September 15, 2016/Alert Number I-091516-PSA
RANSOMWARE VICTIMS URGED TO REPORT INFECTIONS TO FEDERAL LAW ENFORCEMENT
The FBI urges victims to report ransomware incidents to federal law enforcement to help us gain a more comprehensive view of the current threat and its impact on U.S. victims.
What Is Ransomware?
Ransomware is a type of malware installed on a computer or server that encrypts the files, making them inaccessible until a specified ransom is paid. Ransomware is typically installed when a user clicks on a malicious link, opens a file in an e-mail that installs the malware, or through drive-by downloads (which does not require user-initiation) from a compromised Web site.
Why We Need Your Help
New ransomware variants are emerging regularly. Cyber security companies reported that in the first several months of 2016, global ransomware infections were at an all-time high. Within the first weeks of its release, one particular ransomware variant compromised an estimated 100,000 computers a day.
Ransomware infections impact individual users and businesses regardless of size or industry by causing service disruptions, financial loss, and in some cases, permanent loss of valuable data. While ransomware infection statistics are often highlighted in the media and by computer security companies, it has been challenging for the FBI to ascertain the true number of ransomware victims as many infections go unreported to law enforcement.
Victims may not report to law enforcement for a number of reasons, including concerns over not knowing where and to whom to report; not feeling their loss warrants law enforcement attention; concerns over privacy, business reputation, or regulatory data breach reporting requirements; or embarrassment. Additionally, those who resolve the issue internally either by paying the ransom or by restoring their files from back-ups may not feel a need to contact law enforcement.
The FBI is urging victims to report ransomware incidents regardless of the outcome. Victim reporting provides law enforcement with a greater understanding of the threat, provides justification for ransomware investigations, and contributes relevant information to ongoing ransomware cases. Knowing more about victims and their experiences with ransomware will help the FBI to determine who is behind the attacks and how they are identifying or targeting victims.
Threats to Users
All ransomware variants pose a threat to individual users and businesses. Recent variants have targeted and compromised vulnerable business servers (rather than individual users) to identify and target hosts, thereby multiplying the number of potential infected servers and devices on a network. Actors engaging in this targeting strategy are also charging ransoms based on the number of host (or servers) infected. Additionally, recent victims who have been infected with these types of ransomware variants have not been provided the decryption keys for all their files after paying the ransom, and some have been extorted for even more money after payment.
This recent technique of targeting host servers and systems could translate into victims paying more to get their decryption keys, a prolonged recovery time, and the possibility that victims will not obtain full decryption of their files.
What to Report to Law Enforcement
The FBI is requesting victims reach out to their local FBI office and/or file a complaint with the Internet Crime Complaint Center, at www.IC3.gov, with the following ransomware infection details (as applicable):
- Date of Infection
- Ransomware Variant (identified on the ransom page or by the encrypted file extension)
- Victim Company Information (industry type, business size, etc.)
- How the Infection Occurred (link in e-mail, browsing the Internet, etc.)
- Requested Ransom Amount
- Actor’s Bitcoin Wallet Address (may be listed on the ransom page)
- Ransom Amount Paid (if any)
- Overall Losses Associated with a Ransomware Infection (including the ransom amount)
- Victim Impact Statement
The FBI does not support paying a ransom to the adversary. Paying a ransom does not guarantee the victim will regain access to their data; in fact, some individuals or organizations are never provided with decryption keys after paying a ransom. Paying a ransom emboldens the adversary to target other victims for profit, and could provide incentive for other criminals to engage in similar illicit activities for financial gain. While the FBI does not support paying a ransom, it recognizes executives, when faced with inoperability issues, will evaluate all options to protect their shareholders, employees, and customers.
The FBI recommends users consider implementing the following prevention and continuity measures to lessen the risk of a successful ransomware attack.
- Regularly back up data and verify the integrity of those backups. Backups are critical in ransomware incidents; if you are infected, backups may be the best way to recover your critical data.
