Female working on laptop

This week may mark the start of the Chinese New Year, but for us, this will definitely not be the Year of the Rooster. Clearly, based on the phone calls I am receiving as well as vendor solicitations, 2017 is poised to become “The Year of Ransomware”. Growth of Ransomware in the first half of 2016 showed an increase of 259% over December of 2015. This growth rate has not slowed by any measure.

Ransomware, (one of which is called Cryptolocker) is one of the more nasty threats in existence, facing computer users and businesses. Technically considered malware, this is most often spread through booby-trapped email attachments or even via hacked or malicious web sites.

While file encrypting malware is hardly new, this threat seems to have intensified greatly in recent months. Unlike many pieces of malware or viruses which rarely seem to have a logical purpose, Ransomware does actually have a purpose, however nefarious it may be. To encrypt your files that you have access to – and keep them unusable until you pay them a ransom for the keys to unlock them. The cost of the ransom can vary greatly from hundreds of dollars to many thousands of dollars. Estimates show $209 MILLION dollars of ransom being paid for the first 6 months of 2016!

We at the College are FAR from immune to this threat. While it is true we have multiple layers of defense in place to prevent infection, nothing is impenetrable. This brings us to our best line of defense – YOU – our computer customers at the College.

You can be by far our best defense and can be very effective if you follow some simple tips. Please note these tips are valid for your College email, student email or personal email.

  • If you receive a piece of email in your inbox – be very careful if you do not recognize the sender or the subject. Our best suggestion would be to not open any email message that you feel is suspicious. These email messages can take many forms and the senders are getting more sophisticated and deceptive all of the time. Being suspicious is the key!
  • If you notice a piece of email in your email quarantine filter, please be careful when determining that you need to release this email to come into your inbox. In three years here, I have probably needed to release less than 5 pieces of mail from my quarantine, so this should indeed be a rare event.
  • If you end up opening a piece of email and you see an attachment – automatically be concerned. These types of malware are typically spread via an attachment. If you are questioning the attachment – Do not click on it!
  • If the unthinkable happens and you click on an attachment that either becomes obvious that it was a bad attachment, or you have suspicions of any kind – immediately contact someone – anyone in the IT Department. They will alert the proper person as quickly as possible to shut down this threat.

One final item that we are implementing is upon the release of email from the quarantine. These will no longer pass automatically into your inbox. We are routing them to another holding queue for a final review before release to your inbox. So while you may see some delay in released email making its way to your inbox, please realize that this delay is for all of our protection.

Feel free to contact me with any questions or comments at lplamann@morainepark.edu.

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Written by Larry Plamann
Director of Network Services, Information Technology