When Ransomware Can Mean Life or Death

Ransomware is exactly what the name implies: it’s a form of malicious software that infects a computer intentionally, thereby holding it hostage. 

If the victim agrees to follow the hacker’s demands, he will undo the damage or not follow through on his threats. The threat can be locking up a network to keep its authorized users out, releasing highly sensitive data to the internet, or worse. 

A Los Angeles-area hospital, Hollywood Presbyterian, was the victim of a ransomware attack that locked their network and caused them to have to revert to paper records and registration. The issue was so severe that emergency room patients had to be diverted to other hospitals, potentially causing like-threatening delays and complications.

Ransomware attacks initially begin with some mechanism by which a hacker infiltrated a network, and all too often, those methods are just standard virus protocols. Common routes for infection include phishing emails that lure unsuspecting recipients into downloading malicious software, and spoof emails that appear to come from a known company or entity, like a manager, supervisor, or even CEO.

There are a few things that individuals and businesses alike can do to prevent this kind of cyberattack. Fortunately, they’re mostly the same behaviors that all of us should be engaging in at all times in order to protect ourselves:

  1. Know your sender – If you aren’t absolutely certain as to who sent the email, never click the link or download the attachment, even if the email address looks genuine. If the email contains strange instructions, such as a request to transfer funds or change an account’s password, don’t fall for it without verifying it personally.
  2. Keep your protection up-to-date – It’s essential that you make sure your antivirus and anti-malware software is installed and up-to-date. If you don’t update your security software when the company issues a new version, then your computer is not protected against new viruses that were written after you installed it in the first place.
  3. Follow your company’s policy for computer use – Unfortunately, there have been cybersecurity issues in which an employee is checking personal email or downloading videos from restricted sites, then doesn’t own up to it for fear of repercussions. It’s far better to report an issue immediately so it can be handled before serious damage is done, but it’s even more important that you follow the company’s policy to the letter in order to prevent a critical incident.

Ransomware is a growing threat to cybersecurity because, simply put, it works. As with most security issues—whether digital, technical, or in the physical world—an ounce of prevention really is worth that proverbial pound of cure. Protect your network and arm yourself with the information you need to keep hackers at bay.



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