Ransomware: To Pay, or Not to Pay?

Christian Goelz
Christian Goelz

Riela Cyber Director

For those who don’t know what ransomware is, you should get to know, fast.

Ransomware is becoming one of the largest risks facing businesses. Causing irreparable reputational damage, creating huge financial losses and breaking GDPR guidelines – it is a triple threat. 

Without adequate security measures, it is no longer a case of ‘if’ you will be attacked, but ‘when’. However, when the inevitable strikes… you may find yourself asking the controversial question ‘to pay, or not to pay?’ 

Some experts believe that ransomware should never be paid while others think that it’s not that clear cut and depends on the situation. In this article we highlight what you should consider when ransomware strikes. This decision can only happen at the board level, by the directors of the company, as it is as much a commercial decision as it is an ethical decision and often it is the survival of the company which is at stake. 

Reasons Not to Pay Ransomware:

1. Criminals Can't Be Trusted

When presented with an option to pay a ransom, there is no guarantee that the cyber-criminal will come through and return the data. Even if you pay, there is about a 50/50 chance the hackers deliver the decryption tool but on average, only 65% of data is recovered and only 8% of organisations recover all data, which means that paying the ransomware is not a reliable option.  

At the end of the day, hackers are criminals and so they shouldn’t be trusted. Plus, what is to say that once the criminal knows a business is a weak target, they won’t do it again?  According to a Cybereason, 80% of companies who paid the ransomware, were hit by another ransomware attack. 

It is also important to remember that even if the hackers provide the decryption key, encrypted files are often unrecoverable, and a recovery attempt can take several weeks.  

Moreover, the hackers may not delete the data they hold and still publish it at a later date.

2. You Are Funding Illegal Activity

By paying the ransom, you are essentially funding criminal activity and fuelling cyber-crime. Governments and law enforcement agencies across the world advise not to pay ransomware to deprive the attackers of their economic incentive.

3. Insurance Will Become Unaffordable

Once a ransom payment has been made and there is a potential target on the back of your business, the chance of securing affordable cyber insurance will quickly diminish. Cyber insurance is rapidly becoming one of the most sought-after forms of insurance, and for obvious reasons. So, not having this in the future will likely put your company at a large disadvantage in a competitive market.

For the above reasons and more, many organisations have now introduced measures to ban the payment of ransoms, with 56% of businesses reporting policies to prevent ransom payments according to the UK Government’s  2022 Cyber Security breach Survey.  

4. Restore the Business

It is important to remember that ransomware attacks are designed to look intimidating. The criminal is an expert in deception and their sole aim is to panic you to pay. It is crucial that in case of attack, you have established a procedure to work with an cyber incident response team to investigate the incident and establish whether the data can be restored without paying the ransom. If this fails, you should follow your incident recovery process and restore operations from your backups.  

According to Statista, 57% of companies restore their data using backups following a ransomware attack. The important difference is that a company is in control of its own backups which means that it can put the right measures in place and test them to reliable restore its data in case of an attack. Your backups are your best insurance against ransomware and can help you restore your business quickly, even if you don’t get your encrypted data back. At Riela, we recommend disconnecting your device from the network as soon as an attack strikes and not touching anything further until an expert has examined the environment. 

Reasons to Pay Ransomware

1. Information Security

In some cases when threatened with a data leak, payment of the ransom can prevent what could otherwise be a catastrophic data leak and a breach of client confidentiality, governance or privacy laws. As such, the board of a company may decide that payment of a ransom may be necessary to protect their business from devastating consequences.

2. Critical Infrastructure

If your company is a key part of a country’s critical infrastructure, such as Colonial Pipeline, the consequences of not paying the ransomware could endanger lives or cripple healthcare, energy or food supplies. 

3. Proprietary IP 

If the hackers managed to steal or encrypt crucial proprietary intellectual property (IP), a company may be required to recover the data and avoid a data leak at all costs to prevent its competitors from gaining access to business sensitive information. 

4. Business Survival

Sometimes, the decision of whether to pay or not to pay comes down to the very survival of the business. If the business faces a situation where it could not restore operations without the encrypted data, then the board would need to assess very carefully whether they should pay the ransom. As part of the consideration, they should keep in mind that only about half of ransomware payments lead to the recovery of data, and often they can’t recover everything either. 

At the end of the day, being hit with a ransomware attack is a double-edged sword, it is a balancing act between legal and regulatory considerations and the survival of a business. This year our Director Christian Goelz was part of a panel on Ransomware at CYBERISLE: Ransomware – Does paying pay off?  Click here  to read more about the event. 

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Jamie Mills is the Riela Cyber SOC analyst, working alongside Joseph and Saîd. Jamie’s role involves the monitoring of client’s network and endpoints for malicious activity, thus mitigating cyber threats. This is done through using our software stack of security products and conducting OSINT (open-source intelligence) investigations to solve security incidents.

Jamie studied at the University of Portsmouth completing an undergraduate degree in Computer Forensics & Cyber Security, and achieved a masters degree in Data Analytics.

With previous experience as a Junior SOC analyst, Jamie is a highly motivated cyber security professional with a strong interest in Malware Analysis and Binary Exploitation.

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Christian gained a postgraduate Master in Finance degree at the University of Neuchatel, Switzerland and completed his MBA at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business.

Before joining us, Christian worked for six years at Argosy Capital, an Isle of Man-based private equity and venture capital business focusing on early-stage growth businesses. At Argosy, he focused on managing investment companies, research and financial analysis and served as a director on several boards.


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