- Secure your backups. Ensure backups are not connected to the computers and networks they are backing up. Examples might include securing backups in the cloud or physically storing them offline. It should be noted, some instances of ransomware have the capability to lock cloud-based backups when systems continuously back up in real-time, also known as persistent synchronization.
- Scrutinize links contained in e-mails and do not open attachments included in unsolicited e-mails.
- Only download software – especially free software – from sites you know and trust. When possible, verify the integrity of the software through a digital signature prior to execution.
- Ensure application patches for the operating system, software, and firmware are up to date, including Adobe Flash, Java, Web browsers, etc.
- Ensure anti-virus and anti-malware solutions are set to automatically update and regular scans are conducted.
- Disable macro scripts from files transmitted via e-mail. Consider using Office Viewer software to open Microsoft Office files transmitted via e-mail instead of full Office Suite applications.
- Implement software restrictions or other controls to prevent the execution of programs in common ransomware locations, such as temporary folders supporting popular Internet browsers, or compression/decompression programs, including those located in the AppData/LocalAppData folder.
Additional considerations for businesses include the following:
- Focus on awareness and training. Because end users are often targeted, employees should be made aware of the threat of ransomware, how it is delivered, and trained on information security principles and techniques.
- Patch all endpoint device operating systems, software, and firmware as vulnerabilities are discovered. This precaution can be made easier through a centralized patch management system.
- Manage the use of privileged accounts by implementing the principle of least privilege. No users should be assigned administrative access unless absolutely needed. Those with a need for administrator accounts should only use them when necessary; they should operate with standard user accounts at all other times.
- Configure access controls with least privilege in mind. If a user only needs to read specific files, he or she should not have write access to those files, directories, or shares.
- Use virtualized environments to execute operating system environments or specific programs.
- Categorize data based on organizational value, and implement physical/logical separation of networks and data for different organizational units. For example, sensitive research or business data should not reside on the same server and/or network segment as an organization’s e-mail environment.
- Require user interaction for end user applications communicating with Web sites uncategorized by the network proxy or firewall. Examples include requiring users to type in information or enter a password when the system communicates with an uncategorized Web site.
- Implement application whitelisting. Only allow systems to execute programs known and permitted by security policy.
From the FBI’s Cyber Division: Incidents on the rise, protect yourself and your organization
Hospitals, school districts, state and local governments, law enforcement agencies, small businesses, large businesses—these are just some of the entities impacted recently by ransomware, an insidious type of malware that encrypts, or locks, valuable digital files and demands a ransom to release them. See a New York Times article here.
The inability to access the important data these kinds of organizations keep can be catastrophic in terms of the loss of sensitive or proprietary information, the disruption to regular operations, financial losses incurred to restore systems and files, and the potential harm to an organization’s reputation.
And, of course, home computers are just as susceptible to ransomware, and the loss of access to personal and often irreplaceable items—including family photos, videos, and other data—can be devastating for individuals as well.
Ransomware has been around for a few years, but during 2015, law enforcement saw an increase in these types of cyber attacks, particularly against organizations because the payoffs are higher. And if the first three months of this year are any indication, the number of ransomware incidents—and the ensuing damage they cause—will grow even more in 2016 if individuals and organizations don’t prepare for these attacks in advance.
While the below tips are primarily aimed at organizations and their employees, some are also applicable to individual users.
Tips for Dealing with the Ransomware Threat
Business Continuity Efforts
How does it work?
In a ransomware attack, victims—upon seeing an e-mail addressed to them—will open it and may click on an attachment that appears legitimate, like an invoice or an electronic fax, but which actually contains the malicious ransomware code. Or the e-mail might contain a legitimate-looking URL, but when a victim clicks on it, they are directed to a website that infects their computer with malicious software.
One the infection is present, the malware begins encrypting files and folders on local drives, any attached drives, backup drives, and potentially other computers on the same network that the victim computer is attached to. Users and organizations are generally not aware they have been infected until they can no longer access their data or until they begin to see computer messages advising them of the attack and demands for a ransom payment in exchange for a decryption key. These messages include instructions on how to pay the ransom, usually with bitcoins because of the anonymity this virtual currency provides.
