A. You Have Just Been Digitally Robbed….Now What?
Today, it seems that we are starting to see more aggressive crimes take place in cyberspace. The crime of robbery is becoming more advanced and more ‘digital.’ The latest method of robbery has taken on the MO of ransomware.
What happens when your computer locks you out of its system and/or network and demands you pay hundreds of dollars to see your desktop again? Well, on the verge of tears, you’ll do just about anything if it means protecting your digital files…or you’d think. Even if that means paying a stranger to unlock your computer.
If there’s one thing to take away here…never pay the ransom. There is never a guarantee that you will get all your files back, if at all. Also, the individual doesn’t know what other malicious bugs or codes have already been planted on top of that into the system.
B. What is ‘Ransomware’?
Ransomware is malicious software that is created and designed to restrict the user’s access to their computers operating system and/or network files until a ransom is paid to the hacker. More commonly, the individual is under the impression that they will lose all their files if they do not pay the ransom.
Typically, the individual is held hostage because they were the victim of a social engineering technique and either opening an email/website and/or clicking a link they believe to be safe and/or related to something they are fairly familiar with.
C. What is WannaCry and Who Was involved?
On May 12th, 2017, Microsoft Windows users spread across America cried out in digital unison as they were the latest victims of America’s biggest cyber-ransomware attacks in years.
The ransomware, known as ‘WannaCry’ held more than 200,000 people in over 150 countries digitally hostage, preventing them from accessing their computers and/or network with the threat of having all their files deleted, unless they paid at least $300-$600 in Bitcoins. Ironically, the National Security Agency (”NSA”) developed the very code that was used in this attack, which was recently leaked to the general public and used against the country’s digital infrastructure on a global level.
WannaCry displays a large message with countdown timers on the user’s computer screen informing them that their “files have been locked” and in order to recover the files, a certain amount of money needs to be payed by a certain deadline or the amount of money initially demanded will be increased. Additionally, a second countdown timer displays the amount of time left until all the users files will be lost.
It literally will make the user want to burst into tears, hence the name.
While many people are just now becoming familiar with WannaCry’s cyber consequences, Microsoft discovered this potential threat earlier this year and released a security patch back on March 14th for users to download which would prevent the software from spreading across networks.
D. Wake Up Call?
We need to stop fighting problems of the present with tools from the past. Otherwise, our technology will continue to suffer the harsh consequences of digital reality. This is the beginning to a new age of theft. Cyber-criminals are taking advantage of the black mirrors that surround them and preying upon individual’s desire to open anything and everything that catches their attention, which makes hackers’ social engineering techniques more and more inconspicuous.
This is a wake up call to companies such as the NSA and Microsoft to take more precautions in addressing and monitoring cyber-threats and how easy it is for our own coding and technology to be used against us.
E. What Should You Do to Prevent This?
1. Always be cognizant of what you are opening, clicking, and reading.
2. Update your Microsoft Windows computers
3. Always backup your backups
4. Using tools of the past to protect against threats of the present will ensure your digital explotation
5. Never pay the ransom. You will almost never get your files back.
6. Stay up to date on the latest technology news.
Attorney Rossow focuses in matters where criminal activities are conducted through the use of social media and technology. He is a native from Dallas, Texas and a graduate from The University of Dayton School of Law. He attended Hofstra University School of Business in Hempstead, New York. For more information, please follow him on Twitter at @RossowEsq or on Facebook at @drossowlaw.