(credit: Aurich Lawson)

There’s something inherently world-changing about the latest round of crypto-ransomware that has been hitting a wide range of organizations over the past few months. While most of the reported incidents of data being held hostage have purportedly involved a careless click by an individual on an e-mail attachment, an emerging class of criminals with slightly greater skill has turned ransomware into a sure way to cash in on just about any network intrusion.

And that means that there’s now a financial incentive for going after just about anything. While the payoff of going after businesses’ networks used to depend on the long play—working deep into the network, finding and packaging data, smuggling it back out—ransomware attacks don’t require that level of sophistication today. It’s now much easier to convert hacks into cash.

Harlan Carvey, a senior security researcher at Dell SecureWorks, put it this way. “It used to be, back in the days of Sub7 and ‘joy riding on the Information Highway,’ that your system would be compromised because you’re on the Internet. And then it was because you’ve got something—you’ve got PCI data, PHI, PII, whatever the case may be. Then it was intellectual property. And now it’s to the point where if you’ve got files, you’re targeted.”

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OK, panic—newly evolved ransomware is bad news for everyone