In the past year ransomware attacks, malware that encrypts files then demands payment in Bitcoins to get a key to unlock them, have not only increased in number of attacks, but also the types of organizations hit. Medical facilities have been a big target. Hollywood Presbyterian Hospital in Los Angeles paid about $17,000 to hackers after ransomware hit their systems. Washington DC’s MedStar Health, comprising ten hospitals and 250 outpatient facilities, was knocked offline for days being after being infected with ransomware. Methodist Hospital in Henderson, Kentucky was offline when they had to deal with ransomware.
Hospitals aren’t the only victims though: school districts, police departments, and small business have all fallen victim. These types of organizations are chosen primarily because they don’t have strong security protocols. By some estimates, 80% of medium sized businesses and smaller don’t protect their data and less than half use secure email.
Last year, one cybersecurity company alone dealt with a mind boggling cases, which really isn’t not surprising considering how well ransomware works. One single strain of ransomware known as CryptoLocker earned somewhere between $3 and $27 million with better than a third of its victims paying the hackers.
It’s generally believed that there are several million attacks on computers in the United States a year, with the average victim paying $300. In 2014, the hackers behind CryptoWall earned made $1 million in six months and infected 625,000 computers, a quarter of a million of those in the US.
It’s estimated that cybergangs earn $70,000 a month by infecting computers with ransomware. The Internet Crime Complaint Center working in conjunction with the FBI fielded 992 complaints between April 2014 and June 2015 against CryptWall with losses reaching a staggering $18 million.
With this kind of money flowing in for relatively little work and an equal amount of risk, it’s no surprise criminal organizations based in China, Eastern Europe, Russia, and Ukraine all want to get a piece of the action. Between 2013 and 2014, there was a 250% increase in ransomware available on the black market. These organizations have even started licensing out the malware by charging a few hundred dollars a week for its use. An entire economy has grown with manufacturers, distributors, and consumers wanting the latest, most effective model.
Ransomware attacks almost always begin in the same way that most computer viruses do: a victim opening a phony phishing email. Somewhere around 23% of people open these fraudulent emails and more than 10% go on to download the infected attachments inside. Once that is done, the door is open for hackers to take over the victim’s computer. That said, victims can also get infected through compromised networks and malicious websites. While PC users are more susceptible than Mac users, it is mostly due to there being more PCs in the world and criminals see them as a greater return on investment.
While a couple of rarely used strains of ransomware have tools to remove the malware, in the vast majority of cases, there is very little the average consumer can do. Unfortunately for most, the only option is to pay the criminals, but that doesn’t guarantee they hold up their end of the bargain, and if they don’t, there is no way for a victim to get a refund.
The best way to prepare for a ransomware attack is to develop robust backup and data recovery policies, especially in the health and finance industries. Secondly, businesses and organizations need to train their employees to be able to recognize social engineering attacks and phishing emails. It’s also a good idea for everyone to be running the latest version of their operating system and that their anti-malware software is up to date. Finally, every organization should have their email gateways scan and block any malicious code it comes across. Don’t download anything from an email address you don’t recognize and be wary of unexpected emails from well-known brands with attachments.
In order to better protect yourself from being taken advantage of by ransomware, download the free Ransom Protection Checklist or sign up to receive it by mail. If you find that you might be at risk, schedule a free 10 minute Ransomware Safety Review.