As time passes and technology advances, it seems like our lives are becoming more and more digital. Computers and smartphones are prominent examples; however, the other spheres of life have also been affected. Almost all household appliances can be connected to and controlled via the internet now. The situation is not different outside of our homes, from workplaces to places important for everyone’s lives, such as hospitals. These devices are called IoT – Internet of things, and even if the term seems unfamiliar to you, I can bet that you have had multiple encounters with them in your daily life. In this article, we will talk about how ransomware threatening our critical infrastructure.
While this can prove useful in many ways, it also puts our lives and possessions at risk that was not there before, especially as IoT devices often might not have the proper security and defenses against the darker side of the internet. Since the dawn of the internet, all kinds of hackers and cybercriminals have been finding ways to earn money by using the internet maliciously.
One of how that has been done and becoming more and more dangerous, especially with the Covid-19 pandemic forcing many businesses to go fully online, is ransomware. As the name suggests, ransomware is malicious software that infects your computer and quite literally demands a ransom to let you reaccess it. It can block your entire computer off; password protect the files it deems valuable, or cause many similar troubles and inconveniences.
It might seem like a scary thought, but it gets even more terrifying when you realize that it is not just you and me in danger, not just this or that company, but our entire society and community infrastructure. Unfortunately, cybercriminals with ransomware in their hands will not hesitate to take the whole country hostage if that suits their goals. For example, in 2015, an attack was performed on the Ukrainian power grid, causing entire cities to go into darkness.
When that happens, the messages demanding money may appear in multiple ways – endless pop-up messages, locked files, or impersonation of a law enforcement agency that seems to be after you because you have been doing something illegal.
The ransom demanded might vary from a few hundred dollars to much more, especially if the cybercriminals have a way to seriously harm an individual or a company by holding their files hostage. However, even if the ransom is paid, there is no guarantee that the computer attacked will be set free. As people behind it might decide to ask for more money, or they could not care enough to remove the ransomware, considering that they have gotten what they wanted. Additionally, while some attackers might direct their victims to pay the fee through a direct online method, such as Bitcoin, others might ask for the credit card data, which opens a whole new world of issues.
Another sphere of life that is unfortunately quite vulnerable to ransomware attacks, which might have enormous consequences if attacked, is healthcare. As many hospitals now use computers to perform a wide range of tasks, a cybersecurity issue can cause people’s lives to be in danger. Of course, the situation with the Covid-19 virus is making the problem even more terrifying, as more people than ever before need hospitals.
It is already suspected that a computer virus has caused the death of at least one patient in Germany, and anything can become a target of ruthless criminals. FBI has warned that many ransomware types target the public health sector specifically, which sadly makes lots of sense – when lives are at stake, people are ready to pay any price (pun not intended).
The currently most commonly used type of ransomware is called Ryuk. It first appeared in 2018, and it has been behind one third (or 67.3 million – yes, you read that number right) of the cyberattacks this year, including the one where the victim paid $34 million and many of the attacks on hospitals. In the beginning, Ryuk was delivered through phishing emails that contained links to Google Drive documents that carried the ransomware. However, as defenses have improved, so have the attacking methods, causing an endless fight between criminals and security firms.
One might say that technology has moved too fast, and there was not enough time to prepare all the defensive measures needed to protect an individual, company, or country from malicious cyberattacks. It certainly does seem like every day brings new technological advances. It cannot be easy for the people behind anti-virus programs, cybersecurity companies, and more to keep up. However, it does not mean that it cannot be done, and even more, all of us cannot help somehow. It is essential to continuously educate yourself and the people around you about the dangers of the internet, such as phishing emails and links and recognizing them.
For example, if an ad on the internet seems too good to be true, or an email seems unrealistic – you have won something or the police are after you for something you know you have not done, it is most likely a scam trying to put your data in danger). The entire communities need to work together, from ordinary people to government leaders, just like when it comes to preventing any other kind of crime.
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