The Top 5 Most Famous Ransomware Attacks

18 Jul 2023 by Development

As DevOps teams, it's important to stay up-to-date on emerging security threats. Ransomware is one of the fastest growing cybersecurity issues, with increasingly sophisticated attacks targeting businesses and organizations worldwide.  

In this blog post, we will explore some of the most famous ransomware incidents over the past decade that have had major economic consequences for their victims. We'll learn not only about the perpetrators and motivations behind these attacks but also how they have been able to succeed despite being discovered by authorities.  

By examining these prominent cases, you can better prepare your team against potential future ransomware risks as well as make sure your organization meets regulatory requirements when appropriate. 

What is Ransomware? 

Ransomware is a type of malicious software, also known as malware, that criminals use to launch data kidnapping and extortion attacks. It works by encrypting the victim's data and then demanding payment for the decryption key.  

The targets are usually individuals, businesses, and governments who have critical data and are willing to pay to get it back. The ransom demanded by these cybercriminals can range from a few hundred to several million dollars, often payable in untraceable cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin. 

The consequences of a ransomware attack can be devastating. For individuals, it may mean the loss of personal and financial information. Businesses, on the other hand, could suffer severe operational disruptions, financial losses, and damage to their reputation.  

Governments are not immune either; critical infrastructure, public services, and sensitive information are all potential targets. The sophistication and prevalence of ransomware attacks have been increasing over the years, making it a serious threat in the digital world. 

How it Works

Ransomware attacks typically commence by exploiting known vulnerabilities in software or operating systems. These vulnerabilities essentially act as loopholes or gaps in the system's security defenses, providing an open door for hackers. Cybercriminals manipulate these weaknesses to gain unauthorized access to systems, often without the user's knowledge.  

Once inside, they can encrypt files, lock users out of their own systems, and demand a ransom to restore access. This malicious practice has become increasingly common, causing significant disruptions and financial losses across various industries. 

One of the popular methods used by malicious actors to breach security protocols is through a deceptive technique known as phishing. In a typical phishing attack, the cybercriminal dispatches an email that convincingly mimics a trusted source, skillfully masking their malicious intent. This seemingly innocuous email harbors malignant attachments or embedded hyperlinks.  

Upon opening these attachments or clicking on these links, the unsuspecting user unknowingly facilitates the installation of the ransomware onto their device. This stealthy infiltration allows the ransomware to gain a foothold, thereby compromising the system's integrity and potentially leading to dire consequences. 

Drive-by downloads present another prevalent method of ransomware attacks. In this scenario, a user inadvertently visits a compromised website, which triggers an automatic download and installation of ransomware on their device, all unbeknownst to the user.  

Following its stealthy installation, the ransomware goes to work, locking and encrypting the user's data, effectively holding it hostage. The attacker then makes their move, demanding a ransom in exchange for the decryption key. This key is presented as the only solution to unlock and recover the user's files, thus creating a digital hostage situation. 

It's important to note that while new vulnerabilities can be exploited, many ransomware attacks actually take advantage of old, known vulnerabilities. This is because many users and organizations fail to keep their systems updated with the latest security patches, leaving them open to these kinds of attacks.  

What is RaaS? 

Ransomware as a Service (RaaS) has emerged as a business model that is alarmingly lucrative for cybercriminals. In this model, the developers of ransomware don't conduct the attacks themselves. Instead, they create and distribute their malicious software to other individuals or groups who are willing to carry out the actual attacks.  

This enables a wider distribution of the ransomware, reaching more potential victims, while also creating a decentralized network of attackers that is harder for law enforcement to track down. 

The RaaS model operates similarly to legitimate software as a service (SaaS) businesses. The ransomware creators provide their "customers" with all the tools they need to launch successful attacks, including the ransomware itself, decryption keys, and sometimes even customer support. The creators then take a cut of the ransoms paid by victims.  

This approach allows those who may not have the technical skills to create their own ransomware to still participate in cybercrime, further expanding the reach and impact of these attacks. 

Notable Ransomware Attacks 

Examples of notable ransomware attacks in the last several years include:  


The WannaCry ransomware attack, which occurred in May 2017, was a global cyber threat that affected hundreds of thousands of computers across 150 countries. The attack was executed by exploiting a known vulnerability, EternalBlue, in Microsoft's Windows operating system.  

