What is Ransomware as a Service (RaaS)? Detailed 2023 guide

Ruheni Mathenge Last updated: February 11, 2023 Read time: 21 minutes Disclosure

Ransomware as a Service is a lucrative money-making opportunity for cybercriminals that has wreaked havoc in the business world.

Sneak peek at Ransomware as a Service (RaaS)

Ransomware as a Service (RaaS) is a sophisticated criminal business model that sells malicious software to enthusiastic rookie hackers. Less skilled hackers pay for subscriptions to use malicious programs through Bitcoin or other untraceable cryptocurrencies. The providers then share the profits affiliates, franchise, or even cut down a share of the ransom. Malicious malware is popular as it hands amateur hackers the power to bring down a big company to its knees with powerful ransomware such as Darkside RaaS, or Conti. Fortunately, business owners can prep their enterprises and cushion them from similar attacks.

Imagine sitting at your office desk; your computer screen just goes completely blank. A message from the blank screen pops up and breaks it to you in very crude English: “All your files have now been downloaded and encrypted.” The message continues to warn that you must pay a ransom to get the decryption key, or all your company secrets will be spilled on the dark web. Now, wake up from the imagination and face the reality of modern-day hacking — the ransomware-as-a-service (RaaS)!

Cyberattacks have become imminent over the last decade. Especially ransomware attacks significantly cripple thousands of medium businesses yearly, yet few people understand how RaaS runs or works.

While most common hackers worldwide are ordinary creepy nosy guys trying out malicious codes, the underworld can take a sophisticated business model. Ransomware developers sometimes lease out their malware products to lesser-skilled criminals who will then carry out the campaign. And that’s how Ransomware as a Service has become so rampant.

But what exactly is Ransomware-as-a-service? How does it work, and who sits at the apex of the hierarchy pyramid? How can you protect yourself from ransomware attacks? Our article digs deep into the underworld and lights up the dark web for you to see what exactly the criminals are doing. And most importantly, we recommend a few security tactics to keep you safe!

What is Ransom as a Service (RaaS)?

Ransomware as a Service is a well-organized business model run by criminals to distribute malicious ransomware programs. Simply, RaaS borrows this concept from legitimate software-as-service (SaaS) business models such as Slack, Dropbox, Microsoft Office 365, and others.

In legitimate SaaS businesses, the companies charge their customers monthly subscriptions or one-time fees. RaaS uses Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies, such as Ethereum or Dogecoin, that are difficult to trace

Cybercriminals advertise their products on the dark web and other underground criminal forums. Then, when cyber criminals have ransomware, they attack a company’s infrastructure systems.

But what exactly is ransomware? Is it any different from Ransomware as a Service? Let’s see!

Ransomware Vs. Ransomware-as-a-Service 

In the simplest terms possible, Ransomware-as-a-Service (RaaS) is a business model that sells ransomware to less skilled criminals. In contrast, ransomware is the actual payload malware that encrypts the data on a victim’s system.

After the criminal successfully infects the victims’ systems with ransomware, they demand that the victim pays a ransom. The ransom is supposed to unlock a decryption key that restores all the encrypted and downloaded data.

In short, the RaaS hackers target a system, attack it, and then blackmail the victim into sending them money.

How Ransomware-as-a-Service (RaaS) works: The RaaS business model

Most RaaS operators do not use the conventional business model or contractual businesses like legitimate businesses. The criminal schemes seldom outline their defined terms of service, but they work that around to fit their underworld business.

Studies on underworld businesses reveal that these criminal enterprises pick up common models with regular legitimate companies. For instance, a lower-skilled hacker who doesn’t have the technical know-how to write code can have enough phishing skills.

So, the deep web operator gives the top-tier ransomware program to the low-level hackers at a fee. Sometimes, it could even come with customer support and software updates. The hacker then uses the software for social engineering attacks.

Think of RaaS as a software company renting out its software for malicious purposes