Ransomware attacks are not only proliferating, they’re becoming more sophisticated. Several years ago, ransomware was normally delivered through spam e-mails, but because e-mail systems got better at filtering out spam, cyber criminals turned to spear phishing e-mails targeting specific individuals.
And in newly identified instances of ransomware, some cyber criminals aren’t using e-mails at all. According to FBI Cyber Division Assistant Director James Trainor, “These criminals have evolved over time and now bypass the need for an individual to click on a link. They do this by seeding legitimate websites with malicious code, taking advantage of unpatched software on end-user computers.”
The FBI doesn’t support paying a ransom in response to a ransomware attack. Said Trainor, “Paying a ransom doesn’t guarantee an organization that it will get its data back—we’ve seen cases where organizations never got a decryption key after having paid the ransom. Paying a ransom not only emboldens current cyber criminals to target more organizations, it also offers an incentive for other criminals to get involved in this type of illegal activity. And finally, by paying a ransom, an organization might inadvertently be funding other illicit activity associated with criminals.”
So what does the FBI recommend?
As ransomware techniques and malware continue to evolve—and because it’s difficult to detect a ransomware compromise before it’s too late—organizations in particular should focus on two main areas:
Prevention efforts—both in both in terms of awareness training for employees and robust technical prevention controls; and
The creation of a solid business continuity plan in the event of a ransomware attack. (See sidebar for more information.)
“There’s no one method or tool that will completely protect you or your organization from a ransomware attack,” said Trainor. “But contingency and remediation planning is crucial to business recovery and continuity—and these plans should be tested regularly.” In the meantime, according to Trainor, the FBI will continue working with its local, federal, international, and private sector partners to combat ransomware and other cyber threats.
If you think you or your organization have been the victim of ransomware, contact your local FBI field office and report the incident to the Bureau’s Internet Crime Complaint Center.
Two years ago the websites of many Jewish organizations were hacked during Israel’s Operation Pillar of Defense. JCRC-NY and ADL (thanks to the ADL for some of the suggestions below) have noted some new attacks against Jewish community websites allegedly motivated by the ongoing conflict in Israel. Hacker groups claiming affiliation to Anonymous, the hacker collective, have attacked and defaced the websites for U.S. based Jewish institutions as well as Israeli government and business websites.
There may be an increase in the frequency and scope of attacks against Jewish websites. Jewish institutions should review their security procedures, including:
Website. Have your website hosted with a professional web hosting company rather than having it reside on an institutional server or a member’s home computer. Contact your institution’s Internet Service Provider (ISP) and/or website hosting company to discuss what measures are in place to protect your website and its content and what steps should be taken in case of an incident.
When deciding on a web host and ask them:
- whether they install security patches on a regular and timely basis;
- how often they make active backups of hosted websites (you should have a current back-up version of the relevant website and establish a periodic policy of taking snapshot backups — e.g., on a weekly basis, in no case should the period be longer than a month).
- what security measures do the hosting company use to prevent Denial of Service (DoS) attacks and unauthorized Website access.
- if they have a disaster recovery procedure that includes someone available as a 24/7 point of contact for emergencies.
Remove any personal information (e.g., personal email, Facebook pages, Twitter handles, home addresses and phone numbers) from organizational websites wherever possible. Website administrators should review website server logs for unusually high visitor activity or visitors from unusual locations and alert their ISP or hosting company immediately.
Passwords. As with institutional email addresses, an effort should be made to limit and control the number of people Website administrator or Webmaster permissions and policy for strong passwords and a schedule for changing passwords.
- Administrator passwords must be changed periodically (at least every two months). Passwords must be complex, i.e., contain both alpha and numeric characters and have at least one case change. Ideally, they should also contain at least one “special” (non-alpha/numeric) character. Staff names should never be part of any password.
- You can find tips to create strong passwords and a utility to check the strength of a potential password here.
Social networks. Social networking pages are also vulnerable and should be monitored regularly. In addition, wherever possible, institutional staff should remove information about their affiliation with the institution from personal social media pages. See these tips on socializing securely.
