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Watch Out for Ransomware
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09 November 2017  

Town of Prescott Valley Information Technology Manager Casey Danner Discusses the Threat of Ransomware

PRESCOTT VALLEY- The internet and computers provide many benefits to individuals such as a wealth of knowledge, connectivity with others through social media platforms and the ability to have thousands of files in one place. However, along with the benefits come threats to people through viruses and malware with the newest issue being that of ransomware.

The nasty bug was a topic of discussion at the recent Prescott Valley Chamber of Commerce quarterly breakfast as Prescott Valley Information Technology Manager Casey Danner said a computer infected with ransomware has files attacked and held hostage.

“Over the last two or three years it’s (ransomware) become the de-facto malware,” Danner said. “Generally, they are trying to extort money, bitcoins, from people by encrypting files..then basically requiring money to un-encrypt those. Only one in five actually follow through with the un-encryption once somebody pays it.”

Danner quoted a recent Kaspersky study that stated an additional 15% of businesses in the top ten industry sectors have been attacked with the focus on education and information technology.

“The trend is more toward business, especially big businesses,” Danner said. “The people that are developing these ransomwares are targeting big businesses because that is where the money is.”

In addition, the route criminals are using to attack computers is intensifying. Danner mentioned in 2016, user’s would be effected through emails that looked legitimate but upon clicking on attachment or link would bring about the ransomware. Now, Danner said criminals are using remote desktop procedures and ports that are open on people’s websites.

“They get in and take control of somebody’s network and propagate it that way,” Danner said. “Social engineering is a huge way that people are doing this.”

Once an individual is infected, the result is expensive. Danner mentioned Los Angeles Valley College gave up $28,000 and Madison County, Indiana forfeited $21,000 in 2016 and the expected damages in 2017 are expected to surpass five-billion dollars. Just wiping the infected device is considered the best option.

“Generally with ransomware, the best idea if you get it on your computer is to basically, unfortunately, wipe your computer and reload it,” Danner said. “You want to make sure you are getting rid of every spec of that problem.”

“Backup is the key,” said Danner, mentioning the city of Prescott Valley runs a backup each night. “In the cyber world we live in, there are attacks. If you have a good backup of your data, especially with ransomware, you can delete your data structure and recreate it from a backup from the night before.”

In addition to backups, Danner recommends caution when downloading innocent-looking software, updating programs and anti-virus applications frequently, testing removable drives in an anti-virus software, deleting chain mail and destroying unusable CDs and flash-drives rather than just tossing them in the garbage.

Also, Danner said users should create difficult passwords-such as lowercase and capital letters-along with changing the code every 90-120 days, locking devices when not in use, logging-out of important websites instead of just pushing the close button and the use of a suitable firewall on the computer.
Danner’s full list of do’s and don’ts are below.

“More and more businesses are doing things online,” Danner said. “It’s always out there. You just want to make sure you are doing everything you can as a small business, large business, to be secure.”

