The U.S. Computer Emergency Readiness Team (CERT) has a new advisory on the dangers of data extortion in which it stresses that Web servers are now a popular means of entry for ransomware. This is another fine reason for keeping Web servers and their databases completely walled off from more sensitive parts of your networks. Although it would be terrible if attackers were to gain control of your website, letting them do the same to payroll, accounts payable and the supply chain can be far worse. But the most significant point that the CERT made was that organizations shouldn\u2019t pay ransoms. Ever.\u201cPaying the ransom does not guarantee the encrypted files will be released. It only guarantees that the malicious actors receive the victim\u2019s money and, in some cases, their banking information,\u201d said the advisory. \u201cIn addition, decrypting files does not mean the malware infection itself has been removed.\u201dAs with ransom situations in the physical world, that\u2019s great advice \u2014 though it can be very hard to follow it in the middle of an intense hostage drama, when paying the ransom can seem like an easy way to resolve the crisis. We\u2019re well into the digital age, when organizations simply can\u2019t function without their data. That can make them desperate.But consider what the CERT is saying. \u201cPaying the ransom does not guarantee the encrypted files will be released.\u201d You can hope that you\u2019re dealing with professionals, but you have no way of knowing that. The attackers could be amateurs trying to make extra money or bored teens doing it for entertainment. And even if they are professionals, surely you have heard the old proverb, \u201cThere is no honor among thieves.\u201dWhat there is among thieves is enough smarts to assess the risks of not keeping their word. They know that it would be bad for business for its victims to announce to the world that they paid a ransom and their data wasn\u2019t restored. A single announcement like that would probably do far more to convince other organizations to never pay a data ransom than a thousand CERT advisories. Come to think of it, if the CERT really wants to stop ransomware victims from paying up, it should encourage as many of them as possible to say that they paid the ransom and didn\u2019t get their data back. Amateurs and bored teens, however, don\u2019t really think about what\u2019s bad for business. They haven\u2019t thought it through and might even be scared that returning the data would give law enforcement another chance to catch them. But you know what? If the fear of a dishonest thief not returning your data keeps you from paying the ransom, that works for me. There is another, more troubling reality, and CERT flagged it: \u201cDecrypting files does not mean the malware infection itself has been removed.\u201d In other words, if you pay the ransom and have your data access restored, that doesn\u2019t mean the threat is gone. Indeed, you have almost no reason to believe that it is. Having taken the effort to snake his way into your system, why would the thief ever remove that hold? You have now proved yourself to be someone who is willing to pay a ransom. As in any business, the most profitable customers are repeat customers. The most likely scenario is that the thieves will return the data to you and then wait a few weeks, maybe a few months, and then do it to you again. And again. That\u2019s the real reason to not pay the ransom. If you won\u2019t refuse payment as a way of advancing a societal benefit (if people collectively stop paying ransoms, kidnappers will stop kidnapping), do it for a selfish reason. The bad guys are in your system, and you\u2019re going to need heavy-duty help to remove them fully and completely. Instead of paying the ransom, spend that money on a team that can clean your system out fully. Consider the societal benefit as icing.