Safeguarding Your Information – Be Aware of Ransomware.
You’ve probably heard of ransomware but hopefully you’ve never had to deal with it directly. Here’s a quick explanation of what ransomware is and why it matters:
For US law enforcement, ransomware is an ever-growing concern. Ransomware is a relatively new criminal practice that blocks a person or organization’s access to their data as the perpetrator demands a payment in order for the victim(s) to regain access. Typically, the cycle features hackers sending victims a seemingly legitimate email designed to trick them into either clicking on a link or opening an attachment.
If the victim installs the malware on their computer, the hacker is then given permission to encrypt all of the files on the victim’s computer, preventing victims from opening email or files without a password that the hacker sets. The hacker then demands a modest payoff in exchange for the password. Why modest? Because if the ransom is too high, the hacker assumes the user will alert the police. In a ransomware scam, the hacker bets the victim will simply write off the incursion as a nuisance and go on with their lives.
Ransomware scams become even more complicated when an organization’s data is held at ransom.
For a police department or a federal agency that maintains digital records of investigations, ransomware has some big implications. Once case files are encrypted in a ransomware attack, the affected department or agency effectively loses control of the information in those files. This makes chain of custody nearly impossible to prove and casts doubt on the integrity of the department’s data, and by extension, their investigations. Taken to the extreme, hackers could potentially sell ransomware services to murder suspects who might wish to modify the evidence against them while their case files were encrypted.
For some recent examples of how these attacks have regrettably unfolded for departments across the country, the Boston Globe published this story on ransomware.
Ransomware attacks can be devastating, but many departments and agencies have already taken steps to defend against ransomware by primarily focusing on strong antivirus protection (to prevent unauthorized access in the first place) and reliable offline backups to safeguard and minimize the impact in the event a ransomware attack is successful.