Would it be theoretically possible to design a 100% legal ransomware where the user voluntarily chooses to encrypt their files and pay to decrypt them? (Seriously, I always wondered if it was possible!) For example, the software would have to be voluntarily downloaded by the user, and it is clear to the user on the download website in large text that the program is ransomware. The website might say in large text on the home page, "This program locks your files and forces you to pay us with real money to get them back! Make yourself and your wallet sad, and try our ransomware today!" The terms and conditions when the program is being installed would clearly state to the user in large text that their files are about to be encrypted, and they will have to pay to get them back. The price would be set by the user before the files are encrypted. This hypothetical 100% legal program would see hypothetical users who act like Patrick from SpongeBob SquarePants.

Please note that I'm not going to do this, nor do I encourage this behaviour, but I am curious as if it is legal. I know nobody in real life would be dumb enough to voluntarily install ransomware on their computer!

  • 4
    That's a bizarre scenario. Why would anyone ever download this ? If both parties consent, it's a perfectly legal contract. It's not ransomware at this point: the customer just pays for the service to have their files decrypted.
    – Hilmar
    Mar 15, 2023 at 0:30
  • 1
    Why might it not be legal? And you'd be surprised at what people will do... especially if you advertised it as "free encryption". I read of a case years ago where someone took out an ad in a newspaper asking people to put a $5 bill in an envelope and mail it to an address. When people got nothing in return they started complaining, but nothing was promised in return so it was his money to keep. Never underestimate the power of stupid! Mar 15, 2023 at 1:29
  • Well, YouTubers do ask for money from their viewers and sometimes give nothing in return...
    – Felix An
    Mar 15, 2023 at 2:56
  • Calling this ransomeware really isn't apt.
    – ohwilleke
    Mar 15, 2023 at 20:23

1 Answer 1


It is not necessary to design anything (program design is outside the scope of Law SE, anyhow). It is legal to pay a person to encrypt your drive with BitLocker. It is legal to instruct them, as part of the contract, to not reveal the key to you, until you complete your contractual obligation (paying the fee that constitutes your consideration under the contract). The contract could immunize the encryptor against liability for the drive-owner wising up moments after enter is pressed.

  • Well, looks like it really IS possible, then! Thank you for the answer.
    – Felix An
    Mar 15, 2023 at 2:54
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    Yes, except that such an arrangement is not "ransomware" by any reasonable definition. Mar 15, 2023 at 6:09
  • The problem will be the design of the contract - the clause must be enforceable.
    – Trish
    Mar 15, 2023 at 10:42
  • What if a hacker stuck their ransomware in as part of another program the user downloaded, and hid the consent to being hit by ransomeare and paying for the decryption as part of the EULA that almost nobody actually reads?
    – nick012000
    Mar 15, 2023 at 12:36
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    @nick012000 That's exactly what the Canadian news channel CBC did several years back, to prove the point that people don't carefully read software EULAs. They made a RAT disguised as a horoscope app, and they tricked people on the street to agree to the terms and conditions, which permitted them to gain access to their phone. youtube.com/watch?v=xx1AUupLn2w
    – Felix An
    Mar 16, 2023 at 6:04

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