Government prepares to fight ransomware

Technology has become an integral part of nearly every aspect of life in America. Businesses, banks, medical centers and government agencies all depend on secure electronic records and processes to stay up and running. As a result, massive collections of confidential data are stored on computers, clouds and servers around the world. 

Cybercriminals have created an illicit industry by stealing and selling this private data. As quickly as organizations find solutions to malicious spyware and computer viruses, hackers are finding new ways to infiltrate protected records to access data or take networks offline.

"Technological experts have to find the latest trends in malware."

The government strives to keep the upper hand in the constant cycle of security upgrades and security breaches. To do this, technological experts have to find the latest trends in malware practices so they can build better protections.

One of the latest threats to target both government and private sectors is the rise of ransomware. Computer viruses get in and infect a system, working to destroy stored records or lock users out. Account managers are given two options – either allow the virus to finish devouring the system or wire a ransom to the hacker.

How users can protect themselves from ransomware
The Federal Bureau of Investigation has been targeting ransomware programs in recent months to improve the security measures that prevent networks from being infected. According to a statement released by the FBI, one of the primary ways a ransomware virus gets into a computer is by users clicking links on websites and in emails that contain the malicious codes. 

It's not just a matter of downloading a suspicious file, however. "Drive by" infections are becoming more common, where a user can simply click to a webpage that's been compromised, opening the door to their computer or network.

The FBI offers several tips for helping to prevent these infections. Along with never clicking unknown or suspicious links, computer users need to use pop-up blockers, antivirus software and other security protections. These cybersecurity measures also need to be updated regularly. Outdated systems or software programs are more vulnerable to hackers. They lack the latest patches that  fight against newly discovered viruses and other threats. 

People also need to remember that mobile devices are just as vulnerable as computers. Smartphones and tablets can be held hostage by a virus, and if they are connected to a wider network, the whole system could be compromised. 

Ransomware can hold a single computer or an entire network hostage to hackers' demands. Ransomware can hold a single computer or an entire network hostage to hackers' demands.

Protecting government agencies from ransomware
According to the Institute for Critical Infrastructure Technology, there are many reasons why government agencies would be targeted by ransomware. In some cases, cybercriminals are attempting to get back at agencies that are putting a halt to their nefarious operations. Government organizations also store a significant amount of valuable data, from citizens' identity information to national defense secrets, which some criminals want to take for identity thefts. National adversaries may attempt to disrupt or compromise vital U.S. infrastructures or security programs.

The ICIT warns that while big agencies have the resources to help prevent these kinds of attacks, small to mid-sized groups are significantly more vulnerable. In February of 2016, the city of Durham, North Carolina was the target of a ransomware attack. Rather than pay the ransom demands, the city shut down its systems and restored them to an earlier-saved version.

In order for that plan to be successful, agencies need to be up-to-date on their system backups. They need to have the right equipment in place to save and secure all of their records and operational data. Otherwise, they face the risk of losing it entirely. 

It can be incredibly time consuming for agencies to restore their operations after such an invasive attack. The Lincolnshire County Council of the United Kingdom spent nearly three months offline following a ransomware attack on its system. 

Agencies that don't have the resources to protect themselves from these kinds of malicious attacks need to look into acquiring outside help to set up their systems for the latest cybersecurity measures. Otherwise, they risk being shut down.