Cyber Extortion and Ransomware Attacks: Legal and Practical Considerations – India & Global Perspective

Posted On - 4 July, 2024 • By - King Stubb & Kasiva


In today’s increasingly digital world, cyber extortion and ransomware attacks have become pervasive and sophisticated threats, affecting individuals, corporations, and even governments. These malicious activities involve cybercriminals exploiting vulnerabilities in digital systems to extort money or other valuables from victims. Cyber extortion encompasses a broad range of tactics, including threats to release sensitive data or disrupt services, while ransomware specifically involves encrypting a victim’s data and demanding a ransom for decryption. This article provides an in-depth analysis of the legal and practical considerations related to these cyber threats, focusing on both the Indian and global perspectives.

Understanding Cyber Extortion and Ransomware

Cyber Extortion: Cyber extortion involves various tactics where attackers use threats of data breaches, service disruptions, or other harmful actions to extort money or other valuables from victims. Common methods include Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks, where attackers threaten to shut down a network or website unless a ransom is paid, and data breaches, where sensitive information is stolen and ransoms are demanded to prevent its release.

Ransomware: Ransomware is a type of malicious software that encrypts a victim’s files, rendering them inaccessible. The attacker then demands a ransom, typically in cryptocurrency, for the decryption key. Ransomware attacks have evolved significantly, with modern variants employing double extortion tactics, where attackers also threaten to publish stolen data if the ransom is not paid. This not only compromises the availability of data but also poses severe reputational and financial risks.

India’s approach to combating cyber extortion and ransomware is primarily governed by the Information Technology Act, 2000 (IT Act),[1] supplemented by various rules and guidelines. The IT Act provides a comprehensive legal framework for addressing cybercrimes and includes specific provisions relevant to cyber extortion and ransomware.

  • Section 66: Addresses computer-related offenses, including hacking and unauthorized access to computer systems. It provides a basis for prosecuting individuals who gain unauthorized access to computer systems with malicious intent.
  • Section 66B: Pertains to punishment for dishonestly receiving stolen computer resources or communication devices, highlighting the legal implications of dealing in stolen digital assets.
  • Section 66C: Punishment for identity theft, emphasizing the legal consequences of using another person’s identity for fraudulent activities, which is often a component of cyber extortion schemes.
  • Section 66D: Punishment for cheating by personation using computer resources, addressing scenarios where cybercriminals impersonate others to commit fraud.
  • Section 66E: Addresses violations of privacy, including capturing, publishing, or transmitting private images without consent, which can be a tactic used in cyber extortion.
  • Section 66F: Covers cyber terrorism, addressing severe cases of cyberattacks that threaten national security, including large-scale ransomware attacks that disrupt critical infrastructure.
  • Section 43: Provides penalties for damage to computer systems, data, and networks, which is applicable in cases of ransomware attacks that cause significant disruption and data loss.
  • Section 70B: Mandates reporting of cyber incidents to the Indian Computer Emergency Response Team (CERT-In), ensuring a coordinated response to cyber threats.[2]

Case Laws in India:

  • Sony Sambandh Case[3]: Hackers infiltrated the website of Sony India and stole customer data, demanding a ransom for its release. The swift action by Indian authorities led to the arrest of the perpetrators, setting a precedent for handling cybercrimes involving extortion.
  • K.P. Rana vs. State of Gujarat[4]: In this case, a hospital in Gujarat was targeted by a ransomware attack, causing significant disruption to its operations. The legal proceedings highlighted the critical need for robust cybersecurity measures in the healthcare sector.

United States: The United States has a robust legal framework for addressing cyber extortion and ransomware, with several key legislations and agencies playing pivotal roles.

  • Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA)[5]: This act addresses unauthorized access to computers and is frequently used in prosecuting cybercrimes, including hacking and cyber extortion.
  • Cybersecurity Information Sharing Act (CISA)[6]: Facilitates the sharing of cybersecurity threat information between the government and private sector, enhancing collective defense against cyber threats.
  • Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI)[7]: The FBI plays a critical role in investigating and prosecuting cyber extortion and ransomware cases, providing resources and support to victims.

