Security/Emergency Information

Ransomware: Lessons learned

Don’t say that we didn’t warn you (see here, here and especially here). Here’s a tale about a synagogue in the NYC area, but it could happen to anyone.

In mid-November the rabbi’s secretary was going about her business on the shul computer. Whether she was duped to click on an infected popup advertisement or she visited an infected website the damage was done. What we do know is that this ransom note appeared on her screen:

ransomware-warning

Then the panic. The note was accurate, they were locked out of the shul’s only computer. What should the shul do?

  • They couldn’t get to their Quickbooks.
  • They couldn’t get to their member software.
  • They couldn’t get to the file with the Yahrzeits.
  • They couldn’t get to their record of Kol Nidre pledges

Some computer-savvy members tried various tools, but no luck. The problem was eventually brought to the synagogue board and a hearty debate followed. Would they just be paying a ransom and get nothing in return (See the FBI guidance here)?  Finally, the vote was to pay the ransom, 3 bitcoins (almost $2,400).  Fortunately, the thieves were relatively honest. The synagogue’s files were decrypted and they could recover their data. Many other victims pay, but their computers remain locked.

Lessons learned

People, there’s nothing new here. Check out JCRC-NY’s Cybersecurity Resources page and our cybersecurity blog posts. This episode is an expensive reminder that it’s crucial to practice good cyber-hygiene.

  1. Backup, backup, backup. There is no excuse. External thumb drives and hard drives are cheap. Buy one and take the time to configure the backup program so that it automatically, regularly keeps critical data safe. There are many free or low-cost cloud options. Backup to Google Drive, Dropbox or a cloud server provided by your anti-virus/backup program. The data in some shul membership management programs are automatically saved to the cloud which may even be monitored by full-time cybersecurity staff. Finally, more than one backup (e.g., one onsite, one offsite or in the cloud)  is better than one … one is better than none.
  2. Keep your anti-virus software up-to-date. The bad guys are smart and they’re getting smarter. Somehow, the bad guys got the rabbi’s secretary to click on the infected link. Our poor synagogue had anti-virus software, but it was a year out-of-date (duh, it turns itself off).  Most of the better anti-virus programs are updated constantly and will probably stop a ransomware attack before your data is seized. Buy a license that will protect all of your computers. (see bargain software rates for nonprofits at Techsoup).
  3. Have strong passwords and record them. Whoever set up the synagogue’s computer did follow “best practice” and didn’t give the users “Administrator” access (pardon the techy-talk). The trouble was that no one knew that password so the consultant who assisted the synagogue had to get permission from the board to reset the password before she could revive the computer. Click to https://www.lockdownyourlogin.com/ for the latest guidance on passwords.
  4. Beware of residual “bread crumbs”. Some ransomware leaves malware on a computer so that the bad guys can re-infect the computer. After all, you paid once, won’t you pay again? Once you have recovered the encrypted files, use multiple products to scan your computer: first your new, up-to-date anti-virus program, then a some others (the trial or basic versions are available free online) such as Malwarebytes, CCleaner, SUPERAntispyware, to name a few. There is no perfect solution. Each may find something that the others missed.
  5. Cybersecurity is a board responsibility. The incident was an expensive lesson. When no one on staff has computer skills, the board has a fiduciary responsibility to make sure that the staff know the basics of cyber-hygiene: the software is being updated, the backups are made, the anti-virus programs are working.

Finally, kudos to JCRC-NY’s outside computer maven from Dragonfly Technologies, who dropped everything to travel to the shul and spent many hours into the night to get them back in business and up-to-date.

Alerts and information about security and emergency preparedness for Jewish organizations.
View all Security/Emergency Information posts