Cyber Extortion vs Ransomware

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August 2, 2023

The escalating threat landscape in cyberspace has unveiled a new era of cyber threats where two of the most prevalent and menacing are cyber extortion and ransomware. Both pose significant risks to individual users and corporations, often leading to substantial financial loss and significant disruption to everyday activities. But what exactly are cyber extortion vs ransomware, and are they the same thing? This article aims to clarify these questions and delve into the core aspects of these menacing cyber threats.

Is Cyber Extortion the Same as Ransomware?

In simple terms, cyber extortion and ransomware are not the same, though they often overlap in practice. Cyber extortion is a broader category of cybercrime that involves threatening to harm a victim (usually by exposing or blocking access to sensitive data) unless a ransom is paid. Ransomware, on the other hand, is a specific type of malware used in many cyber extortion cases. It infects a victim’s computer, encrypts their files, and demands a ransom to restore access.

What is the Difference Between Ransomware and Extortionware?

Ransomware and extortionware are types of malicious software used in cyber extortion, but they operate differently. As mentioned above, ransomware restricts access to a victim’s data by encrypting it and then demands payment for its release. Extortionware, however, takes a different approach. This type of malware doesn’t just encrypt data; it steals it. Cybercriminals threaten to leak or sell stolen information on the dark web unless a ransom is paid, significantly raising the stakes for victims, particularly for businesses dealing with sensitive customer data.

What is Cyber Extortion?

Cyber extortion is a form of online threat where cybercriminals demand payment to prevent or stop an attack against the victim’s digital assets. The threat can range from infecting the victim’s systems with harmful malware to launching DDoS attacks, stealing sensitive data, or exploiting security vulnerabilities. The ransom demand is typically made in cryptocurrency, such as Bitcoin, due to its anonymous nature.

Cyber Extortion vs Ransomware

What is an example of Cyber Extortion?

A prime example of cyber extortion is the notorious WannaCry ransomware attack in May 2017. The ransomware infected over 200,000 computers in 150 countries, encrypting files and demanding Bitcoin payment for their release. The attack wreaked havoc across numerous industries, with the healthcare sector being particularly impacted.

What Does Ransomware Stand For?

The term “ransomware” is a combination of the words ‘ransom’ and ‘software.’ It refers to a type of malicious software designed to block access to a computer system or encrypt files until a sum of money, or ‘ransom,’ is paid. Ransomware attacks can be debilitating, and recovery can be a lengthy and costly process.

Types of Ransomware

Ransomware can be broadly categorized into three types: Encrypting ransomware, Locker ransomware, and Scareware.

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Encrypting Ransomware: This is the most common type. It encrypts personal files and folders, rendering them inaccessible. The attackers then demand a ransom for the decryption key.

Locker Ransomware: Instead of encrypting files, locker ransomware locks the victim out of the operating system, making it impossible to access the desktop and any apps or files. A ransom is demanded to unlock the system.

Scareware: This type of ransomware involves scaring the user into thinking their computer has been infected with a virus or that they’ve broken the law. The attackers then demand payment to ‘fix’ the issue or avoid ‘legal trouble.’


While both cyber extortion and ransomware involve a level of coercion to achieve financial gain, they are not identical. Cyber extortion is a broader term encompassing all forms of online threats that lead to a ransom demand, including DDoS attacks, doxing, and exploitation of security vulnerabilities. On the other hand, ransomware is a specific type of cyber extortion that involves the use of malicious software to deny access to a system or data until a ransom is paid.

The differences between ransomware and extortion lie in their approach—while both can be used in cyber extortion, ransomware denies access to data by encrypting it, while extortion ware steals data and threatens to expose it. As cyber threats continue to evolve and become more sophisticated, understanding these threats and how they operate is crucial for individuals and businesses alike to protect themselves and their digital assets.

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1. What is ransomware?

Ransomware is a type of malicious software that blocks access to a user’s data or a system until a ransom is paid. The most common form involves encrypting a victim’s files, and then demanding payment in exchange for the decryption key.

2. How is cyber extortion different from ransomware?

Cyber extortion is a broader term that encompasses all forms of online threats leading to a ransom demand. Ransomware is a specific type of cyber extortion that involves denying access to a system or data until a ransom is paid.

3. What is an example of cyber extortion?

An example of cyber extortion is the WannaCry ransomware attack of 2017, which encrypted files on infected computers and demanded a ransom for their release. The attack impacted over 200,000 computers in 150 countries.

4. How does ransomware infect a computer?

Ransomware can infect a computer in several ways, including through malicious email attachments, infected software applications, compromised websites, and exploit kits hidden in online advertisements.

5. Can you remove ransomware from your computer? 

It’s possible to remove ransomware from your computer using antivirus or antimalware software. However, this won’t necessarily decrypt your files. Experts often advise against paying the ransom, as there’s no guarantee the attackers will provide the decryption key.

6. What is extortionware?

Extortionware is a type of malware that doesn’t just encrypt data but steals it. Cybercriminals threaten to leak or sell this stolen information unless a ransom is paid.

7. What are the types of ransomware?

There are three main types of ransomware: Encrypting ransomware, which encrypts personal files and folders; Locker ransomware, which locks the victim out of the operating system; and Scareware, which tricks users into thinking their computer is infected or they’ve broken the law.

8. How can you prevent ransomware attacks?

Several strategies can help prevent ransomware attacks: keeping your operating system and applications updated, regularly backing up your data, using reliable security software, being cautious of email attachments and links, and avoiding suspicious websites.

9. How do attackers usually demand payment in a cyber extortion or ransomware attack?

Attackers typically demand payment in cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin, as it’s difficult to trace and allows them to maintain their anonymity.

10. What to do if you become a victim of ransomware or cyber extortion?

A: If you fall victim to ransomware or cyber extortion, it’s recommended to contact local authorities and report the incident to your country’s cybercrime unit. It’s generally advised not to pay the ransom. Instead, seek professional help to try to recover your data and secure your systems.

Noor Khan

Noor Khan


My name is Noor, and I am a seasoned entrepreneur focused on the area of artificial intelligence. As a robotics and cyber security researcher, I love to share my knowledge with the community around me.

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