ADL is in contact with many of the major Internet and social networking companies. Facebook pages for Hamas and hacker groups have already been removed from the Internet and we will continue our efforts.
Computer systems. Be aware of who has access to their computer, the permissions granted to each account, who has system administrator authorization and who assigns passwords.
- To the extent possible, financial records should be segregated from membership data and other documents. Many programs allow users to encrypt data, further protecting the confidentiality of constituents. Of course, passwords become critical elements of your data protection efforts.
- It is always prudent to have active and up-to-date firewall, anti-virus and threat detection software.
Phishing. Remind institutional staff and key members to be wary of attachments to emails. Computer criminals are adept sending emails from people that you know (often victims of prior phishing attacks) to lure you into a sense of false security. See specific tips and more at Lots of phishing going on: Stop, think, click.
System Intrusion. Computer system intrusion can happen in a variety of ways: access in an unauthorized manner, by an unauthorized user, internally by a member of the institution or externally by the public.
- Advanced software can alert a system administrator if an unauthorized access has been attempted. Older systems may require a regular manually review of computer logs to detect unwanted access.
- Computer logs and advanced software, if properly configured, can indicate which computer files, if any, have been accessed. A policy should be established to inform members if files containing personal or sensitive information have been exposed. It is likely best to err on the side of caution in such situations.
- Unauthorized computer access is potentially a criminal act. System intrusions rarely happen by accident and, as such, it is best to assume the person violating the system is seeking something. As with Website hacking, those perpetrating a system breach, likely know they are breaking the law and may have motivation to justify that risk.
- As soon as a system intrusion is detected the system administrator must be contacted immediately. Subsequent contact to law enforcement and FBI (http://www.ic3.gov/default.aspx) computer crime specialists would not be an unusual next step.
For more information, explanations and suggestions see the FCC’s Small Biz Cyber Planner.
OK, you’ve heard it over and over…don’t click on unknown links. Well, people, even smart people, don’t listen. You get an email from someone that you know, click on what is said to be a “secure” link and your adventure begins.
Now the phisher has you lured in. You’re asked to sign in. A nasty bot takes control of your computer, steals your contact list and sends everyone on your list an invitation to become infected.
- Look at the illustration at the top of this email. Be aware.
- Do not follow unsolicited web links in email messages or submit any email account or password information to unknown webpages in links.
- Use caution when opening email attachments. Refer to Using Caution with Email Attachments for more information on safely handling email attachments.
- Maintain up-to-date anti-virus software.
- Perform regular backups of all systems to limit the impact of data and/or system loss.
- Apply changes to your Intrusion Detection/Prevention Systems and Firewalls to detect any known malicious activity.
- Secure open-share drives by only allowing connections from authorized users.
- Keep your operating system and software up-to-date with the latest patches.
- Refer to the Recognizing and Avoiding Email Scams (pdf) document for more information on avoiding email scams.
- Refer to the Security Tip Avoiding Social Engineering and Phishing Attacks for more information on social engineering attacks.
US-CERT and DHS encourage users and administrators experiencing a ransomware infection NOT to respond to extortion attempts by attempting payment and instead to report the incident to the FBI at the Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3).
Here are some free resources to see if your computer is infected (from STOP. THINK. CONNECT.™ the global cybersecurity awareness campaign to help all digital citizens stay safer and more secure online. – See more at: http://www.stopthinkconnect.org/)
- AOL Computer Checkup
- Audit My PC
- Kaspersky Virus Scanner
- McAfee Security Scan
- Microsoft Safety Scanner
- nCircle Pure Cloud Vulnerability Scanner
- Neustar SiteProtect
- Norton Security Scan
- Panda Security Antivirus Scan
- Qualys Browser Check
- QualysGuard Malware Protection
- Secunia Personal Software Inspector (PSI)
- Sophos Free Security Tools
- Symantec Security Scan
- Trend Micro HouseCall Virus Scan
- Webroot Secure Anywhere Antivirus
For more tips about cybersecurity, check out the following non-technical publications: