What you need to know about ransomware after Montgomery County's - WSFA.com Montgomery Alabama news.

What you need to know about ransomware after Montgomery County's attack

(Source: WSFA 12 News) (Source: WSFA 12 News)
MONTGOMERY, AL (WSFA) -

Ransomware attacks are a chief concern, the numbers of attacks have increased 300 percent over the last year.

In fact, 4,000 ransomware attacks are reported in the United States each day. 

A ransomware attack holds computer systems, servers and data hostage for money. These attacks take down personal computers, businesses, governments, and last week, Montgomery County’s IT infrastructure. 

“The estimated data in concern was over $5 million," stated Colonel Clinton Mixon, Commandant of the Air Force Cyber College at Maxwell Air Force Base. “These things have also taken out large international organizations. The country of the United Kingdom, their national health service has fallen prey to this attack. Their national health records were lost in some cases, and medical care was stopped for a day or so based on an attack previously this year.”

The public’s dependence on technology creates an opportunity for ransomware attacks to have a big impact with little effort, especially as many personal consumers don’t consistently practice safeguarding sensitive information.    

“There’s a misplaced sense of confidence in our ability to prevent this," Mixon stated. “There is no such thing as 100 percent in this arena, you’re not going to be able to keep a very determined individual out from anything. This is a known fact.”

Mixon says the cyber field continues to work to determine what motivates those who carry out ransomware attacks. Often, the data is used for leverage. 

“The amount of ransom just depends,” Mixon stated. “If it’s a true targeted system, if it’s a group of individuals who are doing this or people who are doing this as a profession, they are going to take time and do an analysis of their victims. They are going to know what is possible with the amount of money they expect to get," Mixon said of the more sophisticated ransomware attacks. “They will look at what they think this data is worth, they know this company’s budget or this person’s bank account has this much money in it because they know what their jobs are.”

In other cases, the ransomware attacks are commonly spread through malicious email attachments and ZIP file attachments. It can also spread to any device on the same network or other connections. Mixon aligns with other government agencies that discourage paying the ransom.

Montgomery County did in fact pay the ransom and believes the data was not compromised. Experts say often it isn’t immediately known if the data has been changed after an attack. 

“The thing that concerns myself the most is when they take the data, then they give you access back to it, the problem is while your computer is under their control, you don’t have any way of knowing what was done," Mixon stated. “You don’t know if they changed information, if they modified information, if they did take the information, and then if they have done that, if they sold it.” 

For individuals, Mixon encourages good cyber hygiene techniques.

“Make sure your stuff is locked, that you're not using the word ‘password' as your password," Mixon encouraged.

Mixon also encourages individuals to secure their home Wi-Fi connections and avoid logging into public Wi-Fi networks. 

“A lot of people like to go and connect their phone to whatever public network or coffee shop network they find,. There are a lot of ways those networks can be compromised," Mixon said.

Another way to prevent ransomware attacks is to run an anti-virus or firewall program and update all devices with the latest system upgrades.

Mixon says if you feel your information has been compromised, or you’re the victim of a ransomware attack, immediately disconnect the device from any network and shut off the system. 

For more information on ransomware attacks, visit the Department of Homeland Security or FBI websites.

Copyright 2017 WSFA 12 News. All rights reserved.

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