Category Archive: Computer Malware

Ransomware victims urged to report infections





September 15, 2016/Alert Number I-091516-PSA


FBI says “don’t be a victim”: Ransomware on the rise

Posted on May 01, 2016

Graphic of Tablet Screen with Lock and Key (Stock Image)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

Prevention Efforts

  • Make sure employees are aware of ransomware and of their critical roles in protecting the organization’s data.
  • Patch operating system, software, and firmware on digital devices (which may be made easier through a centralized patch management system).
  • Ensure antivirus and anti-malware solutions are set to automatically update and conduct regular scans.
  • Manage the use of privileged accounts—no users should be assigned administrative access unless absolutely needed, and only use administrator accounts when necessary.
  • Configure access controls, including file, directory, and network share permissions appropriately. If users only need read specific information, they don’t need write-access to those files or directories.
  • Disable macro scripts from office files transmitted over e-mail.
  • Implement software restriction policies or other controls to prevent programs from executing from common ransomware locations (e.g., temporary folders supporting popular Internet browsers, compression/decompression programs).

Business Continuity Efforts

  • Back up data regularly and verify the integrity of those backups regularly.
  • Secure your backups. Make sure they aren’t connected to the computers and networks they are backing up.

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.


Cybersecurity for synagogues | Dec. 10 @ 7:30

JCRC CybersecurityJCRC Cybersecurity

Cybersecurity for Jewish organizations 101: an update

Posted on July 22, 2014

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 ( computer crime specialists would not be an unusual next step.

For more information, explanations and suggestions see the FCC’s Small Biz Cyber Planner.

Lots of phishing going on: Stop, think, click

How do you stop phishers? Look for these clues. Click to enlarge.

How do you stop phishers? Look for these clues. Click to enlarge.

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.

googledocs - Secure Login

Here’s the bait. It looks official. People click and type in their password, giving their email account and contacts to hackers.

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:

For more tips about cybersecurity, check out the following non-technical publications: