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Biggest survey into ransomware profiles who is more likely to pay demands

Women and young people are “significantly more likely” to pay ransomware demands if targeted by cyber criminals, according to the first large-scale study into online extortion.

Researchers including Professor Edward Cartwright of De Montfort University Leicester (DMU) have identified a range of factors which indicate whether someone would be willing to pay a ransom demand if their photographs or documents were encrypted in a ransomware attack.

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Professor Cartwright, Director of DMU’s Institute for Applied Economics and Social Value and member of the Cyber Technology Institute, said: “Our results can help inform the policy response to ransomware.

“First, it can inform awareness campaigns run by law enforcement. We’ve seen that general cyber security awareness campaigns have a relatively poor record in getting messages across. Our results suggest young people (18-35) and women were much more likely to consider paying a ransom and so we need campaigns that speak better to that audience.

“Second, we get a sense of how damaging ransomware can be. Our is the first large scale study into the individuals willingness to pay ransomware and we find that between 5 to 23% of people are willing to pay. This, unfortunately, means ransomware attacks on individuals can be highly lucrative for cyber-criminals.“

The team surveyed nearly 1,800 people to get a representative sample of the UK population and asked them what they kept online. Some 79% stored photos, 47% music and 29% work documents.

Researchers asked them if they would be willing to pay £300 ransom in the event they received an extortion demand.

They chose the £300 sum as this was the average sum demanded from individuals by CryptoLocker – and early form of ransomware that infected computers locking up files and demanding money (usually in the form of Bitcoin) to restore access.   

They found 77% said they would not pay, either on principle or because they did not trust the criminals. Of the 23% who would pay up, they were mostly female, or aged 18-35. People with children and those who were more concerned about data leaks were also increasingly likely to pay the ransom.

Professor Cartwright said: “If this proportion was applied to the general population, then it is easy to see how ransomware can be highly profitable for criminals. For instance, if there are 10,000 victims of a ransomware campaign and 20 per cent pay £300, then the criminals make £600,000. Current ransomware attacks primarily target businesses but these numbers suggest that we will see cyber-criminals also target individuals in the future.”

Posted on Monday 9th May 2022

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