely one mistake by an employee, said Michael Gregg, CEO of Superior Solutions, a Houston-based ethical hacking firm.
"The bottom line is that this is going to happen; it's just a matter of when," he said.
The current environment in the U.S. and globally consists of immense political and societal tension. In the U.S., there are community protests against law enforcement agencies and an increase in hacker groups which have affiliated themselves with political causes, such as supporting a nation-state like Syria or Iran or anarchist views, Gregg said. There is also a rise in online criminal services for activities such as hacking-for-hire and crimeware kits.