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:
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.
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.
- 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.
- 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 Our poor synagogue had anti-virus software, but it was a year out-of-date (duh, it turns itself off).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).
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
Cyber Security is Everyone’s Responsibility
Data breaches resulting in the compromise of personally identifiable information of thousands of Americans. Intrusions into financial, corporate, and government networks. Complex financial schemes committed by sophisticated cyber criminals against businesses and the public in general.
These are just a few examples of crimes perpetrated online over the past year or so, and part of the reason why Director James Comey, testifying before Congress last week, said that “the pervasiveness of the cyber threat is such that the FBI and other intelligence, military, homeland security, and law enforcement agencies across the government view cyber security and cyber attacks as a top priority.” The FBI, according to Comey, targets the most dangerous malicious cyber activity—high-level intrusions by state-sponsored hackers and global cyber syndicates, and the most prolific botnets. And in doing so, we work collaboratively with our domestic and international partners and the private sector.
But it’s important for individuals, businesses, and others to be involved in their own cyber security. And National Cyber Security Awareness Month—a Department of Homeland Security-administered campaign held every October—is perhaps the most appropriate time to reflect on the universe of cyber threats and on doing your part to secure your own devices, networks, and data.
What are some of the more prolific cyber threats we’re currently facing?
Ransomware is type of malware that infects computers and restricts users’ access to their files or threatens the permanent destruction of their information unless a ransom is paid. In addition to individual users, ransomware has infected entities such as schools, hospitals, and police departments. The actors behind these sophisticated schemes advise the users that if they pay the ransom, they will receive the private key needed to decrypt the files. Most recently, these cyber criminals—demonstrating some business savvy—give victims the option of decrypting one file for free to prove that they have the ability to restore the locked files.
Business e-mail compromise, or BEC, scams continue to impact many businesses across the U.S. and abroad. BEC is a type of payment fraud that involves the compromise of legitimate business e-mail accounts—often belonging to either the chief executive officer or the chief financial officer—for the purpose of conducting unauthorized wire transfers. After compromising a company’s e-mail account—usually through social engineering or malware—the criminals are then able to send wire transfer instructions using the victim’s e-mail or a spoofed e-mail account. BEC scams have been reported in all 50 states and in 100 countries and have caused estimated losses of more than $3 billion worldwide. More on BEC scams.
Intellectual property theft involves robbing individuals or companies of their ideas, inventions, and creative expressions—often stolen when computers and networks are accessed by unscrupulous competitors, hackers, and other criminals. Intellectual property can include everything from trade secrets and proprietary products and parts to movies, music, and software. And the enforcement of laws protecting intellectual property rights (IPR)—which are critical to protecting the U.S. economy, our national security, and the health and safety of the American public—is an FBI criminal priority. The Bureau’s IPR focus is the theft of trade secrets and infringements on products that can impact consumers’ health and safety, including counterfeit aircraft, automotive, and electronic parts.
“The FBI is doing everything we possibly can, at every level, to make it harder for cyber criminals to operate,” says Associate Executive Assistant Director David Johnson, “and I believe many of them are now starting to think twice before they put fingers to keyboard. But we also ask that the public do its part by taking precautions and implementing safeguards to protect their own data.”
Check back on our website during the month of October for information on protecting your data and devices and on FBI efforts to combat the most egregious cyber criminals.
- Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3)
- More on National Cyber Security Awareness Month
- Department of Justice’s Best Practices for Victim Response and Reporting of Cyber Incidents
- U.S. Computer Emergency Readiness Team cyber security tips
- Department of Homeland Security cyber security information
- Stay Safe Online website
- FBI Cyber’s Most Wanted
- More on FBI efforts to combat cyber crime
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.