System administrators were able to fend off an attack on the servers of Red Deer College last Friday. The ransomware program was transmitted through an infected file. An employee downloaded the file, but was quick to notice the virus. She notified the school’s IT help desk
Vice-president of college services Jim Brinkhurst explained how the college managed to repel the attack: “We were able to lock down the system within about five minutes. As a result of the quick response, we did not lose any data.”
Another educational institution was not quick enough to react to a recent attack. Earlier this month, The University of Calgary admitted falling victim to a ransomware attack. In the official statement, the institution revealed it had to pay $20,000 to get important data back. The school’s servers were affected by a program which encrypted essential data archives. Ransomware developers demand a release fee from their victims. The amount of the ransom often depends on the significance of the encrypted data.
Security experts urge people to take precautionary measures against these viruses. The installation of a ransomware program is easy to prompt. Computer security firm Sophos has taken a stance on the matter. Senior security adviser Chester Wisniewski made a statement on behalf of the Vancouver technicians.
Mr. Wisniewski pointed out that higher learning institutions are often targeted by ransomware. He shared his analysis on this tendency: “I would actually be surprised if any significantly sized organizations – especially something like a university, which is rather difficult to put controls on compared to a company – hasn’t experienced some ransomware attacks, although obviously not usually as high of profile or as visibly as the ones at the University of Calgary.”
To help people protect their computer systems from ransomware, Chester Wisniewski explained how these infections are distributed. The researcher said that spam e-mails serve as the gateway in almost all instances. The virus hides behind an attached file. The message attempts to convince the user the file is an important document. Mr. Wisniewski highlighted that Canadians have recently been targeted by spam letters which falsely represent the Canada Revenue Agency. The e-mails are well assembled to look genuine. They use fake e-mail accounts which resemble the official address of the institution.
The researcher noted software vulnerabilities as the other way for ransomware to enter a computer. Hackers usually exploit vulnerabilities in Adobe Flash Player. They take the user to a corrupted website and transmit the infection to his hard drive.
Red Deer College was infected in a slightly different manner. Mr. Brinkhurst explained the employee downloaded a file which was not sent by e-mail. Soon after, she noticed strange activity and contacted the IT support desk.
Mr. Brinkhurst pointed out that the college has been working diligently to improve its protection against cyber attacks. Both the technical department and the staff have gone through training sessions in the past six to eight months.
Chester Wisniewski stated that backing up your files is “critically important”. In the event of a ransomware attack, a backup can resolve the issue in the easiest way possible. This could spare you a lot of money and effort.
“At the University of Calgary, it could have saved them $20,000,” he added. “If you’ve got extra copies of all your sensitive information, you can tell the bad guys to take a hike and just go and get your backup hard drive.”
The researcher gave some useful tips on how to prevent ransomware attacks. The answer may be in your system. Wisniewski recommended keeping your software up-to-date. Updates patch security flaws. You should proof the reliability of messages which ask you to download a file or do an update. Unsolicited websites should be avoided. Having an anti-virus program to protect you from risky content would be of significance.