Hackers Crippled Parts of the U.S. but they Can be Stopped
There were more cyberattacks worldwide during the first half of 2020 than in all of 2019. Graduates from Hallmark University’s cybersecurity programs are needed now more than ever as the shift to an online environment due to Covid-19 created many new opportunities for cybercriminals to hack systems, steal information, and extort money.
In 2020, the “SolarWinds hack” infiltrated thousands of organizations worldwide, including parts of the United States federal government. It is among the worst cyber-espionage incidents ever suffered by the US, executed by hacker groups backed by the Russian government. The threat of hackers grows in seriousness with each passing moment, requiring programs like those at Hallmark University to train the best cybersecurity experts possible to thwart future attempts.
“The technology and strategies used by hackers to steal information and money changes almost daily,” shared Dr. Donald Leaver, Dean for the School of IT. “Cybersecurity programs have to prepare students for the ever-changing threats by hackers, which means that our programs have to stay updated, so our students know how to stop them.”
The ransomware attack on Colonial Pipeline is the latest demonstration of the damage hackers can inflict on anyone by simply encrypting information. Hackers temporarily crippled the transportation of gasoline to states across much of the eastern United States, further escalating the importance of cybersecurity experts and educating the public on ways hackers steal information, such as by ransomware.
“Ransomware is designed to take a victim’s computer data hostage by either encrypting everything or by sending large amounts of data back to the hacker. Usually, the malware will send private and personal data to the attacker, and then the attacker threatens to release the extracted data unless a ransom is paid.”
The overall objective of hackers is to force victims to pay a “ransom” to retrieve data rendered inaccessible. Individuals or organizations pay with a cryptocurrency in the hopes the hacker will decrypt or release their data in return.
“Colonial Pipeline paid $5 million to the group behind the attack, reportedly to be DarkSide. My inclination is that since this attack caught the company off-guard, and how critical the pipeline is to the infrastructure of the entire US, the company felt they had no other option but to pay the attackers.”
Dr. Leaver recommends that a person or organization never pays the ransom if possible, fearing that attackers will be encouraged to carry out more attacks after each success. Instead, one should prepare in advance for the possibility of a ransomware attack by following best practices.
Preventing a Ransomware Attack
- Install anti-malware software of every device and ensure it is always up-to-date.
- Be sure to use the most updated version of operating systems, web browsers, email, and other software.
- Back up your data onto a separate device not connected to the network. Separate backups will ensure the recovery of data affected by an attack.
- Restrict files from running in data folders. By setting files to run manually rather than automatically, they will be restricted from running on their own.
- If at all possible, do not use remote desktop.
By keeping software and data up-to-date, businesses and individuals are likely to be safe from an attempt, but there will always be a chance of it happening.
“The best thing for you to do is to back up your data. If you have current backups of your computer and information disconnected from your network, then there is a high probability that you will recover any files encrypted by the ransomware.”