To stop the ransomware pandemic, start with the basics

Protect yourself from online attacks that threaten your identity, your files, your system, and your financial well-being.

TWENTY YEARS ago, it might have been the plot of a trashy airport thriller. These days, it is routine. On May 7th cyber-criminals shut down the pipeline supplying almost half the oil to America’s east coast for five days. To get it flowing again, they demanded a $4.3m ransom from Colonial Pipeline Company, the owner. Days later, a similar “ransomware” assault crippled most hospitals in Ireland.

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Such attacks are evidence of an epoch of intensifying cyber-insecurity that will impinge on everyone, from tech firms to schools and armies. One threat is catastrophe: think of an air-traffic-control system or a nuclear-power plant failing. But another is harder to spot, as cybercrime impedes the digitisation of many industries, hampering a revolution that promises to raise living standards around the world.

The first attempt at ransomware was made in 1989, with a virus spread via floppy disks. Cybercrime is getting worse as more devices are connected to networks and as geopolitics becomes less stable. The West is at odds with Russia and China and several autocracies give sanctuary to cyber-bandits.

Trillions of dollars are at stake. Most people have a vague sense of narrowly avoided fiascos: from the Sony Pictures attack that roiled Hollywood in 2014, to Equifax in 2017, when the details of 147m people were stolen. The big hacks are a familiar but confusing blur: remember SoBig, or SolarWinds, or WannaCry?

A forthcoming study from London Business School (LBS) captures the trends by examining comments made to investors by 12,000 listed firms in 85 countries over two decades. Cyber-risk has more than quadrupled since 2002 and tripled since 2013. The pattern of activity has become more global and has affected a broader range of industries. Workers logging in from home during the pandemic have almost certainly added to the risks. The number of affected firms is at a record high.

Faced with this picture, it is natural to worry most about spectacular crises caused by cyber-attacks. All countries have vulnerable physical nodes such as oil pipelines, power plants and…


The pandemic has been a boon for cybercriminals – Boston 25 News

Protect yourself from online attacks that threaten your identity, your files, your system, and your financial well-being.

BOSTON — School closures, car inspections stalled and emergency services communications affected; those are some of the disruptions ransomware attacks have caused in Massachusetts in recent weeks.

25 Investigates examined who is behind these attacks and whether enough is being done to thwart future incidents.

As investigative reporter Ted Daniel found, business has been good for these digital extortionists. Ransomware attacks in the U.S. have increased by 300% in the past nine months, in part because more people are working remotely.

Hackers form Evil Corp, a Russian cybercrimes organization, are responsible for ransomware attacks in 11 states, including Massachusetts, according to the Department of Justice.

Videos on social media show Evil Corp members enjoying a lavish lifestyle, including fast cars and exotic pets, presumably funded with ill-gotten money.

The FBI says a different group of Russian hackers is behind recent cyberattacks that shut down the Colonial gas pipeline. The pipeline moves nearly half the fuel used on the eastern seaboard. And you may be paying more at the pump because of it.

“The nature of these attacks does seem to be changing,” said Jane Fountain, a cybersecurity expert and professor at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst’s College of Information and Computer Sciences.

Fountain said hackers are demanding higher ransoms and stealing private data even when the ransom is paid. That data can include credit card numbers, medical records and social security numbers.

“Many criminals realize that they can try selling that data on the black market, all over the world. So they can attack operations, as well as encrypting data,” she said.

25 Investigates was the first to report that hackers took down the computer network at Lawrence City Hall last month.

Haverhill Public Schools was simultaneously dealing with a ransomware attack of its own.

Ransoms have also been demanded from or paid by the vendor that hosts the Registry of Motor Vehicles inspection network. That security failure cost repair shops thousands and temporarily allowed potentially unsafe cars on the road.

The list of ransomware attacks in Massachusetts includes: City of New Bedford, Tewksbury…


Ransomware attacks could reach ‘pandemic’ proportions. What to know after the pipeline hack.

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A cybersecurity expert warned U.S. lawmakers last week that the world was on the cusp of a “pandemic of a different variety.”

An "Out Of Service" bag covers a gas pump as cars continue line up for the chance to fill their gas tanks at a Circle K gas station near uptown Charlotte on May 11, 2021, following a ransomware attack that shut down the Colonial Pipeline. (Photo by Logan Cyrus / AFP)

© Logan Cyrus/AFP/Getty Images
An “Out Of Service” bag covers a gas pump as cars continue line up for the chance to fill their gas tanks at a Circle K gas station near uptown Charlotte on May 11, 2021, following a ransomware attack that shut down the Colonial Pipeline. (Photo by Logan Cyrus / AFP)

Christopher Krebs, who formerly headed the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency at the Department of Homeland Security, testified Wednesday before the House Committee on Homeland Security that a form of malware called ransomware has become more prevalent than ever before. Given an ever-widening criminal enterprise and vulnerable digital landscape, he said, critical infrastructure is at risk of debilitating attacks.


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Two days later, Colonial Pipeline, a major fuel pipeline connecting the East Coast, was hit in the largest known hack on U.S. energy infrastructure.

The incident, which instigated a shutdown of the pipeline, a panic-buying spree for gas and a price jump at the pump over the weekend, is one of the latest in a string of crippling ransomware attacks orchestrated by extortionary criminal organizations that mostly operate in foreign safe havens outside the grasps of America’s criminal justice system.

Experts say continued ransomware threats are inevitable, calling on businesses and governments to ramp up efforts to secure their online networks.

“Cybercriminals have been allowed to run amok while governments have mainly watched from the sidelines, unclear on whether cybercrime is a national security-level threat,” Krebs told lawmakers. “If there was any remaining doubt on that front, let’s dispense with it now: too many lives are at stake.”

What’s a ransomware attack?

Ransomware, a malicious computer code that hackers deploy to block an organization’s access to their own computer network to extort a ransom, is one of the most common forms of malware, experts say.

Hackers may barrage employees with phishing emails, convincing the user to download a file or visit an infected…


Cyber threats rise amid chaos of pandemic | News

BOSTON — With local governments, schools and businesses using the internet to stay connected during the pandemic, hackers have been busy at work trying to exploit weaknesses in computer systems to steal money and personal information.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Internet Crime Complaint Center logged 791,790 complaints of suspected internet crimes last year — an increase of more than 300,000 complaints from 2019. Reported losses exceeded $4.2 billion.

Topping the list of cyber crimes last year were computer “phishing” scams, non-payment/non-delivery scams and internet-based extortion, the agency said.

The FBI reported more than 12,000 victims of cyber crimes in Massachusetts last year, with losses topping $118 million.

“The bad guys have figured out how to make this into a business,” said Stephanie Helm, director of the MassCyberCenter at the Mass Tech Collaborative, which advises businesses and local governments on cyber security.

Helms said businesses, local governments and health care facilities, have become an increasingly popular targets for cyber criminals amid the pandemic.

The attacks range from malware, ransomware and email phishing scams, to old-fashioned con games using the internet to trick people out of their money.

The state Registry of Motor Vehicles is still reeling from a recent cyber attack that shut down its vehicle emissions system network.

Locally, Lawrence, Methuen and Haverhill city halls have reported coming under cyber attacks in the past year.

School districts have also come under attack in the past year, Helms said.

“Not only have they been targeted for ransomware but sometimes it was denial of service attacks that have shut down remote teaching classes,” she said.

Many other hacking attacks have preyed on people’s sense of loneliness throughout the pandemic, particularly the elderly who have been isolated at home or in long-term care facilities, she said.

The FBI data for Massachusetts shows that victims of cyber crimes 60 and older were more affected than other age groups last year. The agency reported…