In the era of a globalized information environment, cybersecurity has become a major priority for individuals and organizations. Ransomware has emerged as one of the most dangerous tools in the cybercriminal arsenal, causing significant damage estimated at billions of dollars annually. These malicious programs block user access to their data or systems, demanding a ransom to restore access. However, the technical side of such attacks is just the tip of the iceberg; at their core, they rely on complex psychological manipulations aimed at forcing the victim to act against their interests, most often by paying the demanded ransom.

The Psychology of Ransomware: Tactics of Manipulation

Creating a Sense of Urgency: Cybercriminals often set strict deadlines for the payment of ransom, claiming that once the time expires, the data will be destroyed or made public. This creates artificial pressure and pushes victims to take hasty actions. The psychological principle used here is known as the “urgency effect,” which forces people to make decisions quickly, minimizing time for reflection and potentially leading to undesirable consequences.

Imitation of Authority: Ransomware often disguises itself as official warnings from well-known organizations or government agencies to lend weight to their demands. Using official-sounding language and logos, they exploit the authority of these organizations to convince the victim of the legitimacy of the demands.

Social Engineering: This tactic involves manipulating people to obtain confidential information or to compel them to perform certain actions. Criminals study their targets to apply social engineering most effectively, for example, by sending personalized phishing emails that appear legitimate.

Tactics of Manipulation Used by Cybercriminals

Analysis of Real Cases: Studying real incidents with ransomware reveals common strategies used by malefactors. One striking example is the attack on the municipal systems of the city of Atlanta in 2018 when criminals used the SamSam ransomware to block city systems and demanded a ransom in cryptocurrency. The criminals emphasized the need for a quick resolution to minimize damage to city services and residents, increasing pressure on officials.

Creating an Illusion of Legitimacy: Cybercriminals often resort to complex schemes to make their messages look plausible. This may include forging email addresses, websites, and other communication channels. For example, they can create an almost exact copy of a well-known company’s website to deceive the victim and make them enter confidential information, which is then used for extortion.

Use of Psychological Games: Based on an understanding of human psychology, malefactors develop scenarios that can evoke a sense of guilt or shame in the victim, prompting them to pay the ransom to avoid exposure. For instance, they may claim to have found indecent materials on the victim’s computer, even if it is not true.

Impact on Victims

Psychological Portrait of a Typical Victim: Victims are not only unprepared individuals but also companies where a clear cybersecurity strategy is lacking. Individual users who do not have sufficient IT security knowledge often find themselves in a particularly vulnerable position. The psychological profile of such victims includes a lack of information literacy, a high level of trust, and a tendency to panic in stressful situations.

The Impact of Attacks at Different Levels: At the organizational level, the consequences of ransomware attacks can range from temporary downtime to the complete loss of critical data. This affects not only the financial state of companies but also their reputation and customer trust. At the individual level, victims may experience long-term psychological trauma, such as post-traumatic stress disorder or depression.

Protection and Prevention

Employee Training and Awareness: Education is a key aspect of protection against ransomware. Regular employee training, phishing attack simulations, and information campaigns can significantly reduce the risk of a successful attack.

Technical Solutions: Implementing data backup, using updated antivirus software, and a multi-level security system are fundamental steps for protection against cyberattacks.

Psychological Preparation and Resistance Strategies: Developing critical thinking skills and training to counteract psychological pressure helps to strengthen the psychological resilience of employees.


Ransomware represents not only a technological threat but also a psychological battle. Cybercriminals skillfully use tactics of fear, threats, and manipulation to achieve their goals. The importance of understanding and recognizing these psychological aspects cannot be underestimated, as they play a key role in the success of ransomware attacks.