The Tewksbury, Massachusetts Police Department became the latest in a long list of police departments that became a victim of ransomware, the malware that, generally through phishing, manages to become downloaded on to the department’s computers that locks and encrypts the victim’s files making them unusable. In this particular case, the Tewksbury Police Department’s arrest and incident records were locked and a message appeared that read, “Your personal files are encrypted. File decryption costs – $500.” The particular type of ransomware used in this case has been called KEYHolder and despite the efforts of federal and state law enforcement agencies as well as two computer security companies, the data could not be retrieved. Ultimately, the Tewksbury Police Department paid the five hundred dollar ransom electronically in bitcoins as demanded, making it pretty much impossible to trace.
In recent years, particularly since the development of CryptoLocker, one of the early ransomware malware programs, ransoming of computer data has brought criminals as much as 28 million dollars in ransom payments. Many government agencies and police departments have been targeted along with the computers of ordinary citizens. No one is safe. The Colinsville, Alabama Police Department became a victim of ransomware last summer, refused to pay the ransom and lost their infected database of mugshots. The Durham, New Hampshire Police Department also refused to pay a ransomware, but wisely had backed up its information so it lost nothing of value. Other police departments, companies, government agencies and individuals have not been so fortunate, however and have either paid the ransom or lost their data in many instances. Depending on the sophistication of the malware used, sometimes the ransomware can be defeated, but often it cannot.
Certainly you want to always keep your anti-virus and anti-malware software up to date on all of your electronic devices, however, you can never be fully confident that this will keep you safe because the latest viruses and malware are always at least a month ahead of the software security updates created to deal with these issues. Since generally the ransomware is downloaded on to the victim’s computer by clicking on a link in an email, it is critical that you not click on links in emails unless you are absolutely sure that the link is legitimate. Finally, it is very important to back up all of your data independently every day so that even in a worst case scenario, you will not need to give into the demands of extortionists.