List provided by Danner

Do’s

  • Back up your data!!!!
  • Ensure physical security of your computer, laptop or mobile phone at all times. Lock your computer and mobile phone when not in use. 
  • Ensure access control by incorporating things like complex passwords. Use upper and lower case, numbers and special characters. PLEASE don’t leave your password taped to your computer or under your keyboard.
  • Password-protect sensitive and confidential files.
  • Be careful while installing software. Often times, innocent looking software can contain malware or spyware.
  • Update software regularly. Suppliers of PCs, software, and operating systems such as Windows frequently issue software updates (patches) to fix minor problems (bugs) or improve security. Keeping the computer up to date is vital. Windows XP and Server 2003 are no longer supported and no fixes are being provided. Update those systems as soon as you can.
  • Update your anti-virus software regularly.
  • Test removable hard drives, re-writeable CD and flash drive for virus contamination by running a scan on the system on insertion. This is especially important if those are being used in other systems.
  • Destroy damaged and unusable CDs and flash drives by rather than just dumping them in the garbage in case these contain sensitive information. Also, remove hard drives from the PCs and copiers that you get rid of.
  • Delete chain and junk emails rather than forwarding these.
  • Ensure security if you are using cloud computing services. Check the level of security provided by cloud computing provider.
  • Log out of websites after accessing desired information. Don’t just hit the X in the upper right corner.
  • Be careful when using social media such as Facebook.
  • Use different passwords for email and social media accounts. I’ve seen many instances of Facebook accounts getting hacked. You don’t want other info being compromised.
  • Exercise caution when downloading files from the Internet. Ensure that the source is a legitimate and reputable one.
  • Always visit Internet Banking sites through the bank’s website and only enter name and password information on an authenticated login page.
  • Verify domain name displayed on the site to avoid spoof websites.
  • Ensure a suitable firewall is installed on your PC to protect the contents from outsiders on the internet.
  • Treat your smartphone like a wallet - keep it safe and on your person at all times.
  • Remember your smartphone is a computer, thus all the same security principles should apply.
  • Use only reputable mobile apps.
  • Turn on the security features of your phone, set a password or Personal Identification Number (PIN).
  • Check for updates to phones operating system regularly. Install them as soon as they are available.
  • Do report loss of telephone to your cell phone provider immediately so it can be disabled. If you find it, it can be easily re-enabled.
  • Use only encrypted networks for Wi-Fi.
  • If possible, establish a relationship with a reputable cybersecurity firm that can do vulnerability scans on your network.

Don’ts

  • Don’t use pirated software – including operating system, application and antivirus, as it is not just a security hazard but may also result in systems crash at a critical time.
  • Don’t download files from the Internet directly without confirming the source. Use an anti-virus program that checks files before downloading.
  • Don’t open files even from known Email addresses, if you have any doubts about them. Some viruses can replicate themselves and spread through email. Confirm that your contact really sent an attachment. Always err on the side of caution!
  • Don’t open any files attached to an email if the subject line is questionable or unexpected.
  • Don't let any un-authorized person use your computer system.
  • Don't share your password with anyone, not even with your colleagues or the IT guy. If you need to, change it after.
  • Don’t have a ‘family,’ password based on the names of members of the family, pets, etc. as these are the easiest to break.
  • Don’t share your credit card or debit card information particularly the CVV (three digits behind the card) with anyone over the phone. These can be punched in the phone rather than reading out to an operator for making payments.
  • Don’t access Internet Banking website through a link from another website or a link in an e-mail.
  • Don’t access Internet Banking site at Cyber cafes and shared PCs.
  • Don’t copy and paste your login credentials or account information. Always type them. Don’t check the box to “remember your login information”.
  • Don’t respond to emails asking for confidential credentials, even if purportedly sent by the Bank. Bank rarely ever email and never ask for confidential information like user ID, password, credit card number, CVV, etc, via mail, SMS or bank initiated phone calls.
  • Don’t use the same password for all your online accounts.
  • Don’t get carried away by emails promising large sums of money through an inheritance or other sources. Some guy in Africa is not going to give you millions!
  • Don’t open multimedia messages (MMS) or attachments in emails, or click on links in emails and SMS messages unless they are from a trusted source. They could contain malicious software or lead to a malicious website
  • Finally, don’t wait until you’re confronted with an incident to seek advice! If you have any questions, contact your nearest IT person and they’ll be glad to help.

 

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Torrence Dunham

Torrence Dunham is a multimedia journalist who graduated with a Bachelor's Degree from the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University.  Torrence is our PrescottValleyeNews.com Correspondent covering local news and events in Prescott Valley. He is also the lead sports correspondent and play-by-play pro for all our multimedia news sites. If he's not adding to his extensive sports bobble-head collection, he's talking baseball, his favorite. Follow him on Twitter: @Tadunham.