Under attack: Tulane expert offers tips of how to avoid falling victim to ransomware attacks

May 11, 2021

3 min

Ransomware continues to be a hot topic as attacks against large and small organizations continue to rise. Ransomware is a type of malicious software, or malware, which locks a person out of their computer until they pay a sum of money, usually in Bitcoin, which allows for relatively anonymous transactions.

According to an article by CNN, Colonial Pipeline Energy regulators are calling on leaders in the energy sector to step up their cyberdefenses after a weekend ransomware attack that knocked the Colonial Pipeline offline. The chief US policy strategist at AGF Investments said the latest hack by so-called cyberpirates should be a "red alert" for the White House following years of hackers blackmailing local governments, businesses and hospitals. Colonial Pipeline, which delivers nearly half the diesel and gasoline consumed on the East Coast, is still trying to get its systems restarted. If the shutdown continues for more than a few days, many Americans could be looking at $3-a-gallon gas for the first time since 2014.

Randy Magiera, a cybersecurity expert and professor of information technology and information security in Tulane University's School of Professional Advancement, is available to speak about ransomware attacks, what exactly happens and how to avoid these attacks. For interviews, contact pr@tulane.edu or Roger Dunaway at (504) 452-2906.

Most ransomware attacks are aimed at individuals, but criminals are increasingly attacking businesses as they can potentially get more money from a company than an individual. Modern-day attackers often look at a business's income when determining how much they should charge the victim.

As the number of successful ransomware attacks continues to increase, there are many examples to note. One recent breach at the end of April 2021 was the systems of the police department in Washington, D.C.

The attackers locked the police department out of a server and steal large amounts of personnel files of police employees, almost 250GB worth. According to Magiera, this type of data can be incredibly valuable to criminal organizations and shows how important it is that companies protect their systems. The brazen attack exemplifies how severe attacks can be and demonstrates that no system may be off-limits.

When a system is attacked, the ransomware will often lock out the user and encrypt the files on the system. More recent versions of ransomware encrypt the data and lock the user out and allow hackers to steal the data. Attackers commonly use social engineering attacks, such as phishing, to infect a system, though there are other methods.

Magiera notes there are several ways to protect yourself against ransomware attacks:

-Purchase a high-quality antivirus product. The next-generation antivirus product protects such as Bitdefender, Crowdstrike, Cylane and Sophos are specifically designed to prevent ransomware attacks on your computer, but they are not entirely foolproof.

-Make sure you are browsing safely and not clicking links you do not recognize. Doing this will significantly enhance your protection from ransomware attacks.

-Between a good quality antivirus product, being cautious with sites you visit and avoid opening strange emails, you are protecting your computer against ransomware.

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