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ransomware attacks: ETtech Explainer: Tracing ransomware’s path from floppy disks to crypto | #hacking | #cybersecurity | #infosec | #comptia | #pentest | #ransomware

India’s premier healthcare institution, All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), was brought to its knees by a cyberattack on November 23, which crippled its systems and slowed the processing of patients.

The institution seemingly fell victim to a ransomware attack, a form of digital crime that is increasingly becoming more popular. According to multiple media reports, the attackers asked for a ransom of Rs 200 crore in bitcoin to free the data they had held hostage.

Ransomware attacks

Ransomware attacks are carried out by installing malware in the target computer, which encrypts valuable data in the system. Cybercriminals then demand a ransom – typically in cryptocurrency to ensure anonymity – to decrypt the data. Some kinds of ransomware malware don’t encrypt data, they simply lock down the target system to make it inaccessible.

Malware can find its way to the target computer system in a variety of ways, from phishing attacks to the use of untrusted applications and compromised WiFi networks.


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Ransomware attacks have come a long way since the first such known attack in 1989. Called the ’AIDS Trojan’, it was installed on a floppy disk disguised as a document with information about the disease and sent to more than 20,000 people by a scientist named Joseph Popp.

More than 30 years later, ransomware attacks are now capable of crippling massive infrastructure projects such as the Colonial Pipeline in the US. The pipeline, which carries from Texas almost 45% of the fuel consumed on the east coast of the US, was targeted in a ransomware attack on May 7, 2021.

The attack resulted in panic buying of fuel at stations across the country. The Biden administration had to temporarily suspend the limits on the transportation of fuel via roads and railways. The Colonial Pipeline Company ended up paying the hackers $4.4 million in bitcoin.

Cybersecurity budgetsETtech

On December 13, 2020, Reuters reported about an attack on the US Treasury and Department of Commerce. It soon emerged that the attack had gone undetected for months, and had many more targets than initially reported.

Suspected to have been committed by a group backed by the Russian government, the attack hit organisations around the world, including several parts of the US federal government, leading to a series of data breaches.

Within days of its discovery, it was found to have targeted at least 200 organisations around the world, including NATO, the UK government, the European Parliament, and Microsoft.

Attacks on healthcare

AIIMS was not the first healthcare organisation to have fallen victim to a ransomware attack.

In one of the first known attacks on a major hospital in 2016, a ransomware called ‘Locky’ infected the Hollywood Presbyterian Medical Center in Los Angeles, California, holding its patient data for a ransom. The hospital ended up paying $17,000 to the attackers.

In one of the major cyberattacks of the last decade, a ransomware called Wannacry infiltrated thousands of systems running on Windows worldwide.

It also affected the UK’s National Health Services (NHS). Reportedly, over 70,000 computers and medical imagery machines were affected by the attack, bringing health services to a standstill.

Universal Health Services, the US healthcare provider, was also hit by a cyberattack in 2020, affecting over 250 of its healthcare facilities across the country.

India remains vulnerable

Back home, the safety of e-infrastructure in India remains a pressing concern. Exposing the country’s lack of preparedness against cyberattacks, Delhi’s Safdarjung Hospital was hit by a ransomware attack days after the attack on AIIMS.

Cybersecurity concern in IndiaETtech

India is especially prone to such attacks on health organisations as the country has no law mandating audits for healthcare systems, and no data protection law.

ET reported on December 5, citing experts, that
healthcare data breaches are likely to become more commonplace worldwide, and especially in India, where cyberattacks of all kinds have reportedly tripled in the past three years.


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National Cyber Security