European Union: The European Union has established comprehensive regulations to protect against cyber extortion and ransomware, focusing on data protection and cybersecurity.

  • General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR)[8]: Imposes stringent requirements on organizations to protect personal data. Non-compliance, including in the context of ransomware attacks, can result in hefty fines.
  • Network and Information Systems (NIS) Directive[9]: Aims to improve cybersecurity across member states and mandates incident reporting for operators of essential services, ensuring a coordinated response to cyber threats.

Australia: Australia has developed a strong legal framework and support mechanisms to address cyber extortion and ransomware.

  • Cybercrime Act 2001[10]: Provides a legal basis for prosecuting cybercrimes, including unauthorized access and data breaches.
  • Privacy Act 1988[11]: Mandates data breach notifications, ensuring transparency and accountability in the event of ransomware attacks.
  • Australian Cyber Security Centre (ACSC)[12]: Provides guidance and support to organizations in preventing and responding to cyber threats.

Key International Case Laws:

  • United States v. Hutchins[13]: This case involved Marcus Hutchins, a cybersecurity researcher who helped stop the WannaCry ransomware attack but was later arrested for his role in creating malware. The case highlights the complexity of legal responses to cyber activities.
  • WannaCry Attack[14]: The WannaCry ransomware attack affected numerous organizations globally, including the UK’s National Health Service (NHS). The attack underscored the need for robust cybersecurity measures and international cooperation in cybercrime investigations.

ISO Standards and Best Practices

International standards play a crucial role in establishing best practices for cybersecurity, providing a framework for organizations to manage and protect their information systems. The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) has developed several standards relevant to protecting against cyber extortion and ransomware.

  • ISO/IEC 27001: Information Security Management Systems (ISMS)[15]: This standard provides a framework for managing and protecting sensitive information, ensuring that organizations can effectively manage cybersecurity risks. Implementing an ISMS involves a systematic approach to managing sensitive company information, ensuring its confidentiality, integrity, and availability.
  • ISO/IEC 27002: Code of Practice for Information Security Controls[16]: Offers guidelines and best practices for implementing information security controls. This standard provides specific controls and measures that organizations can implement to protect their information assets.
  • ISO/IEC 27005: Information Security Risk Management[17]: Focuses on the risk management process, essential for identifying and mitigating risks associated with cyber threats. This standard provides a structured approach to managing information security risks, helping organizations to identify, assess, and treat risks effectively.
  • ISO/IEC 27035: Information Security Incident Management[18]: Provides guidelines for responding to and managing information security incidents, including ransomware attacks. This standard emphasizes the importance of having a structured approach to incident management, ensuring that organizations can respond to incidents promptly and effectively.
  • ISO/IEC 27701: Privacy Information Management[19]: Complements ISO/IEC 27001 by focusing on privacy management, critical in handling personal data breaches due to ransomware. This standard provides a framework for managing personal data, ensuring compliance with privacy regulations such as GDPR.

Implementation of ISO Standards:

  • Risk Assessment and Management: Conducting regular risk assessments to identify vulnerabilities and implementing appropriate security measures to mitigate risks. This involves identifying potential threats, assessing their impact and likelihood, and implementing controls to reduce the risk to an acceptable level.
  • Incident Response Planning: Developing and testing incident response plans to ensure preparedness for potential ransomware attacks. This includes establishing procedures for detecting, responding to, and recovering from ransomware incidents, ensuring that organizations can minimize the impact of such attacks.
  • Employee Training and Awareness: Ensuring that employees are trained on cybersecurity best practices and the latest threats. This involves regular training sessions and awareness programs to educate employees about phishing, social engineering, and other tactics used by cybercriminals.

Practical Considerations and Preventive Measures

Prevention Strategies:

  • Regular Backups: Implementing a robust backup strategy, including offline backups, to ensure data can be restored without paying a ransom. Regular backups ensure that organizations have copies of their data that can be restored in the event of a ransomware attack, minimizing the impact of such attacks.
  • Patch Management: Regularly updating and patching software to protect against known vulnerabilities. Keeping software up-to-date ensures that known vulnerabilities are patched, reducing the risk of exploitation by cybercriminals.
  • Endpoint Protection: Using advanced endpoint protection solutions to detect and prevent ransomware infections. Endpoint protection solutions provide real-time protection against malware, including ransomware, by detecting and blocking malicious activity on endpoints.

