Exploring the Social Engineering Factors Behind Ransomware Attacks

Exploring the Social Engineering Factors Behind Ransomware Attacks

When scanning across the various methods of cyber attack that malicious actors routinely use to scam businesses, ransomware consistently places near the top of the list. In fact, ransomware is now so common that a new attack originates every 11 seconds, racking up millions of attacks across any calendar year.

As the number of ransomware attacks per year increases, so does the average payout that businesses have to offer when dealing with this form of cyber threat. At present, the average ransomware attack costs around $4.62 million USD. Yet, for many small and medium businesses, a ransomware attack can well be the end of their company.

Without the funds to recover their technology discretely, the company will typically take a hit to its reputation, with users worrying about the security of their data with any impacted business. A company’s social reputation is hard to build but easy to destroy, with ransomware threatening the future reliability of a business.

Ransomware attacks and social factors go hand in hand, just as much in the origins of an attack as in the outcome. In this article, we’ll dive into the social factors that abound in ransomware threats, demonstrating how humans are a common cause of the attacks and how pride can make the consequences much worse.

How Do Human Factors Cause Ransomware Attacks?

On a superficial level, human error is the cause of the vast majority of cyber-attacks. Around 90% of all attacks are the direct cause of a worker clicking on something they shouldn’t have, downloading a malicious file, or accidentally falling into a scam.

A company could exhibit the best security system in the world. Yet, if their workforce doesn’t understand the threat that certain links could pose, then it simply won’t matter. It’s important to note that while security training does indeed help to decrease the likelihood of clicking on a bad link, it is not a fail-proof solution.

One of the factors that commonly lead to an employee clicking on a bad link or downloading ransomware is action bias. Action bias is a trait in human psychology that causes us to want to respond to a threat as quickly as possible. Its roots lie in fight or flight, with our body instantly acting upon a threat to find an appropriate solution.

For example, if we receive an email that suggests our bank account has been hacked and we need to reset our password, our first thought would likely be alarm. To fix the problem as quickly as possible, action bias would have us instantly click on the link, type in our old password, and then change it to something new.

Of course, this scenario is a common phishing scam and would instantly land us in real trouble. Action bias in ransomware works in a similar way, with a false sense of urgency making us click on links or download things we shouldn’t.

Human psychology is a powerful force, one that threat actors understand and prey on completely.

How Do Human Factors Worsen Ransomware Attacks?

As cyber threats go, ransomware scares companies the most. As they are often unable to continue operations without full control of their systems and data, they are brought to a complete standstill.

This typical moment of vulnerability can lead to more problems as a company scrambles to find a rapid solution. Once again, human factors come into play here, making attacks considerably worse than they initially are.

  • No Backups – Companies sometimes believe that they are too small or work in too specific of a niche to worry about cyber threats. With that dismissive mentality, they are less likely to create backups of their data, which can lead to businesses being in a much worse situation when it comes to ransomware. If you only have one copy of everything, your company is completely frozen until hackers decide to return control to you. Don’t underestimate the importance of effective cybersecurity and backing up at any business level.
  • Bartering – One common way that companies worsen ransomware scams is by trying to barter for control or reauthorization of certain files. By suggesting that you need X or Y files back ASAP, you highlight them as important for the hackers. This could cause them to raise the ransom or put a separate price on those files, worsening the situation.
  • Damage Control – A common response to ransomware attacks is to rapidly seek to pay the desired amount to instantly get control of your system. While this may work in some situations, it is once again a product of action bias. You need to meticulously check the extent of damage before responding. It could be far less serious than you imagine.

Taking an appropriate and measured response to a cyber threat is always the best course of action. By understanding the response that your hackers want to get from you, you can endeavor to address the situation in a controlled manner. Don’t fall into action bias or other human factors that worsen the situation.

Final Thoughts

Ransomware is a growing threat that every business should take care to counter. By increasing security training efforts and endeavoring to teach every staff member the basics of effective cybersecurity, companies can go a long way to reducing the chance of a ransomware attack from occurring.

Yet, for those businesses that want to mitigate the possibility as much as possible, the solution lies in human factors. Understanding and teaching employees about the threat that action bais poses is one of the most important steps toward a more comprehensive cyber security force.

Teaching employees never to act rashly and to always take their time before jumping to respond to or act upon the commands of emails or other threat vectors is the most effective solution for 2024. If the threat of ransomware lies in human factors, then the best course of defense, too, lies in human effort.