You fire up your laptop and discover a sinister message: “We’ve encrypted your files! Pay us US$500 or we’ll destroy them all!”
You may think it’s a joke but when you try to access your system, you find your files are complete gobbledygook or that you’re locked out.
Ransomware, programmes that break into your computer system and take your data hostage, is now one of the most pervasive and popular cyber crimes. In the USA, the Justice Department has noted over 4,000 of these attacks occurring every day since the beginning of 2016.
In February 2016, Hollywood Presbyterian Medical Center paid a whopping US$17,000 to hackers to get back control of their computer system.
In June 2016 the University of Calgary paid a ransom of US$20,000 to get back their email database.
The FBI reported that ransomware cost businesses US$209 million in the first three months of 2016. Others say it could very well exceed US$1 billion in 2017.
CyberSecurity Malaysia, the national cyber security specialist agency under the Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation (MOSTI), received 105 incident reports of ransomware in 2015. However, as many people don’t know how to report this, the figure is probably the tip of the iceberg.
According to Symantec’s Internet Security Threat Report 21 (ISTR21), Malaysia ranks 12th in the Asia Pacific and Japan region in terms of ransomware attacks.
“We recorded a total of 5,069 attacks in 2015,” says Chee Choon Hong, Director for Asia Consumer Business, Norton by Symantec. “The average ransom amount discovered to date in 2016 stands at US$679 – up from $294 in 2015 globally. The steady rise in ransom demands indicates that attackers may think there is more to be squeezed from victims.”
If you think this affects only large companies or businesses dealing in very valuable information, think again.
“Big organisations are difficult to penetrate, so hackers are targeting vendors and contractors in order to try and push their malware into the ‘mother ship’, ” notes Khoo Li Jing, consultant trainer from Avantus, a training company in Singapore that specialises in computer-security protection courses. “The final victims are still the small- and medium sized vendors and contractors because they need to bear the cost for system downtime and recovery.”
“We’ve been hit twice,” a chief technical officer of a Malaysian software services company admits ruefully on the condition of anonymity. “In both cases, they targeted the accounts department. The attack came via an email attachment. Our virus scanners failed to identify them due to their being an unknown new threat.”
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