If you've never heard of ransomware, you're really behind the times. Beginning with 2015 and into 2016, the number of malware attacks on all devices -- desktops, laptops and phones -- skyrocketed to its highest percentage of cyber-shenanigans ever. And it looks like this highly profitable criminal business model is here to stay.
At the risk of sounding like a doomsayer, this writer cautions legal professionals to watch themselves and to drop the "it only happens to somebody else" mentality.
An Auspicious Beginning
This February, the Chinese New Year was unfortunately marred by two cyber-attacks via malware that infected with a program that (ironically) crippled the systems of both Hollywood Presbyterian Medical Center and Los Angeles County Department of Health Services. Although the latter was able to isolate the problem and suffered inconvenience, cybercriminals were able to extort Hollywood Presbyterian out of $17,000 in ransom payments just to get access to medical records and communication services.
The program that the criminals used is particularly insidious because it deviously lies in wait for someone to do something careless in order to gain access. The Chinese associate the monkey with mischief and they're right. The monkey this year is ransomware.
Apple Devices Are Now Under Attack
Hackers are getting better and bolder in their attacks -- they're attacking Apple devices now. Before, they'd focused on Android devices. But the market for marks is just too good to give up. The dreaded malware comes in two flavors: locker or crypto. Either style works to stymie the user's access to files on their computers until a small ransom is paid -- so small that a significant amount of users simple acquiesce and pay up.
What's even more fiendish with the scheme is that the FBI is essentially powerless to do anything because of the sheer volume of such incidents as well as the relatively unimportant nature (in the grand scheme of things) of files on individual's computers. Plus, the ransom is large enough to hurt, but not painful enough for someone to sacrifice their files potentially forever. The result? Free money that flows from victims with little risk of being caught.
No Safety in Mobile Devices
The problem gets worse with peoples' increasing reliance on mobile devices to handle their files and ---well, life. People bank on mobile devices, date, purchase and sell, and even cyber-sex on their phones. James Scott, a fellow at the Institute for Critical Infrastructure Technology had harsh words for device users and chided them their terrible "cyber hygiene." In his view, "in cybersecurity, people are considered the weakest link. They are also both the most abundant resource and the most susceptible target."
It's Going to Get Worse Before it Gets Better
"Just pay the ransom." These words have been the suggestion of FBI cybercrime chief Joseph Bonavolonta, highlighting just how bad the problem has become. The FBI does not make any official suggestions for companies to follow -- no official "best practices" scheme.
The problem will get worse before it gets better because changes in people's reliance on convenience is directly inverse to their fear. People too easily fall into the seductive safe-zone of believing that cyber-crime will not strike them. But believe us, you would do well for yourself to be careful what emails you open.