Low-level hackers want your photos, not your bank data

What kind of data do ransomware hackers hold hostage?

Hackers who use ransomware are after money, and they prey on victims’ emotions to get it.

They hack into people’s computers or internet-connected external storage devices (such as Apple’s Time Capsule) and hold their digital photos and videos hostage, demanding money in return.

Why not seemingly more vital data, like Social Security numbers or financial information? People can reproduce tax records or consult their banks anytime, said the FBI’s Brett Leatherman, assistant section chief in the bureau’s Cyber Division.

But memories are different.

“They cannot reproduce treasured memories – treasured videos of their child’s first steps, their son or daughter’s middle school concert,” Leatherman said. “They try to prey on those areas of people’s lives that will cause them to want to pay a significant amount of money to get those memories back.”

It’s the same when hospitals are hit with ransomware attacks, like Hollywood Presbyterian Hospital in Los Angeles was this year. Patient info is a top priority for medical institutions, and hackers know they’ll pay quickly to get it back.

Hackers are also realistic about what people are willing to pay to get their memories back, Leatherman said. Individuals are usually hit with ransoms of less than $1,000.

Leatherman suggested disconnecting backup hard drives from the internet.