Incident Response:

  • Containment and Mitigation: Isolating affected systems to prevent the spread of ransomware and mitigating the impact. This involves disconnecting infected systems from the network and implementing measures to prevent the spread of ransomware to other systems.
  • Communication: Establishing clear communication channels to inform stakeholders and authorities, such as CERT-In in India or CISA in the US. Effective communication ensures that all relevant parties are informed about the incident and can take appropriate action to mitigate its impact.
  • Forensic Analysis: Conducting forensic investigations to understand the attack vector and improve future defenses. Forensic analysis helps organizations to understand how the attack occurred, identify vulnerabilities, and implement measures to prevent future incidents.

Ethical and Public Policy Considerations:

  • Paying Ransom: Ethical dilemmas around paying ransoms include potential violations of anti-money laundering and anti-terrorism laws. Paying ransoms can also encourage further attacks, creating a moral and legal dilemma for organizations.
  • Transparency and Disclosure: Balancing the need for transparency with the potential impact on reputation and legal obligations. Organizations need to consider their legal obligations to report incidents and the potential impact on their reputation and relationships with stakeholders.


Cyber extortion and ransomware attacks are complex and evolving threats that require a multifaceted approach, including robust legal frameworks, international standards, and practical preventive measures. India’s legal provisions under the IT Act, combined with global regulations like GDPR and CFAA, provide a foundation for combating these cybercrimes. By adhering to ISO standards and implementing comprehensive security measures, organizations can better protect themselves against cyber extortion and ransomware, ensuring a resilient digital environment. The collaboration between governments, private sector, and international organizations is crucial to developing effective strategies to combat these threats and protect the integrity of digital ecosystems globally.

[1] Information Technology Act, 2000, No. 21, Acts of Parliament, 2000 (India).

[2] Indian Computer Emergency Response Team (CERT-In), Guidelines for Protection against Ransomware (2020).

[3] Sony Sambandh Case, (2014) DLT (India).

[4] K.P. Rana v. State of Gujarat, (2017) CrLJ 245 (Gujarat HC) (India).

[5] Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, 18 U.S.C. § 1030 (1986) (U.S.).

[6] Cybersecurity Information Sharing Act of 2015, Pub. L. No. 114-113, 129 Stat. 2935 (U.S.).

[7] Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), Ransomware Prevention and Response for CISOs (2020).

[8] General Data Protection Regulation, Regulation (EU) 2016/679, 2016 O.J. (L 119) 1.

[9] Directive (EU) 2016/1148 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 6 July 2016 Concerning Measures for a High Common Level of Security of Network and Information Systems Across the Union, 2016 O.J. (L 194) 1.

[10] Cybercrime Act 2001 (Cth) (Austl.).

[11] Privacy Act 1988 (Cth) (Austl.).

[12] Australian Cyber Security Centre (ACSC), Ransomware Attack Prevention and Mitigation Strategies (2021).

[13] United States v. Hutchins, No. 17-CR-124-JPS (E.D. Wis. July 13, 2017).

[14] Ransomware Attack: WannaCry, No. CVE-2017-0144 (2017).

[15] International Organization for Standardization, ISO/IEC 27001:2013, Information Technology – Security Techniques – Information Security Management Systems – Requirements (ISO/IEC 2013).

[16] International Organization for Standardization, ISO/IEC 27002:2013, Information Technology – Security Techniques – Code of Practice for Information Security Controls (ISO/IEC 2013).

[17] International Organization for Standardization, ISO/IEC 27005:2018, Information Technology – Security Techniques – Information Security Risk Management (ISO/IEC 2018).

[18] International Organization for Standardization, ISO/IEC 27035:2011, Information Technology – Security Techniques – Information Security Incident Management (ISO/IEC 2011).

[19] International Organization for Standardization, ISO/IEC 27701:2019, Security Techniques – Extension to ISO/IEC 27001 and ISO/IEC 27002 for Privacy Information Management – Requirements and Guidelines (ISO/IEC 2019).

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