The prevalence of ransomware programs, both those that encrypt data and those that don't, has exploded over the past two years, with companies being increasingly targeted.
Based on an analysis by security vendor Kaspersky Lab, more than 2.3 million users encountered ransomware between April 2015 and March, a jump of almost 18 percent over the previous 12 months.
This includes programs that only lock the computer's screen to prevent its use as well as those that hold the data itself hostage by encrypting it -- the so-called cryptors. The rise of cryptors in particular has been significant, accounting for 32 percent of all ransomware attacks last year compared to only 7 percent the year before, according to Kaspersky Lab.
The number of users hit by crypto ransomware during the period studied grew 5.5 times to reach more than 700,000, while the number of corporate users in particular who encountered such threats rose from 27,000 to 159,000 -- an almost six-fold increase.
Corporate users represented over 13 percent of all ransomware victims between April 2015 to March 2016, nearly double that of the year before.
This indicates that some groups have begun intentionally targeting businesses, especially with cryptors, and supports observations from recent ransomware distribution campaigns that used business themes, like invoices and job applications. The ransom price observed in these campaigns has also risen significantly, probably because companies can afford to pay more than consumers.
The rise in crypto-ransomware programs, specifically, has been especially sharp in recent months. Back in October only 9 percent of users affected by ransomware were hit by cryptors. In March, that number reached 51 percent and in April 54 percent.
Some countries are affected by file-encrypting ransomware more than others. For example, between 2014 and 2015 cryptors represented only 14 percent of all ransomware attacks detected in the U.S., but between 2015 and 2016, their distribution rose to 40 percent.
In some countries, like Italy and Germany, crypto-ransomware accounted for around 90 percent of all ransomware attacks last year, whereas the year before it was under 10 percent.
Unfortunately, there's no indication that these threats will go away anytime soon and even though many security companies are working on better ways to detect them, prevention is always better than detection.
Backing up critical data regularly to offline or offsite locations that are not permanently accessible from endpoint computers is the best way to prevent being extorted by ransomware creators. Training users on how to recognize phishing emails and keeping software on computers up to date, especially browser plug-ins, is also very important.