But that's only one type of cyber extortion, according to Tim Francis, enterprise cyber lead at Hartford, Conn.-based insurance company Travelers.
Criminals can also threaten to shut down computer systems or erase data, to infect a company with a virus, to publish proprietary information or personally identifiable information of customers or employees, launch a denial-of-service attack, or hold social media accounts hostage.
Criminals can also start the attack first, and refuse to stop until the money is paid.
It's no longer just a lone disgruntled employee targeting a single company, Francis said. CryptoLocker is just one example of how cyber extortion technology has been commodified, making it accessible to a wider variety of criminals.
"It's a trend that we've seen increasing over the last couple of years," he said.
Here are some steps a company can take to protect itself:
1. Know Your Data
Understand the data your company has on hand and what is at risk. A company can’t fully know how much is at risk until they understand the nature and the amount of data they have.
2. Back It Up, and Back It Up, and Back It Up Again
Create file back-ups, data back-ups and back-up bandwidth capabilities. This will help a company to retain its information in the event that an extortion occurs.
3. Phishing: Meet Training
Train employees to recognize spear phishing. Cyber security is not just an IT issue, it is an HR issue. All employees should learn the importance of protecting the information they regularly handle to help reduce exposure to the business.
4. Who, Who Are You
Do background checks on employees. Background checking employees can help identify whether they have criminal pasts.
5. Set Limits
Limit administrative capabilities for systems and social footprints. The fewer employees who have access to sensitive information, and the less access, the better.
6. Keep the Bad Guys Out ...
Ensure systems have appropriate firewall and antivirus technology. After the appropriate software is in place, evaluate the security settings on software, browser and email programs. In doing so, select system options that will meet your business needs without increasing risk.
7. ... But Be Prepared in Case They Get In Anyway
Have data breach prevention tools, including intrusion detection. Ensure employees are actually monitoring the detection tools. It is important to not only try to prevent a breach but to make sure that if a breach occurs the company is aware as soon as possible. Time is of the essence.
8. Patch, Patch, and Keep on Patching
Update security software patches in a timely manner. Regularly maintaining security protections on your operating system is vital to them being effective over time.
9. Down with DDoS
Invest in protection against distribution denial-of-service attacks. It is important to have the ability to avoid or absorb attacks meant to overwhelm or degrade your systems.
10. Fast Response Plan
Put a plan in place to manage a data breach. If a breach occurs, there should be a clear protocol for which an employee is managing the situation, and what action should be taken, such as informing the insurance provider and so on.
11. Keep Your Insurance Current
Protect your business with insurance coverage designed to address cyber risks. Insurance coverage typically includes liability protection when individuals who have been affected hold a company responsible for information compromised and will help pay for a company’s cost in dealing with a breach.