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High-Profile Ransomware Attacks On the Rise

Posted on 6.02.2016

Cybercriminals are becoming even more sophisticated (and ruthless) and are now employing ransomware at record levels.

Ransomware is a type of malicious software (executed in a variety of ways) that is designed to block access to a computer system until a sum of money is paid. Ransomware is typically delivered via email and works by encrypting a victim’s data and demanding payment in exchange for a decryption key. .

While ransomware has traditionally affected individuals, it's starting to impact the corporate and government sectors as well.

Members of the U.S. Congress, for example, recently received a warning from its technology service desk that warned of increased ransomware attacks on its network, warning that attackers are focusing their efforts on email apps including YahooMail and Gmail. Congress is far from the only entity that has been impacted to date, of course. Several major hospitals were also the target of ransomware attacks in late March 2016.

Just how significant is the problem? The FBI recently published a report noting that in 2015, ransomware attacks caused businesses and individuals to lose more than $1.6 million (and that's just what was reported). Incidents of ransomware, according to the FBI, hit a high in 2015 and are on pace to set a record this year too, indicating that attackers are becoming more sophisticated, too, moving from just sending dangerous emails to “seeding legitimate websites with malicious code.”

The problem is getting worse so is there anything enterprises and organizations can do? The FBI advises against paying any ransom as criminals don't always offers the unlock key they promise and even when they do, the payment can cause further problems as it emboldens the criminals to target more organizations.

Fortunately, a little planning (and some common sense) goes a long way to prevent being a victim of the surge in ransomware. If you're concerned about being the victim of an attack of this nature, there are some prudent steps that can and should be taken immediately.

For example, it's wise to back up your data daily (or at least regularly) so that even if computers or servers do get locked, the data can still be accessed. Another practice is to simply avoid suspicious emails and links altogether. That takes a fair amount of training - or retraining s it were - for employees but does limit exposure. Finally, applying patches regularly can also limit exposure.

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