The University of Calgary was forced to pay 20,000 Canadian dollars (around $15,700) to hackers who infiltrated the college’s information technology systems.
The cybercriminals committed the ransomware attack by encrypting the school’s data and keeping critical computer files from officials and staff.
In a statement posted on its website Wednesday, the University of Calgary wrote, “The expertise of our IT department allowed the university to isolate the effects of the attack and make significant progress toward restoration of the affected portions of our systems.”
Linda Dalgetty, vice president of finances and services at the university, offered justification for the school’s willingness to compromise with criminals at a news conference Tuesday. “We did that solely so we could protect the quality and the nature of the information we generate at the university. We do world-class research here…and we did not want to be in a position that we had exhausted the option to get people’s potential life work back.”
Ransomware attacks, which occur remotely and from an unknown location, have become a major enterprise for tech-savvy criminals. There were more than 1,800 and 2,400 complaints of reported losses from ransomware attacks filed to the FBI in 2014 and 2015, respectively. Roughly $47 million was stolen in the two years combined, law enforcement has also been targeted.
Ransomware attacks are now at an epidemic level, according to software security group Kaspersky Lab’s IT Threat Evolution in 2016. “Ransomware became the main theme of the quarter…[and] unfortunately, this is a situation that will continue to evolve, and those behind the extortion could well end up being named ‘problem of the year.'” Cybersecurity experts identified over 2,900 incidences of new, adapted ransomware attacks between January and March of 2016. Attacks change so rapidly it’s extremely difficult for law enforcement institutions to keep up to speed.
According to the Cleveland division of the FBI, “perpetrators use ransomware to encrypt a user’s important files and documents, making them unreadable, until a ransom is paid.” The FBI suggests a number of defenses, including downloading the most up-to-date anti-virus software, refraining from opening “attachments included in unsolicited emails,” and installing an extensive data back-up system.
The Hollywood Presbyterian Medical Center was the victim of a ransomware attack and even had to go into crisis mode as critical IT systems and infrastructure were locked. MedStar, a network of 10 Maryland hospitals, was hit with a barrage of ransomware attacks, but was able to solve the problem without paying a ransom.
Kaspersky researchers affirm another significant “reason for the rise in ransomware attacks: users believe the threat is unbeatable. Businesses and individuals are not aware of the technology countermeasures that could help to prevent infection and the locking of files or systems.”
Sens. Ron Johnson and Tom Carper, chairman and ranking member of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, wrote letters to the Department of Homeland Security and Department of Justice requesting any useful information on ransomware attacks.
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