Holding Your Files Hostage

By Amine Mekkaoui,

  Filed under: Risk Management and Information Security Blog
  Comments: None

With just one click your files, credit cards, medical records and other personal information could be hacked with ransomware malware. Earlier this month, a cyberattack on Hollywood Presbyterian Medical Center took the hospital’s medical records hostage, demanding ransom in the form of Bitcoins.

Bitcoin is a virtual currency. Transactions are made anonymously without bank involvement. Since Bitcoins aren’t tied to any country or subject to any regulations, international payments are easy and cheap. Every user has a Wallet ID, but the names of the buyers and sellers are never revealed. This level of anonymity provides the perfect breeding ground for transactions such as ransomware.

It would be nice if there was a list of things to look for to help prevent these attacks, but ransomware is evolving. Hackers are finding new ways to completely lock your computer systems and block access to all of your files and encrypt them. Emails that look like they are coming from utility companies, credit card companies, and even banks contain files that once they are clicked will overtake your system.

While Hollywood Presbyterian Medical Center chose to pay the ransom via Bitcoin citing the need to get back patient medial records and the hospital back up and running as soon as possible, paying ransom isn’t the way to go.

First, even if you pay whatever is being asked there is no guarantee you’ll get the encryption code to access your files, and since nearly all of these ransom requests are made through anonymous payment methods – like Bitcoin – there’s no tracing where the money went, therefore no way to go after the attacker.

Second, if you pay the ransom the hackers may see you as an easy target and come back for more.

Third, by paying ransom you are feeding into the criminality of the entire operation. Providing money to these hackers will allow them to up their game with new malware and build out the ransomware malware network.

If anything looks suspicious in your email don’t click it, and if you think you’ve been infected by malware shut down your computer and disconnect it from any server in order to minimize the risk of infecting the entire network.

There are five fundamental thinks you should always remember to do when working on your computer while connected the Internet:

  • Count to ten and think before you click: Do not click on any URL embedded in an email, even from someone you know, unless you confirm that email came from the sender.
  • Update everything: Keep your operating system updated otherwise you might be dismissing an important security update.
  • Backup your files: If you fail to do anything else, this is the most important task you must do on a daily basis. There are many external trusted sites you can use to backup your computer
  • Secure you wireless network: Make sure you use a strong password when setting up your Wi-Fi router
  • Use strong password: Avoid using your cat and dog names. Instead include at least one number, a capital letter, symbols such as # or $, and make your password is at least six characters.

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