Harrisburg expert warns against paying ransomware, could be a crime

Investigators

Harrisburg, Pa, (WHTM) — Ransomware is the biggest cyber threat out there and it’s on the rise.

“We have been seeing about a 30% increase in ransomware attacks since the pandemic started,” said John Sancenito, President, INA.

In a ransomware attack, the cybercriminal sends a phishing email with an attachment or link that looks real, but when you open the attachment or click on the link it introduces malware to the computer system, infecting the network and encrypting all the data. The victim then gets a message demanding a ransom to get the information back.

Sancenito says, schools have been a big target of ransomware during the pandemic.

“I know of several different school districts in Central Pennsylvania who have been the victim of ransomware attacks. They really are held, hostage. Sometimes the criminals are encrypting their learning plans or sometimes they are taking down their networks. This is particularly troublesome, especially when you have such a large number of students in remote learning,” said Sancenito.

If the victim of a ransomware attack has not backed up their data properly they may be forced to pay the ransom. In 2020, the Borough of Duncannon paid nearly $43,000 to regain access to its files and data after a ransomware attack.

“It is estimated that ransomware alone brought in at least 150 million dollars last year,” said Sancenito.

That money is often used to fund criminal activity.

“Paying the ransomware could be considered a crime because you are paying money to a criminal element and sometimes even a terrorist network for them to fund their operations,” said Sancenito. “You are seeing the government and the FBI saying they will go after companies who actually pay the ransomware attack which puts some companies in a bind because they could go out of business if they don’t get their data unencrypted but then they run the risk of being criminally prosecuted if they do.”

Cybercriminals often go after big entities with the ability to pay bigger ransoms, but attacks on personal computers happen as well. Sancenito says you can take some steps to protect yourself.

“The greatest defense against ransomware is to have a good backup of your data. First, you want to back up your data often. You also want to make sure that your data is done in stages, so you want a firm copy of that data backed up and disconnected from any other part of the network,” said Sancenito.

An external hard, which can be disconnected from the network, can be used to save data. Back-ups should be done daily or at least weekly.

“If you have a good backup, you don’t have to pay the ransom. You may be down with a slight interruption, but you are going to be back up and running in no time,” said Sancenito.

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