Once the ransomware infected a system, it would encrypt files on the hard drive, rendering them inaccessible to users. The attackers then demanded a ransom payment in Bitcoin for the decryption of the affected files. The attack was particularly devastating due to its ability to spread like a worm, moving from one computer to another across networks.  

It wreaked havoc on various sectors, impacting hospitals, emergency services, and businesses worldwide. One of the main reasons for the success of the attack was the widespread use of outdated computer systems and operating systems, which were vulnerable to such exploits. 


The BitPaymer ransomware attack is a sophisticated cyber threat that primarily targets organizations via their unprotected Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP) ports. The attackers exploit weak passwords through brute-force attacks on internet-exposed RDP endpoints.  

Once access to a system is gained, the BitPaymer ransomware, also known as "wp_encrypt", encrypts most stored files and appends filenames with the ".locked" extension. It can also spread through phishing emails, with links or attachments that, once opened, result in the download of the Dridex malware onto the machine.  

Notably, one of the earliest BitPaymer attacks occurred in August 2017. Over the years, several companies, including those in Spain, have fallen victim to this ransomware attack, underscoring the importance of robust cybersecurity measures. 


The DoppelPaymer ransomware attack is a sophisticated cybercrime operation that has been linked to several high-profile incidents since its emergence in 2019. This malware infiltrates networks typically through malicious emails containing spear-phishing links or attachments, and then encrypts vital files on the system. After encryption, it demands a ransom from the victim to restore access to the files. 

The group behind DoppelPaymer has been linked to Russia, the EvilCorp group, and Emotet. Their targets have included sectors like healthcare, emergency services, and education. However, the operation has faced significant disruption recently. German and Ukrainian police, in cooperation with the FBI and European police agencies, have made arrests and targeted five core members believed to maintain the attack infrastructure. This international effort has led to the dismantling of the group behind 37 cyberattacks since 2019. 


The Hive ransomware attack is a significant cybersecurity incident that has been operational since June 2021. This cybercriminal group utilized a double-extortion model, wherein they first exfiltrated sensitive data from their victims before encrypting their systems. The victims were then asked for a ransom to both decrypt their systems and ensure the non-publication of the stolen data.  

The Hive group has targeted various sectors worldwide, including healthcare facilities, nonprofits, retailers, and energy providers. As of November 2022, they had victimized over 1,300 companies, amassing around US$100 million in ransom payments.  

The U.S. Department of Justice and the FBI have since disrupted the activities of the Hive group, seizing their servers and retrieving encryption keys to unlock the systems of over 300 victims. Despite these interventions, the group remains a major player in the ransomware space.  


The Petya ransomware attack, first identified in 2016, is a notorious malware campaign that has affected numerous sectors such as finance and transportation. This malicious software primarily targets Microsoft Windows-based systems, infecting the master boot record. The Petya ransomware operates by encrypting important files that a computer requires to function properly, essentially holding them hostage until a ransom is paid.  

Notably, Petya goes beyond targeting personal files like photos or documents; it can lock up an entire hard drive, preventing the computer from booting up altogether. Once the vulnerability is exploited, the attack prompts the user to conduct a system reboot, post which the files remain inaccessible without a decryption key.  

In essence, the Petya ransomware attack underscores the critical need for robust cybersecurity measures across all digital platforms.  


Each form of ransomware is striking in its own unique way; from the mode of operation, to the industries it targets, to the ways in which it spreads. Each example has its individual traits that distinguish it from other malicious actions. 

Additionally, some may simply require payment of a ransom and will exponentially increase the cost when payment deadline passes, while others might threaten to render compromised systems permanently inoperative once deadlines expire. Through knowing these unique modes and methods associated with each strain, understanding the motivations and trends connected with different ransomware samples can become more apparent. 

When ransomware infection strikes, swift action is essential. Taking the necessary steps to protect one's business or organization is highly recommended; reporting the incident to law enforcement and consulting with cybersecurity professionals should be primary considerations.  

Such experts can provide crucial assistance that prevent the capture and use, or further dissemination of sensitive data. Receiving assistance promptly is paramount, as timely responders are most likely to mitigate cyber damage, if not altogether rendering a ransomware attack moot. 

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