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Avoid Having All Your Computer Files Taken Hostage

Cyber crime has gone pro, but many CEOs have not quite realized its true impact. Since September 2013, a new wave of cyber crime has taken off called, “Cryptolocker.” Here’s how to go about avoiding this latest threat.

Dell SecureWorks reported that during the last quarter of 2013, over 250,000 computers were infected with Cryptolocker, realizing a $30 million revenue boost for the eastern European cyber criminals. And it’s getting worse. In early February 2014, Goodson’s, a Charlotte, NC law firm, stepped forward and bravely admitted that their whole file server was scrambled by Cryptolocker and they lost all their files.

Here is the TV clip:

Goodson’s IT team tried to disinfect the machine, but that made things even worse because that prevents decryption. Then they tried to pay the ransom but it was too late since they had tampered with the malware. The TV clip shows the workstation where an employee fell for the Cryptolocker social engineering attack which used an email “from AT&T” with a malicious attachment that was mistaken for a voice-mail message from their phone answering service.

That error encrypted all files on their main server including Word, WordPerfect and PDF files, said their owner, Paul M. Goodson. No word if there was a backup of the file server but it sounds like they did not have one. The only blessing was that the malware had scrambled files and not stolen them, Goodson added.

Goodson is not alone. Cryptolocker attacks are very successful and include Greenland, New Hampshire’s town hall. Town Administrator Karen Anderson said: “The results have left us with documents that are no longer readable; I’ve lost eight years’ worth of my work.” There is even a police department that admitted to having paid $750 for two Bitcoins to buy back sensitive files that were encrypted according to

At KnowBe4, a Clearwater, FL cybersecurity testing and training firm, the number of queries requesting security awareness training has surged since September 2013 due to end users having been tricked into opening up attachments of phishing emails and infecting workstations with the Cryptolocker malware.

Your Antivirus Is Not Going To Help

Malware researchers from almost all antivirus companies are furiously working on a way to prevent this from occurring, and some are able to block it from running, but these bad guys are very sophisticated. They change their malicious code all the time, and your antivirus might catch it today but not tomorrow. Antivirus companies are not able to decrypt the files, only the Cryptolocker malware can do the decryption.

And how does this malware get installed on a workstation? You guessed it, users being socially engineered to open infected email attachments. The bad guys are pulling out all the stops and use a variety of social engineering tactics, most recently it’s tracking information from either DHL, UPS, FedEx and USPS, but there are many phishing attacks including banks and government.

So what Happens When A User Opens The Infected Attachment?

They are presented with a Cryptolocker splash screen. It will encrypt files on volumes (network, locally attached) where the user has modify permissions. They are asked to pay ransom via GreenDot MoneyPaks, BitCoin, CashU, paysafecard, or Ukash of either $100 or $300 (depending on the older or newer version). Cryptolocker will set a timer to decrypt the files if the user decides to pay the ransom If the timer expires, the software uninstalls itself (!) and the data is lost.

How To Prevent This From Happening

Two things: First make sure you always have a recent backup. Wipe and rebuild the machine, and restore the files. We see an average of three hours of admin work to do this. Second, step all employees through mandatory security awareness training. This shows them the devastating effects that can be caused by opening an infected attachment. Train employees before they get social engineered and their files are Cryptolocked.

Stu Sjouwerman is the founder and CEO of KnowBe4, LLC, an IT security expert with 30+ years in the industry, Sjouwerman (pronounced shower-man) was the co-founder of Inc. 500 company Sunbelt Software, an anti-malware software developer that was acquired in 2010 by GFI Software, a portfolio company of Insight Partners. Realizing that the end-user is the weak link in IT security, he decided to partner with famous former hacker Kevin Mitnick and help IT pros tackle cybercrime tactics utilizing New School Security Awareness Training combined with regular simulated phishing attacks. Sjouwerman is the author of four IT books, with his latest being “Cyberheist: The Biggest Financial Threat Facing American Businesses Since the Meltdown of 2008.”





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