Earlier this week criminal charges of wire fraud, conspiracy and computer fraud were brought against two Romanians, Mihai Alexandru Isvanca and Eveline Cismaru. The headlines in various media reporting this story were very misleading as they focused on the hacking of computers that controlled the Washington D.C. Metropolitan Police Department’s surveillance cameras a few days before the inauguration of Donald Trump as President of the United States. The implication was that this  hacking was somehow connected to the Trump inauguration. It was not.
This computer hacking was done purely for criminal financial purposes and had nothing to do with national security. The hackers targeted the easily hacked computers of the Metropolitan Police Department and used their computers to send out emails with ransomware attached to 179,000 email addresses.  Ransomware is the name for malware that once installed on a computer encrypts and locks all of the victim’s data.  The cybercriminal then threatens to destroy the data unless a bounty is paid.  Earlier this year we  experienced two massive ransomware attacks against millions of computers around the world.  These were the infamous WannaCry and Peta ransomware attacks.  Ransomware is most often spread through tainted links in emails that victims unwittingly click on and download the malware
One positive element of this story is that both alleged hackers were arrested in Romania with the cooperation of Romanian authorities. International cooperation is essential if cybercrime, which so often is international in nature, is to be successfully prosecuted.
Ransomware is a major threat to all of us as individuals in addition to companies and governmental agencies. It is important to 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.
As for other steps you can take to protect yourself from ransomware, first and foremost you should never click on links in emails or text messages unless you have absolutely confirmed that they are legitimate. Also, you should back up all of your data on at least two different platforms, such as in the Cloud and on a portable hard drive. Companies and agencies which can afford to do this, should also use Whitelisting software which prevents the installation of any unauthorized computer software programs.