I have written many times about ransomware because it continues to be a major problem for businesses, governments and individuals alike. 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 who sent the ransomware 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 becoming 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. 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. Recently, it was revealed that 23 municipalities in Texas were victimized by simultaneous ransomware attacks by a single hacker.
Now, DCH Health Systems which operates three hospitals in Alabama was hit by a ransomware attack which crippled its information systems at all three hospitals. DCH had not protected its data and chose to pay the ransom in order to get the key to unlock its data. This particular ransomware attack has been attributed to a Russian hacking group known as Grim Spider and used a variation of ransomware known as Ryuk.
Like all malware, ransomware must be downloaded on to your computer in order to cause problems. This is generally done by luring people to click on links or download infected attachments contained in spear phishing emails.
While we are aware of the many ransomware attacks targeting hospitals, government agencies and companies, it is important to remember that ransomware attacks also occur against individuals as well so it is important to take steps to protect yourself from this threat.
Because 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, you should never click on links in emails or download attachments unless you have absolutely confirmed that the email is legitimate. Ransomware attacks are not limited to cities and large institutions. They are also used to attack individuals and extort money from them.
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. The No More Ransom Project has a website that provides decryption tools for some of the older versions of ransomware that are still being used. Here is a link to their website https://www.nomoreransom.org/en/decryption-tools.html It is important, however, to remove the ransomware before downloading and using the decryption tools. This can be done using readily available antivirus software. It is also important to remember that 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.
Another precaution you should follow is to 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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