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CYBER ATTACKS ON THE RISE

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CYBER ATTACKS ON THE RISE

Incidents of Ransomware on the Rise
Protect Yourself and Your Organization

04/29/16

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.

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.



Tips for Dealing with the Ransomware Threat

While the below tips are primarily aimed at organizations and their employees, some are also applicable to individual users.

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.

More info


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.

Resources:
- More on the FBI’s Cyber Division
- Ransomware brochure
- Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3)

Another Extraordinary Benchmark Customer in the News

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Another Extraordinary Benchmark Customer in the News

This playhouse is built on a family’s foundation of love

The playhouses go on display again Friday at NorthPark Center. They’re always cute. But this year, one playhouse was built with an extra measure of devotion.

It’s one that stands as testament to turning sad situations into happy families. The annual display and raffle of custom-built playhouses at NorthPark is the primary public awareness event for Dallas CASA. That’s the nonprofit agency whose volunteers represent abused and neglected children in court proceedings.

Three such children now form the family of Brad Thurman and his wife, Elizabeth. And Brad is a homebuilder by profession. So the Parade of Playhouses was practically invented for them.

“It was a natural fit,” Brad said. “We struggled with infertility issues for eight years,” Elizabeth explained. Then they began looking at foster parenting as a path to adoption. “We were licensed as a foster home on Thursday and the boys arrived on Friday,” Brad said. “We weren’t quite expecting that.” But it speaks to the need for good foster homes, especially those willing to accept siblings and older children.

Brad and Elizabeth suddenly found themselves foster parents to 9-year-old Ryan and his 1-year-old half-brother, Will. That was two years ago. They’re 11 and 3 now and legally adopted.
The Thurmans then fostered and adopted a third son, Ridley, who is almost 2.

“All three were in foster care because of drugs. I guess that’s the usual reason,” Brad said. The two older boys were living with drug-addicted parents in a motel. The youngest son went straight into foster care from the hospital nursery – just as the mother’s four previous children had done. All three boys are doing very well now, though the Thurmans don’t kid themselves about the realities of early abuse and neglect.
“All children in foster care have a lot of pain. I think it’s probably a lifelong process of dealing with that hurt,” Elizabeth said. Only Ryan remembers the hardships of his earlier life. But Brad jokes that adjusting to suburban affluence hasn’t been a problem for him. “He has adapted well to being entitled and spoiled,” Brad said, joking about Ryan, who is away at summer camp this week. As Brad and Elizabeth look back over this journey, some of the most important people to them were the CASA volunteers. “The state’s caseworkers come and go. You never know who is going to show up for a hearing. But those CASA advocates were steadfast and did such a wonderful job looking out for the children,” Brad said. The Thurmans’ saga took a devastating turn eight months after Ryan and Will arrived. An aunt and uncle suddenly demanded custody of them. The boys were taken from the Thurmans. State caseworkers were obligated to give first priority to family. But Brad said it was the CASA volunteer who intervened and helped the aunt and uncle see what the real act of love would be. “Five days after the boys left, the uncle texted, ‘Would you still want the boys?’ ” Brad said. “I started to cry.” “We all cried,” Elizabeth said. “We never thought that miracle would happen.”

Imagine what a difference that CASA volunteer made in the life of those boys. It’s the kind of work that 770 such volunteers do in Dallas County on a daily basis.
But even with that big number, only about half of children in the legal system are able to have a CASA volunteer to love them, support them and advocate for them through the process.
CASA executive director Kathleen LaValle said, “Our goal is for 100 percent of children to have that one constant adult to be there for them in this unbelievably frightening time for a child.”

You can visit www.dallascasa.org to learn more about volunteering. And if you’re at NorthPark between now and July 26, help support the work by buying a playhouse raffle ticket.
Look for one cheery playhouse from C.R. Thurman Homes in particular. And smile to know what it represents.

Follow Steve Blow on Facebook at www.facebook.com/ DMNSteveBlow and on Twitter at @DMNSteveBlow.

STEVE BLOW
sblow@dallasnews.com
dallasnews.com/thescoopblog

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