The city of Baltimore has recently been hit with a ransomware attack and after two weeks, still hasn’t decided yet whetehr or not to pay the demanded 13 Bitcoin ransom (approximately $102,000).  Ransomware attacks have increased dramatically in 2019.  Earlier this year the Department of Homeland Security issued a warning about ransomware and steps you can take to combat the problem.  Here is a link to that warning: https://www.us-cert.gov/ncas/tips/ST19-001

Ransomware is the name for malware that once installed on a computer, often unwittingly through clicking on links in spear phishing emails, encrypts and locks all of the victim’s data.  The cybercriminal then threatens to destroy the data unless a bounty is paid.  In 2017 we experienced two massive ransomware attacks against millions of computers around the world.  These were the infamous WannaCry and Peta ransomware attacks. Later, the city government of Atlanta notoriously became a victim of ransomware when some of its systems were frozen using the infamous SamSam family of malware that has been used successfully against a number of companies and municipalities.  The new strain of ransomware used in the attack against Baltimore is called “RobbinHood.”   In its 2018 Verizon Data Breach Report, Verizon, which gathered data from 65 organizations in 65 countries, found that ransomware, which was only the 22nd most common malware in 2014, is now the number one most common malware used by cybercriminals.

While companies and government agencies are often the targets of ransomware, individuals are also targeted by this malware, as well. In fact, according to a report by the security firm Malwarebytes, ransomware attacks against consumers increased have increased dramatically in the past few years.  In many instances the cybercriminals merely scan large numbers of online systems until they find exploitable vulnerabilities that will enable the downloading of the ransomware.

TIPS

Often ransomware attacks as well as most other types of malware attacks are spread through phishing emails that lure unsuspecting people into clicking on malware infected links or downloading attachments tainted with malware.  As I am constantly reminding you, never click on links or download attachments until you have confirmed that they are legitimate.  A recent strain of ransomware was attached to free video games and free music downloads which lured victims into downloading the malware.

You also should update all of your electronic devices with the latest security updates and patches as soon as they become available, preferably automatically.  Many past ransomware attacks exploited vulnerabilities for which patches had already been issued. However, even if you have the most up to date security software on your computer and phone, it will not protect you from the latest zero day defect malware which is malware that exploits previously undiscovered vulnerabilities.

As for protecting yourself specifically from ransomware, you should regularly back up all of your data on at least two different platforms, such as in the Cloud and on a portable hard drive.

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