I'm doing some research and wondered since ransomware allows a user a decryption key- how that would be possible if it is not on a network?

12/23 Edit: After learning how ransomware works I'm now considering prevention methods.

Is it possible to have an air-gapped network? If so, can you explain how non-physical attacks could still get through?

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    How did the ransomware get on the computer in the first place, in your scenario?
    – schroeder
    Commented Dec 19, 2016 at 21:32
  • @schroeder: how about USB drive like in Stuxnet? Commented Dec 20, 2016 at 3:56
  • @SteffenUllrich sure, but what does the OP mean?
    – schroeder
    Commented Dec 20, 2016 at 7:20
  • 1
    @schroeder: good question. I think the question as it is now is open to multiple interpretations. But, since the title asks if ransomware works (i.e. does its encryption) on an air-gapped system and not if ransomware can infect such a system my interpretation is that it somehow got there. Commented Dec 20, 2016 at 7:59
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    I think you need to think of the situation in terms of 'vectors of infection'. If you disconnect a computer from a network, then the network is not a vector. The question then becomes, 'what other vectors could there be'?
    – schroeder
    Commented Dec 23, 2016 at 17:38

2 Answers 2


I assume you mean with an air-gapped system that it has no network connection but that it is still possible that the system get infected, for example using an infected USB drive as in the Stuxnet attack.

While most ransomware requires a network connection to communicate with the command and control server there are variants which don't require it. Such case is described in Avira: Locky goes offline (by design). In this specific case the public key used to encrypt the randomly generated encryption keys is contained in the ransomware itself instead of getting it from the C&C server. The files are encrypted and the user presented with the usual prompt which asks for payment and presents a reference number. It is the problem of the user then how to get the decryption key to the air-gapped system.


In early 2015, Security Researchers from Ben Gurion University in Israel showed a theoretical attack on airgapped machines called BitWhisper.

The attack requires two machines to be physically infected first, and immediately adjacent to eachother within a server rack. The first machine is the air-gapped one, the second being a networked server immediately adjacent. The air-gapped server then very slowly (~8 bits per hour) passes information from the air-gapped server to the other infected server by increasing and decreasing the temperature of the server which is then interpreted by the networked machine. From there the data could be passed anywhere.

So far however, BitWhisper is only a theoretical attack.

Original BitWhisper whitepaper.

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    and it requires that the code be already on both computers
    – schroeder
    Commented Dec 19, 2016 at 21:49
  • 1
    Seems like a highly unlikely scenario but really cool to say the least!
    – Jordan
    Commented Dec 23, 2016 at 16:54

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