Most of America is hyper-aware of computer viruses—it’s a new reality that we have to deal with in this day and age. After several high-profile credit card breaches within major corporations over the last few years, the media has provided plenty of coverage in this arena.
However, there has been little to no coverage of some of the most recent ransomware cases that have popped up over the last several months. So we thought it deserved some attention.
Ransomware essentially operates like any other malicious software. It finds its way into a machine through software holes (even from reputable companies like Adobe).
Once in a system, it can attack in various ways and the end result can be devastating. It can lock you out of your own computer or even take it over remotely. This can be a scary thought for a personal computer, and even more concerning for an entire network.
Recently, there have been several ransomware attacks against hospitals throughout the United States. It’s gotten so serious that the FBI had to issue a message to the entire industry. This new threat locks up servers, and withholds patient medical records and other information vital to hospital operations.
The operators of the malware have started to demand payment via bitcoin to unlock systems. One “bulk deal” that was offered to MedStar hospitals in Maryland was 45 bitcoins (or about $18,500 US dollars). Bitcoin, and other digital currencies like it, are untraceable and make it that much easier for the operators to make money from their malware.
Hospitals are not the only industry that is being targeted. In late May the University of Calgary had to pay hackers $20,000 to get their systems back under their control.
This is essentially cyber-terrorism and it’s not going away anytime soon. Fortunately, there are ways to reduce the risk. IT departments and everyday users alike should be aware of suspicious emails, keep software updated and back up data regularly. We can’t prevent every attack, but by keeping up-to-date on the latest prevention measures, we have a better chance of staying safe.