Colonial hack the latest in rising threat of ransomware attacks

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

Long lines and dry pumps at gas stations across the Southeast in recent days alerted Americans to the growing threat of cyberattacks on the systems that control many aspects of their lives and safety.

Security experts say the ransomware attack that led to a five-day shutdown of Colonial Pipeline Co.’s lines supplying fuel to 14 states was just the latest of hundreds of such hacks on critical industries in the past year. Meanwhile, recommendations from security watchdogs that would bolster protections against such threats have gone unheeded.

The tightest security would disconnect critical systems from the internet, experts say, as nuclear plants are required to do. And the government could mandate other security protocols rather than make recommendations with no penalties for noncompliance.

“The United States is one of the few countries that doesn’t have any regulation at a national level for cybersecurity for its critical infrastructure,” said Eric Cole, who served on the Center for Strategic and International Studies’ Commission on Cybersecurity during President Barack Obama’s administration and whose book, “Cyber Crisis,” comes out next month.

The number of attacks on companies that provide essential services, from banking and electricity to ambulances and agriculture, has risen steadily over the past decade with more than 250 ransomware assaults launched on U.S. entities considered critical infrastructure in 2020 alone, according to data compiled by Temple University.

Those included railroad systems, courts, jails, police departments, school districts, electric utilities and city halls big and small.

And now, the Colonial Pipeline.

“This is the one people have been warning about for some time, that they could physically incapacitate infrastructure,” Malcolm Nance, a retired Navy counterterrorism intelligence officer of 35 years and author of multiple books on national security, said of the Colonial hack. “Now we need an all-hands-on-deck review of the entire internet-controlled infrastructure of the U.S. – that’s oil, that’s gas, natural gas, water.”

In Graphics: US gas prices rise as Colonial Pipeline reopens after ransomware attack



Move aside malware, the rising threat is stalkerware

  • Cyberattacks, fraud, phishing, breaches and hacks have increased in sophistication, focus and capability, says an expert.
  • Criminals are becoming much more focused – instead of distributing encrypted files widely, they pick a target and find out all they can about that target.
  • In SA half of all companies surveyed suffered a ransomware attack in the past year, which led to an average of seven days of downtime.

Consumers must remain vigilant when it comes to their online activities if they are to keep themselves safe from the growing threat of cyberattacks – especially as criminals become more focused and sophisticated.

Moreover, stalkerware – a more focused form of cyber-attack – is on the rise. 

Lehan van den Heever, enterprise cyber security advisor for Kaspersky in Africa, explains that stalkerware is focused on specific individuals.

Among other things, stalkerware can enable the perpetrator to track a victim’s location, read their messages, view their photos and videos, eavesdrop on telephone conversations, and see everything typed on the keypad.

Cyberattacks, fraud, phishing, breaches and hacks have increased in sophistication, focus and capability, according to Anna Collard, senior vice president of content strategy at KnowBe4 Africa.

“Every front is vulnerable, every corner at risk, and the skills required to support organisations in the battle are rare, expensive and hard to find. Furthermore, there is a pressing need to empower women within the cybersecurity space,” she says.

No one immune

These warnings come on the back of an attack on Virgin Active’s systems on Friday.

On Friday evening, the gym group announced that it had become aware of a cyber-attack and that its security experts “immediately started working with cyber-security experts to carefully contain, manage and investigate the cyber event,” it said in a notice posted on its site.  

This was after its site had been inaccessible for some time during the day. 

It said it had been targeted by “sophisticated cybercriminals” and had taken its systems offline as it attempted to resolve the issue. 

There was no indication that any data had been removed from its systems, Virgin Active said. 

Ransomware? Don’t…


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