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Ransomware is not a new concept to anyone, but it is becoming a more common occurrence and is a very real threat to anyone and everyone on the internet. Reports of ransomware victims are popping up everywhere, drawing attention to the fact that cyber criminals are more prominent than ever, and the public isn’t taking the necessary precautions to protect themselves.

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How Ransomware Works

Typically, a ransomware attack starts with an unsuspecting person opening a link or attachment that contains malicious code. That malicious code then locks the computer, or even the entire network. The victims are forced to either pay the ransom in order to obtain the decryption key, abandon the infected hardware, or resort to their backups.

A large number of ransomware victims just pay the ransom quietly, desperate to have their business-critical data back, and the attack is never made known to the public, despite warnings from law enforcement and IT professionals, feeling they have little to no choice because of inadequate backup solutions. A recent, well-publicized attack on Hollywood Presbyterian Medical Center ended with the hospital forking over the $17,000 ransom in an attempt to restore normal operations.

Ransomware Attack At Hollywood Presbyterian

 In an unusual move, not only did Hollywood Presbyterian Medical Center publically announce when they fell victim to a hacker to end the ransomware attack on their computer system, but they paid the ransom to have their information and access restored.

According to computer security experts, hospitals are especially vulnerable because some medical centers are running on older operating systems and are difficult to properly safeguard. When an infected file is opened on a computer it can have devastating effects, as that computer may be connected to a patient monitoring system or other critical medical device, and those as well could be locked.

Hospitals have not been thorough enough in their security measures and attempts to ward off cyber threats such as ransomware. Serious precautions need to be taken given the life and death nature of the work and the value and importance of confidential patient information.

Hollywood Presbyterian has stated the ransom was paid in an effort to resume normal operations, even though patient care was not being compromised. This unfortunate scenario could have been avoided with appropriate security measures and proper backups.

To Pay Or Not To Pay?

There is a simple formula used when deciding whether or not to pay a ransom. Paying a large sum, potentially thousands of dollars, to resolve a serious attack that has compromised a multi-million dollar company such as a hospital is almost obvious. It has even been suggested to several organizations by the FBI that they pay the ransom, because if you are at a point where there is nothing you can do, what other choice is there?

The Appeal of Ransomware

Ransomware is an appealing method of cyber crime because it can be pulled off with relative ease. While it has been around for years we are undoubtedly seeing a huge uprising In the frequency and severity of ransomware attacks.

In the case of Hollywood Presbyterian, a ransom of 40 bitcoins was paid (each bitcoin is valued at about $420 dollars a piece), which provides a nice return on the attackers investment, which ranges around 5-6 thousand. And that profit is just off of one attack. A ransomware campaign lasting about one month would cost the attacker only slightly less than $6000 and yield a return of upwards of $90 000, making ransomware big business.

We can expect to see the numbers of ransomware attacks continue to rise throughout the coming year as the software used to do it becomes increasingly more sophisticated, and it is estimated that around 3% of victims will pay the ransom demanded.

How To Protect Yourself

Experts, like those at Boston Helpdesk, recommend a multi-layered basic security strategy of Antivirus, Firewall, System Patching, Web Content Filtering, Data Backup and User Awareness Training to defend against these threats.

Where appropriate, implementation of additional advanced measures to this defense strategy including:

  • SSL Web Site Scanning
  • Outbound Port Restriction
  • Intrusion Prevention Systems (IPS)
  • Vulnerability Scanning
  • File Integrity Monitoring
  • Log Analysis and Monitoring

But, above all else, the single best thing you can do to keep ransomware at bay is simply never clicking on any links or attachments in unsolicited emails. Period.

For expert security solutions, guidance, and support head straight for the pros at Boston Help Desk. Contact us at (617) 848-9393 or to talk about how we can help you protect your valuable information and applications.

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