Evolution of Ransomware: From Past to Present - A Comprehensive Overview

Salomon Kisters

Salomon Kisters

Jun 16, 2023

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Ransomware has been wreaking havoc across the digital world for over two decades now. The earliest instances of ransomware can be traced back to the late 80s and early 90s, when viruses like the AIDS Trojan and the PC Cyborg Trojan were making their way across the internet, targeting unsuspecting users. Over the years, ransomware has evolved significantly, becoming more sophisticated and dangerous with each passing year.

Today’s ransomware doesn’t just lock your files or demand a few hundred dollars in ransom money. It can cripple entire businesses, steal personal data, and even shut down critical infrastructure.

In this blog post, we’ll take a trip down memory lane and explore the evolution of ransomware, from its humble beginnings to the present day. We’ll look at some of the major ransomware attacks that have occurred over the years, as well as the techniques and tactics used by cybercriminals to deliver and propagate these attacks.

So buckle up and get ready to take a journey through the history of one of the most destructive forms of malware in existence.

The First Ransomware Attack

Ransomware has been around for a long time, but where did it all begin? The first ransomware attack on record occurred in the late 1980s, long before most people had even heard of the internet. The attack was carried out by a man named Joseph Popp, a biologist and AIDS researcher.

Popp created a virus called the AIDS Trojan, which was distributed to unsuspecting victims via floppy disks. When the virus infected a computer, it would lie dormant for a while before encrypting the user’s files and displaying a message demanding a ransom of $189 be sent to a PO box in Panama to restore the files.

The virus was successful in infecting a number of computers, and Popp made off with thousands of dollars. However, his greed ultimately led to his downfall. He included his own name in the code of the virus, which allowed authorities to track him down and eventually bring him to justice.

While the AIDS Trojan was not a particularly sophisticated attack, it was groundbreaking in its use of encryption and extortion. It set the stage for more advanced ransomware attacks in the years to come and paved the way for the massive-scale attacks we see today.

File Encryption and Locker Types

As the internet became more widespread, so did ransomware attacks. One of the earliest types of ransomware was known as the file-encrypting type. This type of ransomware would encrypt the victim’s files using a sophisticated encryption algorithm, rendering them inaccessible. The attackers would then demand payment in exchange for the decryption key.

Another early type of ransomware was the locker type. This type of ransomware would block access to the victim’s computer, preventing them from using it until a ransom was paid. It was usually characterized by a full-screen message with a threat of permanent data loss if the ransom was not paid.

In some cases, early ransomware variants would masquerade as legitimate software, tricking users into downloading and installing them. They would often be disguised as antivirus software or system utilities, heightening the chances of unsuspecting victims being infected.

These early ransomware attacks were not as widespread as they are today, but they still caused significant damage to the victims. And they set the stage for the more advanced and more dangerous ransomware attacks that were to come in the future.

Advancements in Cybercrime

As the internet continued to evolve, cybercriminals became increasingly sophisticated in their techniques for spreading ransomware. One of the major advancements in ransomware was the use of exploit kits, which enabled attackers to distribute their malware through vulnerable websites and software. By taking advantage of software vulnerabilities, cybercriminals were able to infect a large number of devices with ease.

Another key advancement in ransomware was the use of more prevalent and aggressive encryption algorithms, making it even more difficult for victims to recover their data without paying the ransom. In addition, ransomware began to target not just individual computer users but also larger organizations and networks.

The rise of cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin also played a role in the escalation of ransomware attacks. The use of cryptocurrencies made it easier for cybercriminals to demand and receive ransom payments anonymously, making it much harder for law enforcement agencies to track them down.

These advancements in cybercrime have made ransomware attacks much more effective and lucrative for attackers. It is essential for individuals and organizations to stay vigilant against these threats and take necessary steps to protect themselves from becoming ransomware victims.

The Era of Ransomware-as-a-Service (RaaS)

The evolution of ransomware continued with the emergence of Ransomware-as-a-Service (RaaS) in the mid-2010s. RaaS allowed cybercriminals to outsource the development and distribution of ransomware to other individuals, who could then launch ransomware attacks in exchange for a cut of the profits. This meant that anyone with internet access and minimal technical skills could potentially become a ransomware distributor.

RaaS providers typically offered a range of services to their clients, including customized ransomware development, distribution through spam campaigns or exploit kits, and even customer support. As a result, ransomware attacks became even more common and widespread.

One of the most notorious ransomware families to emerge from the RaaS era was GandCrab, which first appeared in 2018 and impacted thousands of victims worldwide. GandCrab was particularly notable for its use of the Sodinokibi exploit kit, which took advantage of a vulnerability in Oracle WebLogic Server to deliver the malware to victims’ systems.

The RaaS model has made ransomware attacks easier and more profitable for cybercriminals. However, law enforcement agencies and security researchers have also become more adept at tracking down and disrupting RaaS operations, leading some to question whether RaaS will continue to be a major threat in the future.

Modern Ransomware

Over the past few years, ransomware attacks have continued to evolve and impact individuals, businesses, and even government agencies.

One of the trends in modern ransomware attacks is the increased use of encryption to make it more difficult for victims to recover their data without paying the ransom. Additionally, some ransomware variants are now able to evade traditional antivirus software and create backdoors into systems for continued access.

Another trend is the targeting of specific industries, such as healthcare and education, where the impact of a ransomware attack can be devastating. In some cases, attackers have even threatened to release sensitive data if a ransom is not paid, adding an additional layer of pressure on victims.

As for the future, ransomware attacks will likely continue to increase in frequency and sophistication. Some researchers predict that attacks will become even more targeted, with attackers using artificial intelligence and machine learning to identify high-value targets for maximum impact.

Overall, the rise of modern ransomware attacks highlights the need for increased cybersecurity measures and proactive prevention efforts. Organizations must remain vigilant and stay up-to-date on the latest trends and threats to best protect themselves from falling victim to a ransomware attack.


The rapid evolution and increasing sophistication of ransomware attacks have made prevention and preparedness more critical than ever before. Organizations must take proactive measures to protect their data and systems from potential threats, as the costs of falling victim to a ransomware attack can be staggering.

Implementing strong cybersecurity protocols, such as regular software updates, user education and awareness training, and robust backup solutions, can help reduce the risk of a successful ransomware attack. Additionally, organizations should have a formal incident response plan in place that outlines the steps to take in the event of an attack, including who to contact and how to isolate infected systems.

Ultimately, the goal is to minimize the impact of a potential attack and ensure that the organization can quickly recover from any disruption to its operations. By investing in prevention and preparedness efforts, organizations can better protect themselves from the growing threat of ransomware attacks and maintain the trust of their customers and partner

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Please note that the Content may have been generated with the Help of AI. The editorial content of OriginStamp AG does not constitute a recommendation for investment or purchase advice. In principle, an investment can also lead to a total loss. Therefore, please seek advice before making an investment decision.


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