To help in the fight against cybercriminal activity, governments and industries alike have come together in support of National Cyber Security Awareness Month in October. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that banks, financial institutions, and organizations spend hundreds of millions of dollars to protect the data and financial information of their clients. As cybercriminal activity continues to climb, that amount is only sure to increase.

Marc Ashworth, CISSP, CISM, CRISC, Senior Vice President and Chief Information Security Officer for First Bank, said one particular form of cybercriminal activity is gaining in prominence. “There’s been another large surge in ransomware in 2019,” he said. “Basically, it’s become very big business. The bad players have created an underground criminal network and are making a lot of money with it.” He continued that they continue to grow in strength and are becoming more organized. “The bad actors have even started leasing out their ransomware capabilities to smaller criminal organizations for even further funding.” In fact, recent studies show that ransomware attacks are increasing more than 300% year over year. (dimensiondata.com)

Ransomware is defined by the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), a division of Homeland Security, as a type of malicious software, or malware, designed to deny access to a computer system or data until a ransom is paid. Ashworth explained, “It’s a type of malware that infects computer systems and locks down all data until the bad actors get something in return. Often, the requested “ransom” to have access to your data again is in the form of payment through sources such as Bitcoin.”

Cyber Security Awareness

The majority of ransomware viruses are spread through phishing emails, spam, hacking, malicious websites, and clicking on fictitious links. “I’d estimate that 75-95% of ransomware attacks started with a phishing email,” said Ashworth. “That’s why it’s so essential for organizations and businesses, regardless of their size, to consistently educate their staff on phishing emails and what they should be on the lookout for before clicking.”

Ashworth also suggested to regularly schedule backups to your organization’s data, periodically test those backups, to always maintain system updates, application whitelisting, disabling macros from running on your software programs, and to always stay informed. Ashworth recommends signing up for alerts on www.us-cert.gov. “I’d also recommend that if you are a victim of ransomware, to not pay the ransom and to remove any infected machines or devices from your organization’s network,” he said. “After all, these are masterful, unscrupulous criminals you are dealing with, so I would never trust them to fully restore your data without further complications or issues.”


For more information on ransomware, visit www.us-cert.gov/Ransomware.

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